Robert Olson Interview, Part 2
As we read in the first part of this interview, the art design process for an enriched Xbox® game like Crimson Skies®: High Road to Revenge™ doesn't happen automatically. Many talented artists contributed to the look and feel of the game, but one man—Robert Olson, Project Art Director—oversaw the entire process. In this, the second part of our interview, he talks about creating content for the game.
Xbox.com: Are there any special considerations when creating content for an Xbox game?
Olson: The power of the Xbox is truly amazing and has given game developers the ability to create some very high quality content, but this can be somewhat of a double-edged sword. It used to be possible for a small team to create a game in less than a year, but as the quality bar for games increases, it is becoming necessary to have larger teams and longer production cycles. High-quality content is difficult to produce as well. Game artists must be both highly talented artists and technically adept, and those are some pretty big shoes to fill. In order to keep production costs down and the quality bar up, it's important for the team to have an "artist-friendly" development environment. The easier the artist's tools, the better the content will look.
Xbox.com: In a game like this, where the story is part historical and part mythical, are there any particular challenges or rewards in the design process?
Olson: Since Crimson Skies: HRTR is based on an alternate 1930s era, the largest challenge we faced was designing unique content that would still fit the time setting. We wanted to create a world that was both fantastical and believable at the same time. Our boss designs were particularly challenging, because we wanted them to be even more fantastical than the rest of the game but needed them to fit with the world we were creating. They went through much iteration before we could call them final, but I think we came up with some interesting and unexpected designs people will get a kick out of.
Xbox.com: How did you approach the design of the planes?
Olson: Considering the background story to the Crimson Skies universe, advancements in the aircraft industry would have been greatly accelerated and there would be some unique and innovative aircraft making their way into the air ahead of their time. With the formation of air piracy, aircraft would need to be outfitted with superior firepower to keep the thieves at bay, so weaponry advancements would become accelerated as well. Although we referred to real aircraft of the era for visual inspiration, we wanted our aircraft to fit within the universe that is Crimson Skies. Airplane concepts went through many revisions before we settled on the ones we liked most. We came away with an interesting mix of airplanes, all with their own unique personalities.
Xbox.com: Were you given specs for designing the landscape?
Olson: Since every game is vastly different in its technical requirements, we couldn't come up with definitive specs until we had locked down the game design and had created a complete level. Since our schedule required us to be in full production at the same time the game design was still in development, we knew it was likely we would need to make revisions throughout the production cycle and needed to plan accordingly. We knew enough about the Xbox's capabilities and the general direction of the game that we were able to establish some rough budgets for art in the beginning. We also developed a production pipeline that would give the design team as much freedom to revise their missions as possible while allowing the art team to stay productive. It sounds a lot easier than it really was, but in the end the efforts paid off.
Xbox.com: What element of the final art used in the game makes you feel the most proud?
Olson: This is a difficult question to answer. With so many creative people all working on separate elements of the game it was often hard to see the project as a whole. I guess I'm most impressed with the way all the elements came together to create an interesting world. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, so to speak.
Did you see the first part of this interview with Robert Olson, project art director for Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge? In it, Robert tells us how the design process unfolds in its earliest stages. Until next time, keep your head up and your back to the wind!
Interview by Violet Leigh