The Art of Game Design: Interviewing Trudi Castle

Source: Trudi Castle/Hinterland Studio, Inc.
Source: Trudi Castle/Hinterland Studio, Inc.

There are many elements at play when it comes to making a great game title: coding, asset design, texturing, level design, story, and gameplay design are just a few of many tasks involved. Back in the ’80s (and some might argue as early as the forties), there wasn’t much in the way of graphics design as part of the game making process—today, however, adding a solid and consistent visual style to your game is just as important as good gameplay. Unique, high-quality graphics can take an old story with overdone themes and breathe new life into it.

Source: Trudi Castle/Hinterland Studio, Inc.
Source: Trudi Castle/Hinterland Studio, Inc.

One such game that applies a fresh visual take on an old theme is The Long Dark, a wilderness survival simulation game by Hinterland Studio, Inc. Currently available for early access, The Long Dark is a moody, mysterious test of one’s mettle against the elements with an expansive open world that reveals itself slowly in clever and unexpected ways. The unique aspect of this game, and the one that might lend the most intrigue, is the stylized environments one must trudge through in order to survive.

The environment is incredibly stylized with an almost whimsical feel to it, though this hardly distracts from the deadliness of the player’s surroundings. Indeed, one can appreciate the artistry of the curl of smoke on the horizon that resembles the stroke of a fountain pen, and still find themselves flinching and frantically seeking shelter when they hear a wolf howl in the distance.

One of the people responsible for the look and feel of The Long Dark is Trudi Castle, an illustrator and concept artist who brings much to the table in terms of style and skill. Trudi was gracious enough to lend some of her time for an interview, and for more of her art-y goodness you can follow her on Twitter and Tumblr, as well!

J: Can you tell us a little bit about your career path and how you got to where you are now? Have you always wanted to be a concept artist/illustrator?

TC: Always! I got in trouble at an early age for drawing on the windows in our house! I spent 4 years at university doing an illustration degree (mainly all traditional art), and upon leaving did some QA for video games for over a year. Not exactly arty, but I loved games and would draw on the side still. Eventually I got an intern position at Crytek, moved to Germany, and learned a huuuge bunch from the other concept artists there over the course of 4 years! Now I’m in Vancouver, Canada, drawing for social games, and indie games on the side. 😀 A fun sidenote is I have a twin sister who is also in the same profession as me, but still lives back in Germany. One day we will live on the same continent again!

J: With the changing social climate in the gaming industry, have you experienced any challenges specifically as a woman in your field, either recently or in the past?

TC: I will say that I have indeed come across sexism, and in my twenties it really hurt … But I was also inexperienced in dealing with it. And there were not as many women in the industry back then. Recent years have been so much better though!

Vancouver’s gaming industry has been super open and friendly to me these past 4 years, it’s been wonderful, never had a problem here (I really could gush about this city forever). Social gaming itself has a lot more women artists in it from where I’ve worked in the past, all talented, all friendly. You’re going to find challenging people in any industry, any job really, I’m not sure it’s something gaming exclusively deals with. Just keep calm, stay focused and professional, and drink some coffee/tea/both 🙂 But do not suffer in silence. People will not know if something is wrong/that things need to change if you do not speak up, however hard it may seem at first.

J: Your work seems to vary greatly between graphic, minimalist styles, and very lush, detailed illustrations. Which artists have been an inspiration to you and your work?

TC: My first proper ‘comic’ series I got into at a young age was Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo. Super influential to me, and helped develop my love of motorbikes! Followed by Appleseed and Dominion: Tank Police by Masamune Shirow. Traditional art-wise, classics such as Sargent and Turner, the Pre-Raphaelite movement artists like William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. Artists of more recent years, I adore the work of Kekai Kotaki, Thomas Scholes, Natasha Allegri, Zedig, Fabien Mense, and Kelly Smith. I really really could keep going on. If you want, I can! 🙂

J: What are some of your favorite video games?

TC: My first game I ever played was Space Invaders as my dad owned an Atari. As a kid my absolute fave games were Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Another World, and Gunstar Heroes. We had to make a choice out of Nintendo and Sega, and Sega seemingly released more big games in Europe back then. Along with the occasional PC game like Day of the Tentacle and Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight.

Source: Trudi Castle
Source: Trudi Castle

And then the list goes crazy: my fave games are Mass Effect, Metal Gear Solid, Gears of War, Soul Reaver, Zelda: The Windwaker, Final Fantasy VII, Halo 2, We Love Katamari, Ridge Racer 4, Soul Calibur 2, Animal Crossing, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Geometry Wars 2, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and most recently am really enjoying Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate and the new Call of Duty game. As you can see, I love to play games hahah!

Ahh I forgot my love of Resident Evil! And how I used to go to the arcade to play Street Fighter 2. I love games!

J: Are you currently working on any projects that you’re allowed to share with us? (These can be gaming related or not!)

TC: Outside of my day job, I’ve been creating some environments on the game Qalupalik by Pinnguaq based on Inuit mythology. 🙂 Super fascinating to me, stories I’ve never been exposed to before. I help out occasionally on Emerald for krangGAMES, and will do the odd commission here and there.

I draw a ton for myself, too, near enough every day, for a group called The Coffee CrewI use the images as a way to wind down or warm up!

Source: Trudi Castle
Source: Trudi Castle

J: The most common question new artists will ask professionals is “how do I become better at art?” and the best advice always seems to be “practice, practice, practice!” What’s the second most important advice you’d suggest to newcomers in the industry of game art and design?

TC: I would say don’t focus solely on video game art, as you really need to be gathering ideas and influences from everywhere! So here’s the fun part—read lots of comics, books, watch lots of movies, play games, BUT also get out there, visit coffee shops, parks, lakes, shops, get cycling, take lots of photos. Make reference folders for images/artists you like (I find the browser plug-in Dragdis super helpful!). I guess I might sound like a broken record and people have heard all this before. Carry a small sketchbook everywhere (and be careful not to drop it down a toilet like I did once!).

When you feel in a creative rut, I find taking a break from drawing helps. I go out on my motorcycle, concentrate my mind on something else. And when ALL else fails, I throw on a Studio Ghibli movie as they are some of the most inspirational movies around! 😀

J: What’s your perfect sundae?

TC: Chocolate and coffee ice cream with brownie chunks, hot fudge sauce, and some nuts and sprinkles on top. And of course some cream! Yes, I’m very hungry now!


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