Kwalee Quiz: James Horn

Say hi to the new guy! Head of Art, James Horn, takes on this week’s Kwalee Quiz.

You can see James’ early influence on our art team in the wall of inspiration – a collection of game art designed to inspire our artists.

What is your first gaming memory?

Very first one would probably be Empire Strikes Back on the Atari 2600 at a friend’s house. That game was rock hard, but we weren’t helped by endlessly breaking joysticks! It was either that or Space Invaders at Bidford-on-Avon chip shop – 10p a go and worth every penny – somewhere in the dark days of the Eighties anyway.

What made you want to work in the video game industry?

I’d spent a lot of my childhood time with my friends designing shoot-em ups, drawing up Dizzy levels, or coming up with ideas for new super consoles (the Sinclair Spectrum Pheonix handheld never made production sadly), so I guess it was inevitable really. I’d also spent a lot of time playing Warhammer which I think also instilled a love of games in me. Though I certainly didn’t take the conventional route into working in games!

What did you study at university?

My degree (from the estimable University of Wales, Aberystwyth) was in Drama; this involved a lot of throwing myself around a room, pretending to be a waking panther, designing crazy sets for crazy directors, over-analysing every pause that Pinter ever wrote, and nearly electrocuting myself multiple times whilst hanging from rickety scaffolding towers. It was a fantastic time needless to say. The long jump from this to games came after I’d tried to be an actor for a time but had spent more time ‘resting’ than working. Despite a stint being Warwick Castle’s resident Highwayman, I had decided that what I really wanted to do was be an artist at a video game company.

Based near the legendary Codemasters and Rare, I started to train myself in 3D Modelling and graphics by following various tutorials and just trying things out, in the hope that one of them would take me on at some point. After lots of hard work and applications, I joined Codemasters as a QA tester on ToCA Race Driver, kept learning more technical stuff, and eventually became a games artist on the now legendary Club Football.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a video game artist?

Draw lots – get good at the fundamentals – this is hard these days as a lot of art schools don’t teach the basics anymore – but really work at the craft of art. When I say the fundamentals I mean perspective, colour theory, anatomy, proportions and composition. Alongside this study art history – not just traditional art history but also game art history – understand why games today look the way they do. The reason for looking at all these traditional skills is that, if you become an artist, you are part of a long tradition – by tapping into this you are using the experience of centuries, to create new things today.

Of course, I haven’t mentioned anything about modern techniques but the same goes for these – master your medium – whether that is Maya, Max, Photoshop or Painter – take time to study the software and just keep using it – there are lots of resources out there that are a few clicks away. The last bit of advice I would give would be to be confidently humble about your abilities – you’ll be good at some things, but not everything. It can be easy to get down when you see something amazing that someone else has done and you have no idea how to even start on such a thing. However, you may well know how to do things that they don’t. Having worked with some of the top artists in the industry, I know that we’re all on a learning journey together and the best artists are constantly learning new things all the time.

What is your favourite video game and why?

I’m going to shortlist five as there is no way I can do just one! Assassins Creed II would definitely be up there – the combination of gameplay mechanic and evocative visuals is fantastic. Super Mario World on SNES was a perfect game in all ways. Medieval Total War again had that combination of an evocative aesthetic combined with gripping gameplay. GoldenEye on N64 for both its multiplayer and single player mode – you were James Bond, simple as that. Last slot goes to a golden oldie: Chaos by Julian Gollop was brilliant – eight player turn based strategy with amazing sound, complex gameplay, gooey blobs and all in 48k. That’s how to make a game.

What is your gaming pet peeve?

Stereotypes are probably at the top – not just the portrayal of women in games (why haven’t we sorted that out yet?), but all the standard cliches that get rolled out every time – crates that explode, locked doors that should be smash-able. Lazy game-making. In fact, lazy game makers are my pet peeve – there you go.

How did you come to work at Kwalee?

I’d been looking to move into app development when Kwalee caught my eye – having met the team at interview, I could see the talent and potential that the company had, and thankfully they thought there was a place for me too.

What is your favourite thing about working at Kwalee?

It’s great to join a company that is at the start of something big – there are loads of exciting ideas being worked on and the opportunity to develop with a dynamic fresh team is something that I really value. Also the the ability to ingest pizza in vapour-form [the office is full of smells from the Pizza Express downstairs] at all times is surely a plus!

How do you rate your chances in the table tennis tournament?

10/10 for Style. 1/10 in Performance!

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