An Interview With The Creators Of Duel Of Ages - Part 1

MonkeyLek · January 27, 2003 12:00 am

Renderosity is very proud to present a three-part interview with Brett Murrell, the art manager for Duel of Ages, an epic strategy board game three years in the making. Venatic, Inc., the production company behind the project, hired the talents of twelve Renderosity artists to flesh out the diverse world of Duel of Ages and create the more than 1100 images and illustrations that the game required. Be sure to check out the second and third installments of our interview, or view the entire Duel of Ages Interview Archive.
You have been keeping a number of our artists busy... Yes. They are tired, but happy. We all are. The Duel of Ages project has kept us at the grindstone for 14 months. There were 12 artists involved. Can you name them? Sure: Kate Andersen (Kate) Armands Auseklis (Armands) Jose Castello (josecastello) Lon Chaney (Lon Chaney) Dean Chaney (Dean Chaney) Donna D'Amelio (webdancer) Gerald Double (GDouble) Ron Kapaun (KAP) Zieben Lin (zFigure7) Lorraine Purviance (Lorraine) Mike Robinson (squidinc) Martin Roes (prutzworks) I myself am Brett Murrell, art management and composition (SpitfireIXA). Don't bother looking at my gallery. I don't know a nurb from a bump map. Tell us about the project... Duel of Ages (DOA) is a strategy board game, in development for the past three years. The game is going to shelves in February, and will be exhibited at the GAMA, Origins and GenCon conventions in 2003. A group of entrepreneurs were introduced to the prototype in 2001. They liked what they saw, and decided to run with it. They had a game, but no art. The production company, Venatic, Inc., laid out $40,000 for art development. At this point we have spent $42,000 of that money much to the mental distress of the bean-counters. Did you know what you were looking for when you began art development? No. Venatic and its sister companies have a spectrum of business fields software development, commercial property, CDROM multimedia, even mining. But in the field of art, they were zero. I became manager of the DOA art development project because I was the only person with a Liberal Arts degree. Everyone else is hopelessly mired in accounting, engineering, mathematics, and other real-world follies. Why did you decide on 3D art? Unlike computer games, the board and trading card game industry is deeply entrenched in traditional hand-drawn illustration. We first considered that route, and rejected it. Venatic knew it had an exceptional game in hand, and wanted it to stand out visually, as well. In addition, the original art list had over 800 illustration needs which grew to over 1100 by development end. Traditional illustration was not going to get us to our deadline in time. Besides, 3D art has reached its maturity. Traditional art no longer has the upper hand. So you found Renderosity? Yes. Renderosity was exactly what we were looking for -- a business-oriented artist site. Renderosity is a place for artists to set up their "shop," and be seen by more than just fellow artists. Producing 1100 illustrations is a big task. How did you start? Venatic set some hard ground rules: 1) Venatic wanted artists, not just art. It's a relationship-oriented business. We rely on and trust our web of experts in different businesses, so our relationship must be very close. Venatic decided to pursue the same relationship with the artists. 2) Close relationships can be risky. So, Venatic demanded extreme care in the selection process. That meant a fairly costly process of selection. No quick and easy posting on a job request forum. Did you contact the artists directly? Not to begin with. Spam is a festering evil, and we did not want to contribute to it. So I was first assigned to go through the Nine Week Hades Tour. Sounds painful... We went to the Renderosity ALL galleries view. Started at page 1, and reviewed nearly 400 pages of 18 thumbnails each. Three weeks later we did it again. Over 15,000 images. From this, we narrowed our list down to roughly 600 artists. We then reviewed the galleries of each selected artist. From there, we reduced our list to 22 artists. I enjoyed it. My eyes did not. What did you use as criteria? There are thousands of artists on Renderosity. What in the thumbnails did you look for? The review of the 15,000 initial images was a knee-jerk review. If we liked something for whatever reason, we wrote down the artist. The 600 was harder. With the 600, we did a "turnoff" run, scanning each of the 600 artist galleries for a quick rejection. Let me preface this by saying that the art marketplace runs the spectrum of philosophies, so our criteria are certainly not universal. But these were our own internal triggers for the turnoffs: 1) Limited image types, such as when an artist creates the same basic image or uses the same model in most of the images. 2) A lack of images in the gallery. Having only two or three is not enough to bet the bank on. 3) "Death Kiss" galleries Galleries that were mostly gothic, gore, vampirism, depression, or an oft-repeated dark theme like occultism or torture. 4) "Welcome to Hooterville" galleries, with titles like "Naughty Vicki's Tantalizing Surprise." Nudity itself was not a turnoff if done respectfully. Our initial turnoffs review knocked us down to less than 100 artists. That's still a ways from 22... Here's what we looked for from the 100: We first dropped the artists into different categories: modelers, scene-makers, composers, specialists and terrain builders. We needed a spread of talent. And then we looked for the positives. Quality of work and posting counts were important. But because we were dealing with thousands of dollars on a purely word of honor system without ever meeting face to face, the character of the artist mattered in a big way. This was serious business, and the artist needed to take it as such. We were looking for reasonable maturity and self-discipline. So we read all the posts and messages we could find from the artists, and looked at their websites if they had one. You would be surprised how much you say about yourself with posted messages and a website. We had a game going: guess the age, marital status, job type. We were pretty stunned at how close we came in our guesses. In any case, we reduced the list to 22 names. We picked ten artists to start with, and sent each an e-mail explaining in full the project, and exactly what the pay and work conditions would be. Since we were looking for no more than seven artists, we did not want to contact more until we had heard from the first set. We were surprised when we received positive responses from eight artists. Of those eight, one did not work out, not through any fault of his own. The other seven are in the twelve above. Actually, eight, counting Lon's brother Dean. Over the next six months, we contacted 9 of the remaining 12 names. Two did not respond, two declined or were unable, and three signed on. Of the three final names, two were never contacted. The last artist was brought on late Mike Robinson, who has done exceptional work. Did you have any difficult situations? Not a single one. Not through the entire project. No one took our money and ran. No one quit. No angry flare-ups or misunderstandings. The artists who declined were polite about it. We had a few artists that we could not make it work with, but those were not their fault language barriers, and things like that.
Be sure to check out Part 2 and Part 3 of our interview with Brett. Duel of Ages will be available in early March. More information can be found at

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