by Joseph “thepoorassgamer” Reyna
I’ve been mulling this topic in my head for a few days regarding two recent reactionary subjects: Sonic and Pokemon. Good God, I never thought I would need to talk about these two things together but given the recent community fervor surrounding both properties, I thought this the best place to suss out my feelings.
A little background to start: I actually have a degree in Game Design but have never worked professionally for any studios. I studied hard, got my degree, and then immediately became burnt out for about 5 years. I’ve interviewed for VFX jobs and I’ve applied to hundreds of game jobs with no luck landing a spot. And truth be told, a lot of that was due to a lack of confidence in myself and showing off half finished artwork to employers. I’ll state it clearly: I am not an expert in game design and what I say here isn’t the be all end all of commentary. I can’t claim any experience other than my own knowledge of many 3D modeling programs. But, I can say that in those 7 years in art school that you eventually, sometimes accidentally, find a role to pursue in the industry. Some work on programming, some focus on level design, and for myself it was character design. To be a character designer you must possess strong artistic and technical skills to create something convincing. I personally had a lot of years to think about my art and how it relates to my happiness in life. And let me tell you, a self imposed abstinence from your own artistic skills is hell. I’m snapping out of it these days and finding out how important my artwork is for me. To put it bluntly, not progressing as an artists and giving it up for so long felt like I wasn’t progressing as a living, breathing member of society. So I say all of this to state the obvious (even though it’s becoming clear it isn’t obvious to most people) that DESIGN IS HARD.
Take this for example (I promise Im getting to Pokemon and Sonic just hold on): during the 5 years I stopped modeling and doing art, new software has changed the process I first learned back in college. This is something all game artists know: you are expected to change with the times. Knowing how to model doesn’t fundamentally change too much from program to program, but as I dip my feet back into the world of 3D I’m reminded of how much knowledge is needed to work in these fields. I myself am learning two new programs this month: Subsistence and Marmoset (yes, to the uninformed, those are real names). Both Games and Films are constantly evolving and a lot of those working pieces in the background are changing too. One moment you consider yourself an expert in one area, the next there’s something wholly new you’ll need to learn. That’s just the way technology influences everything.
This takes me to the real topic of discussion: Sonic and Pokemon. Back in April, Paramount released the first trailer for Sonic the Hedgehog and the internet collectively took a shit.
“THAT’S NOT MY SONIC” and “FIX IT” soon outnumbered some of the more measured responses to this trailer. And soon that was the only topic of discussion over a movie that quite frankly, won’t be remembered in a few years anyways. The fan reaction was so bad that Paramount went back to the drawing board and delayed the movie to allow time to make some changes to Sonic. Around this time I took to message boards to express to others, “even if you don’t agree with the design, can’t you agree this is horrible for the artist’s? They have to redo so much work!”. Here’s a wonderful response I received!
With that thought in mind, I would like the request the Mona Lisa be remade but now she has a huge rack. What a shitty way of looking at the world right? Sure, no one is going to compare Sonic to the Mona Lisa, but to qualify one as art and the other as not is such a bleak way of looking at things. Leonardo DaVinci sure worked a hell of a lot of hours on the Mona Lisa (sometimes having other artists finish paintings for him btw) but so did a whole team of people on this Sonic design. Are one artist’s works worth more than others? Probably in some fine art circles or maybe, as every art teacher taught me, art is subjective.
Moving on to other things that are equally stupid to make a big deal about: Pokemon. November 15th is just a day away and with it, the release of Pokemon Sword and Shield for the Nintendo Switch. Judging by the #GameFreaksLied hashtag that was trending on Twitter, some fans didn’t like the big changes made to this latest edition. Sure, I get it, some stuff leaks out before the release and now your upset the game you wanted isn’t exactly what you thought it was. I totally get that. But then, in true foot in mouth fashion, someone with a limited amount of knowledge about game design decided to take the game to task on geometry pop in and some textures. I won’t link to that stupid thread but take my word for it there’s a lot of misinformation about game design going on there. Another person then chimed up with this lovely take:
YUP. 5-6 days, on some 2000 plus models to make. Now normally my nature tells me to yell back at this person with all my might but I won’t, and it’s for a couple good reasons. First, the person making this blanket statement isn’t coming from a place of hatred towards Game Freaks. Second, the response to a thought like this (Albeit uninformed) usually tends to be a whole bunch of people piling on that person. We honestly could do without either of these reactions.
This gets me back to the title of this article “Artists Don’t Owe You Anything”. It’s a pretty spiteful title at that. But what I want to talk about is this trend in fandom that I’ll refer to as “the entitled base”. They exist in all areas of fandom, from the halls of professional wrestling, to comic books and TV shows. These are the folks that consider themselves and may even refer to themselves as the “hardcore” fan. Now I’m not here to trash anyone’s fandom, but I’m here for a little perspective. Artist’s don’t always create something with YOU, the audience, in mind. Sometimes art just comes from how that artist is feeling. Literally the act of being an artist is a way of bringing something to life that likely, the world hasn’t seen before. Sometimes those thoughts amass seemingly out of nowhere. Serendipity if you will. All of this is to say that being an artist in both games and film is to give a tremendous part of your creative energy to the world. Regardless of how that particular design turns out, or even if it NEVER sees the light of day, SOMEONE put all of their hard work into it. This is not to say that bad design should be praised, it shouldn’t. It’s that we need to be better about all of this. How does any of this fan fervor look to a perspective artist entering a career in games or VFX? It looks bad folks.
I literally wrote this article because I am attempting to embark back into the world of animation and game design again. I wrote this because I want others to know that artists do care about how their works are received by a wider audience. We want players to love our characters, their worlds; we want them to be engaged. I honestly looked over years of my art portfolio and realized I could do better. So as the trend of badmouthing design and artists continues, consider those folks behind the scenes. Consider the amount of time, effort, mental stress and physical pain they put themselves through to entertain you. If I ever make it there one day, I’d appreciate that much.