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Exclusive: Artistic Initiative Meets the Gaming World

Juxtapoz // Thursday, 06 Aug 2009



Answers by Kate Compton, technical artist at Maxis


Briefly tell us what your goals and/or biggest challenges accomplishments were surrounding the creation process of a groundbreaking creation such as Spore Galactic Adventures.


Creating an adventure can be a challenge.  It can be too hard, or too easy.  In a big, sprawling adventure the player can get lost, so it's important to put in subtle hints about where to go next, little paths or landmarks to gently lead the player along.  So when I made the starting planets for Galactic adventures, I tried to embed good gameplay into the planets’ surface: lots of branching paths, places to put gates or guards, obvious pathways, etc. to ensure players had an easy time navigating.


Do you have a passion for fine art at all? If so, how does that translate into working in the world of video games?


Absolutely.  The same requirements hold true for digital art as for classical modes of art.  We use the same channels of aesthetics, timing, images and icons to communicate to the viewer.  The difference is that fine art, gallery art, stands on its own.  Game art is part of a collaborative process between the artists, engineers, and game play designers.   So much of the simulation is abstract: a vehicle's hit points reach 0, and it is removed from the game world.   When I add smoke, sparks and an explosion, that creates a narrative and a believable real-world rationale behind why it exploded.   If I make a special effect sequence that I think is wonderful, but it doesn't reflect what is happening in the simulation, it can't be used.

Do you ever get frustrated/feel limited working within the digital medium?


There is much less immediacy in a digital medium.  To sketch out an idea on paper is still much faster than trying to make it in any computer program.  All the artists on Spore still have a stack of paper by their desks.  I have "sketched" things in the Building editor, though, so maybe we're starting to close that gap.


Working collaboratively on a project for so long, did you find it hard for you to relinquish control of the final output, or what will finally be produced by users of Spore and other video games you've worked on?


It was hard at first.  I'd worked on Spore for so long that I'd gotten used to being one of the best creators on the game.  I knew that the users would make things more beautiful and more horrifying than anything we'd ever let ourselves make, though. They really stretched the limits of what the creator tools could do and it was interesting to see. Ultimately I feel good that we were able to deliver creativity to the players, not just the creatures we developers made.


I've read you started initial concepts for Spore with Will Wright (the creator of The Sims and Spore) way back in 1999. How was it to work on a project for over a decade?


I've worked on it for over three years, since just after the original demo in 2005.  It's bittersweet. In the beginning, anything is possible, and we all had dreams of what we wanted to add. But the reality is that all of that takes time to make.  We still managed to put a lot in the game, but you can always dream of more than you can actually build.

It's been said that Spore hopes to spawn a whole new generation of new and improved 3D modelers and animators. Do you agree with that? Was that a goal you had in mind while working on Spore?


I hope so.  I know we've given many people the confidence to try it.  There's a huge jump in difficulty, though, between a tool like the Creature Creator, and something like Maya.  It would be like going from Legos to being a real-world architect.


Will your creation change the face of 3D modeling for the future?


I hope so.  Spore was incredibly narrow in the type of things it could build: feet have to attach to limbs, limbs have to attach to a spine.  But this narrowness let us automate all the drudge work and let the user focus on the things that mattered like posture and details and colors.  Digital tools now are so focused on being able to do absolutely anything and be used for anything, Because of that they are incredibly complex, take years to learn and they won't automate any of the menial tasks.  I hope to see more tools in the future that embrace constraint as a way to build a more powerful tool.

Where do you see the future of video games heading?


We've seen a huge community evolve around the Sporepedia.  Making the creations is fun and satisfying, but players love to show them off to friends and strangers.  Any social recognition is hugely rewarding.  They are thrilled when they get comments and compliments from other players, and having their creation rise onto the Most Popular New page is the highest achievement for them.  People love becoming celebrities, even in a tiny group, so I think more games will allow and encourage people to form these creative communities.


Do you see the gap between digital and fine art tightening?


Yes, but both fields have to advance.  Digital art will better address the needs of fine artists, and fine artists will grow more comfortable making, modifying and using their own digital tools.



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