Brandon Rollins and I share a common thread: We’ve both hired James Masino to do artwork for our games. I met Brandon by supporting his War Co. game on Kickstarter, and met James Masino by talking with Brandon afterward. Since then, James has completed a massive amount of artwork for Polyversal and has done an incredible job with each piece. This is a guest post from Brandon with a bit more about commissioning art as well as how that ties into his latest project, Highways & Byways. Thanks, Brandon!
And now, over to Brandon:
Tabletop games are undergoing a renaissance. Every single day, an exciting new project is being launched on Kickstarter. With the exhilaration of rapid growth come the difficulties of a crowded market. One way to stand out is to commission wonderful artwork for your game. In that sense, Byron and I share a unique experience: we’ve both commissioned artwork from the up-and-coming and immensely talented James Masino. My name is Brandon Rollins. I created War Co. and I’m creating Highways & Byways, a board game coming to Kickstarter in late March. It is a casual family board game for 2-4 players and takes 45-60 minutes to play. In it, you take an epic road trip across the United States. The art was done by none other than James Masino.
If this appeals to you, sign up here to get an email when Highways & Byways is on Kickstarter.
James’s debut into the tabletop game market was through my first game, War Co., an expandable card game set after the apocalyptic War of 2620. Early in the development of that game, I had no idea how I was going to get artwork. It was a massive project involving 300 unique pieces of art – one for every single card. I eventually found James through our mutual friend Alex. I knew Alex from when I used to play Minecraft, and Alex knew James from when they used to play Club Penguin. (You have to love networking in the gaming world…)
I told him about this absurd project I was taking on and he was so excited by the theme that he had to get involved. He took ownership of it and he left his indelible style in every piece of artwork in the game, to the extent where the game became known for its artwork. I was only able to offer an embarrassingly low wage at the time, but he moved up quickly because War Co. caught the eye of Byron. James later got a sweet gig working on Polyversal.
Many people imagine the creative process as the coalescence of mysterious forces guiding our hands – inspiration. That may be true for some, but when it comes to cranking out games like Byron and I do, there’s a much more pedestrian force at work – collaboration. Both of us come up with detailed technical and functional specs and clearly relay our expectations to our artist. For me, that means James alone and for Byron that means a team of two. Either way, our artwork comes from setting clear boundaries and rough timelines. Once these grounds rules are established, we let the artist(s) do their thing.
There are a lot of ways you can hint at what’s in your mind before turning over your project to an artist. You can write long stories like I did with War Co. for each card. You can send pictures of real life places, postcards, and travel brochures like I did with Highways & Byways. No matter what medium you use to share your ideas with an artist, you – even as a game developer – play a huge role in the artistic process simply by putting ideas into your artist’s head.
War Co. could have very easily been a death march of a project with its massive volume of work, unclear requirements, and low wages. While we both had a lot of fun with War Co., James and I both walked away with experiences that would benefit us going forward. For one, we started with much better technical specs because we knew what it took to get a game printed. I gave him clearer subject matter requirements with Highways & Byways. The project required a lot less art, but the pay was much better.
One thing I’ve come to notice in both War Co. and Highways & Byways is that James likes to accompany his artwork with brief stories. He can tell you about the history of a piece of art, even giving you extra for the lore. Here is an example…
“I imagined that the weakest reverse force field would barely do what it’s intended to do, and as a result, causes a small split in the space time continuum. The event of the attack hitting and the attack being deflected happen almost at the same time. The latter happens late- causing the timeline where the attack hit to be erased a second after the new timeline is written. We see this occurrence in the card. A time continuum tear is a 4D occurrence, so necessarily anything perceived within its lens isn’t specifically in the present – so, is the city in the background a pre-war flashback, or a bright new future?” -James Masino
This is what the creative process looks like. Take a few people who are passionate about ideas, set some ground rules, do the work, and see what happens. This is how Polyversal came to be, and it’s how War Co. and Highways & Byways came to be as well. More than anything else, this is what really drives home the excitement of the tabletop game renaissance for me – creative people sharing ideas (and artists). Thank you for reading!
If this article has gotten you interested in Highways & Byways, sign up here to get an email when it’s live on Kickstarter.