From geek to cultural mainstream

Last night I attended a talk by Revolution Software founder (and official industry/local legend) Charles Cecil, entitled From geek to cultural mainstream. He discussed the evolution of adventure games from their humble text-based origins, through the glory days of Monkey Island and Revolution's own Broken Sword, to the resurrection of the genre on various handheld devices that let you literally point and click. There was also a lot of of focus on the actually storytelling art involved in writing a game, and how the App store model of selling is infinitely superior to the slow developer/publisher/distributor/retailer one.

The talk was predictably fascinating, as you'd expect from someone who's been at the front line of the gaming industry pretty much since its inception, and Cecil has a knack for entertaining Ron Howard anecdotes. But I particularly enjoyed it because it got me all nostalgiary — and not just about the games (although that does happen sometimes).

You see, way back in 1998 I managed to get myself a few months of intern work as a researcher and artworker at Revolution Software whilst they were developing In Cold Blood (not, it should be pointed out, based on the work of Truman Capote). I compiled film clips of set design and cinematography as inspiration for the designers – plenty of The Third Man and Batman Returns I seem to recall – and created lots of incidental graphic elements featured in the game.

Looking back now, I realise this was pretty much the accidental beginning of my career. I was studying film and television at York St Johns at the time, and had great plans for carving out a niche as the British Cameron Crowe. I loved anything that involved creativity, but design as a profession wasn't really on my mind. I'd never used Photoshop before, but knew my way around Deluxe Paint on the Amiga, so understood the basics.

I mostly had to create textures for the 3D models and sets, so I got to traipse around York with a digital camera (a nineties digital camera – clunky) and take pictures of rusty boats and mouldy walls. I also had the fiddly but incredibly fun task of creating industrial floor markings and some background animations (which involved watching the opening of Alien … a LOT). Fortunately there are still some screenshots of the game online, so here are a couple of examples of my very first professional designs:

See those yellow dashed lines on the floor? I did those. Oh yeah.

I can't be certain, but I'm fairly sure that the computer console at the bottom features a couple of my astonishingly generic green-screen sci-fi animations.

Yeah, could be. Impressive, eh?

The skills I picked up at Revolution – and, more importantly, learning that this sort of thing was actually rather fun – put me on an unexpected path to designerdom. The Oscar was, and continues to be, put on hold. Careers start in odd, unexpected places, don't they?

Thanks Charles :)