We’ve talked to Adam Wood about his journey to Epic Games and his work as a concept artist on Unreal Tournament team.
A couple of month ago, 80.lv had the pleasure of traveling to Cary (NC, USA) to have a little excursion around the offices of Epic Games. Like some many journalists before me, I have my own special history with this company. It all started with Unreal – one of the most influential games of its time, which gave a great start to the impressive franchise and powerful Unreal Engine, which we all love.
While today Epic is mostly concentrated on Paragon and further developments of UE4, it also has a small community driven Unreal Tournament project. Modern UT is a work in progress, a visceral online action with wonderful design and open game development process. The project is being created with the help of the community. Users can contribute your own content to the game and there’s a high chance that your map or your character will end up in the final release.
Sometimes this community contribution may also result in the community member getting hired by Epic itself. It happened to Adam Wood, one of the concept artists on UT team. During our short visit we’ve met with Adam and discussed his trip into game industry.
Getting into Games
Before I got into videogames, I was actually doing web design. I think I’ve been doing this for 4 years. It was fun but I always wanted to do video games. I visited gamedev websites, learning as much as I could. Then I started to do a lot of modding for games like Team Fortress 2, DOTA 2. This way I’ve got some experience going through the process of making assets for games. My first complete 3d assets weren’t that great.
I was working on mods basically during my whole free time. During that time Unreal Tournament started. It was like a perfect opportunity. I’ve had all this mod experience, so I’ve decided to jump in. I’ve also been quite a competitive player myself, so I knew the gameplay side of it, which is very important for the concept artist. A lot of concept artists during their work just focus on art and they don’t really understand the gameplay side. I believe this knowledge helped me to stand out from the competition.
I was also very persistent; posting tons of work online, so Epic basically had to notice me. I’ve been doing this stuff for 8 months basically for free. I knew there was a possibility of getting a job somewhere, because there were professionals noticing your work, but I wasn’t really expecting it. I was doing it just cause I loved the project.
Then they contracted me. At first, I wasn’t hired officially. They’ve send me the task, saying that they needed this character done. I got some stuff to work with and did what was asked. It was a lot of different stuff. And I think 8 month after that I believe I’ve been hired in house.
I go to play test every day. I know what map the team is working on, I have a good idea of what I’m expected to do and how it’s going to work in game. We have a lot of discussions on weapons, functionality, ideas and so on. The whole production process is happening a lot more organically. When I was contracted, it was very different. They would just send some directions and I just went crazy on it, providing various ideas.
When I’m creating a design, I’m not just interested in making things pretty. I actually have to do a lot of stuff, cause it provides the players with a better experience and actually helps you to have less headaches down the road. Sometimes the team would require a new element on the gun, that would perform a certain function, but the thing was not originally in the design. For example, you could add a certain animation, that shows the player, that he can fire again. It would require a certain ‘mechanics’ on the weapon itself, which would allow the player to see it very clearly. Sometimes these details could be ignored along the way and we have to go back and rework some things.
Style and Function
I could definitely do the concept, but at first I had to struggle a lot with modeling. But that ended up helping me a lot, cause right now I do use a lot of 3d tools for my concept work, especially for characters. I can definitely build a character faster in 3d. Zbrush proved to be one of the best concepting tools for me. If the design is rough, I try just get the shape going, without a lot of materials.
After the concept is established I can work on the details more. I probably spend too much time making everything make sense in the character. I should probably let things be a little more fantastical and nonsensical if you will. Because in a game things have to be exaggerated a bit to read better. If you want everything to make too much sense, you may end up having characters, who wear the same kind of clothes. You end up with the kind of boring world that is just too real.
Visual clarity is super important. We deal with this topic a lot here at Epic Games. We want the player to be able to see, what we want him to see at the precisely right moment. In multiplayer competitive games you need to acquire your target and perform an action almost immediately. It’s a very difficult process. We’re a very small team, so we don’t have a lot of resources. For example we don’t have the technical artist, who would be great to help us to light the characters better.
Usually, in level production, I’m usually focused on the position of details on the level. For example, when you have red and blue teams on the arena, green or yellow would work great for the color of the assets. Desaturated colors could work best in these conditions. I kind of find ways to put that color in the arena in the places that make sense.
My history in web-design and Counter Strike influenced me a lot in terms of color coding. For example in Counter Strike, characters are very dark and levels are very light. This allows the characters to always stand out. It’s an intentional design choice, which effects gameplay. This is how I usually make my decisions in design. If I know that the player is not going to be seen on the background, I usually try to tone it down and make the character stand out – cause that’s what’s really important.
I always try to get as much into the skybox as possible. It’s usually a great too get the right mood. Sky goes in tandem with the level itself. So if the sky is too colorful, you have to tone down the level. It’s all interconnected. I usually go a little bit neutral in the sky.