Interview: Darren Bacon
Project pillars, studio culture, and the final five per cent: Halo’s lead concept artist takes Gary Evans behind the scenes of the AAA-franchise
Halo’s lead concept artist takes us behind the scenes of the AAA-franchise, and talks studio culture at 343 Industries.
You work as a concept artist at video games developer 343 Industries. You’ve just finished designing a vehicle for the new Halo. You’re pleased with it, this assault vehicle. You like the energy weapon, the anti-gravity propulsion system, the hatch on top that covers the player. It’s functional, but it looks good too. At least, you think it looks good.
You take your concept into a meeting with the rest of the team. Somebody speaks up. A fellow concept artist doesn’t like your design. This person’s got a problem with your hatch, that part of the vehicle that covers the player. They don’t think it looks good at all. In fact, they think it’s ugly.
So you and your fellow concept artist look to the head of the table, to Darren Bacon, lead concept artist on the Halo franchise. He thinks for a minute, then points at something stuck up on the wall – an overriding idea that helps guide the production process. He’s pointing at a “project pillar”.
“If a project pillar is ‘gameplay first,’” the American says, “it’s easier for a team designing a vehicle with a disputed ‘ugly’ hatch on top to know what action to take. To solve the discrepancy, the teams knows, at a project level, that the gameplay function of being able to cover the player is more important than some aesthetic preference. Therefore, they can make the right decision for the project, knowing what’s most important according to the pillar.”
the good, the bad and the ugly
It doesn’t matter whether or not your hatch is ugly. It matters that your hatch serves its purpose. This, Darren says, is where things get a bit weird, a bit paradoxical. Your concept art can be good and bad at the same time. It can succeed in being functional, but be less successful as a standalone piece of art. Your work is still very good. It’s
If a project pillar is ‘gameplay first’ then it’s easier to know what action to take
Perfectly composed “This image was done near the ship date of Halo 5: Guardians as a magazine cover proposal. It was tricky because there were so many compositional elements going on.”