Developer Interview: Surfeit

In this edition of our bi-weekly developer interview, our community team took some time to sit down with Ian King, otherwise known as Surfeit– Art Director for Galaxy in Turmoil.


(Pictured Above: Surfeit)

Who exactly are you?

I ask myself the same thing every morning. Existential crisis aside, my name is Ian King, and I’m a creative jack-of-all-trades who just so happens to be the Art Director for Galaxy in Turmoil. While I call myself a graphic designer, concept artist, and writer, those are all just tools I use to tell stories. Then again, I might be telling you a story right now. I do make a living off of making stuff up, after all.


What would you say have you contributed towards Galaxy in Turmoil thus far?

My work on GiT has been a whirlwind so far. When I was brought on as a concept artist a few months back, I immediately started focusing on character design, which is really more my specialty. So, I busted my butt drawing a bunch of cool [REDACTED], and within two weeks, I had been appointed the role of Lead Concept Artist. Wasn’t expecting that, but I did my best to step up and use some of my former art direction experience to help focus everyone on keeping this project on-target. The past month has been a blur, but I’ve seen a ton of great work come out of our artists, and I’m proud to have had a hand in guiding them along. Now, as Art Director, I get to do that across all visual departments, so it’s super-exciting.


What existing work would you say has been the greatest source of inspiration to you for your work on Galaxy in Turmoil thus far?

It’s really hard to name a single source that rises above the others, but my work as a Shadowrun artist for the past six years is probably the biggest design bias I have. A lot of our artists’ initial sketches might draw more heavily from the clinical, climate-controlled look of High Sci-Fi, but I’m liable to stick my nose in and tell them to bust it up and make it look like somebody lives there. Before you ask, though: The aesthetic we’re going for in GiT isn’t pure cyberpunk, but a hybrid of Sci-Fi genres, so don’t expect a Shadowrun game from me. That IP already exists.


For the purpose of clarification, would you like to briefly explain what it is you do and don’t control with regards to the direction of the project?

As Art Director, I’m responsible for guiding the overall visual aesthetics of the entire game. This includes the full pipeline between concept art and the finished product. However, that’s not to say I control everything. The management weighs in on anything important, and a good art director knows when to step back and let the artists play in the sand. The final product will be a collaboration between scores of creative people. All I’m here to do is make sure the pieces fit together, both visually and thematically.


What would you say is a common industry mistake you intend to avoid at all costs?

Yeti in the snow and fish-men in the sea. If we’re going to design aliens, I certainly want them to be adapted to their environment, but they don’t have to fall into the same Sci-Fi/Fantasy tropes we’ve all seen a hundred billion times before.


One user pointed out that UE4 games have something of a predisposition for being designed with chunky armour. Will this be the case for Galaxy in Turmoil?

I’m not a big fan of bulky armor, so over my dead body. However, there might be a possibility of a heavyweight class with such a thing. That’s just a rumor, though. Don’t mind me.


What unique aspects do you have planned for the general aesthetic of the Game as a whole?

I can’t get into specifics, but I’m big on putting things into my work that film and literature students will analyze and use as fodder for a multi-part YouTube series. That’s probably my favorite part of the Dark Souls community. I like for things to have deeper meaning, even as the primary function of a video game is entertainment.


As Art Director for Galaxy in Turmoil, what do you consider to be the most difficult aspects of your job?

Time management and communication. When you’re working by day and directing by night, even twenty minutes lost can cut into your sleep schedule. Plus, you’re managing the schedules of a whole team of people, and you learn to view their time as precious, too. I do my best to communicate ideas clearly so the artists don’t end up waiting around for an answer or–even worse–wasting their time because I gave them bad directions. This is a persistent challenge, and I’m not going to say I’ve done it perfectly in all cases, but we’re all learning and improving as we go.


So Ian, in regards to previous projects you’ve undertaken, what would you consider to be the greatest difference between them and Galaxy in Turmoil?

It’s really the size of this project that makes it different. Before this, most of the projects I’d managed were smaller scale with far fewer contributors. In terms of style, in the past sixteen years of my professional life, I don’t think I’ve ever had a reason to draw an actual extraterrestrial alien before now. Pretty much all the projects were more grounded in the real world or, in the case of Shadowrun, populated with long-established fantasy metatypes that I had no business changing. I suppose the fact that I’m now drawing freakish monstrosities from other worlds might make GiT seem like one of the stranger projects I’ve done so far.


What would be your advice to aspiring artists who hope to be able to contribute their skills to a project like Galaxy in Turmoil?

Concept art is usually not an entry-level position. While we do have some very young artists on our team, they’re here because they’ve obviously worked very hard to achieve a level of skill that I couldn’t even approach when I was their age. In my case, I spread myself thin between multiple creative disciplines when I was younger, so it’s taken my career a lot longer to get going. I didn’t get consistent work as an illustrator until I was pushing 30, but that’s because I never made getting that work a priority.

If you’re young, and you really want to get onto a project like this sooner, take a hard look at your portfolio and ask yourself how badly you want to be a concept artist right now. Are you working harder than all the other people around you? Even if you’re half as talented as they are, you can surpass them by also being half as lazy. Set a goal and commit to it. Believe in yourself, but be willing to take a hard look in the mirror and recognize where your present skills and knowledge fall short. Bolster your strengths and annihilate your weaknesses. Celebrate even the smallest improvement, but never let yourself get complacent. If you really want to be better, join a critique group where the people are more experienced than you. Read books and watch tutorials. Most successful artists are never fully satisfied with where they are now, but they have a clear vision of where they’re going, and they believe in it.
That, or they did like me and let their focus meander. For the record, I still made it in the end–just a few years late!


When you were younger, did you ever see yourself becoming an artist? I.e. Has it been a lifelong interest or more an area you found you were gifted in later on in life?

I’ve been a creative person since I was born, but I don’t place much stock in “talents” or “gifts” as measures of aptitude. Talent is just a natural proclivity. For example, I might not be considered talented in theoretical physics, but if I wanted to be a physicist badly enough–if my greatest dream was to figure out what Dark Energy really is–I could go to school, pinch my nose in a book, and learn to think like a physicist. I don’t care enough about that career path, so I’ll probably never put in the effort to see how far I could really go. A lot of people are more talented than they’ll ever realize, precisely because they fall into the trap of thinking of talent as a gift rather than something earned through years of love and loathing.


What is your education for your profession? Are you just very talented or have you also got a degree?

I have an A.S. in Multimedia Graphic Design and a B.F.A. in Studio Art with a drawing emphasis. My university didn’t have an illustration program, so I had to strong-arm the curriculum to let me focus on illustration. A lot of my classes were open studios, directed studies, and history/science electives. I’d say I’m 75% self-taught, but that other 25% makes all the difference in the world. There’s nothing like having a good, honest Art Director to help you boost your work to the next level, even if the little boy in you wants nothing more than to be told how amazing his unrefined finger paintings are!


How did you discover Galaxy in Turmoil/ Frontwire Studios and what convinced you to join the team?

Frontwire contacted me first, but I had actually heard of GiT at least twice through social media before I received the e-mail. And let me tell you: I haven’t exactly been following this year’s entertainment news very closely. I assume Hollywood is still making movies, but I can’t say what’s in theaters at the moment. If someone like me can somehow hear about an indie game made by a previously unknown developer on two separate occasions, you know the project has pretty good PR.
But the reason I joined is simple: It was a chance to create something new. If this had still been a Star Wars fan project when Frontwire contacted me, I would have politely declined and gone back to working on my own original projects. But you say you have Battlefront-style gameplay with creative freedom? Sign me up!

Do you have any humorous stories, perhaps the type stemming from miscommunication from your time in Frontwire?

Hmm. Think think think… I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition. One of the writers and I communicate primarily through Monty Python quotes. As it turns out, his name is also Ian. Which scares me a little, but I’m sure he’s simply terrified of me, as well.

A lot of fans are asking for some “leaks”. Do you have any juicy ones you can provide?

Contrary to the buzz on the interwebs, Galaxy in Turmoil has not gained weight or gotten a nose job, thankyouverymuch.

And on that bombshell we conclude our interview. Thank you very much for your time, Ian.

Thanks for reading! Be sure to keep an eye on the Frontwire blog for our next developer interview!
-The Frontwire Community Team
<3 EvoSteven, Fuzah & Lex

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