WC: Can you elaborate on the art design process? What sort of work goes into getting a weapon (or piece of armor, etc) from concept art into the actual game? How much input do other artists have (or how much input did you have on the other artists)? On average, how many revisions did you go through from first sketches to final design?
Naturally, the art path for a game will differ wildly team to team, or project to project. I can recall how our methods evolved over time. We had a variety of people who'd enthusiastically sketch stuff out, and then members of the team would usually take the sketch and model, texture, animate, import etc... We were a really tight-knit group, and I fondly recall lots of friendly group input and collaboration. Most of us tweaked our work based on this feedback, until things just felt right. A common revision that I remember being involved with was the effort to make stuff look aged and gritty. When art assets looked too clean and new, I'd often be called in to paint grime and grit on them, whether it was dungeon walls, or weapons.
WC: Many games have distinctive art styles - Diablo is certainly one of them. Is it more challenging to adapt your art to somebody else's style?
Yes it can be tricky, but I think I had an advantage in this case. Blizzard North felt that my style was simpatico with their game world when they hired me. The first artwork I showed them had medieval overtones - scroll-work and ornament, and lots of gnarly weaponry and armor. I still remember them asking me to add that "flavor" to the game.
WC: On that note, how much freedom did you have as a game artist to blaze your own path? Were you given more specific directions, or was it more "Go for it, have fun, let's see what you come up with?"
Artistically, I feel like I had a free hand. I always worked on things I was happy to work on, and I'll always be grateful for how I was treated while at Blizzard North. They treated me like gold, and it was a lot of fun.
WC: What are some of your favorite weapon/armor designs you've done for a game that made it into the final cut?
Oh, I look at all my pixelated work from those older games and I cringe. :)
Someday, you'll be able to zoom in and see some serious detail on your loot! That's one of my dreams.
Okay, let me pick something though. After I left Blizzard North in 2004, before starting on the Swords book project, I spent a short time designing weapons for my friends at Flagship Studios. I particularly had fun while creating a huge sword called the "Holy Negotiator."
WC: What are some other games that you've played (but haven't worked on) with design work - particularly on weapons and equipment - that has impressed you, as an artist? Do you have any particular favorites?
Oh, I suppose that I enjoy collecting the weapons and equipment in any game that's designed well. As a gamer, I'm probably most concerned with the game design and the "game-play engine," rather than the graphics engine. We always knew that the graphics were a small part of the Diablo experience, for instance.
I'll also admit, I haven't tried too many of the latest crop of games. I'm looking forward to getting some free time to try some, so I can see what loot they offer.
WC: Any plans or thoughts on getting back with the old Flagship crew (now Runic Games)? Are there any other developers you'd like to work with if you got back into gaming?
When I parted with my friends at Blizzard North and Flagship, I was lucky to leave on very amicable terms. I'll always think of those people fondly, and I keep in touch here and there. I expect I'll be busy for a few years, so I wouldn't predict any near-term collaboration. But then again, I've learned to keep an open mind about the future. I have friends all over the industry, and it wouldn't surprise me if I collaborated with some of them again.
It's exciting to see the Schaefer brothers at it again, starting Runic. I wish them the best. I think there will also be some other exciting news soon about Phil Shenk, my old buddy from the Diablo 2 days. I'd give you the scoop, but I can't say anything yet! Watch for Phil, though, I think he's up to something cool.
WC: What made you decide to do Swords?
This goes back to that crazy dream again. I desperately wanted to create an illustrated book, and I was convinced that I should try -- enough that I quit my job. In retrospect, it might have been wiser to pick an idea, and then maybe write a little of the book first, before quitting. In any case, I quit, and then PANICKED while I searched for what to do.
An artist named Michio Okamura (he created the original character design for Diablo) gave me a sword when I left Blizzard North. It was a beautiful sword, and was one I knew that he treasured... This gift really got to me, since I was pretty sad about leaving my friends. Well, in the months that followed, Michio's Sword helped me to lock onto my theme. I would make a book about SWORDS! It was a perfect for me, because I could draw Knights, Ninja, Samurai... so many cool things that inspired me, all which would fit under the umbrella of the Swords theme. I already loved swords, and had a lifelong interest in them. It felt like the right idea for the right time.
So, I built a pitch-packet about my idea (over several months), and then sent it off to a literary agent. She loved the idea, and arranged a call with Candlewick Press. Once I talked to the senior editor, we hit it off, and a project was born!