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Monthly Archives: April 2015

HT poster_box_use

About the end of 2014 we had just submitted our game to the IGF competition.  It took place in this wild looking tubular hell environment with glowing crystal shards, fire spewing geysers, and eerie looking rock formations.  The characters was this outrageous demon inhabited by hundreds of little demon minions that made up the bulk of his physique, it looked cool but the game sucked, it just wasn’t fun.

We had spent the previous several weeks polishing and polishing this thing in a frantic effort to get something halfway presentable off to IGF.  But we were polishing a lack luster game.  We had never prototyped the game to see if it was fun, in fact we had done it all backwards, we expended a bunch of effort to make a nice looking game and THEN we tested it to see if it was fun, kinda stupid, but when your back is up against an implacable deadline, teams tend to do stupid things.

So after a bunch of very blunt conversations, I strongly suggested that we chuck what we had done and start over.  We kept a few fundamental mechanics but that was it, we started over again almost from scratch.  But come hell or high water I was not going to expend one more second or calorie making an ever shinier un-fun game.
I called a team meeting, explained the situation and said that anybody who might be interested in coming up with a version of our game that incorporated our fundamental mechanics was welcome to pitch their idea to the team.  If memory serves three ideas were pitched and all three seemed to have merit so all were selected, then we white-boxed, which is what we should have done initially, but better late then never I always say (as well as better out then in.)

We divided into small dev teams with the game idea person teamed up with one programmer, we gave ourselves a deadline to have completed and functional prototypes, after which we would again present the prototypes to the team and decide which one of the three had the most merit.

I paired up with Skip and we worked on an idea I had, basically take the tube wall walking mechanic we had originally envisioned for our game and mash that up with the tile removal mechanic of the fun little board game; “Hey That’s My Fish!”  I’ve always harbored this crazy notion that many board games demonstrated novel mechanics that could successfully be migrated to the video game space, which would provide the benefit of offer video game consumers novel and interesting new game mechanics, the tile removal mechanic of “Hey That’s My Fish!” seemed to me to be one of those.

Long story short… this is the prototype that became what Hostile Territory is today.  I would have liked to have gone through this process like three months earlier and skipped the whole IGF thing or at least have done the white box prototype exercise before IGF rather than after.  This would have given us precious time to elaborate on our fundamental and now demonstrably fun mechanic with new levels and new supplemental mechanics.  But I’m gratified with what we did… we proved that white boxing not only works but is essential, and must happen and happen at the right time if a dev team hopes to deliver a proven fun game on time…


Concept artist above all else must first suspend the disbelief of the viewer.  Often the world that the concept artist is asked to visualize is completely fantastic and made up.  Even if the world does lean heavily on realism, there are still many visual references that and not faithful to real life and thus must be invented by the concept artist.

In order for the concept artist is to succeed in creating an utterly believable world she must be careful to infuse her designs with enough of the visually familiar so that the viewer readily accepts her invitation to participate in her fantastic universe.  There is this technique first utilized in the world of movie visual effects called kit-bashing that has real value for the concept artist.  Briefly the traditional form of kit bashing is when a model builder takes pieces and parts from a variety of commercial model kits and assembles them in such a way so as to create a completely novel and new model, in other words they take an existing model “kit” and “bash” it by taking parts from the kit.

Because the modeler is using visually recognizable components that are familiar to the viewer, the amalgamation of these desperate but familiar components help the viewer believe that the new creation is actually “real.”

For the concept artist the process is almost the same, rather than using actual physical model components, the concept artist finds appropriate reference from varied sources and then brings these familiar visual components together in novel ways to create an image that is completely fantastic yet imminently believable.


Concept artists are often asked to create things that are utterly fantastic, that live in a completely imaginary world and yet must be believable.  When I teach my concept art students I typically introduce them to three very important vocabulary words; authentic, contrived and absurd.  Used in a sentence; Concept art, in order to suspend the disbelief of the viewer, must be authentic and cannot be contrived and/or absurd.

The definitions for these words are-

Authentic: Entitled to acceptance or belief because of agreement with known facts or experience; reliable; trustworthy

Contrived:  Obviously planned or forced; artificial; strained

Absurd:  Utterly or obviously senseless, illogical, or untrue; contrary to all reason or common sense; laughably foolish or false

Of all the things a concept artist must be good at in order to make successful concept art, making some completely fantastic and made up thing absolutely believable, is one of the toughest things for a concept artist to master.