The lights are on
Matt Nava used to be the art director for thatgamecompany. His artistic sensibilities set the visual tone for games like Flower and Journey. He recently left the studio in pursuit of his own game development dreams, and created Giant Squid, a small studio with a grand vision. We spoke with Nava to find out why he would leave a company that clearly values artistic talent, what Philip Seymour Hoffman has to do with his games, why he thinks Game Boy games are so elegant, and what we can expect from Giant Squid in the future.
Can you you tell me about your background with game development? What got you into making games?
I was pretty much straight out of school grinding through the industry. I went to school at Otis College Of Art and Design here in LA, studying digital media, art, and doing graphics and things like that. I was very fortune to meet Jenova Chen at my senior thesis show. Pretty much right after that, I came into work on Flower as the art director, helped them finish up that game, and it was Journey from there. Journey was really the first game that I’ve worked on from start to finish. It’s all moving very quickly.
What exactly does an art director do in the context of developing video games?
I can only really speak from my own experience. I know that a lot of art director roles are very different across different companies, especially depending on team size, but at a small company like Giant Squid or at thatgamecompany, art director is in charge of a lot of everything. With the art, basically I was responsible for creating the graphics of Journey and maintaining the quality of the visuals in the game. I did all the concept art and texturing and a lot of 3D modeling and animation for that game. I don’t know, I think a lot of people have the assumption that art director is more of a managing role, but in my experience it was a very hands-on thing because it was a small team and so we were just making most of the art. That’s it.
Yes, the title of ‘director’ implies that you’re not really doing a lot of drawing.
Right. I did tons and tons of drawings. I think that’s the thing I did most of.
Is that the role that you will be inhabiting with Giant Squid? Art director? Or is it going to be something different?
Well, what I found was as I worked on Journey, as we moved forward through that project, I did more and more design work, level design work, and a lot of feedback into the actual game and things like that. At Giant Squid my role is now creative director. That’s the title anyways, and I think what it basically means is that I will be doing the stuff that I did for Journey in terms of art, because that’s my specialty. But, then I will also be directing the overarching story idea in the game and things like that. Making sure that the overall design of the game is coherent and everything. Everybody is working together and things like that.
People admire thatgamecompany for its art, so it seems like it would be the perfect place for an art director. What made you want to branch out on your own and start Giant Squid?
I really enjoyed working at thatgamecompany. The people there are super smart and fantastic developers, really good at what they do, and I learned so much from them when I was working there. I still have a big connection with those people. I think after I worked on Journey, I was really ready – I had a bunch of my own concepts and I kind of wanted to see if I could do that. I know about the next project they are working on and it’s really cool, but I decided that I would rather spend my time focusing on building a studio, building a team and trying to work on my own thing. I am really excited to see how their project turns out as well. Does that answer your question?
The Journey composer, Austin Wintory, and the designer/engineer, Nicholas Clark, are working with you as well, correct?
That’s correct. Nick is still working at thatgamecompany and he is also working as an advisor. He is an extremely talented programmer, knows a lot about the game developing process, helping us get our whole pipeline set up, and hiring programmers and their team.
Austin Wintory is an incredibly talented composer and it’s amazing to work with a composer like him. He can work on so many things. I think he has worked on more than 10 games since Journey came out. It’s crazy the amount of things that he can do at the same time. He is going to be composing the music for our game, which I am really excited about because he brings a really amazing mood to the experience. So, yeah it’s very cool.
How many people are working with you at Giant Squid?
Currently we are in the process of hiring and we are going to be starting out with about five people, hopefully getting up to about 10 people. We are going to keep it a very small team. I have a big belief in the power of a small team to create really innovative work, and that’s really something that Giant Squid is focused on doing.
I know you are not ready to talk specifics about what you are working on, but can you say what kind of platform you are interested in releasing on? Are you working on something mobile, or is it something for console or PC?
We’ve got a game concept and we’ve been developing it for a few months, and the whole future of next-gen consoles is about to become much more clear. That’s kind of what we are targeting, PC and the next-gen consoles possibly. It’s all up in the air right now, but hopefully we will be able to deliver the product to as wide range of people as we possibly can. That’s our goal.
Click to page two to find out out more about Giant Squid's future, and Nava's love for the simplicity of the Game Boy era.
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