We chat with the Art Director of Dark Age of Camelot as this weekly series continues
Every week, we want to offer you a behind the scenes glimpse at the development side of things. We're bringing this in the form of developer profile Q&As. These Q&As aim to shine some light on the people making these games and how they got there. This week, we have Matt Weathers, the Art Director of Dark Age of Camelot.
Tell us a little bit about your life growing up. Where did you live, what did you do, did you go to school?
I was born and raised in Washington, DC, and thus, with the exception of the four years I worked in LA, have been in this area my whole life. I started drawing at an early age and my family was very supportive. My folks may have had ulterior motives because if I was drawing, I wasn’t taking things in the house apart with a screwdriver. Like all the doorknobs for instance.
I discovered computers in 4th grade. A solid gray and black monstrosity with the keyboard and drives build directly into the monitor. It was blazing fast, taking only five minutes to load Hangman. It also had a big orange button right where your elbow would go as a little kid. I guess this was the earliest known ancestor of the Windows button, Australopithecus Windowsis if you will. I wisely went back to crayons or “analog” as we like to call it.
I didn’t get a lot of art support at my military high school. And no, I didn’t get sent there as a condition of my parole. I watched a lot of horror movies, played a lot of D&D and managed to graduate without any of this going on my permanent record. I learned to march with rifles and more importantly, I learned how to type playing Zork. Go east. Take lamp. Light lamp. Always watch out for Grues.
When I got to college I re-discovered this wonderful device called the COM-PYU-TOR, and a wonderful new thing called UNDO. I wish I had an “undo” for talking. I studied Graphic Design, Illustration, and art history there, which of course prepared me to lay down blocks of text, draw spaceships, and do well at trivial pursuit. Fortunately, I’d continued to play D&D and draw “analog” on any surface that would lie still long enough.
At what age did you start playing games in general? Did you play any sports? What were your favorite games as a child?
I had an Atari 2600 as a kid, and learned the first and most important lesson of consoles. Your younger brother will always beat you. He may not be able to read yet, but he can kick your ass with even the most unfamiliar games and controllers. I went on to being destroyed by him on the Colecovision. By the time we got a Commodore 64, my brother had learned the quality of mercy and would only beat me on HIS favorite games.
About the only sport I consistently engaged in ever was weightlifting in college. It was awesome to be a monster, and a geek at the same time. “What did you just say about GAMERS?!!”
I think my favorite games as a kid where the board games Dungeon and Dark Tower, and the video games Adventure, Telengard, and Ultima 2.
Various influences can have a major part in games. What influences outside of game-play bring life to your work? Any ideas that you get from Books, Movies, Comics, Real-Life Stories, Art would be great here.
My mom instilled a love of reading in me at an early age. I think the first books that I really look back on as opening up my head were the Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander. As an artist, books are really awesome. When someone just shows you an image, it’s like they’ve taken away your ability to imagine your own version of something. In that, books are the most personal form of virtual reality there is.
It is in an artist’s best interest to balance his or her personal set of “images” with as much influence from the world as possible. I look at as much art and architecture as I can. Seeing other artists’ interpretations of things is very important as well, and that’s one of the great things about working with a team of creative people. Everything I encounter ends up in a drawing somewhere. Think I’m kidding? There are parts of Glashton Forge that are based on the camshaft from an old Chevy V8.
At what age did you start playing video games? Can you tell us what your first video game experience was?
Shoot. This question involves math. I think I was about 7 or 8. The first game I played was Combat for the 2600. Although it wasn’t “officially” an Atari, it was the same system but licensed through Sears and Roebucks. It was like getting the generic instead of the name brand drug. My brother and I sat there for hours. It came with this huge brick of a power adaptor that you could have cooked an egg on. Or maybe a nice grilled cheese sandwich, but I digress.
Interesting thing about games. Before video games, you played games with other kids. You always had a human opponent, doing human things, thinking up strategies. Games turned inward, for a really long time, being essentially single player experiences. Eventually one of the holy grails of programming became the creation of challenging enemy behavior. Now we make all kinds of multiplayer games, so that we can go back to the challenges we had as children, but still enjoy the benefits of good air conditioning. There is some irony here.
What was the first game you worked on? What others games have you been involved with?
Oh good lord. The first game I worked on was back in ’94. It was called Hellraiser: Virtual Hell. It was based on, you guessed it, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser movie series. We were trying to cram this R rated game in to a T rated box. The cardboard kept bursting, and I think it was affecting the frame rate as well. And keep in mind that this was the mid 90’s after all. Everything was either cyber, ultra, virtual, or mega. This game never came out, but it was a wild ride to work on and a huge learning experience for me.
Something I should mention about the gaming industry. A lot of what gets worked on does not get published. I was able to make a good living for years by doing cool art, getting laid off, and starting the process all over again.
Let’s just consider the period between then and now a blur. I worked in LA for four years, on seven different games. LA was a really good thing for me, but when the offer from Mythic came along, I was only too pleased to come home and work on really cool stuff.
Working on something like Camelot at Mythic is a bit like winning the lottery. It was a cool project, and it got published, which means that people got to see my work and I didn’t have to pack all my stuff and move again. I was lucky to get here at the beginning of work on the original release of Camelot, and I’ve been able to continue the luck streak and work on all of the expansions so far.
What is your job at Mythic Entertainment? How did you get your foot in the door?
I am Camelot’s Art Director. I’m responsible for the look, feel, and function of the art that goes into the game. A project will start with some very general suggestions about the look, and it is my job to work with the other members of the team to focus in on what will be the key elements of the project aesthetic. I do have my own art tasks to perform, often concept artwork or texture painting and modeling, but a good portion of my day is spent in communication and planning.
When an artist has been assigned a task, they should have the information they need to finish the job. They should know the look and function, as well as the technical specifications of each thing they work on. Everyone’s time is valuable on a deadline. A few minutes of conferring with the other teams on the project will often save hours of time going in the wrong direction.
I got my first art job because a producer at a company in DC saw some of my artwork up in a game shop and called me in for an interview. I got my foot in the door at Mythic because a good friend of mine found a job there, knew I wanted to come home, and helped me get in contact with Matt Firor, the producer. Thanks, Susan!
As an artist, you always want to be actively pursuing your art. Art jobs are awesome because a good portfolio will usually get you in the door regardless of formal education, although that definitely helps. It’s better for a new artist now than it ever has been. There is so much information on the internet right now that simply was not available to people before. I got my first job because I was always drawing, and I was putting my artwork out where people could see it.
Take us through a typical day of work at Mythic, what is it like when you show up at the office?
I show up and get to work like everyone everywhere. Game companies are funny. We look casual and work hard. I come in and check my email to make sure that I don’t have any fires to put out and then I get into my day. I’m pretty happy about the people I work with, as the gaming industry tends to pull a pretty eclectic mix of people together. This place is busy, but not a factory. There’s a lot of friendliness during the day to take the edge off of the task at hand.
My typical day involves some of these phrases.
“Give me about 10 minutes.”
“Okay, I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page.”
“Yeah, that came out in Europe like two years ago.”
“That looks good. Run with it.”
“Here, let me do a little sketch of what I mean.”
“You want it when?”
Are there any friends or family who had a major impact on your career or chasing dreams that you’d like to talk about?
I’m extremely fortunate in that regard. When I first stated my intent to follow art as a career, the field was not as viable and vibrant as it is now, but my parents were extremely supportive none the less. Mom taught me to dream, and Dad taught me to persevere. Needless to say, we were all relieved when it turned out that not only could I get paid to make monsters, but that there was a whole evil zoo out there that needed to be built and populated. Don’t feed the Trolls by the way. It gives them gas.
I’d like to thank Jacobs, Denton, and Firor. You guys got me the job that allowed me to come home.
I’d like to thank Walt Yarborough, Scott Jennings, and Sanya for being my lunch crew for the last several years. The lives you guys have saved…
What are your hopes for the video games of the future, any thoughts on where the industry may be going?
I think the industry has been following a Hollywood model for too long. Teams and production costs have swelled each year as companies attempt to produce the next “Summer Blockbuster.” It’s my hope that as larger companies compete over the well trod territory of familiar markets, smaller developers will find successful business models appealing to less fought over genres and game play styles. This will create more variety and flexibility in our industry, and more importantly, create more options for the game playing public to take advantage of.
Is there anything you would like to write to the readers of MMORPG.com that we have not spoken about?
The first time I saw the old TSR Monster Manual as a kid, I thought to myself, that’s what I want to do. I want to create stuff that people play with. It’s been my great fortune to be part of the Camelot team, and to help do just that, create a world that people play in. You guys playing these games challenge and inspire us to do what we do.