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Valve's Francke: Game Art Direction In Its 'Infancy'
Valve's Francke: Game Art Direction In Its 'Infancy'
December 7, 2007 | By Evan Van Zelfden

December 7, 2007 | By Evan Van Zelfden
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Moby Francke, art director on Valve’s Team Fortress 2, talked about the game's distinctive art style at the Lyon Game Developers Conference before a standing-room-only audience, and following his presentation, Gamasutra caught up with Francke for some frank words on the future of art direction.

Why don’t more games have unique art styles?

Moby Franke: I think it’s because of the high risk to produce a game... you know, games take so long. ‘Why not go with what everyone else is doing?' is the safest bet. It’s what a lot of people expect. But I think when you take high risks, sometimes the results will be much better. That’s what we were lucky to achieve with Team Fortress 2.

In his keynote about the making of Crysis, Cevat Yerli said the game had their trademark art style. But it didn’t look too terribly different than most first-person shooters.

MF: It’s true, but they concentrated and were very successful in the sense that they were going to have a dominant… something that would draw people into a convincing environment. Foliage design, how it operated, how it's lit. In that way, I think it was very successful. But as far as having a marketable art style, a lot of games don’t go in this direction.

You might think that, for a publisher, and for marketing people, it would be better to have an easily distinguishable art style.

MF: I think video games are at such infancy in terms of art style, actually developing it. We’re dealing with 4000 years, really, of art and conceptual design.

For it really not to be utilized, and for the industry to basically dwell in a certain type of genre which has been around the 1980s up to present time, it’s pretty much all they’re embracing.

It’s the same way, you have Star Wars and the original Stanley Kubrick movie 2001. And people embrace that genre of outer space, so to speak. And it’s continued to this very day. Hopefully people will wake up someday.

What do you think of Grand Theft Auto?

MF: That’s not an art style to me. It just seems like other games out there. It really doesn’t have a uniqueness to it.

With Team Fortress 2, how did it come about that you got to do a unique, interesting art style?

MF: I came to Valve in 2002 and Team Fortress 2 had gone through, I think, about four different iterations, four different art styles at that time, from 1999. So I came in at the tail end of one of their other failed art experiments.

Because they’re trying to overlay the space marine theme, there was a military theme as well. I basically brought to them the characters, the shapes, and how we could make this work as a class-based multiplayer game. It was just something that I lucked into.

For future projects, do you think you’ll get to do other interesting, strange art styles? What do you want to try next?

The next thing I’d love to do is not based on realism, but stylizing with a little more in-depth look to the materials in the world. Instead of just having an impressionistic background, or having highly stylized characters. Making the characters a little bit more believable, even incorporating bold design, getting a little bit more specific.

So it would be a little bit slash realism and stylization all at once. And it can be achieved. We’ve done experiments like this, where you take a character and you make them -- instead of taking photographs of the character, you base it off of lots of drawings and studies and paintings of the character, with real proportions. But with true design to it. You’ll be amazed at what you can do.

Human beings are a very interesting species. There’s not one generic person. Everybody’s unique. So you can get some really amazing face shapes and body designs and clothing and all these things fit into that.

Anything you’d like to add?

MF: No, I just hope the industry… and I’m sure it will, I think a lot of people are getting… a lot of companies are going wake up eventually.

We covered Viktor Antonov’s talk yesterday, and he said that art direction was more than just packaging.

MF: It really comes down to the game. A lot of games, they’re selling you this thing from the box. But when you actually look at the game itself, it doesn’t even look like that. To actually have a successful product that when you get into it and you play it, you’re like, 'oh, my goodness' -- it’s a quality across the board.

Does that come from the art director being more vocal? Or does it come from the team?

MF: It’s having people, basically, everybody jumps on board that style and embraces it. Everyone develops an ownership over it. That’s the only way it can be achieved. Not in a dictator style. And you have to prove your point, too. Continually, across the board.

So for Team Fortress, I had to continually say why we’re doing this. Silhouettes have to be this way. Colors, through gameplay and playtesting, we were able to achieve, and be asked ‘Why these colors? Why does it look good?’ Even though, ‘yes, it does look good,’ ‘why does it look good?’

But people want to know. They generally want to learn the reasons why.

So instead of art direction, it’s art consensus?

MF: Yes, it’s art by consensus. That’s really what it comes down to.


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