Friday, April 17, 2015

Legendaries Mode, Round 2 - Adam Adamowicz, Concept Artist for Bethesda Softworks
In the second installment of Legendaries Mode, Tiger and Rabbit pay tribute to an influential video game artist who was taken too soon but not before he left his mark on the industry as a whole. His works can be only described as inspirational and he helped to shape two of Tiger’s favorite games.


Tiger: Since you picked Rima Brek last time, I think it’s only fair that I get to pick this time.

Rabbit: Are you going to pick Troy Baker? I know how much you love his work. Or maybe it’s someone from Naughty Dog.

Tiger: Maybe I should pick Ted Price.

Rabbit: ^shocked face^ That’s so mean, I’m still scarred from that whole ordeal.

Tiger: Okay, I won’t. Actually I am picking Adam Adamowicz, the concept artist for Bethesda Softworks. This man singlehandedly created the visual worlds of two of my favorite games. 

Rabbit: Oh wow, you are right. We actually got to see some of his work at the Smithsonian’s Art of Video Games exhibit at the EMP in Seattle last year. His art is amazingly expressive.

Tiger: He was also one of the few concept artists that worked with non digital mediums. On display at the EMP were a few hand drawn concept art from Skyrim and a canvas painting of Megaton.

Rabbit: I love the idea of creating concept art on paper or at least in some physical form. I know video games are a digital media but there’s something about seeing art created on paper versus on a tablet or computer. His display was one of the few that weren’t shown on a screen.

Tiger: I agree with you there but I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s talk about some of his earlier works first. In 2001, Adam Adamowicz worked on Nightcaster: Defeat the Darkness for the original Xbox and then on the sequel, Nightcaster II: Equinox, in 2002. The original title garnered mediocre reviews but the art style was praised. Tim Tracy of Gamespot said, “Had there been better implementation of the in-game camera, the game would have had a better chance of showing what it had to offer. It’s almost a shame that the detail put into the graphics is all but hidden by the overhead view that you’re seemingly stuck with.”

Rabbit: His next project was Goblin Commander: Unleash the Horde in 2003, also for the original Xbox and PlayStation 2. In 2005, Adamowicz began working at Bethesda Softworks on The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. He also contributed to the Oblivion DLC, Nights of the Nine and Shivering Isles.

Tiger: His most stunning work came from two of the biggest games on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC for Bethesda Softworks; Fallout 3 in 2008 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in 2011. I think the most striking thing about Adamowicz’s work on those two games is the fact that he was the only concept artist for those games. Though he worked with a design team, he singlehandedly created the visual worlds for Fallout and Skyrim.
Rabbit: His work on Fallout 3 was highly praised. With the post-apocalyptic setting, it could have been very easy to produce a visually drab game, but the art and overall design were stunning. The environment created stories throughout the game; you only had to look close enough to see them. Erik Brudvig of IGN pointed out this very thing about Fallout 3 saying, “Browns and grays dominate the color palette, creating a stylized and convincing post-apocalyptic wasteland. It’s clear that care has been paid to giving Fallout 3 a look that adds to the atmosphere of desperation. And even as the bleak style provides clear limitations in terms of how much visual variety can put into the game… Bethesda has used attention to detail to create unique locations that beg to be explored.”

Tiger: For me, the big standout of Fallout 3 was the environment. Because it is so desolate, there are times when you feel all alone exploring the wasteland. Every so often, you would come across a seemingly meaningless locale only to find that on closer inspection a story is being told to you. Not in words but in visual clues, that a subtle placement of an object gave meaning to the desolation. Brudvig in that same review brought up the time he came across a small bunker. In it he found only a skeleton behind a locked door. After searching the area, he found a book on picking locks and a bobby pin just a few feet out of the reach of the skeleton. “Safety was just a few feet away, but unreachable” as Brudvig put it.

Rabbit: Little details like that just show how much care was put into the game. I’m still amazed at how much art one man could create. Reading through the Fallout Diaries, Adamowicz wrote, “No design is ever a waste of time, even if it only serves to point you towards another possibility.” You can definitely tell that he believed in that statement. On his personal blog, Adamowicz talked about how the Shishkesword had him stumped for weeks and he had several trashcans full of scrapped designs until he reached the “real eureka moment.”

Tiger: In that same Fallout Diaries post, Adamowicz stated, “for this job, I think the more you read on a wide variety of subjects, the better equipped you are to create depth and realism, especially for a fantasy setting. The fantastic that’s grounded in real world elements and then elaborated and exaggerated upon, seem to work the best, and create a solid jumping off point. This often creates fertile ground for generating additional story elements that can influence costumes, machines, and even motives for various personalities inhabiting a made up world.”
Rabbit: You can definitely feel his passion through his work. Bethesda was great enough to put Adamowicz’s art for the Oblivion DLC, Fallout 3, and Skyrim on Flickr. I would highly recommend taking a look at them.

Tiger: Yes, it’s amazing to see how some of those concepts were literally transferred straight into the games with little or no alterations.

Rabbit: Since we’re still on the topic of Fallout 3, I also want to bring up how the 50s propaganda art really helped create the satirical vibe that runs rampant throughout the game.

Tiger: I also love that 50s art style and it was like finding Easter eggs throughout the game when I would discover a new poster or billboard that I hadn’t seen before. Adamowicz also loved that era and its art style, in an interview included with Fallout 3 he remarked, “I have an interest in all things ‘50s because I think there’s a certain charisma with the music, with the automobiles, with the clothing style. So designing any of these characters and then throwing them into the Wasteland, the dark humor for me kicked in when I imagined Ward Cleaver being pushed out of his bunker and he’s looking for fresh tobacco for his pipe and then here comes a raider over the top of the horizon.”

Rabbit: Who’s Ward Cleaver?

Tiger: *hesitates* Umm… let me go to Wikipedia… according to them he was a fictional character on a TV show called Leave It to Beaver.

Rabbit: What is that?

Tiger: I’m not sure but I’ll just leave the link here.

Rabbit: Well, while you were doing that, I was looking at the art that’s up on Flickr and I’m still just blown away by how much there is and the quality of it all.

Tiger: I know I’ve been perusing the collection as well. Which game were you checking out?

Rabbit: I’ve been looking at the Skyrim art and while Adamowicz’s Fallout 3 work was impressive, I have to say his Skyrim stuff is the best. There’s so much more variety to the style and color palette of Skyrim. There are different weapon and armor sets for the various races. The environments are much richer, from the forests of Falkreath to the high cliffs of Solitude, Skyrim really feels like a complete world.

Tiger: That’s the striking difference between Fallout 3 and Skyrim in my mind. Fallout 3 has the better, more concise story. I also think its story is more compelling between the two but overall it feels like a smaller game than Skyrim. Not just because the map is smaller but because it feels like the entire world is dealing with the same post-apocalyptic setting. Skyrim has this breadth to it and I think it’s due to the races with their different agendas. You have the Mer, or Elves, and the Aldmeri Dominion which has banned the religious worship of the Nords’ god. Of course, the Nords don’t take to kindly to this and choose to defy the Mer. Then there’s the Empire which is made up of humans who have to play nice with the Mer because they signed a peace treaty with them. And that’s just the start of it. Like you mentioned, you can look at a characters armor or clothes and know exactly who they are and where they came from.

Rabbit: Like the time I watched you play last time, you were in Eastmarch and the clothes that the people wore were actually different from the clothes that you saw in Markarth.

Tiger: And it’s not just the clothes, the weapon and armor designs are painstakingly detailed. I remember people joking about how all the items in Skyrim can be viewed in three dimensions, allowing you to rotate or zoom in but I’m thankful they have that feature. While I don’t wear Glass Armor anymore, it’s my favorite set though, I still keep it on hand so I can look at it when I want to.

Rabbit: Charles Onyett in his review for IGN also pointed that out; “Weapon and armor designs are fantastically detailed, to the point where the increased damage or armor bonus for a new piece of gear is usually less exciting than the opportunity to marvel at its design.”

Tiger: And OMG those landscapes. From the stunning Whiterun plains drenched in the sun’s rays to mountains shrouded in snow storms; just wandering around Skyrim is a great experience. I often stumbled upon waterfalls located high in the mountains or streams that I had never seen before. There is also an active day and night cycle along with weather effects so you never know what you’ll wake up to in Skyrim. I often tried to time my exploration so that I’d be out and about when Masser and Secunda were full, hoping to catch the aurora that streaked across the skies.

Rabbit: Even if you don’t like the game itself, you can’t deny that Skyrim has some of the best visuals of any game I have ever seen. Maybe not that most graphically impressive, but its design is flawless.
Tiger: Unfortunately, Adam Adamowicz passed away from complications of lung cancer in 2012, he was 43. Outside of his work with video games, he had a love for monsters which he turned into sculptures. Adamowicz also worked on Dark Horse’s New Recruits, did cover art for Malibu Graphics, and worked with David Greenberger on The Duplex Planet from Fantagraphics. For me, I will always remember him for his work in Fallout 3 and Skyrim. I don’t think I can truly express how much of an impact Fallout and Skyrim had on me and my own creative projects. It’s not so much the gameplay or the story that I love, but the subtle visual nuances of the games. On Bethesda’s tribute page, there is an entry that talks about when Adamowicz was designing the concepts for Dewmer weapons. He had dozens of reference photos not only of weapons but of architecture, paintings, pottery, and other such things. He created culture as much as he created a concept; undeniably that detail is what had the most impact on me as a gamer. Because when I looked at a weapon or a location in those games, I knew that it wasn’t made to just “look cool.” There is a depth of history, culture, and meaning behind those items; and I know that painstaking work went into shaping a complete world.

Rabbit: I can’t imagine what Fallout 3 and Skyrim would be like without his contributions. While many people may not have known his name, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of gamers at least have seen his work. I definitely believe his influence will carry on for a long time to come in the art and design of video games.

Tiger: I think there is no better way to end this post than with a few snippets from the people that worked and knew Adam Adamowicz directly.

“Adam’s presence is indelibly felt in the games he worked on. To play his games – Fallout 3 in particular – was to know him, in a way. His personality seeped into every piece he worked on. I’m still impressed with the number of final assets that seemed lifted directly from the page where he drew them. His creativity has no boundaries, and he made it seem so effortless - working with him was a privilege I’ll never forget.”

“I would like to quote Raoul Duke from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: ‘There he goes. One of God’s own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.’”

"The gaming industry lost an extremely talented young man and we at Bethesda lost a really good friend. There’s no doubt that his work will continue to influence what we create here at Bethesda and his work will continue to inspire others around the world."

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