Though you've seen them on the shelf, bought them, and played them,
many Gamasutra readers may not be aware that some of the most
well-known video game logos and retail packaging designs in today's
video game industry, from Doom 3 through Call Of Duty 2 to World Of Warcraft, were created by the same company, design firm Hamagami/Carroll.
discovered this, Gamasutra chatted with Hamagami/Carroll principal and
co-founder Justin Carroll, delving into the origins of his company's
work in the video game business, its relationship with major players
such as Blizzard and Id, the process of what it calls “visual
mechanics,” specifically discussing some of its most recent designs.
Gamasutra: So how did Hamagami/Carroll get started working on game brands? How did that come about?
Justin Carroll: We actually drew on our experience in entertainment design. We do a lot of style guides for TV and movies, like X-Files, Terminator 3, Ice Age, and Buffy.
We also have a lot of history in toy packaging and educational software
packaging. Plus my partner and I, John Hamagami, we're both
illustrators, and so we really had this big thing about the power of
the image - we're very much about that image, which is basically what
packages are - that big storytelling image on the front of the package
that really captures what the essence of that title is. And so we built
on that, and [we were] a small studio and now we're kind of huge.
Doom 3 Gatefold Launch Ad
GS: How big are you now?
JC: Somewhere above forty people, it changes. Around 42, 43, something like that.
GS: And how many people did you start with?
It started with just him and me, and that was 15 years ago. We actually
started as an illustration studio and over the years we expanded,
adding more design capabilities, and eventually [we] just became a
GS: So, when did you work on your first game brand, and who was it for?
Well, we got started in the educational software business, right when
that was starting, and so we did a lot of work with Davidson, Math Blaster, Knowledge Adventure, Jumpstart, and all that. Probably Math Blaster was
the closest thing to an actual game brand, when we first started out.
Because they were trying to attract the same kind of audience and
convince them that it was interesting to do math in a game. I don't
know if anyone went for that or not… I don't even remember what the
first game was.
been really lucky over the years, we've been able to develop these
really long relationships with some major market leaders, like
Electronic Arts, Activision, and LucasArts. That's a really good
question… I have no idea… I should go back and figure that out though…
We've been in business 15 years, and probably the last 10 or 12 of that
have been working with the video game industry. We were really lucky,
we latched onto it as the market was developing, so our business was
actually developed along with the market and continues to develop,
luckily, because video games are acting more like traditional
entertainment properties now.
a video game was just people throwing ideas at the wall to see what
stuck. Now, I think games are being developed more with an eye towards
the property as a whole and all the different ancillary executions that
can happen like movies, TV shows, and toys, that sort of thing, so our
experience sort of dovetails with that, our entertainment background
helps with that.
So, how does visual design for game brands, differ from your other
work? Is there some specific needs or qualities that are inherent to
working with game brands exclusively?
Not really, because what it really comes down to at the end of the day,
it's all about that particular brand and that particular brand's target
audience. In this particular case, the world that we're in, it's in the
game world. We also do a lot of work with Mattel, Disney, and corporate
clients. One of our biggest clients is a company that makes drugs for
oncology. You can't get any more different than that.
bottom line is you're basically trying to communicate a story to an
audience in a very restricted framework, and you just have to maximize
your communication within those limitations. And [video games are] a
hell of a lot more fun. I know more about cancer that I want to know.
So, at what point in the development process, do you actually go in and
work on branding? Does the game have to be finished or have you gone in
earlier than that?
No, the games are almost never finished [when we come in]. We typically
work in partnership—our great claim to fame is these relationships that
we build with companies, it's all based on trust, that we understand
their story and what they're trying to accomplish.
we're brought in fairly early in the process, as soon as they start
building marketing plans, somewhere about halfway through, we're
brought in and we start working on the packaging. Depending on the
company we're working with, we're also working on the in-store display,
we're working on sell sheets, materials for E3, and different parts of
the brand identity.
GS: Do you actually play the games to get a feel for them?
I actually don't play the games. I work about 14 hours a day so I don't
do anything but work and then go home and pass out, but all the kids
that work for me are all avid gamers.
GS: Is there any specific game brand work that you feel especially proud of, that stands out in your mind?
JC: A lot of times, it's just whatever new thing we've done. I'm really happy with the work we've done with Id (for Doom 3 and Quake 4).
We've been really lucky to get hooked up with particular companies and
teams, and in the case of Activision, we've developed relationship both
with Activision's marketing department and Id back in Texas. And it's a
really great position to be in because we deal with both of those
entities, both the distributor and the developer.
I'm really happy with the way Quake 4
came out because if you see it on the shelf—and we are primarily a
print design company so it's about packaging and print materials—the
way that thing talks on the shelf, it really looks like the next level
of Quake to me, and then, when you open up the flap it really
hits you—it's exciting and emotional and I think it's really powerful.
I also went to QuakeCon, and seeing the huge banners everywhere was
pretty exciting to me.
GS: So looking specifically at some of your work, like for say Doom 3, what were some of the design elements that you sought to incorporate in order to capture of Doom as a brand?
JC: With Doom, you're talking to two audiences really; you're talking to casual gamers and to really avid Doom
fans. The challenge is to really communicate that story and the level
of advancement with the game to the avid gamer, the hardcore gamer, and
at the same time, make it interesting enough, [so that] if you don't
know the whole Doom universe, you would want to jump into it and play that game. Did I answer the question?
GS: I was just wondering if there were any specific design elements that you sought to include.
JC: Mostly it's about really telling the story of that world, because Doom is such a huge franchise. When you're dealing with something like Doom,
there's such a legacy there, the main thing is to be true to the legacy
and make sure that nothing rings untrue. Eventually, at the end of the
day, I hate to keep saying that, but it's really appropriate in this
framework, you're really talking about making a package that shows what
goes in the game—showing off the assets of that particular game and
displaying it in a format that's clear enough for people to understand.
GS: I'm currently looking at your logos for Warcraft, and I was wondering how you came about the look of each logo specifically.
Blizzard is another long-term relationship we've had, that connection
came through the educational software thing. You asked a question
before—what were some of the first packages we did—I think some of the
first packages we did were for Warcraft, because we worked with
Davidson Associates which was an educational software company and they
bought Blizzard, so we started doing those titles because they were a
part of Davidson, and that was what segued us into the video game
industry—that and our experience in entertainment and toys.
those logos, we worked directly with the marketing department, but
there's also access to Blizzard people as well. And they are very
particular, as with Id. Blizzard and Id are very similar in that they
are very into what they do. So everything that you do, a lot of the
challenge is just making sure that you're pleasing the developer,
because they're so immersed in it that anything that's just not
absolutely on the money stands out like a sore thumb. We used to do
packaging for all the Blizzard titles, now they do it in-house I
believe and we just do the logos. And if you look at the World of Warcraft logo, that's almost a whole package into itself.
GS: It's definitely one of the more detailed and intricate logos that I've seen.
Right, and part of that comes from the fact that the logo was designed
separate from the packaging, but part of it too is that it reflects the
depth of those worlds. It's just endless, how far that thing goes.
And I know World of Warcraft
is one of the most popular games ever—definitely the most popular
online game, so every piece of that brand has to really reflect that
depth and texture of the brand and the whole thing about storytelling,
if your really start to study just, even the border of that thing,
there's a certain richness and depth
GS: Yeah, I can see teeth and monsters.
Yeah, there're faces in there, I actually did that myself. It was a lot
of fun, but there was a lot of back and forth with the Vivendi
marketing guys and the Blizzard guys as well. It was definitely a team
The World of Warcraft logo
GS: So what were some of the things you managed to stick in?
JC: Oh I'll never tell.
It's like they had me… There's pictures of Paul McCartney in there. Just kidding.
GS: It's like looking at a dollar bill. There's a lot to it. Is it anything like the original concept?
There were many, many [concepts], it's part of any development phase,
when we do these things, there's a really broad range of work shown in
the beginning, you show a really broad range of concepts and then you
start to hone it down with fewer and fewer. When we worked with
Blizzard, the initial concepts tend to be fairly detailed as opposed to
other companies, where they may not be as detailed.
also because we work with Blizzard, [they're] a company of artists, so
everything visual is incredibly important to them, so that has to be
reflected in everything we show. The same thing with Id—you're dealing
with artists and it's great and it's challenging at the same time.
Obviously I think we're doing well because we've been working with both
of those teams for a long time
Just one more thing about the logo, is there any specific element that
you had to have in the logo, like say the world map or a certain type
of monster or…?
JC: No, the only thing, the only real requirement was that we had to maintain the legacy of the original Warcraft lettering, which is something we did years ago, for the first Warcraft package.
GS: It's definitely in every single logo.
It's actually rendered differently than the original logo, but it's a
subtle difference. Our main thing is to make it better every time. In
the big picture of video game marketing and packaging, I don't know
that a package has ever sold a single game. It may have sold one or
two, but it's important from a bigger perspective that it's all about
telling that story of the brand and everything's all intermeshed but I
would imagine that a lot of sales are driven by really great reviews
from other gamers.
Right, but if you're at the point of sale, you're looking at a bunch of
boxes sometimes you pick one over the other. At the very least, you
pick it up to look at it.
Absolutely, as there are more and more products in the marketplace, and
the packaging gets smaller and smaller and smaller, it's really like a
billboard. A tiny billboard, and you have a split second to communicate
something to someone and to get them as they're walking down the aisle,
with so much distraction and competition, to stop and look at your
package and pick it up.
then once you get their attention, the inside flap and the back of the
package tell the product story, and it really is about romance,
emotion, and connection. It's got to communicate a certain level of
intrigue and excitement or it just looks dull, no matter how great the
game is. So we owe it to the developers to make that package look as
compelling as possible if it's going to be as interesting as the game.
We've been incredibly lucky, when I look at some of the brands that we worked on, it kind of blows me away. We do Call of Duty with Activision, we do Doom and Quake, we do Lord of the Rings for EA, Star Wars for Lucas Arts, the Warcraft logos for Blizzard, Prince of Persia for Ubisoft… some major, major titles, and it just kills me sometimes when I see that, like “wow, this is really cool.”
GS: So, you define your process as visual mechanics. How does that differ from what another designer might be doing?
It's more about a way of approaching everything. What it's really based
on is the concept of celestial mechanics—the idea that there's this
system underlying everything. In celestial mechanics, there's a system
underlying the cosmos—same thing with the brand and with the visual
system. Whenever we approach a project, whether it's video games or a
brand identity for a corporation, we approach it from a systematic
perspective as opposed to this individual unit.
video games, sometimes we have very little effect or very little
opportunity to affect that overall visual system, but we always keep it
in mind. For example, when we do style guides for movies, we're really
dealing with the whole visual system—we're developing that visual
landscape—that visual world that's going to follow that brand around
wherever it goes—from the Web to advertising to TV. And that's where we
operate the best, where we really get the chance to operate on the big
that being said, sometimes we'll just do a little bit for a game, but
we're always confident that it's got to be part of that big picture.