MOST PEOPLE KNOW ME as an artist and illustrator, if they know my name at all. Look around this website, and artwork is what you’ll see featured most prominently.
What I call myself, though, is not artist (although I am) or illustrator (I am that too). I call myself “a Maker” because that’s really what I do: I make things. All kinds of things.
I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve been asked to work on many different projects. In addition to art (illustration, graphics, and concept work), I’ve been paid as freelancer for writing (fiction, non-fiction, blogs, and articles) and for game design, as a game developer, an editor, a cartographer, and as a pie-in-the-sky world-builder.
In every one of those areas, there are extraordinary individuals who surpass me in skill and renown. There aren’t a whole lot of people, though, who do all of those things at least reasonably well — well enough to keep getting work year after year.
I bring this up because, if you only know about my efforts from one facet of my life’s works, you might think I don’t do much. Not all my eggs are in one basket, but I have a lot of baskets to look in. Okay, maybe you’ve heard I do art but time and again throughout my life, people tell me “I just heard you did X thing; I didn’t you know did any X’ing!” Usually I can laugh, and then point out I have been X’ing and Y’ing any time I wasn’t zzzzzz’ing.
If you need a look at what I’ve done, my bibliography on this site gives you an idea. That page needs a lot of work — I’ve been too busy this last year to put time into it — but it has details or at least notes for a lot of different projects I’ve contributed to. In addition to what’s there, I did around 187 paintings for collectible card games like Magic: the Gathering and Middle Earth. The card list has a separate page.
JACK OF ALL TRADES
When I was about 10 years old, I told my family one night, assembled at the dinner table, that I wanted to grow up to be a Renaissance man. I’d been learning about Leonardo da Vinci, and decided that becoming a polymath and exemplifying the Renaissance humanist ideal was precisely the career I wanted.
My dad, bless him, didn’t jump on the gender mismatch embedded in my stout declaration, but he did admonish me that being jack of all trades in the modern world would make me master of none. There was too much to learn, too much to know, and it would be bad for me to try. I didn’t like it but I believed him. (He was my dad. Of course I believed him!)
There IS too much for any one person to learn and to know these days, and I’m no Leonardo, but in the end, my dad was wrong about it being a bad thing for me to aim for. Being a jack of all trades has — mostly — served me well.
My family encouraged experimentation with every kind of creative thing, and exemplified the principles of lifetime learning, which enables me even now to acquire new skills and knowledge that my bachelor’s degree (Anthropology) and master’s (Library and Information Science) did not supply.
For example, around 1997 or 98, after years of 2-D art, I started playing with 3-D work: ceramics, stone carving, mosaics, paper-making and sculpture. My ex growled “But you’re not a sculptor; what do you think you’re doing?” and then was blown away to see the results. I was learning, stretching, and realizing that I was a Maker, and not easily classified.
One of the reasons I have worked happily in libraries for so many years is that if someone comes to me with a reference question, I can probably field the question. If I don’t know the particulars, I at least know the context of where to look or who to ask.
For example, recently a young man came to the library wanting information on learning Thalassian, Rhefugi, and Drow. I knew what he was talking about, at least! I had to turn to the social web for help with the answers, but my friends are awesomesauce — and mostly they’re as eclectic in their interests as I am. The young man went away with some good answers, impressed and delighted.
That’s what’s on my business card these days: professional eclectic. Outside of libraries, I use all the different skills and areas of knowledge in the freelance work that comes my way. Wearing different hats truly makes me happy. My Anthro studies help me build believable cultures for games and stories alike, and for evocative elements in paintings and drawings.
The love of language I’ve talked about? That gives me English and foreign language skills as writer and editor, and different perspectives of how to think about situations and circumstances (because words control not only what you think, but also what you can think.) I dig the fractal qualities of coastlines and watersheds, what rainshadows are, and I consider principles of tectonics and evolutionary biology when I’m making shit up.
I’m not unique in this. There are lots of folks using such skills and many others to make their living creating games and fiction, and there are people doing less peculiar jobs who are nevertheless building memorable gaming experiences for their personal circle of friends. It’s all creative and it’s all pretty damned awesome.
For my part, putting together an immersive, memorable world for games or stories is one of the most challenging, exciting, and fun things I can do, and that’s the reason for the title of this post.
I’ve spoken of Storybricks in these pages before now, having done a little concept art and talked world-building ideas with Brian “Psychochild” Green, StÃ©phane Bura and others on the team. They’re underway with the first alpha release, and they’re still keeping me around, but it’s a very long way before the kind of things I do best will be needed again. Right now, evidently I serve best by standing and waiting, as the old saying goes.
So I experienced an enormous swell of excitement on March 5th, when Brian Fargo wrote me asking Not sure if you have been paying attention to all the wasteland news but would you like to work with us on a sequel?
I had to work out some things, including checking that the Storybricks team was okay with this. Thankfully, they were. They knew I’d worked on the original Wasteland computer game, released back in 1988, and were supportive of the whole idea.
With my issues addressed, I was very pleased to tell Brian Yes Yes Yes and Yes.
I wasn’t a big part of the original project, but Highpool was one of the areas I wrote that appears early in the game. People still make sour faces when I grin evilly and say I was responsible for the tragedy with the kid and the rabid dog. I did other bits elsewhere in the game too, but that’s the piece I hear the most feedback about.
Still, the remarks aren’t always kind! I recall a forum comment I read just a year or two ago, saying something like “What kind of sick mind thinks up a situation where you have to kill a kid’s dog? And the kid too?”
*ahem* Wasteland is a post-apocalyptic world set in our near future. An animal infected with full-blown rabies can’t be saved in our world, today. With limited medical supplies and a trashed infrastructure, how in hell do you imagine you could possibly do anything but put a rabid dog out of its misery?
You never had to kill the kid, either. He’d throw himself at you, yes, but you’re playing a squad of big strong mega-weaponed Rangers! Grownups! Walk away. It’s not like you were chickenshit for backing down from some evil-hearted final boss bent on scourging the world and all you loved within it. It was a little boy.
True, if you passed through the area again, the kid would scream and yell and accuse you of terrible things — forever. But why would the boy forget the bad strangers who killed his beloved dog? He’d only asked you to help him.
You were never allowed to forget either.
That isn’t something that happened in video games of the time. I didn’t know that — the scenario I created was the kind of thing I’d've written for a bit of fiction, or a tabletop game. I play with emotions, and I still delight in knowing a little story I wrote can make strong men and women cry. The rabid dog’s tale was simply cause and effect, a touch of the unexpected (for the time), and the power of unforeseen consequences.
I remember that I had to argue to keep that event the way I wrote it. I think it was Alan Pavlish who said “But you have to give them a way to save the dog!” I explained the medical reasons why I felt that was unacceptable, how effective it would be to keep it this way, and he finally said okie-dokie. And that’s how the story was eventually programmed.
That was just little tiny bit of storyline in a larger game that had many memorable moments. The whole team’s joint efforts resulted in something amazing, with impact that still resonates. And even if it did get me called “a sick mind” decades later, people tell me they still remember the dog, decades later.
ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING
If you’re new to this blog, it’s probably because you know that Brian Fargo has launched a new Wasteland project via Kickstarter, and somewhere you found my name mentioned as one of the original team that he brought in again. The game is already funded and over-funded with more than three weeks yet to go. This game is definitely going to happen.
A lot of powerful, creative, intelligent minds worked on the first Wasteland. Brian is assembling the core personalities who drove that game, including my old friends from Flying Buffalo and T&T days, Mike Stackpole and Ken St Andre. I met Alan Pavlish while working on Wasteland and worked with him many times thereafter, writing large chunks of subsequent Interplay projects like the two Star Trek titles (25th Anniversary and Judgment Rites) and other works. I was delighted to learn that another creative friend from that time, Steve Peterson, once of HERO Games and co-designer of Champions, is evidently also getting involved. [ETA: I may have misunderstood something Steve said, but it would be cool if it's true!]
Right now, it looks like I’ll be doing just a little in the new game, but at least one map. Expect a worthy successor to Highpool. Expect me to jack around with your emotions and expect your decisions to have consequences. I know more about games and game design than I did then, and I’d like to think I’m at least as creative today as I was then, if not more so.
That’s one advantage to being a Maker. Doing so many different things, I don’t get too set in my ways about any one thing I do, whether art or writing or game design. I may not be as well known as some who specialize — that’s the downside to being a jack of all trades — but I’ve worked steadily as a creative Maker for almost four decades. I still get as excited by challenging new projects as I did when I was twenty. And I’m really stoked about some of the ideas and evil plans growing in my notes for when I get the green light to start on my part of Wasteland 2.
The Oakheart website is soon to be undergoing some server moves and other changes, long planned and finally to be executed. (Thanks to the ever-so-awesome Gazimoff!) It should remain live through the proceedings, but I may be unable to post or comment for a week or so. Trust me, I’ll be back as soon as I can!