Stu­dio pro­file

Cre­at­ing art­work for in­die games can be a re­ward­ing, if hec­tic, ex­pe­ri­ence. We chat to a small Scot­tish stu­dio with big dreams

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We visit Blaz­ing Grif­fin, the small Scot­tish in­die games stu­dio with big dreams.

We’re a pre­co­cious stu­dio that has done things big stu­dios wouldn’t con­sider

These days, there are more in­die game stu­dios in the UK than you can shake a stick at. But Blaz­ing Grif­fin is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, says its cre­ative di­rec­tor for games, Stephen He­witt. Its size might be small but its dreams are big. “We’re look­ing to cre­ate high-end in­die games that will po­si­tion us some­where be­tween qual­ity in­die and triple-A,” he says. “We’re a young and pre­co­cious stu­dio that has done a lot of things that larger and less-ag­ile stu­dios wouldn’t even con­sider. And it’s worked out pretty well so far.”

It’s still early days for the stu­dio. Set up in Ed­in­burgh in 2011, it’s learn­ing as it goes. In 2012, for ex­am­ple, it launched an un­suc­cess­ful Kick­starter cam­paign to fund a se­quel to The Ship: Mur­der Party.

Stephen says this wasn’t an en­tirely neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ence. “The fail­ure was more down to our own ig­no­rance over how Kick­starter works than any­thing in­her­ently wrong with what we were try­ing to do,” he ex­plains. “And we learned a lot of valu­able lessons about crowd­fund­ing along the way.”


It’s shelv­ing the Ship se­quel for the time be­ing and in­stead start­ing work on The Ship: Re­masted, an HD re­make of the orig­i­nal ti­tle, which it ac­quired when the orig­i­nal devel­oper, Outerlight, went out of busi­ness. Another on­go­ing pro­ject is Dis­tant Star: Revenant Fleet, a real-time, space-strat­egy game for PC launched with last Novem­ber that boasts some stun­ning look­ing space­craft and alien en­vi­ron­ments.

“Dis­tant Star was a bit of a love let­ter to sci-fi artists like Chris Foss and Syd Mead, as well as films like Blade Run­ner and the game Home­world,” says art di­rec­tor Paul Scott Cana­van. “I al­ways loved the vi­brant vi­su­als of that game and the way Blade Run­ner was lit has al­ways been hugely in­spir­ing to me. Shape de­sign was im­por­tant in Dis­tant Star and I wanted to sim­plify the ships as much as pos­si­ble, to make them in­stantly read­able as dif­fer­ent fac­tions.”

But although the work is re­ward­ing, it has to be done quickly. “The big­gest chal­lenge I have day to day is just man­ag­ing sev­eral projects at once,” Paul says. “It’s

pretty rare for my role to ex­ist on one game alone: I’m gen­er­ally do­ing some con­cept on this pro­ject, some pre­pro­duc­tion on another and maybe a bit of sketch­ing for stuff I know is com­ing up in the fu­ture. It’s def­i­nitely ex­cit­ing to jump be­tween projects and push my cre­ativ­ity but it can get a lit­tle over­whelm­ing.”

Paul ap­proaches each pro­ject in a dif­fer­ent way. “My process changes all the time,” he says. “Some­times I’ll start on pa­per and scan the im­age into Pho­to­shop, other times I’ll be­gin with sil­hou­ettes and use light to carve into them. I’ve been ex­per­i­ment­ing with 3D lately and try­ing to see how it fits into my work­flow – I think it’s im­por­tant to try ev­ery­thing these days, there’s no rea­son not to experiment.”

And it’s im­por­tant to go the ex­tra mile to get it right, he be­lieves, be­cause su­pe­rior art di­rec­tion can help a small com­pany like Blaz­ing Grif­fin bat above their weight.

“Strong art de­sign can el­e­vate even a sim­ple video game to some­thing so much greater,” he en­thuses. “The most im­por­tant as­pect of con­cept art isn’t your abil­ity to paint, it’s your abil­ity to think and to be imag­i­na­tive. Games like Mon­u­ment Val­ley, Jour­ney and Limbo are well de­signed but with­out their as­ton­ish­ing art di­rec­tion I doubt they’d have had the im­pact they did.”

So what’s it like to work at Blaz­ing Grif­fin? “For me, it’s the best ex­am­ple of a small stu­dio at­mos­phere with big stu­dio as­pi­ra­tions,” says 2D/UI artist Searra Dodds. “We have a lot of daft of­fice tra­di­tions, in­clud­ing ping pong tour­na­ments and Ham Day – the of­fi­cial Blaz­ing Grif­fin hol­i­day. We are a pretty silly team, but we also have a lot of pas­sion and drive to cre­ate beau­ti­ful, im­mer­sive, fun games.”

A re­cent starter, ju­nior pro­gram­mer Martin Scott tells a sim­i­lar story. “The com­pany is like a large fam­ily,” he says. “Be­ing fairly small, all de­part­ments work closely to­gether, mean­ing ev­ery­one gets to know ev­ery­one else. We of­ten end early on a Fri­day to min­gle and play games.”

tale nt spott ing

If that sounds like your kind of of­fice, Stephen urges you to con­sider work­ing at Blaz­ing Grif­fin. “We’re al­ways on the look­out for tal­ented peo­ple, so I’d keep an eye on our re­cruit­ment page,” he says. “There’s plenty of space here for new starters to make a name for them­selves, and a re­ally great op­por­tu­nity to grow as the com­pany does like­wise.”

So what kind of artists is Blaz­ing Grif­fin look­ing for? “Peo­ple who can ex­press them­selves imag­i­na­tively, and can work semi-au­tonomously with a re­spon­si­ble at­ti­tude,” says Stephen. “We’d rather be wowed by what artists can do, than have to bug them ev­ery five sec­onds to keep them on track. Also, we’re look­ing for peo­ple who can all get along to­gether,” he adds. “The whole team gets a chance to hang out with po­ten­tial em­ploy­ees be­fore we hire them. And of course, that gives you a chance to see if you like us too!”

Blaz­ing Grif­fin’s The Ship: Re­masted is a high-def­i­ni­tion re­make of the orig­i­nal mur­der-mys­tery mul­ti­player.

The team hard at work, with pro­ducer Melissa Knox in the fore­ground.

In Dis­tant Star: Revenant Fleet you take con­trol of a near-de­stroyed space­ship ar­mada, and must re­build your forces.

The Ship: Re­masted is due for launch in early 2016.

Dino Tribes is a free to play, match-three puz­zle game

for Win­dows Phone.

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