Updated: Apr 16, 2021
Some time ago, after a few failed projects capsized by production costs, I set myself to find an art style capable of combining the leanness of fast production methods and the magic of impressionist art. The styled that I found is called "voxel art". This style is known for allowing modelers to make minimalistic shapes incredibly fast, but at the same time requiring surgical decision making to find the minimal amount of polygons needed to convey an object. Inspired on the discovery of this new art style, I excitedly started working on a remake of the old arcade game "Frogger" but a dark twist were frogs had taken over the world and had humans cross the roads as macabre dark reality show.
The idea was to create something simple to complete and get out of that bad run of unfinished games. I was about a third into development of the game when I received a called from a developer in Los Angeles. The voice on the phone confidently said they were just about to be done and needed someone with experience in voxel art to finish the assets. Lured by the appeal of getting out of the funk of unfinished projects I accepted the deal and we started working that very next week on the project called Undie Rush.
The premise of the new game is somehow you forgot your pants and you had to sneak your way around to survive. Simple enough...
The team was great from the start, good communication, ease to work with and clearly they knew what they were doing, a rare find in any industry. I could not have been happier, but soon I realized the project needed substantial assistance. Turns out the team hadn't just lost the previous art director, but apparently there had been 4 previous art directors before the one they just lost. Red flags all over the place, I start digging into the asset folders and I could not find a matching vision, color palette, shape language or even design humor, every part of the game seemed like a big puzzle made out of different puzzle boxes. I thought to myself "What have I gotten myself into"...
Coincidentally that very same day, Dave (one of the developers) called me and wisely pointed out the problems they had in the past and the need they had to solve them as we moved forward. It was relieving that there was an acknowledgement and a general vision of what needed to be done. This is to show how an honest empathetic leadership even in for the seemingly simples silliest projects can coalesce diverging stances into mutual willingness to work together. We got down to work.
The first thing we tackled was to create a unified vision of the character design, they were a few characters models already done for reference but the number needed to grow exponentially to meet the game criteria, which brings me to the second obstacle, the worlds. There where just 4 worlds that conceptually made sense together but when put next to each other felt like different games. To continue with the puzzle analogy, every piece of the game had to be taken out, reanalyzed and then put back together. We had to make all those puzzle boxes work as one giant art piece.
Luckily the User Interface was barely touched at that point in time, so whatever we did had the potential to unify all the other assets together, which is how the lead programmer Marcus came to shine. His openness, patience and willingness to participate in the creative process acted as a keystone to the reconstruction of the project. It is rare in any industry to find an engineer willing to compromise aspects of the code for an artistic vision and do it with so much care and joy as this young programmer did. The conversations about the user interface created a needed bridge between the coding and art department, which in a fun way helped unified the vision of the entire project.
As we moved forward in the development refining mechanics, simplifying gameplay experiences, the project that was meant to last a few months started to grow in terms of the business potential. The company that had been tracking the development of the game saw a renewed interest in trying to make flagship approach to sustainable community development by partnering up with other small game developer and non-profit organizations.