What does an average day at work look like for you?
Right off the bat walking into the door I play a game with the security system. Pawing like a cat at the reader hoping this morning it would be merciful and classify me as human and grant access. After the usual six tries I get a "Thank you" from the computer lady. Recaffination commences while I check overnight builds, seeing what the day will bring via an update to the old "to-do list".
We have an in-house tracking system of what bugs we have and what art assets we need to work on. When I have an art request, then just popping on the old headphones and modelling & texturing is a really standard way to get a day's work done. I do a lot of shorter term tasks (compared to something like a ship) like landing gear, LOD'ing, UI elements, paintjobs, pre-vis for the expos, marketing requests, loading screen models, and implementing new art features. In a large game like this there are incidental issues that need an artist's time to fix, improve and produce assets, and these crop up during normal development from unforeseen angles. These are usually tasks that I help out with so the other specialist artists can stay in supercruise and not get pulled out and lose speed on the bigger pieces that need modelling and texturing.
What aspect of the game have you worked on that you are most proud of?
I am lucky enough to have helped in a lot of different areas with art, and because of the varied things I get to help with here I can't pin down a specific aspect. I think the adage of "standing on the shoulders of giants" comes to mind. The art team as such have a lot of talent and expertise on tap. And this covers everyone from the concept gurus to the video editing maestros downstairs. But something that really stands out for me is the fact that we have each other's backs. For example, a few weeks ago I looked at my planner and saw that through some perfect storm that no planning could predict I was about to hit the proverbial wall in terms of not getting some things done in time. When I sent a "mayday" for help, four artists just stepped in without braking pace or sweat and helped me sort things, and we got everything done. We might not be biggest art team, but we do the same heavy lifting that larger teams can accommodate on demand. I would say that makes me proud, being part of a bunch of experienced artists that can do the art equivalent of the Kessel run in under ten parsecs when needed.
What's your favourite thing about Elite Dangerous?
The potential. The golden potential! Believe me, you as a player are sitting in front of the screen and dream of features that you would like to see. Hand on my heart we do too. I have many a chat with people on the topic of what we need in the game. And the amount of "oh! We could add this!” and "man that is cool! That could make this happen and those things could cause these things to happen!" conversations happens so often it almost sounds clichéd, but they do, and they happen with passion.
Chatting about these potential things with the guys on the team is probably one of the favourite things about Elite for me. We blue-sky the living daylights out of the possibilities, and there is some really, really cool things that people have come up with. But there is forever the caveat of what is required, what direction has been decided, and what is actually achievable within the great equaliser known as the Scope triangle.
In the game at the moment I have a penchant for exploring. On the glorious day of 16th August 3301 I finally made it to Sag A with a rather scorched Asp. I like to "Blaaam!" and scram exploring all over and living every opening theme to every Star Trek series ever. Yep, even Voyager. I have made a semi-peace with the fact I will never be able to zip around the universe IRL, and that water world I am floating above might be the nearest thing I get to experience as an emotion for one day when the human race does it for real. But in the meantime I simulate the heck out of that feeling by exploring. Oh, and flying scrap out to the orbital-at-the-ass-end of space for mugs as well (insert crazy reason here) .
What was the biggest challenge you came up against during game development?
When I started to get into development, 12 people could make a console game, and you could assume direct control (complete with glowing eyes) over areas of the game, as it was less complicated because of the numbers involved. Then steadily it became 20 people, 30, 50, 100 and more! A very good opportunity arose for me and I actually experienced being an art producer for a couple of projects, and it really filled in the remaining picture of how complicated making a game is.
Luckily from the art side we have a much more defined agenda when it comes to the look and mood of a game when we first start making it. But steadily the madness in the method starts coming together and a game emerges from all the input from different departments. Big games are now so complicated that if you alter one thing, it has repercussions so far down the line that you totally falcon punch another feature off the map if you are not careful.
So the biggest challenge by far is to make sure that communication is as clear and open as you can make it when talking to the other disciplines and within your own team. Not everyone understands artist speak, and vice versa we don't know design shorthand or programming deep speech off-heart, we love our crayons best. That is why communication is so vitally, vitally important, no matter how many Bothans have to die to get information across.
What have you learned from working on Elite Dangerous?
People are passionate about space and the idea of visiting it. For example, I saw a post of a son demoing the Apollo launch and subsequent moon landing to his dad on the Rift. The dad was moved to tears, because this feeling is something that is so deep-seated in those "restless few, drawn, by a craving they can hardly articulate or understand" (to quote Mr Sagan) to go out there in the vast cosmos and explore.
Humans are natural explorers. It is shared in some degree by all commanders when we launch and fly out the safety of the small human structures we make and go far into the deep void. It is something that I respect. All the interesting posts, info and feedback we also receive really teaches me a lot about space and the universe, which feeds straight into the desire to make the virtual experience of travelling and finding things in space even better.
Federation, Empire, or Alliance? And why?
No one in fact. I see myself as the proverbial lone gunter in OASIS. I am utterly independent and have no need for having to belong to these organisations that would impose their ideology, rules or demands on me. I have a ship, I have an FSD drive, I have more stars than I could visit even in my progenitor enhanced lifetime. Sure, I miss out on faction goodies and ships, but I have an Asp with long legs. The universe is my order Ostreodia. (cue Firefly soundtrack)
Tell the community a fun fact about yourself.
About two years ago I took a break from development and decided that I want to learn how to make swords. Over that time I was very lucky to have visited some very good smiths over the country. I got an introduction on how to forge knife blades from Owen Bush in London, and in time was even privileged enough to have been offered an apprenticeship with Paul Macdonald at Macdonald Armouries in Edinburgh which I had to pass up because our family had the wonderful experience of levelling up a new full member! It was also very cool to visit Tony Swanson's shop in L.A. to see all those awesome builds he makes of gaming weapons and Raven Armoury is just down the proverbial road from me. The time spent learning, making and talking about all things pointy was indeed a life enriching experience. I do still tinker a bit at home making the odd sword shaped object, and maybe one day I will have my own little forge near the village of Glenfinnan on the shores of Loch Shiel making proper smithed weapons. The end-goal is definitely to make battle-ready swords, good enough to withstand a Poland vs. Russia, medieval re-enactment fight with a bunch of knights at the yearly Battle of the Nations. If you Youtube it you will understand. Seven sorts of heck get beaten out of those fighters, and the weapons really take a hammering. If I can make a forge smithed sword that comes out intact after a full tourney like that, I think that will be the moment I know I can make proper weapons. See some of Tjaart's work here.
If you could ask the community one question, what would it be?
What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow? Actually, one question that all gamers usually gravitates to after a few, are the "my first game experience was ..." statement.
Experiences like "I remember seeing the Sa-Matra and wondered where the heck I need to stick the bomb", or "The first time I heard the Butcher approach in Diablo", or "I managed to defend my castle with only 3 knights, 5 bowmen and a Rhodok tribesman against a hundred Swadians attacking us"
So if I am allowed one question, it would be, "What was your first gaming experience that stands out as something that will stick with you forever?"
Answer Tjaart's Question here.