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A Cyber-Renaissance In Art Direction
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A Cyber-Renaissance In Art Direction

August 22, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

The commercial games market is pretty risk-averse and has a tendency to do the same thing over and over. If we look at these consoles that tend to have a lot of horsepower, there's so much that can be done with them artistically that is not, broadly, being done with them artistically.

JJ: Yeah. At the end, art does not even need all that much power. My point is: tech and art are two different things. Tech does not allow you to do art. I mean, it goes hand-in-hand, meaning if you have really great tech and you have good artistic ideas, perfect. But if you have great tech and no interesting artistic ideas, you're no better off.

A thing that I really believe in is that games that are based on really, really crazy tech for their art at one point get old and start looking dated -- because tech at one point looks dated.

But games that trace a line in the sand and go for a very hard-corded visual style and make a statement can be remembered forever for that style, because the art is not going to grow old like the tech. A painting, even though you might not like it... It's not like, "Oh! Now we can do so much better than that painting." That's not true. It's not a tech. I don't think we understand that enough.

I can think of examples of games that you look back on... Parappa the Rapper or Vagrant Story are two examples of PlayStation 1 games that...

JJ: Technically, they don't compare anymore, but artistically there's a statement. That's what you meant, right?

Exactly. They have a statement; they have a cohesive aesthetic.

JJ: Exactly. And that's it. A game that you're tripping on today just because of its tech -- which is fine -- well, five years from now, you won't be tripping on it anymore, whereas now I can actually say that I remember Parappa the Rapper. That was so awesome.

It calls images directly to mind.

JJ: I could actually frame it in my room somewhere, and it would look kind of cool.

That's a game where they got a visual artist from outside the game industry. That's not to say that visual artists in the game industry don't have talent or ideas. I think it's more that people get into schools of working, or methods of working.

JJ: I think the problem is that we're a little circular in our industry. I think we self-reference ourselves too much. I think that's the problem. We look in the mirror too much, and a reflection looks the same all the time. I think we need to do that: hire people from outside the industry. They don't have to be there for the whole three-year development. You hire them for three months, they do some funky, crazy stuff for you, and then you funnel it down to what you know how to do, which is games. That's what we do.

I think we should start hiring fashion designers to create the clothing of characters in games, crazy artists, street artists to do all sorts of things -- give them monthly contracts or whatever. Also, I think that artists and creative directors need to start to go see stuff that are not games, like operas, and crazy art shows, and all that kind of stuff. They need to know what's going on in the street.

This is a game about a person undergoing these transhumanistic changes, and that has to be reflected in the overall aesthetic somehow, in terms of a world that fits that kind of story. How do you evoke a world where this could be possible?

JJ: You mean for Adam Jensen himself, and what he's going through personally?


JJ: I'm not sure how much I try to make the world reflect the inner fights that Adam has. I think I should have done that, though, now that you're mentioning it. (Laughs) It's true; I really could have played on that for the environment and all sorts of things.

This is a game about identity; at least, that's my take on it.

JJ: A part of it is.

But you'll see a lot of techniques reflect that in film. But in games that's less of an aesthetic technique -- trying to reflect the character's frame of mind.

JJ: Visually speaking. Absolutely. A place where that happens is in Adam's apartment. When you get into Adam's apartment, it's one of the great moods of the game, I think. I like to call it "Adam's museum". If you take the time to walk around, there are so many little details.

There are the get well cards that are still there from after his operation, all of the cereal boxes that we designed painstakingly, because he loves cereal. He's got books on "how to cope with your new cyberaugmnetation" and stuff like that. His plants are dying -- he hasn't watered his plants in a long time. He's been living there for almost a year now, but there are still boxes everywhere. So that easily reflects his state of mind. That was an easy one in his apartment.

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