Interview with Marc Gomez, Art Director of A Boy and His Blob

“A Boy and His Blob” (Wii, 2009), has been praised for its beautiful graphics and success in re-making the old game. Little is known, however, of  Marc Gomez, Art Director of WayForward Technologies, who was responsible for the lyrical and enchanting 2D graphics. We decided to shine the spotlight on Marc and ask him about design, the making of the “A Boy and His Blob” and his personal thoughts on gaming.

About Designing

Q. For those of us who aren’t familiar with the production process, what is the difference between an art director, an animator, and a designer?

A. The art director of a game dictates the overall look and visual experience you’re going to have when you play. Depending on the company, they may take on more or less roles, but at Wayforward, this includes animation, backgrounds, interface designs and layouts, and anything else under the visual spectrum. Animators are the ones who bring the real magic to the game, and makes the characters alive. They get a basic idea of the movement necessary, and move forward from there.

There are multiple types of designers. Level design sets up the environment layouts, game design dictates the core of the game you are playing, and character design is for the modeling and turnarounds of the characters in game that the animators will use to animate.

Q. Was designing for the Wii different from the experience you had designing for the DS?

A. Since the DS consists of smaller development teams, I had to wear multiple hats per project, usually as game designer, director, and art director. On Boy and his Blob, I was completely focused on art directing, and it’s was an awesome experience being able to focus on just the visuals of a game.

About A Boy and His Blob

Q. The character in A Boy and his Blob is a cute, somewhat effeminate boy. Is there any element of this character that you personally relate to?

A. Uh…ahem…um……what are you talking about? Uh…I wake up to a cold six-pack of beer every morning just like any other guy…right fellas? Fellas?

Actually, I designed the boy after my cousin Matthew. As far as the effeminate part I was going for a Christopher Robin kind of look, but those boy shorts weren’t going over too well with everyone, so we made a compromise. I think the effeminate look gives him a sense of innocence that children have when they are not wary of people’s perception of what they are wearing or how they look.

Q. How different/similar is the artistic style that we see in this game compared to your own style? (If you were creating your own game, would it look like A Boy and His Blob?)

A. I never thought of myself as a strong character designer, so with that in mind, I don’t have an established style. I think the art should be dictated by the storyline. Right now I’m leaning towards a much more adult and heavily rendered art style for the next round.

Q. Why did you decide to make the boy and his blob look different from the original?

A. The director of the game, Sean Velasco, explained to me his idea. He wanted to convey a true connection between the boy and the blob and make the game as heartwarming as possible. To get this feeling across in the art, I felt we had to make the boy much younger. This gives you a sense of vulnerability, and codependency with the blob. Stylewise, there isn’t much we can bring over from the original game, since it’s in small pixels, but we tried to bring back certain visuals from the original to this one. The boy’s home comes back from the original, as well as his green shirt, blue pants, and backpack.

Q. When you’re creating a game for a large publisher, how much of your own opinions can be reflected in the design?

A. This depends on the publisher, and how established is the design of the licensed title. In the case of Boy and his Blob, there was no set in stone direction on design from the original to the current version. Majesco put a lot of trust in us to deliver with the vision we had of the game.

Q. Is hand-drawn art more difficult compared to computer-rendered art? Is this something you would do again?

A. We have become super efficient at our 2D animation process since Blob. We’d love to do more 2D games and push boundaries in 2D animation in games even further. Our 2D process is completely digital now, and we can work at twice the speed as before. The difficulties of 2D animation and 3D animation lie in different areas. It’s hard to say which is easier. They both have their strengths and weaknesses.

Q. A lot of reviews are praising the graphics and the art. Do you have any plans to sell some of the original artwork?

A. Well, interesting note on the art, we started animation traditionally with pencil and paper, but 3/4 through the process we switched to completely digitally drawn animation, so the frames we have of Boy and his Blob are probably the last pieces of hand drawn art on paper we’ll see at this company. Our current project is all digital 2D. I’m not sure about if we are allowed to sell the frames. They will probably stay sealed in a box next to the Arc of the Covenant.

Marc’s design sketches of bad guys in the game, with some concept ideas of their actions. Provided by Gomez

About Marc Gomez

Q. What are you personal favorite games?

A. In our office we keep our “Top 20” lists on the front door to our room. I like games of all genres, and my top 20 list is fairly generic, but a few notables are Rivercity Ransom, Resident Evil 4, and Final Fantasy 7, which I never got to the last disc of because I loved it so much that I didn’t want to progress further because I would not be able to go back to certain places. I ended up beating Emerald Weapon on the 2nd to last disc then stopped and never played again. I also played 120 hours into Final Fantasy 12 then stopped playing that too. RPGs are bad for me.

Q. Do you have a preferred console?

A. As far as consoles that gave me that nice fuzzy feeling, I would say SNES. I don’t want to choose favorites in the current console war. : )

Q.  Are there certain types of games that you’d like to see, but aren’t really out there?

A. There’s definitely not enough ninja games out there…. Oh, and first person shooters also need to make a comeback.

Truthfully though I’d like to see something that fills the gap between Dragon’s Lair and what we’re doing at Wayforward. As close as we can get to a fully interactive 2D cinema.

Q. Do you think games should be considered mass media, like television, or just something for groups of enthusiasts?

A. I’m not sure games are as mass of a media as television. Sure some games garner more sales than any other electronic product in history, but I would say that is more of a strong interest from a specific demographic. I think of all current gen systems, the Wii is trying to get a mass appeal with their games that are fun and interactive for all age and gender groups, but they still have a long way to go.

Q. What is your take on Japanese animation versus Western animation?

A. Well, speaking of mass media, Japanese animation caters to a much larger demographic of age groups. There’s more variety in genres that you won’t find in the U.S. market. I myself got into animation because of watching Akira. I think both Western and Japanese animation have their strong points.

The Blob team doing some kid testing on the game. In the shot is the director, lead animator, lead programmers, lead level designers, and some kids. Image provided by Gomez

Q.  As someone who plays tennis, how “real” do you feel Wii tennis is?

A. Playing actual tennis, then playing Wii Tennis, I think I now understand what it is like entering the world of Tron. You probably feel like ‘geez…I must look pretty ridiculous right now’, then you think ‘wow, I’m being beaten by an old man’, and finally you think, ‘3D Graphics!!!!!’

Q. Has your ethnic background affected/influenced your work?

A. I don’t think being Asian American has influenced me in gaming directly. My life growing up has been multi-cultural as well as my college experience. I think it gives me a broader view of influences out there. I did grow up with a Famicom though! Don’t know if that influenced me one way or another.

Q. You’re interested in comic books. Were comic books a big part of your childhood?

A. Actually, no. I never enjoyed reading for fun. Most of my reading while growing up was books on dinosaurs. I also liked Zoo Books. They were these magazines with info on different animals. Each issue was a spotlight on a different animal. I like reading an interesting comic every once in a while now. Working at a comic shop before, the shop manager at the time made me read comics, so I can be more informative to the customers. Hard work, I know.

Q. Do you think comic books are the same in an electronic format (like on the web instead of in a paper booklet)

A. Working at a developer, you tend to favor producing something tangible. After you stop playing a game you made, you can still view the fruits of your labor, and put it on your bookshelf. I don’t feel the same about music and mp3s, but I’m sure the musicians know how I feel. I don’t think electronic format has caught on in other areas where collectibles are concerned. I see comics being one, and games being another. We’ll see if systems like the PSP Go catch on.

Q. Your profile says that you want to make live action movies. Are you thinking of Hollywood-type movies? (is this a fantasy or something you’re seriously planning?)

A. I like storyboarding and storytelling. Instead of applying it to live action, right now my focus is to weave a good story together in a videogame format. We’ll see how that goes.

Q. Now that A Boy and His Blob is out, what’s on your plate?

A. More Wii games. Hopefully some XBLA or PSN in the future.

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