In the fall of 2010, WonderHill was acquired by Kabam. I had mixed feelings about this. At that point, WonderHill was in a weird place, and I think a lot of us thought the company was on the brink of going down or being bought…luckily it was the latter and no one lost their job. We did end up all moving over to Kabam, a company known then only for their Facebook game, Kingdoms of Camelot. Kabam was in a period of massive growth, and was launching projects left and right. In that first year that I was there, we grew from about 50 people to 500. There were multiple office switches, management switches, and games greenlit and shut down.
Kabam showed an interest in WonderHill because we had created Dragons of Atlantis, essentially a clone of Kingdoms of Camelot, but built on a Flash engine and much more versatile. The same engine would go on to be used for a few other games, so Kabam got a pretty good bang for their buck on the WonderHill acquisition. All of the artists from WonderHill continued to develop Dragons of Atlantis, while I was asked to be Art Lead on a new game, (at the time codenamed Galactic Conquest) which became Edgeworld. I was hesitant at first, because I knew that Kabam had a reputation for a highly realistic “core” art style, something that no other Facebook game company was trying at the time. It was also a style I was very unfamiliar with, coming from cartoons and kid’s book illustration. Luckily, I was told this would be one of Kabam’s more cartoony games – not casual in gameplay, but it would have an appealing exaggerated look.
I immediately got down to work on concept art and a style guide for the game. I was the only artist on the project for about three months, during which time we were looking for a few in house artists to help me out as well outsource studios we might use. Here are some of the VERY early designs I did for Edgeworld, which if you have played the game, ended up going in a very different direction. But more about that later. All images copyright Kabam.
I think this was one of the very first things I drew on EW. I was trying to get an idea of the sort of shapes and characters we would have in the game. Silhouettes are always a great place to start for that sort of thing.
These were some early alien designs. At this point we didn’t really even know what they would be for – we knew there would be different military units in the game, but they had not been defined. The first unit we did define was a generic “space marine”:
Another unit decided early on was the Zerato – later changed to Rhino.
I attempted some early mech unit designs. It was around here that I was realizing, “Oh man, I have never drawn mechanical things in my life. Crap.” You can get away with fudging a lot of the details in a cartoony style…but as you go more realistic it becomes a lot harder.
Can you tell that one of our style points was CreatureBox? Those guys are so frikkin’ awesome.
We had a few NPC’s that needed to be designed to flesh out the world a bit. One of them was Zoot, a galactic trader and daily lotto chance game character. I had a lot of fun with him:
The final look of Zoot in-game:
The next NPC was KIRA (“Knowledge Intensive Rational Array”)…probably the most important character in the game, as you see her head floating in the corner of the screen at all times, telling you what to do next. She was also probably the hardest character to design. When I left Kabam over a year later, we were still in the process of re-designing her. That’s the weird thing about social games…they are never really finished. You can just keep on redesigning things forever.
This was my initial “brain dump” for KIRA. I was still thinking very cartoony here, and I had just watched TRON.
Starting to think about a full-body version. She looked a bit too superhero here.
No hair? Cyborg?
Or what if she were a he? KIRO?
There’s a lot of things wrong with this image, but it’s interesting to think what KIRA’s clothes would look like. Cause she ended up not having any. (I basically designed her face here, but it was painted by the uber talented Eli Maffei.)
Here’s sort of where she ended up, painted by Eli, mostly:
A couple of other NPC’s, including The Executrix and Admiral Tenmu:
I was looking at Victoria Beckham for these, because she is great alien-human reference.
The game only had so many characters to design, but there was a whole lot of other stuff that needed to be done as well. This included mechanized vehicles, terrain, and lots of structures. Most of these ended up being translated to 3D. Back when I was the only artist, I attempted to learn how to draw some mechanical things. My first step was to analyze other people who were really good at it.
Some Paul Richards studies.
More mech part studies.
Some random construction equipment studies. I should have done more of these.
So, like I said, there was a bit of a change in the style of the game a few months into development. As we fleshed out the art team, the direction kept going more and more realistic with the structures and vehicles and illustrations…then we decided to slowly redesign some of the characters and items, and overall go very far away from “cartoony”. This was a huge challenge for me, but eventually I (sort of) picked up the style.
The redesigned Zerato/Rhino unit.
Some Battle Reports:
Eventually I animated these in After Effects…will have to post some of my animation work from EW in the future.
As you can see, the style evolved and changed a lot over the course of a year and a half. If you’d like, you can play Edgeworld here. I learned an incredible amount while on this project. Not only about art technique and the sci-fi genre, but about hiring, management, planning, and organization. I recently left Kabam to start up a small mobile games company here in San Francisco with some friends. It’s gonna be a wild ride…