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Saturday, 30 January 2010

Interview with Fable 3 FX Artist Robert Tatnell

Lionhead FX Artist Robert Tatnell has kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his work for the Beames On Games blog. Despite being relatively new to the industry, Robert has already got quite an impressive c.v including work on such PS3 exclusive titles as Heavenly Sword (pictured) and Killzone 2 and currently working on Fable 3, which is of course being developed by the world renowned Lionhead Studios for the XBox 360. It was on the subject of Fable 3 that my questions began:

Is Fable 3 shaping up like Fable 2 (a more polished and refined version of the first game) or is it going to be much, much bigger?

Feature wise that’s something I can’t really talk about. Being able to rule over Albion in Fable 3 definitely adds to the experience and there are plenty of exciting features in the works. Fable 3 is making big strides in terms of the quality of everything in the game too and it’s undoubtedly going to be the best game of the series. Just seeing the quality of work coming from the team is staggering. I’ve been an admirer of Lionhead’s work for some time and being in amongst everyone I can say I’m in awe on a daily basis!

It must be hard working for Peter Molyneux, seeing as how he really cranks up anticipation for the press sometimes setting up unrealistic expectations ("you can chop every tree" etc). I have always wondered if sometimes the developers are going "what is he saying the game will do now?". What has your experience been from the inside?
Although I have only been with the studio for a short period I’ve found that as such a large group of people have influence over the Fable experience, big sweeping changes don’t really tend to happen in the way that a lot of people would expect under Molyneux. Certainly the development of every idea is tackled properly and with care by everyone involved. I know Peter has gotten a lot better at how he handles himself with the press, but I’ve always been an admirer of his passion for what he's creating. I always think it's a little cruel to pull apart what he's said in the past and criticize him for what appears to be missing. I see him more as a child getting really excited about a new toy and wanting to share that excitement with his friends.

More specifically, what work are you doing on Fable 3?
I obviously can’t go into the nitty-gritty with my answer to that but given the type of game Fable is, and it’s various fantasy elements, working as an FX Artist certainly brings a varied set of challenges. Having a large amount of creative control over the FX we produce means we can really get creative when approached with an FX request and I’m thoroughly enjoying it!

You have worked with some really exciting developers (Ninja Theory, Guerilla, Lionhead) what has been your career highlight so far?
I think achieving the childhood dream of working in video games has to be the biggest highlight for me! Every game I’ve worked on, and the companies I’ve worked with have all provided challenges as well as highlights. I’ve enjoyed the learning process over the short amount of time I’ve been in the industry, there’s always something new to get your head around, or sink your teeth into. I’ve also come to realize just how talented the industry tends to be, it really is a shame it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves at present because everyone I’ve worked with have been just amazing.

How did you get into the games industry?
I knew what I wanted to do from quite an early age. I always enjoyed painting and drawing; and was drawn to programming too. When Toy Story came along I knew I wanted to get into computer graphics so I aimed my education in that direction, studying maths, computing and art through school and sixth form. It was during sixth form that ironically I got a chance to visit Lionhead, and it was then that I decided exactly where I wanted to head. I managed to get into the National Centre for Computer Animation at Bournemouth University and after studying I was offered a temporary designer’s position at SCE Cambridge. I was then able to move into the art team and it went from there.

What are your hopes for the future? So far you've done a lot of work on effects. Are there other roles in game development you are interested in filling on future projects?
I absolutely love working in FX, it’s something I got the chance to get into on Heavenly Sword and I’ve not really looked back since. I worked with the lighting team on Killzone 2 and that saw me getting my head around the lighting and rendering systems within games. Both departments add such a depth to what you see and have a very direct influence on the player’s experience that they’re areas I want to keep within. My ultimate aim is to eventually own and run my own games company but that’s a long way off yet! Thankfully though it seems like it’s becoming a lot easier to get picked up and to get your games out there, especially with things like Indie games on Xbox Live. For now though, I’m loving where I am!

Do you have any gaming heroes? Is there anyone whose work you admire (or try to emulate) in video games who does the same job as you?
The Final Fantasy games have been a massive inspiration through the years; the quality of their effects team’s work is always staggering. The FX sector doesn’t really have any “heroes” within video games I’d say. I try to keep my eyes open to what’s going on around me. The quality is always moving forward with video game graphics and FX are no exception, I just try to keep a look out for those games that really move things forward. Film FX are consistently raising the bar and they’re an area that provides much inspiration as well as many ideas that can certainly be brought across to video games.

What are your opinions on video games as art?
Now there’s a deep question and one I could spend hours answering! For me art can be several things. It can act as a method of awakening you to something you may not have considered before. It can affect you physically with abstract installations. It can be something of immense beauty. Video games can be all of these things and it’s how the technology is applied that will allow for new experiences within art. I do see games as a creative industry. Much as film straddles the border between art and entertainment so too do games in my opinion. I think games have so much potential as entertainment as well as art, and I applaud studios that push the preconceptions of what games typically are. As an interactive media, games can embrace the consumer with far more intensity than other forms of entertainment; and I believe at times can move someone with more strength than art. The whole issue whether games are art is down to the developers and how they choose to use the medium. I’m really very excited to see what the future holds.

You've worked on AAA titles for PS3 and 360: how have you found these two consoles in terms of ease of development and in terms of the results you have been able to achieve?
From an artist's perspective the two differ very little in terms of day-to-day work and the results you get from them. It really boils down to how good your tools programmers are when it comes to how easy it is to work on a platform. Having said that most of the coders I've spoken to tend to prefer the 360 to work on as a lot of what they need is easier to find and implement on the xbox. Personally I prefer the 360 simply due to the fact the devkits are far easier to use.

Finally, this is a Brighton-based blog: Creative Assembly; Relentless Software and Black Rock Studio are among the games development companies down here. Does Brighton enjoy a reputation as a good place for people interested in video game development to live or are there other cities with an even greater wealth of job opportunities (if so which)? Do you need to be flexible in your line of work (able to travel to a new city) or can you work from home?
I love Brighton, and it’s blessed with a good games industry presence too. The city is lucky in that it benefits from being seaside as well; which is something you don’t tend to find with cities harboring games studios. Companies seem to “clump” together in places around the country, obviously there’s a large concentration in and around London, and then there’s a good selection in the midlands too. Because of this sort of grouping of companies you can be lucky in that moving from one studio to another doesn’t necessarily mean you need to move home. Depending on your department you can have the opportunity to work from home, however this would only be in extreme cases, and generally is only used when there’s adverse weather or good reason for the individual not being able to make it in to the office. Games studios benefit from being a close group of passionate individuals; everyone needs to be together in one place to really get the best out of what they’re creating. You lose the commitment and connection to what you’re working on if you’re disconnected in any way.

Fable 3 is set to be released on the 1st of November 2010. For more information on Robert Tatnell please visit his lovely personal website.

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