Along with Alexander Pfister, Controlled Area Gaming has managed to catch up with another creative soul hard at work. Andreas Resch is in the middle of polishing the visual and graphic design for the upcoming game, Great Western Trail (GWT). He agreed to sit down and answer some questions about the design progress and his design experience in general.
CAG: How did the visual design / graphic design process start for you with Great Western Trail? Is it a game playtest? Just a description? Is that process typical?
AR: For me the GWT journey started at the Spielefest game fair 2015 in Vienna where I met Alex (Pfister) and Viktor (Kobilke) to play the prototype of the game. It still was a little rough around the edges but the cleverness of the mechanics already shone through. Unfortunately I rarely play the prototypes as I’m a bit off the grid, living in the south of Austria. But Vienna was in reach and a great place to meet for this occasion.
After that I started by researching the subject. I looked at vintage images from the Old West, Wild West movie posters, and other games (board games as well as computer games) to see how the subject can be presented. That’s usually how I start all my games. It helps me get some ideas and find a course for the design.
Drawing started with the cover which, in most cases, is the normal process. The next thing was to get an idea about how to place the huge amount of game elements on the boards and cards. From then on it was a seesaw between the other stuff I had to do.
CAG: When working on a game such as this with a large main board and player boards, what direction do you find works best to start with visual treatments?
AR: I always start with laying out the elements in a rather technical way. This is important to see where all the things have to go. With GWT the board was especially challenging as a lot of elements had to find proper and logical placements. The player boards were tricky too but with having less illustrations the route was a bit more straightforward.
CAG: What visual sources have you referenced or used to deliver the look of the characters and cows in Great Western Trail?
AR: I get my inspiration from all over the Internet. Google image search is a powerful tool but I also like Pinterest for researching visual material. It’s easy to search and I can create my own categories for specific subjects. That’s pretty cool. As for the characters – I sketched them from my mind thinking about three stereotypes that would fit the three protagonists. That’s a rather stupid thing for me to do, as characters still are a weakness of mine. But I wanted to push myself a little and was quite happy about where it went. Still a long march I have to go there, but I’m motivated. The cows weren’t too hard. I had good references that I could fall back on. The cow illustrations are rather small too, so the details were less important.
CAG: The cows are actually quite lovely in the released art for Great Western Trail so far. How did this illustration task turn out versus what you expected before you began?
AR: Thanks. I’m happy with the result as well. The trickiest part about them was to find good breeds that are rather easy to distinguish from each other visually. I wanted to illustrate them somewhat realistically, so I tried one of them and it went quite well. After that, the other ones weren’t that big of a task. I rather enjoyed painting them, which always makes things easier.
CAG: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced when building the iconography in Great Western Trail?
AR: With GWT it was a rocky path to coordinate all the icons – there are a lot of them. Many of them I adapted from the prototype that Viktor had created and already tested. But many of them I had to come up with or are based on other game material. Once a batch of them was created, they went back to Viktor to test them in practice. That process happened a few times. The most beautiful icons aren’t worth anything if they aren’t clear for the players.
CAG: Is it possible to objectively say that one game’s graphic design or illustration is good and another game’s is bad?
AR: Objectively – no. In design there shouldn’t be any good or bad. Those thoughts are subjective and everybody is right and wrong at the same time. Some games hit the bulls-eye straight on though and stand out from the others for most players. Of course this can go in the other direction too. Overall lack of experience is something that can be visible and that I also have to face when I struggled too much.
CAG: Are there certain board game themes that are easier to work with than others? What board game themes do you enjoy the most?
AR: I can only speak for myself of course. The more technical a theme is, the easier it is for me. My background is in 3D graphics and so I can fall back on a lot of technical design experience. BUT – as I always loved to paint and I actually painted before I did any of my technical jobs, I love to illustrate things and use my creative side more. So – the latter one is the more exciting experience for me.
CAG: Visual and graphic design, like game design, I’m sure is a mentally draining process. What moments in that process keep you motivated and focused?
AR: It can be draining sometimes – that’s true. But sometimes you look back at what you just created and feel satisfied with your work. That’s a nice ego boost. Of course positive feedback from the editors and game designer is a good motivator too. But there are times, when you have to put the pencil down and take a step away from your work to get focused and motivated again.
CAG: How does the visual and graphic design in other games influence you? What game components or visual choices do you notice more than others?
AR: I always look at other artists and enjoy what they do – not only board game artist but illustrators in general. As for the game components. Of course the cover illustrations of games are very exciting. Sometimes they are like paintings. But if an illustrator did a great job, I enjoy every little bit of a game. Sometimes I look at icons or symbols and think “Man – that really looks fantastic.” Aside from the illustrative aspect I like to observe, how other artist solved problems like visual obstacles or iconography issues.
CAG: What is one existing game you would love to visually re-theme?
AR: There’s no real answer for me here. The exciting games that I played are visually inspiring as well. But I would really like to give my version of “Tinners’ Trail” a big do-over. It was my first job in the business and I really had no idea where to go back then. But when you’re on the move it’s always like that I guess.