A Board-Gamers Experience Playing a Mixed-Reality GPS Game

Chris Solarski interviewing Markus Liechti

Gross. Stadt. Jagd. (meaning ‘Urban Hunt’ in German) is a multiplayer GPS game that took place in Zurich, Switzerland, on Friday 29th May at 8pm local time. G.S.J. was designed by JEFF Communications and developed by our team at Gbanga to promote the new Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake. The game saw several thousand players running the streets of Zurich in a 1.5 hour game of last-man-standing.  The last person to remain alive by evading capture by the Hunter (an actual CLA Shooting Brake being driven around town) went home with the luxury sports car. Below is a video reportage of the game, which was played through a mobile app featuring GPS checkpoints, safehouses and power-ups illustrated on an in-game map.

I decided to interview the winner, Markus Liechti, on a sunny day in Zurich a week after the event to discuss his experience playing G.S.J. Markus’ story makes for a particularly interesting read because he is a long-time semi-professional board game enthusiast and captain of the Swiss Warhammer 40k National Team. In the following interview we will learn how Markus applied his strategic thinking to gaming in the real-world, and discover many useful tips for designing mixed-reality GPS games.


[Interviewer—Chris Solarski] Hi Markus. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Before we get started, please can you tell us a little about your gaming experience.

[Winner—Markus Liechti] I’ve been playing board games since I was a little kid. At one point I discovered pen and paper role-playing games (RPGs) at around the age of 10. Dungeons and Dragons, to be exact, which I often played in a club alongside as many as 20 players. At one point a group of 8 of us splintered off to play Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40K, which was the most incredible game that I’d ever played. At that time I’d never heard of such games. War-gaming was virtually non-existance in Switzerland—just after Warhammer had first been published around 30 years ago.

[Chris] I also know that you play Blood Bowl competitively. Is that right? Continue reading

Framing and Centering in Game Design

I was fortunate to attend GDC 2013 in San Francisco back in March, which turned out to be a very inspiring experience. One particular presentation that I enjoyed was by game designer was titled ‘Techniques for In-Level Storytelling’, by Steve Gaynor (former designer at Irrational Games, cofounder of The Fullbright Company).

In-level storytelling is a powerful tool for game design, as it allows us to communicate important narrative elements to the player without disrupting gameplay with a cutscene or scripted piece of dialogue. The result feels significantly more immersive because players feels like they alone are piecing together narrative elements from visual cues in the environment, as opposed to being fed information through non-interactive cutscenes.

A feature of in-level storytelling discussed by Steve was that of framing, which relates to dynamic composition [see my Gamasutra article for more information on dynamic composition]. Because video games allow players to explore environments freely, framing is used to focus a player’s attention on important storytelling events within a game.

As Steve Gaynor stated in his presentation: framing ensures “the player is facing an important event when it begins, and is able to see it clearly as it proceeds.” This important design tool is illustrated below, where we have a top down view of a player [red circle] in an open video game environment.

Framing creates a funnel for the player's view, focussing there attention on a smal area within an otherwise open 3D world.

Framing creates a funnel for the player’s view, focussing their attention on a smal area within an otherwise open 3D world.

In example A, the player has accidentally missed an important event [X] because they happen to be looking in the wrong direction.  Continue reading

Video Gaming’s Parallels with the Animation Industry

I’ve just started reading The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation (Disney Editions 1995) by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, and I’m amazed at the parallels between the animation industry and video gaming.

Animations earliest films focussed exclusively on “gags” to the detriment of the medium: “Most people felt that by 1923 just about everything had been done that was possible.” Ninety years later we find the gaming industry saturated with games that explore a narrow range of artistic emotions through repetitive gameplay—first person shooters, platformers, etc. There are many lessons we can learn from the animation industry (and countless other artistic disciplines), which found success through expressive character’s with which the audience could empathise.

“At first the cartoon medium was just a novelty, but it never really began to hit until we had more than tricks… until we developed personalities. We had to get beyond getting a laugh. They may roll in the aisles, but that doesn’t mean you have a great picture. You have to have pathos in the thing.” —Walt Disney

Coincidentally, I’ve just written an article for Gamasutra on the topic of dynamic composition and character development (to be published sometime in January), which reveals several ways in which we can infuse video game design with a greater sense of life.

Guillermo del Toro on Video Games

A fantastic statement by Pan’s Labyrinth director, Guillermo del Toro, in support of video games as an art form:

“In the next 10 years, I see a huge shift whether we like it or not. It’s going to take you either by surprise or you’re going to be there to do it. It’s going to be like going from silent films to sound. There are going to be a lot of us that cannot do the talkies because we are not familiar with the form. I think it’s urgent that you get familiar with them. The art direction, soundscapes and immersive environments in videogames are as good, if not superior to, most movies. I’m not talking about [Krzysztof] Kieslowski or Bergman. I’m talking about most movies. They are far more advanced and far smarter about it, so I think it’s something we all can learn from and it’s urgent that we do.”

Source: The Guardian


Interview with The Daily Bruin at UCLA

I had the honour of being interviewed by UCLA’s student newspaper, The Daily Bruin, during my recent visit to Los Angeles to give talks at UCLA’s Game Lab, and USC’s Interactive Media Division. Visit the Daily Bruin website for the interview conducted by Colin Reid, or read the transcription below.

By Colin Reid, Bruin Senior Staff
September 26th 2012

With a background in both classical art and computer animation, artist game designer and recent author Chris Solarski can be considered somewhat of a Renaissance man. After having worked at Sony Computer Entertainment in London for a time, Solarski attended the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, where he discovered a personal interest and surprising relationship between classical and video game art.

Now, in an era where video games are both acknowledged and disputed as a legitimate art form, Solarski found an audience in the UCLA Game Lab, where he will be lecturing this evening on his new book “Drawing Basics and Video Game Art: Classics to Cutting-Edge Art Techniques for Winning Video Game Design.” Daily Bruin’s Colin Reid spoke with Solarski about the evolution of video games, the similar psychology behind classical and video game art and his views on the virtual medium’s place within the art world.

Daily Bruin: While writing your book, what end goal guided you to its completion, and what were you hoping the book would accomplish? Continue reading

Design and Composition in Pixar’s ‘Up’

Composition is important to every artistic medium if you wish to design the viewer’s emotional experience. As Wassily Kandinsky wrote in his book, Point and Line to Plane (1926):

“The content of a work of art finds its expression in the composition […] in the sum of the tensions inwardly organised for the work.”

Kandinsky was a modern painter, but this statement is equally applicable to video games, film, and animation. One example from animation, which I was unable to include in my book—Drawing Basics and Video Game Art (Watson Guptill 2012)—is from Pixar’s Up (2009), directed by Pete Docter.

Carl and Ellie in Pixar's 'Up' (2009)

A still from Pixar’s ‘Up’ (2009), illustrating composition and design techniques to wordlessly communicate information about the character of Carl and Ellie, and create a strong emotional tension.

There are several things to note in the above image, touching on shape, colour and texture, gesture, and composition.

Unless you haven’t seen this fantastic animation, Carl (left), has a stubborn and conservative character. His wife, Ellie (right), is the dynamic and energetic personality in Continue reading

US Book Tour—September/October 2012

Hi All!

The US launch date of my book, Drawing Basics and Video Game Art: Classic to Cutting Edge Art Techniques for Winning Video Game Design (Watson Guptill 2012) has finally arrived on Tuesday 18th September. This day coincides with my presentation at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC, where I have the additional privilege of doing a book signing.

Drawing Basics and Video Game Art book cover

Front cover of Drawing Basics and Video Game Art (Watson Guptill 2012).

An exciting 4 weeks will follow the Smithsonian talk, as I’ll be touring around the US and Canada to give another 14 presentations on classical art and video games—taking me to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York, Boston, and Toronto. The tour is kindly supported by the Swiss Arts Council, Pro Helvetia, and swissnex—an annex of the Consulate General of Switzerland. Many of the presentations are free and open to the public , so you’re very welcome to visit the events page for a full listing. I’m looking forward to all the talks but to name a few highlights:

• (20. Sep) A panel discussion at swissnex San Francisco alongside Robin Hunicke, Henry Lowood, and moderator, Eddo Stern.
• Presentations at top game design schools, including (24. Sep) The University of Southern California’s Interactive Media Division, and (5. Oct) NYU Game Center.
• (13. Oct) A book signing at New York Comic-Con.
• (18. Oct) A presentation at Toronto’s international technology and design conference, Digifest 2012.

If you’re unable to attend any of the up-coming events, there’ll be an opportunity to view my Smithsonian presentation online. I’ll post a link on my website, Twitter, and Facebook Page as soon as it becomes available.

Drawing Basics and Video Game Art can be purchased through Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. It will be published in the US on the 18th September, and 1st October in the rest of the world.

I hope you enjoy the book!

My book! It’s here!!

My game art book finally arrived! And it’s fantastic (if I say so myself)!! Apologies for the cheesy grin in the photo—a lot of very hard work went into it.

Drawing Basics and Video Game Art won’t be available till September 18th in the US, and October 1st rest of the world, however you can already pre-order it on Amazon.

The number of events on my US tour throughout September and October continues to grow, so please do check out the events page of my website if you live in the States.

Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or would like to propose an event.


Storytelling Workshop with Iain McCaig

I recently returned from Kansas City, Missouri, where I attended the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live (SFAL) event. The event was relatively small—being the first organised by Spectrum—which made it very intimate and personal. The cosy size also meant that it was easy to meet, learn and share ideas with some of the best contemporary illustrators and concept artists, including Mike Mignola, Phil Hale, Iain McCaig, Andrew ‘Android’ Jones, and BROM. SFAL will hopefully become an annual event, so I highly recommend following it on Twitter and Facebook to stay informed.

The lineup up of artists at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live was incredible, going beyond the headliners featured above to include, among others: Sterling Hundley, James Gurney, Paul Bonner, and Gregory Manchess.
The talk that I will remember most was Iain McCaig’s visual storytelling workshop. If you ever have the opportunity to attend one of Iain’s workshops—GO!—because his hyper-energetic personality and extensive experience are sure to inspire. As artist William Stout wrote:

“Iain’s infectious enthusiasm is extremely dangerous. In less than an hour with McCaig, the people in his presence soon begin to believe they can do anything.”

The workshop was particularly useful for me at this very moment in my career, as I’ve just begun working on my first full-length video game for which I must write a story; something I’ve never done before.

The following text contains my notes (and therefore may contain errors) from the workshop, along with additional content that I researched myself—such as the references to The Lord of the Rings, Aliens, and WALL-E.  If you find any mistakes or would like to contribute additional material then please feel free to get in touch.

Picasso’s, Seated Woman (1921)

I’ve never particularly liked the majority of Pablo Picasso’s abstract work, so I was surprised to discover the powerful impression that the figurative painting below made on me, and many others currently hanging in the Picasso retrospective at the Zurich Kunsthaus.

Seated Woman (1921), Pablo Picasso, Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, Germany

The painting is larger than life but what makes it particularly impressive is the sense of depth that gives you the impression that the figure is a three-dimensional sculpture rather than a two-dimensional painting (an effect that is lost in photo reproductions).

This sensation is created with classical art techniques consisting of over-simplified forms—such as the box-like head—which are lit almost entirely with form shadow. Considering that the light source is from top-right, notice how the figure’s left arm doesn’t appear to cast any shadows onto her lap; and that her head would have created a sharper and darker cast shadow over her right shoulder.

It’s nice to see modern and classical ideas working so well together. Picasso apparently painted it after a visit to Italy, where he was likely inspired by ancient and Renaissance art. I highly recommend taking the opportunity to see the painting in person at its permanent home in the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, Germany.