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Very early on we worked with concept artists. I was anxious to prove that it would be possible to bring in some amazing artists who could take our vague ideas and surprise us with a new interpretation. We got three great people working on The Forest, the Red characters and Grandmother's House to prepare for making our first real demo of the game.
The demo would contain Ruby, her wolf, "Charming", and the Girl In White. There were things we knew about them. I tried to distill this into reference sheets and vivid descriptions. And we loved the character drawings coming from Ted Pendergraft. But he was super busy at the time and we really couldn't afford him. He left the project, continuing on for awhile as a consultant to us; it was nice that he gave us a bit of his time.
Stacey Diana Clark seemed to get what we were going for right away and we ended up using her gorgeous artwork of the forest all the way through the design process. The only pity was that we couldn't afford to have her make more!
We had long conversations with Pedro Murteira and he had exactly to right kind of imagination for our rambling ideas of Grandmother's House. We put him though such phrases as "it is a memory of a house. A girl child enters the place of a woman whose life is done, what does she really know about her?"
Grandmother's House is based, at least in part, on a recurring nightmare I had about my grandmother's old house in the '80s. We needed a way to express in "reality" all these dreams.
In many ways these talks and quick sketches very early on totally helped us organize our thoughts, as for the first time we had to express into words what we were hoping other people could understand.
The work of Ted Pendergraft, Stacey Diana Clark and Pedro Muteira was great, and our time with them too short.
It was a big question who would actually do the modeling of the characters and environments. For the first demo we had help from Dragon-Fly for objects. The rest were modified from objects we downloaded from Turbosquid or made from scratch. Back then, I didn't have a whole lot of confidence in my modeling skills. I had no problem with the Forest parts because I have become a tree modeling, forest making expert due to The Endless Forest work. But I thought, surely, we would contract out the building of Grandmother's house, at least.
We ended up searching for people and wasting a lot of money in the process. We had tested several modelers to work with us and had high hopes of finding someone that we could work with permanently. But it didn't work out. The problem was that we knew far too well what we wanted by that time. Model design style: dolls but not cartoons, a kind of creepy-cute look.
But we felt that a 3D style is something where you have to trust the individual modeler to give. We wanted to find something outside of our preconceived ideas about these characters. We didn't have detailed character concept drawings and must have been a nightmare to make a test for. We learned how to work with other people, and how not to work with them. Our experience reinforced the feeling that we should not, under any circumstances, be managers of other people.
This is why we work the way we do now. In Fatale, the project we made immediately after The Path, we put it to the test by working in a purely collaborative method with modeler Takayoshi Sato. We work in this loose way with musicians all the time.
And when Laura Raines Smith animates, we have a relationship of artistic trust. We know she understands what we want and we don't have to edit her. This is the relationship we want to have with all our collaborators from now on. Everyone invested in the work, everyone with their specific part, and in the end we maintain the vision but mix all of these parts into the whole.
Test models by Ben Regimbal, Vykarian, Billy Miller, and Greg Savoia. Guys, we're sorry we didn't know what we were asking of you.
After the GDC 2008 demo, due to time and money, a deep connection to the game's themes, and riding the wave of adrenaline after presenting the demo for days at the Independent Games Festival -- and this incredible feeling of "LETS JUST GET THIS THING DONE!" -- I decided the only way forward was to make everything myself.
In the end I am overjoyed that I took the job and literally forced myself to grow up to the tremendous challenge of making all 14 character models, and the three environments. But it was a difficult development period and it was literally insane of me to do this all by myself in the short development time we had.
And so, there is not a lot of beautiful concept art from the project. It is not that I didn't want it, but I must admit I doubted its practical usefulness, anyway, in bringing out what I wanted this fully 3D world to be. 2D is not 3D. I needed to feel this world with my hands.
Michaël had programmed up all these cool tools for us to use in Quest3D, like a viewer with all the characters standing in a line and it let us cycle through all their animations. And a sort of dollhouse view of Grandmother's House to see all the possible configurations, add and remove objects, and follow each girl's path through the house.
I don't know if we will use Quest3D again for a project, but it was truly beautiful at times to be able to make changes, paint flora in the forest, walk with the girl in realtime without having to stop and compile. What I saw was what I got. "Concept art" for me became things like the glitches which would sometimes spring up in Quest3D's realtime window.
We kept an archive of beautiful glitches.
Or serendipitous interactions between bad programming and the sound in my headphones: glitch-filled journeys through Grandmother's House while working listening to music in my headphones (above), influenced the design of the teaser videos released once the musical score was finalized.
That was the experience I wanted the players to ultimately have: moments where my heart was moved but I don't quite know why. Moments of pure beauty, and pure joy, and pure pain.