(This is a story from the life of an artist.)
I’ve thought long and hard today about how I was going to approach this and have decided to remain civil with regards to the whole situation that occurred; as I am still getting emails from certain members of that team asking me what happened.
About two weeks ago I was approached via the hiring process on Artstation.com by a “studio” in Italy called e-Visualsoft. They said they liked my work and were interested in bringing me onboard as Lead Character Artist on their new game “New Dawn”. New Dawn Official Website
They spent the normal amount of time pitching the game and showing me videos and explaining how they were Greenlit in about a week on Steam. They told me what others thought about it already and what it was going to be in the end. Now, this is not my first rodeo people. So, I requested to see a contract. They said “sure, but we need to make sure you can do the work first.” Hmm. Okay, so I reply, “you want me to audition.” “Yes.” the game director replied.
I’m told that if they like what they see they will send over the contract and I can officially join the project if the contract appeals to my liking. (As we already know, I will never see the contract.)
Now I have combined them for easier viewing, but this is what I received from the team.
I am then told that this is the main character for their game. (Which does match the gameplay videos I had seen.) I am then asked, “What do you think?” I replied carefully stating that it was a nice model that someone put a lot of time into… in so many words. They replied saying they were unhappy with what they were getting quality-wise and realistically with the 14k polycount (it was actually only 6k polys and 14k tris which I didn’t know at the time I was talking to them about the model) and that they were not happy with the overall look. I came back and said that if they were going for realistic which they mentioned earlier, then having an indian totally pumped up would probably not be the way to go. Also he looks Caucasian so that would need to be fixed as well. So, he asks me, “Can you do better?” And so, I give him the same answer I always give, “I can try.”
So, they said we need this done first and as fast as possible. I said a full redesign quickly? So, I told them two weeks and that’s just a first draft. If he’s your main character you need to spend more time on him. They said it can be done later, but Early Access is in November and they need to get going. I said, I would start on it and they sent me some more pictures for reference.
Now this is where it starts to go sideways… for me at least.
Their pitch for the story was that the game takes place in “Pirate’s Age” (for those out there who don’t know, that is around 1650-1730-ish, give or take a decade in there. Despite the Aztecan look of the main character to boot.) They then say it takes place in southern america. I’m thinking Florida maybe or along the gulf or maybe they mean like Brazil, but they are saying it is on a island. So, I have them point to where the location is on a map and they send me back this image:
Okay, “Pirate’s Age” West Indies, Islands, etc etc. Sure it has been done before, but their approach is very different. You play as the natives of the island and the idea is to create your tribe and force pirates who land on the island into Slaves. That’s right slaves. (I questioned them on this usage of the word and its application and all I got was if the new Conan game can use the word and system of Slavery then we can too.)
So, I’m thinking, “Great”, a chance to do something fun with a main character redesign in this setting. A Caribbean Indian based native who is like the head honcho. Sweet.
Next comes the three days of gathering research on Indians in the area during this time frame. There’s not too much that I could find accept on one big tribe in Puerto Rico called the Taino tribe. Lots and lots of data and pics on them. Sounds perfect. Here is a reference sheet I created to use while I was creating the character. I took Mayan, Taino, and Arawak influences. (Yes I know the time span differences.)
The guy’s gonna look awesome… or so I thought.
After about 2-3 days working on and off on the character sculpt I came up with this character displayed in the images below and sent them an email update with this:
The first is the entire character layout. The second image is a paint layering level system I suggested, and the third was a skin shader test for UE4. (Please keep in mind these images are roughs to be approved before moving on to the next stage.)
The following day I received a notification from the team and in so many words, nice model, but not what we want. Okay… that’s fine, this is just my take on it using references based on the info you gave me about the time and location and what I found on the web. You asked me to do my thing and I did, so tell me what you want me to do exactly then.
So, I’m given feedback: The paint and tattoos are all wrong. (The paint and the tattoos I chose were directly from the Taino tribe.)
So, I’m thinking well I guess everything else is good then and it seemed that way at first. Then they dropped the bomb on me via email. They sent me images and said we marked what we don’t want and what we do want:
I immediately think… what the hell is that. That is like NORTH AMERICAN Native American Indian clothing/attire. (Now at this point I did notice in their gameplay videos that they have Bison, Tepees, and Totem Poles (yes I saw the tigers as well). Just really a hodgepodge of cultural references and they were all on a tropical island. I was thinking fluke. At this point I’m not so sure.)
More artwork comes my way via Skype and email from the team:
Uh… these are not “tropical” indians, these are Native American Indians.
So, I take a moment to point that out and they basically come back and say just do what we ask. Okay, sure. So… I begin analyzing the designs. What that means for me is trying to go out and find reference images on google, pinterest, etc of objects that look like this. Plenty of other objects I found on the web. No problem. I then look closer at the provided concept art and realize that it has been photoshop-ed from another source… another picture. I did some digging and found the image listed as a product for sale on a website here in the US.
I emailed the game director and stated as such and asked if he wanted me to go ahead and do it exactly as the art shows and if we had permission to use the design from the artist on the website. The response I got back in return started to make things go sour… and sour they went.
He responded, basically saying do what we ask of you, we have people that worry about that stuff, you don’t need to worry about that. Sorry buddy, but that doesn’t cut it for me. So, I asked him to answer the question, “Do we have permission to use this image?” Again, I received, a similar response. Now if you know me, you know that I am huge on copyright law and protection. I use it. I respect it and any other self-respecting artist feels the same.
And so I spelled it out for him that since he asked me to violate copyright law I will be withdrawing myself from the project and provided the following image with a lot more text explaining the issue as he did not seem to understand what the issue was and why I was so upset.
I also provided several outside views on the game and how they can improve the game itself using facts about the location and the culture surrounding it. I also stated that if they are dead set on using Native Americans, then they should just switch it to a forest based game; since the environment/jungle was all that was truly missing.
The response I received back was terrifying to me. He said, that he would speak to the other team members to find out what happened. And at this point, is a great reminder that there is a big difference between a game director and an art director. Just because you know programming, doesn’t mean you understand art and doesn’t mean you know how to incorporate it into the game; which means you are not qualified to be a game director. Sorry, but you’re not. A Game Director must understand all facets of game development. This person did not.
(Now, I’m all about chain, and structure of the development phase. There are going to be those times where you are told to do something you don’t want to do, but it’s a job and so you do it anyway. (Well, I was not getting paid and was not going to get paid till late 2018 anyway.))
After the last email where he stated he would speak to the team and find out what happened, he sent another one about 20 minutes later I get another email saying that if I feel uncomfortable about that model that I could do another model instead. Now, I’m already thinking this whole thing is a mess. You guys need an art director badly or at least someone to drive this that understands both sides and that is not going to change.
In the end, I felt that based on where they were in the development phase, that they were not paying anyone, and that they were not caring about the game itself and its integrity; that I needed to get out while I could.
Now who knows, they could release the game and get a ton of money. Good for them, but at least I will sleep better at night.
I have obviously left out a lot of information here. Many many pieces of dialog between parties. Names. etc. and I do so, hoping that things will turn around for them and they will find a newer up and coming student or young professional who has the time and patience to not getting paid and doing a lot of work hoping for the best outcome in the end.
I wish the New Dawn team at e-Visualsoft the best, fortune and fame, but for me… it is time to look at the next project in line.