Transmission’s sci-fi storyline is one that’s been experienced many times before: you crash land on an alien planet, then have to explore said planet in order to hopefully find a way to get off it and get back on track toward your destination. But what it does have is a painterly look that laces the game’s world with mystery, adventure, and danger.
Siliconera decided to catch up with the game’s artist and designer Nathaniel West to find out more about him, his work, and Transmission itself. He talks about how games such as the Zelda series, and films including Star Wars and Blade Runner, have all gave him ideas that he wanted to capture in Transmission. He also explains how the game’s painterly look is achieved and tells us what the upcoming Kickstarter is in aid of.
First off, you could tell us what you do outside of working on Transmission? What are you disciplined in?
Nathaniel West, artist: I’m a concept artist working in feature films and themed entertainment. Before that I attended Art Center College of Design, and graduated with a degree in Illustration. When I was young, I was really inspired by the artwork for Star Wars by Ralph McQuarrie, and the artwork of Syd Mead, who did amazing design work on Blade Runner among other things. I decided that using illustration to visualize fantasy worlds would be really exciting, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.
Are there any skills that you have acquired as a concept artist that you’re able to use when working on Transmission? If so, where is this most noticeable?
I think my painting background has helped me understand lighting, color and composition, and that’s definitely translating into Transmission. When I first started thinking about this game, I was thinking about doing pixel artwork, since that’s what indie developers tend to do in order to keep a project’s scope manageable. I quickly realized that learning how to do pixel art would take longer than just doing a more painterly approach, which is the way I’m used to working. The intent is for the entire game to have a conceptual, painterly feel.
Before getting any further, could you give us a brief overview of what Transmission is and what it is about?
Transmission is a video game in which you awaken on an unknown planet with no memory of how you’ve gotten there. Aided by your ship’s central computer and a plasma cutter, your objective is to explore this alien world in order to hopefully find a way off the planet. Along the way you’ll discover many secrets about the planet, and at the same time, what occurred before you crashed.
How does combat work in the game and how much of it is there? Also, is that the same plasma cutter as in Dead Space?
The combat is pretty straight forward. I would say that it’s much like a Zelda game, and there is a fair amount of combat in order to hinder your exploration through the vast world we’re creating. There is also item collection, although it is more limited than an RPG might be. We’re also working on crafting of weapons, which will allow the player to customize their combat experience as the game progresses.
The plasma cutter came about from wanting to give the hero something he would use to fight from the real world, rather than a sword or anything too fantastic. So it was decided that the best approach would be to give the hero a tool that could double as a weapon. It’s just a cutting device, so no projectiles come flying out of it. That’s not to say, though, that you won’t find different weapons along the way.
Exploration is a big part of Transmission but does that mean it has non-linear progression in any way?
Absolutely. Non-linear progression was one of my favorite things in the original Zelda games growing up. The freedom to explore and solve problems in different ways or at different times really fuels that exploratory aspect that I like so much. Many areas will be unattainable until you find specific items to help you gain access to them.
But beyond that, there are areas that you’ll only find by being curious and by exploring every area you possibly can. Much of the excitement I found in games was coming across secret areas that had not just one room, but a whole level to be enjoyed once you found them. That’s the goal for Transmission. There will be huge rewards for taking chances in areas and exploring everywhere you can possible go.
You’ve said that you want to combine your love of videogames and great cinema. How does Transmission achieve this in your eyes?
I’m taking a lot of visual references from games and movies that have inspired me through the years, and combining them all into Transmission. I’m really working to make sure the visuals have the composition and color design of great cinematography from films such as Blade Runner and 2001: A space Odyssey, combined with the exploration of Zelda, among others. The storytelling is entirely cinematic in Transmission–told via flashbacks and dream sequences–in order to reveal more about the hero’s past. Beyond the gameplay, there is an emotionally captivating storyline that I hope will resonate long after a player is finished with the game.
The visuals of Transmission really stand out. How do you create them and how would you describe this style?
All of the artwork is generated in Photoshop. I’d say it’s a bit of painting and using photo textures to add realism and visual interest in places. It’s very much the style of conceptual artwork. The hardest part of the process is to achieve a random look to the repeating sprites on screen, and to keep things looking expressive like a painting.
What’s your intentions with the upcoming Kickstarter, i.e. how much are you looking to raise, and what will it go towards?
I’m hoping to raise enough money to help keep the team going for about 15 months of development. All funds raised will be going toward programming, sound, animation and 3D modeling. I don’t plan on using any funds to pay myself for the art creation and art direction unless we can raise a substantial amount more than the minimum required to employ the talented professionals working with me on this. Minimally, we’ve estimated that we would need in the range of $75K for the basic game. If we can raise more than that, we would be able to polish it and add additional content to fully realize the vision. Lofty goal, I know.
Could you give us a little teaser of what else is to come from Transmission that you haven’t talked about yet, just to finish us off?
There is an expansive history to the planet, and things get darker and weirder as you get deeper into it. You’ll uncover a forgotten civilization of sorts. One that doesn’t want you on the planet poking around too much.