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Next up in our new 'Report In!' series, a discussion with one of Bohemia Interactive's Lead Artists, and some exclusive 'behind the scenes' images have been declassified and are ready for immediate analysis!
We're often asked to let some of our people talk about what it's like to develop a game at BI. So, stepping aside from our usual PR activities for a moment, 'Report In!' gives you a more personal perspective on our team, and a more detailed look at the way we go about our work.
Hunted down in Bohemia Interactive's Brno Studio, Lead Artist David Zapletal discusses creating art assets for BI and talks about the new environment for Arma 2: Private Military Company.
Tell the people a little about yourself. What's your role? How long have you been with Bohemia Interactive? Which games have you contributed on and which is your favourite BI game or mission?
Dave: I currently work as Lead Artist at Bohemia Interactive's studio in Brno, which means I'm responsible for delivering the required art assets at the best quality and in the shortest time possible. I started working in the games industry with Altar Games in 1998; I joined BI's ranks by the end of 2007 as Art Manager of the external team working on the buildings for Arma 2.
After our work on Arma 2 was completed, we immediately started with models for Operation Arrowhead's Takistan environment: buildings, small objects, vegetation, and also a few vehicles. Soon after completing our part on Arrowhead, we had chance to create the entire art assets for Arma 2: British Armed Forces (BAF), where we had to employ all our skills and learn some more in the process. As for our current work, I'm afraid that's TOP SECRET. :-)
My favourite BI product is definitely the BAF DLC - the British army was interesting from an artist's perspective, and working on it was great - the team was motivated and produced some really excellent graphics.
And can you give us a random fact about yourself?
Dave: I love powerful motorbikes and good food.
You mentioned your involvement in previous Bohemia Interactive projects. What's been the most substantial change in the approach to the art work, as compared to the previous projects developed by your team?
Dave: Before we entered the realm of realism and authenticity, we were working on logical and strategic games with a fantasy or sci-fi setting. These kinds of contexts offer plenty of room for artistic freedom of expression.
The creativity we have to employ with the Arma series is of an entirely different nature: our goal now is the careful abstraction of reality into a convincing and immersible environment. It certainly wouldn't be going too far to state that we underwent a complete change of mindset.
So, if artists at BI focused on replicating reality, is there any scope for creative work? Could you share few examples?
Dave: Well, we're certainly not a bunch of trained monkeys! Rather, making a soldier or a vehicle appear authentic requires a keen sense of what is substantial and, thus, what should be recreated in-game - such development definitely requires a creative mind. On top of that, there's always something related to the game which needs to be 'invented', yet must, simultaneously, feel realistic and authentic.
It's something of a contradiction, but we strive to create a 'real' 'fictional' world. As you know, BI's policy has been to create fictional game worlds to avoid any political misinterpretation of the events depicted in-game. So, we need to deploy a lot of creativity in making things like local advertisements, traffic signs or decorations. Designers always ask for such graphics to be realistic, which means it would have to work in real life as well, but there's always a story behind every art asset. Perhaps you remember the billboards from Arma 2, fictional flags or the roundels and vehicle camouflage patterns of fictional states.
What advice would you give to a young wannabe digital artist looking to join your team?
Dave: We're looking for creative and diligent teamplayers. I believe that technical skills can be learned, but that talent is required to create good graphics. This talent should naturally be coupled with a careful and conscientious approach to work. The ability to work as part of a team is very important, as close cooperation is often integral to our projects.
Arma 2: Private Military Company (PMC) introduced a new environment to the Armaverse, the 'Proving Grounds'. What was the concept and inspiration behind this work?
Dave: PMC's Proving Grounds initially started as something of a 'proving grounds' for learning new techniques associated with the creation of environments - it's the first map created entirely by the Brno team. Once we learned that the PMC DLC required an environment depicting a secret military testing facility in North-west Takistan, we knew that - with some creative endeavour - we could to re-work our prototype terrain into a spectacular playable environment. Based upon the requirements, we wished to create something with more of a desolate feeling, as compared to the usual environments to be found in our games.
We drew inspiration from photos of an abandoned military airfield in Milovice, gathered pictures from several post-apocalyptic LARP games organized by one of our designers and were influenced by some other sources that we liked, such as the recent film, The Road (2009). We like the aesthetic of the creepy abandoned military bases, industrial complexes and suburban brown-fields, and this passion is really evident in PMC's Proving Grounds. The feel of an abandoned place is well used in the new PMC campaign, 'Black Gauntlet', which happened to require such a place to exist somewhere in Takistan.
I understand that this was the first step in the process of making the map. What followed when you had the idea in place?
Dave: We had to sketch up the terrain, decide what kinds of surfaces, objects and features would be present, and then we started working. Once we had the terrain and roads in place, we started on the buildings, bridges, then trees and brushes, always trying to keep the number of objects as low as possible.
The map went through several stages of coloration and overall tweaks to the 'mood', as we kept improving the grass, surfaces and the buildings. After several iterations, we achieved a state where all the components were completed and everything felt just felt 'right'.
The map seems comparably small to what Arma 2's engine allows? Is there any specific reason for that?
Dave: As I said, the map was initially developed as an experimental terrain. Making a large map of good quality requires a lot of time and assets, and we simply couldn't do anything big within the timeframe we had. Instead, we focused upon using the possibilities we had as best as we could: there is a highly detailed terrain mesh, dense vegetation, and the location made with a passion for detail which really comes through while playing in-game. I would say that in case of the Proving Grounds, the quality most certainly compensates for the quantity.
Is there any feature of Proving Grounds that you regard as particularly interesting?
Dave: I like the way the terrain is built. It's small and loaded with many hidden details thus suitable for exploring on foot. As you walk through the barren landscape filled with the defunct signs of past human presence, you'll find plenty of unexpected little surprises. I guess I shouldn't say more and let the players see for themselves - some surprises are bigger than others...
Are there examples of community addons comparable to the products of BI artists?
Dave: From an artist's perspective, I like the addons which fit with our environments, have the expected weathering and contain no visible bugs in the models and configs. There are also a number of remarkable maps which motivate me to push the terrain development further.
As for specific examples, you'll excuse me if I'm a little cautious, as I risk omitting some talented addon makers; suffice to say, our thriving community regularly makes fantastic use of the tools that BI provides, widely available on a host of community-run websites, and which never fail to inspire us in our own work.
Sources close to Brno team have revealed that you're very able cook, as you often display when preparing weekly company breakfasts. What's your favourite dish?
Dave: I always appreciate simple food prepared from a minimum of quality ingredients but with the discernible cooking skill, resulting in a food you'd never forget. I believe we are what we eat... I really like the meat dishes.
A plague has befallen upon all the world's leading artists, and you have the change to take over any game ever produced and completely change its aesthetic. Which game would it be?
Dave: Simple: Dungeon Master.