Welcome to another Dev Spotlight! We’re thrilled to introduce you to Drifter’s Senior Environment Artist, James Munroe – a creative force who has poured his passion and expertise into crafting the environments in Superior: Vengeance. Stay with us as we unravel the stories behind the creation of your favorite game environments and gain insight into the mind of the visionary artist who brings them to life. This is your chance to peek behind the curtain and celebrate the talent that makes our gaming experiences truly extraordinary.
What inspired you to pursue a career in environment art for video games, and how did you get started in the industry?
I’ve always been an avid fan of games since I was a teenager. I first got into Final Fantasy watching my brother play. Once I got my hands on it, the story and characters just drew me in. Now developing games and environments, I can see not only the story of our games, but also those of the artists that build them, and they mean so much more now. I got started a few years after art school over at EA games on the MySims franchise working on character design, and eventually transitioned into character and environment modeling.
As a Senior Environment Artist, what are your primary responsibilities and goals when working on various projects?
I work with designers and my art director to understand what the immediate goals for the environment are – gameplay and artistic vision. It is my role to make the environment visually engaging and support the gameplay throughout the process. I will model and texture assets from large structures to small props, maintain visual guidance for the player through details and lighting, and of course make sure all my assets are optimized for good performance.
Can you walk us through your creative process when designing and building environments? Where do you begin, and what tools do you use?
I always start with gathering reference and inspiration. This helps me get a good idea of what I need to create and how to tackle it. Keeping images in a program like PureRef is great because I can view everything together and view as I need. Once I have a good idea on where to begin, I start with my block-ins in Blender and go back and forth between modeling and viewing it in engine. This can range from simple things like stairs and buildings to props and hero assets. This stage is great for setting up themes in the environment, like is it an industrial loading dock, a storage facility, living quarters? Fleshing out the scene is pretty smooth from here.
What techniques and strategies do you employ to make the game world feel immersive?
I like to place pockets of storytelling in my levels, but also creating hero assets to support the narrative or make an area feel important is great too. Certain story beats can require a strong sense of atmosphere or lighting to make the player feel a sense of danger or even calm. Also, listen to your peers, the coolest ideas usually come out of talking with them about the environment. Someone will always say, “It would be so awesome if…”, and it usually is!
Were there any particular comics, movies, or other media that served as significant references or sources of inspiration for your work?
I love older anime like Evangelion, Akira, and Cowboy Bebop. They really showcase imaginative machinations that are intricate and great for reference. Plus, the storytelling reminds me of my early teens and why I got into gaming.
What considerations do you take into account when designing environments for boss battles or pivotal moments in the game’s narrative?
Well first, we need to make sure the player has room to move around and won’t get stuck on some random crate they can’t see. So open spaces work best in my opinion, and more props and things can get pushed to the borders of the play space. I also consider if the space has any foreshadowing, like a large oddly inviting door, or a pathway that narrows and suddenly opens up to a seemingly dead end. Those are always fun.
What are some of the most memorable or challenging environments you’ve had the opportunity to create in Superior: Vengeance, and why?
This would have to be Offworld. The story was not yet set on what it would become. This can sometimes be more challenging because imagination can run wild and I had to decide on what could be made in the limited time we had.
Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring environment artists looking to excel in the video game industry?
Of course as artists we need to continually learn and grow in our craft. Studying new techniques and working on more ambitious projects will keep us moving forward. But I would also say to not forget to do what you love. Don’t make things just because that is what everyone else is doing. Make something that moves you. This is your craft, embrace it!