Interview: Tiger Style Games

How did all the creature art for Waking Mars come together? Did you hand your concept artists various references after recruiting them, and they proceeded to re-imagine everything in their own style?

Randy: As much as possible, everything in Tiger Style is an organic, creative collaboration with a bunch of talented and imaginative people, and our life form concepts were no exception. They all started with ideas about gameplay: different ways the player might interact with alien creatures, behaviors those creatures would have, how they would relate to the other members of the ecosystem. Their first incarnations in the game were usually very ugly, temporary art, just so we could evaluate and tune them for gameplay. Life forms that made the cut eventually got an art pass by Randy O’Connor, a jack-of-all-trades and a key player on the Waking Mars team. Randy O’s pass depicted some great recognizable forms and distinct premises behind each of the creatures, so we had a solid start.

Later on we were polishing the art of the entire game, and we brought on Mallika Sundaramurthy, an experienced artist who had worked at Harmonix on the Rock Band games and some others. For the most part, we retained Randy O’s forms, but I wanted our life forms to be very credible and believable-looking, so I wanted to use real world references. I also wanted our life forms to walk the line between being plants and animals, like you could never really tell for sure what they were. So we launched a massive visual research project to round up amazing creatures from Earth and recombine them to compose our Martian life forms.

Literally every bit of every creature is made up of different parts of life that really exist on Earth, but it’s never recognizable, in part because we used plants to create animals and vice-versa. I would hand off these compositions to Mallika, and she would painstakingly paint them in a beautiful style that she developed, partially in collaboration with yet another fantastic concept artist named Whitney Clayton, who kicked off our concept art back in 2010.

Along the way, we discovered some amazing Earth life forms we’d never heard of. Crinoids, water bears, calamites, hydroids, Venus’s flower baskets, tube worms, plus tons of jellyfish, barnacles, anemones, pollen, and insect eggs that are just fascinating to look at up close. Part of the message for me was that life on Earth is just as surprising as anything we could dream up to populate the caves of Mars.

On a scale of zero to 100%, what are the chances of Waking Mars releasing as free-to-play? Have you ever seriously considered that pricing model, or would it be completely nonsensical to try building a really deep adventure game around that concept?

David: Zero! We’re open to doing a free-to-play game in the future, if it makes sense for the games we want to create, and for our business, but this is a premium, long-form single-player game and we think the best business model for this particular game is to sell it for money.

I’m not entirely sure that a ‘deep adventure game’ is going to be all that compatible with free-to-play. Perhaps somebody will prove me wrong, but part of the way free-to-play games make money is that they are reliant on a small percentage of a very, very large user base effectively subsidizing the free players. When you make something that is targeted at a niche (hopefully in our case, a large niche!) I believe it makes more sense to go with a more traditional model. We want people who buy our game for $4.99 on launch day to feel like they made an investment in a high quality entertainment experience. As a result, I think our players are going to want to spend some quality time with the game, and hopefully lose themselves in this crazy little universe we’ve created.

Big thanks to Randy Smith, David Kalina, and Bobby Arlauskas for taking the time to answer our questions in-depth! Waking Mars will land on the App Store March 1. Be sure to check out our hands-on preview, as well as the Tiger Style blog and Twitter feed, during the excruciating wait for this awesome title!