Gav Strange and the Art of Gaming

In his sixth column for Inkygoodness, senior designer Gavin Strange shares his nostalgic love of gaming.

I remember it so vividly. It was Christmas Nineteen Ninety-something and I’d heard that my cousin had one. He really had one to call his own. I couldn’t believe it. We went over to my Aunt & Uncles house to say hello and spread the festive cheer, but I was really only interested in one thing, what my cousin got for Christmas. I walked into the spare room to see him hunched over a 14-inch CRT screen and there it was, in all it’s matte grey splendour – the Super Nintendo. The ‘SNES’. And I could have a go!

Enamoured with the visuals; the characters, the worlds, it all seemed so different to me; I’d never seen this before, and I could PLAY them. I could interact. Most importantly, these things felt like MY discovery.

Gavin Strange

My fascination with computer games didn’t start there though, I would use up all my pocket money buying ‘Computer & Video Games magazine’ and spend my days pouring over the pages. Enamoured with the visuals; the characters, the worlds, it all seemed so different to me. I read books and we watched movies as a family, but the things on these pages, they were things I’d never seen before, and I could PLAY them. I could interact. Most importantly, these things felt like MY discovery.

See, we didn’t have a computer ourselves, so I was living vicariously through what I saw in CVG. That only made my fasciation turn to obsession, I would jump at the chance to visit friends houses and have a go on their machines. My best friend owned an Amiga and I would constantly plead to stay inside and just play games all day, much to the chagrin of my friends mum. As far as I was concerned, my mate had it all – James Pond… NARC… ZOOL… Lemmings… Xenon 2 Megablast – WHY WOULD YOU EVER NEED TO LEAVE THE HOUSE!?

I was left to idly doodle Sonic the Hedgehog in my sketchbooks, over and over and over again. I’d firmly made my mind up that I was ‘Team Sega’, despite owning neither consoles, I felt like this was a decision I had to make, so Sega it was. I think It’s because the snazzy adverts for the Game Gear captured my attention (although, looking back on YouTube, Sega’s adverts are really obnoxious!). So one Christmas, when I excitedly tore open a corner of wrapping paper to see Sonic’s iconic red sneakers, my love for video games was cemented, as I got to experience them myself, firsthand, in my own home.

With my own little slice of game heaven I could live in these digital worlds and characters to my hearts content.

Gavin Strange

That was it, I was hooked, for real this time. Not via proxy, but with my own little slice of game heaven. I could live in these digital worlds and characters to my hearts content. Well, actually, I could just play Sonic as we couldn’t really afford any other games. They were expensive man. The point still stands though.

The next leap deeper into the world of gaming came with the first console I bought for myself. Saving up every penny from my Saturday job I got myself a second-hand Playstation 1. My oh my that was exciting. The progression of the technology only fascinated me further – the graphics were better, the sound more grander – it had it’s hooks in me. I played the free demo disc continuously because, again, games were expensive. I had to save up again before I could get another game, so I had to choose wisely… and chose wisely I did because I opted for a copy of ‘Metal Gear Solid’ and my gaming life would never be the same again.

MGS made you use your brain, it made you think out the puzzles ahead, it made you feel smart for understanding and then achieving them. For someone who wasn’t academically gifted as a teenager, this was a big deal for me. The game even thought outside the box, literally. There was a code that you needed to input to progress further and it was actually printed inside the screenshot on the back of the disc box itself. I had never seen that before, it blew my mind. The creativity inside this console made me think outside of the screen, that made me giggle with excitement!

Nothing would prepare me though for the interactive experience that would come next. The most formative game of my youth and my favourite game ever… Final Fantasy VII. This epic RPG was so big it came on 4 discs. FOUR DISCS! It perfectly aligned with my teenage life, I was on ‘study leave’ where you spend some time at home to revise for exams but I don’t remember a great deal of revision happening. I have a lasting memory of my Mum & Brother leaving the house for the day at 8am and by the time they came back later that afternoon, I was sitting in the exact same position but I had reached the fabled ‘9999’ status – maxing out my HP and XP (My Brother exclaimed “WOAH!”, my Mother exclaimed “GAVIN!”). It was a good day.

Why am I telling you all these stories? Leading you down a wistful lane potted with computer game titbits? Well, I wanted to share something that feels really formative for my creative career. It was my exposure to characters and world, stories and fantasy. Sure, I had that in film, but the difference was that I got to control the outcomes of these narratives. I got to know the protagonists and antagonists myself, in my way, and that made the bond stronger.

The aesthetics of these games are burnt into my brain. The vivid colours, the varied art styles. When mood boarding a new project, I often find myself referencing games new and old, as they’re now a part of my visual language.

Gavin Strange

The aesthetics of these games are burnt into my brain. The vivid colours, the varied art styles. When mood boarding a new project, I often find myself referencing games new and old, as they’re now a part of my visual language.

We’re in a really exciting time for the visuals of games – The photorealistic look of many a beautiful big budget titles such as Grand Theft Auto V and Uncharted 4 are sights to behold. Each frame looks like a painting, so much so that there’s even a site dedicated to capturing those images in a stunning archive – check out deadendthrills.com.

But it’s not all about striving to look like real life. There’s a huge wealth of smaller, independent studios that utilise the power of modern consoles to creative stylised and unique looks. Games like Trine, Limbo, Cuphead, Ori & the blind Forest, Fez and Thumper offer stunning experiences that just beg to be played (and/or simply ogled).

It doesn’t all have to be luscious elaborate graphics though, the block minimalism of Thomas Was Alone is a stroke of visual genius.

Gavin Strange

It doesn’t all have to be luscious elaborate graphics though, the block minimalism of Thomas Was Alone is a stroke of visual genius, and the intricate pixel art style of Sword & Sorcery is something totally different again. Retro but futuristic at the same time. Coupled with an incredible score by Jim Guthrie, it’s a very special experience.

That’s why I’ve wanted to talk about video games. They feel special, to me. They take me to a world that feels special. They’re the sum total of everything that makes me excited to create: Art, Design, Animation, Composition, Story, Characters, Music, Sound. They combine all of these things together to make a very rich and rewarding experience.

I’ll never forget that moment of tearing open that wrapping to discover a bright blue hedgehog wearing trainers and the feeling of excitement and giddiness it brought. I strive to create something that can inspire the same feelings in someone else.

I’ll leave you with this, a little fun video. Please note it contains a lot of salty language, an awful lot of effin’ & jeffin’, but it’s worth it. it’s a game called Surgeon Simulator, where you perform open heart surgery but one player controls the hand, and the other controls the fingers. It’s as chaotic as that sounds… enjoy!

P.S: If you’re into gaming, I highly recommend you check out this stunning art book about the history of the Sega Megadrive and it’s games, it’s a beauty.

 

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Posted on Jul 13th, 17 by

By Day, Gavin is a Senior Designer for the Interactive arm of Aardman Animations, by night he's a Designer & Director going under the alias of JamFactory, indulging in all manner of passion projects. In 2015 he wrote his first book 'Do Fly', published by The Do Book Company, and he co-founded the contemporary design store 'STRANGE' with his wife Jane. He lives in Bristol with Jane, his son Sullivan and their greyhound Peggy.

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