Interview with Luke Ahearn [LukeA]
I was informed that one of our vendors here at Renderosity had designed the artwork for a recently released iPhone app, called Ticky Tacky. Being curious and wanting to know more about the app, the work that went into it and more about the artist/vendor himself, I contacted this member for an interview.
Meet Renderosity Artist and Vendor, Luke Ahearn, better known here on Renderosity as member LukeA. Luke has been in the digital industry for some twenty years now, working in games, magazines, and authoring several books. Luke's venture into creating and selling content here on Renderosity even earned him the honors of Vendor of the Month in August of 2009. So, let's see what he's been up to and how he got involved in the development of games for the iPhone/iPad.
I am half of a two-man team. So far, my partner Jeff Preston (pictured at right) and I have created four iPhone/iPad game apps: Nymbus, Ticky Tacky, Ticky Royale, and Ticky Holdem. We also have several more in the pipeline. Together, we design and develop each game. We are both experienced enough with game and software development that we can do all that needs to be done for a full featured game in a very short time. While my expertise and focus is on art and Jeff's is programming, we are both involved in the design, game play, marketing and distribution of the apps.
Nymbus was our first app and was very ambitious by any standard – it was our trial by fire. We then began developing a franchise of card games based on the Tic-Tac-Toe board. The first was Ticky Tacky, followed by Ticky Royale and Ticky Holdem.
So, Nymbus was apparently successful enough to fuel your continued work in cell phone games. As you say Nymbus was your "trial by fire," was this experience a whole lot different than what you've worked on before?
This is the first time I worked on a project slated for the iPhone/iPad using the iOS. It really is a dream to have one consistent set of technical specifications and then focus on the art.
With Nymbus, I wanted to expand the player's experience beyond a flat 2d window on the world, to a full adventure that requires a map to navigate it. First, I created a highly detailed map that contained 10 areas, and for each area we had five levels of progression from the entrance to that area to the end, usually located on the edge of the map. I had to create 50 unique pieces of art for all the places represented on the main map. I created the map and the art using many of the same 2D and 3D assets on both. As the player progresses through fairyland, the setting for each level corresponds visually to the map. As the level for each area increases in difficulty, the art reflects the fact that the area the player is moving into is less traveled and more dangerous.
In developing games for cell phones, are there any special problems/restrictions you face?
Yes, and mainly it is the limit to the size and amount of assets you can use. A mobile product that is small in file size, and therefore quicker to download and start playing, will be more popular. One of our challenges with Nymbus, due to the large amount of assets, is the file size, which is 65 MBs. This is after we aggressively removed a lot of sound effects, music, multiple characters, additional background art for the storyline, and more.
When I started to work on the Ticky franchise, I spent a lot of time planning an asset base that would be compact and small, but offer a lot of variety when we used it. The biggest savings I came up with right off the bat was to do away with the standard practice of creating 52 or more separate cards to represent each card. I, instead, created one card backing, one set of card suits and a font set. This is an incredibly small asset base and we build the cards on the fly. This also allows us to animate and customize the cards. In fact, I starting stepping away from the standard card game computer setup as we know it. We are using computers here, and most developers are still laying out card games like they have an entire table top to work with. They are obeying the rules of the physical world. In the computer, cards can fly, change size, etc... We take full advantage of that.
How well has your card game franchise been received? Will there be more of this type, or are you looking into other types/genres?
So far, we have launched three Ticky titles in the last few months and they are all getting major recognition for the unique game play, layout, and art. We have a long list of games in the pipeline of various genres and are putting one more Ticky title out before doing something different.
With all your work experience, including a time at Electronic Arts, what aspect of game development have you enjoyed most?
I love the feeling of seeing what I create being used in conjunction with other people's creation. With Jeff, this feeling is the best yet. His code and implementation, with my art and design, is awesome. I mean, the finished product is so much greater than the separate parts. No matter how good I think my art is, after Jeff has integrated it into a game, it always looks so much better. It is extremely rare to find a programmer with a good sense of color, composition, etc... When you create art for a game, you often rely on the programmer to place it in the game, create the movement and reactions, and other details that most get wrong. Jeff usually nails it.
What software is currently in your digital toolset, and what do you get the most work out of?
I primarily use Poser, 3D Studio MAX, and Photoshop. I get the most out of Photoshop by far, and while I may not use Max for weeks on end and have no need for Poser for stretches of time, I am always using Photoshop. There is also a long list of software I occasionally use for work on terrains, Shaders, parametric creation, particle effects, and more… on occasion, I will use Mudbox (Autodesk's version of Z-Brush). In my soon to be released Fantasy Inn, there are several objects I used the 3D sculpting software on.
How did you originally find Renderosity?
I think you found me. I know several sites approached me a few years ago about selling art and I think Rendo was one of them.
As a Vendor here on Renderosity, with a great selection of products in your store I might add, are there any tips you could offer other digital content creators?
Remember you are creating a product, not an artistic expression. If you want to only express yourself, then do so and put your work in the gallery. If you want to sell product, you have to give the market what it wants and needs. Study the sites to see what sells, and create something that is an innovation or improvement on current products.
Get people to look at your stuff and get feedback.
Start small. Create a small product, or part of a larger set, and go through the process once or twice. Create a texture set for a popular outfit or set, create props for a popular set - these are small ideas that can sell big if they expand the usefulness of an already popular item. My big mistake, at first, was thinking that creating the art is all I had to do. I created some really elaborate set, but couldn't get it packaged right. It took me a year to get back around to figuring things out. I still can't believe how messy and difficult it is to create content for Poser.
How did you initially get into the business of game development, and is there any advice you could offer to others looking to do this kind of work? Further, what's going to get that person in the door?
My story is a long, weird one, so I won't tell it. The best advice I have is get really good at what you do and all that other stuff won't be so important. Don't fret over your resume format or other non-essential details, master your craft. Presentation is important, but don't waste time on it; wash your hair, brush your teeth, trim your nails and have your resume proofread.
Enough about work, tell us what you enjoy doing outside of work.
I am the leader of a local outlaw biker gang called the Wild Rebels. We love kicks man. It's all for kicks. We live for kicks and we ride for kicks.
With much thanks to Luke for taking time out of his busy schedule for this interview, we encourage you to check out more of Luke's work, with a browse through his Renderosity Gallery, Store, and also his own website. If you are interested in game development, Luke has also authored several books on the subject, including his latest: "3D Game Textures: Create Professional Game Art Using Photoshop, Second Edition," published by Focal Press.
Nick C. Sorbin is a digital artist, sculptor, writer, and Managing Editor for Renderosity's Front Page News.
March 21, 2011
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