Who knew that having kids would be such a source of inspiration?
When I was a kid I loved to draw, which child doesn’t? Monsters, robots, spaceships, warriors… I’d devour reams of paper, creating worlds and devising maps. Trying to connect back to the endless imagination I had as a kid is one of my favourite (and hardest) parts of my job.
I’ve been making video games for 20 years now and an art director at Mind Candy for three years. It’s been a lot of hard work, but being in a role that carries the same traits I loved in my youth is a key part of my job which isn’t lost on me. I feel incredibly lucky.
That process has definitely been made easier having two young children, Leon (8) and Myla (6). Watching them play, learn and create is incredibly inspiring.
They are not precious about their ideas, they make things purely because they love it. My daughter constantly sings and dances. My son draws some incredibly intricate designs and he has always loved to rough and tumble play fight! He’s brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion, and not always in a good way.
Play fighting seems to be a primal inherent urge, particularly prevalent in young boys – especially so in Leon. It’s a massive part of his role playing – a stick picked up in the woods almost instantly becomes a sword to bash hordes of marauding tree trunks!
One day, whilst chatting to him, I started explaining that although play fighting wasn’t probably the best pastime to have, we could explore all about warriors from the past that fought to shape the world we live in today. He became fascinated about their history, about Vikings, Romans and Celts.
For the first time in a long time, so was I.
That was the spark. The more I researched the more I learnt about this dark but utterly fascinating world. I discovered hundreds of warriors from every corner of the globe and every century of history from Akkadians to Zulus. A crazy array of bizarre and colourful outfits, weapons and helmets. This became the key to developing the characters in World of Warriors.
It was important that the warriors had appeal and take on the some of the accessible aesthetic of Moshi, which I loved – but a with a slightly darker look. The main focus of the character design was the helmet as it was key in differentiating the characters from each other, which all share the same body shape and in-game animation rig.
I was convinced that I had the seed of a strong brand. If it could capture my son’s imagination as well as my own, then I felt sure it could capture the imagination of others, old and young alike.
I sketched and let the design take form. I’ve always had a few concepts bubbling away and I joined Mind Candy very shortly after coming up with the idea. Mind Candy is an open and creative company that embraces new ideas so I knew it was the right place for me.
After a while I approached Mind Candy’s CEO, Michael Acton Smith with an A4 sheet of bullet points outlining my proposal. It was a rough and very simple game concept, but he liked the idea and asked me to work on a presentation and whether I’d mind showing it to the entire company at our Candy Stock annual off site event for staff.
I had five minutes to stand in front of 150 employees and pitch Warriors. Five minutes can seem like a very small amount of time to talk through an entire universe that I had come up with!
I focused on presenting it as a fully formed brand, making it highly visual, rather than getting tied down with the details of a game. It went well. I had an overwhelming positive response from pretty much everyone there.
Things moved fairly quick after that. Michael and the rest of the Senior Management team were incredibly excited about the project and from there, it moved into a green light phase.
Mind Candy had recently acquired a studio in Brighton, Origami Blue – now known as Candy Labs. This small group of super talented game developers, led by Mark Knowles-Lee totally embraced the concept, turning a simple idea into a fully formed game, keeping the original simplicity but adding depth and hidden complexity.
I joined the team as full time art director, stepping away from Moshi Monsters to focus entirely on this new project.
We set down rules for the game early on. Slapstick combat, no blood, no modern chemical projectile weapons. The look of the game has not changed too much since those original designs. We’ve kept the art style simple, we pushed the limits of the technology to help define the look.
The style of the environments with their basic stylised triangular landscapes are incredible low polygon and of course are a lot faster to process in game. Above all it was important that the look felt cinematic, with dynamic animation and cameras with a level of sophistication that made it stand out.
Children are used to seeing AAA console games and big budget computer animated films, so we set our aspirations for the game visuals high. It’s the combination of almost cute characters in a dark sleek world that sets the look for the brand apart.
During the development of the game, Licensing deals also took off. There was a huge interest in the brand. Mind Candy have a wealth of experience in this area and we have learnt a lot from Moshi Monsters to apply on World of Warriors and make it a truly global brand.
It’s been quite a journey. Three years since my son inspired me to start making this game, we’ve launched a game on iOS that I am very proud of, and we’ve announced some incredible toy partners. The game received a global Editors’ Choice feature from Apple and is now in the top 50 grossing games in the US.
It’s not about creating an intellectual property, a brand, or a game. It’s about inventing an entire universe. One for kids to enjoy, my son to enjoy and my 40 year old self to enjoy along with the rest of the world.