Artists wanted: how Brian Fargo and inXile are revolutionizing asset creation for Wasteland 2
Brian Fargo and his team at inXile raised a little under $3 million to create Wasteland 2. That may seem like a pile of money, but in reality it’s a modest budget in the world of large-scale RPG game development. The question is how to use that tight budget to create a game that will satisfy fans, and Fargo’s answer was innovative: turn to the fans themselves for help creating the items that will make up the game’s world. In a very real sense, fans will get to help creating the game itself, be paid for their efforts, and further their own careers as artists.
Welcome to the future of crowd-sourced game development.
Wasteland 2 is being built in the Unity engine, and Unity’s selection of high-quality models available for licensing through the built-in store made that decision easy. “One of the reasons we chose Unity was the Unity store. For us it’s like having a back lot and a costuming department. There are certain things we don’t have to re-invent every time,” Fargo explained. They did tests by taking existing assets from the Unity store and tweaking them to fit in with the world of Wasteland. The result was impressive, and the resulting models looked like they fit in the game. “If we have a train in the game, or a gas station, do we really need to do it from scratch? Again?” The answer was no, they didn’t.
The decision was made to let the community participate directly in the game’s design. Each week the team uploads a collection of concept art that gives artists an idea of how each model should look. There is a guide that explains what they’re looking for in terms of coloring and aesthetics. 3D artists have a week to create their version of the model, upload it to the store, and if the team likes it they’ll pay to use the asset, put it in the game, and give the artist a badge they can use in the listing for that asset in the future. That’s the important bit: artists keep the rights to their work, and can continue to sell their models by advertising that it was good enough for a professional game.
“If [your model] is selected, we will pay you for the asset and you will receive a special ‘As seen in Wasteland 2’ badge to place on your icon in the Unity Asset Store,” the guide states. “You will also be credited in the Wasteland 2 game for your contribution (not to mention the satisfaction of showing this off to all your friends!) Please keep pricing in line with the normally accepted range in the Asset Store. Entries will be rejected if the price is too high.”
This frees up the artists at inXile to spend more time actually creating the game, and less time creating models from scratch. “You’re going to get a lot more detail than you would have otherwise in the game,” Fargo said. “What it does is it shifts their focus to some degree.” The art department now has more time to spend on other aspects of the game, and the game itself will feature much more variety. Instead of having one kind of turret in Wasteland 2, they’ll be able to have a larger variety of models. I’ve included two examples of the concept art shown to artists, and the resulting models that will appear in the game.
An opportunity for artists
Wasteland 2 was always a project with a large fan base, as proven by its Kickstarter success. Fargo says that people were constantly asking if they could provide music, writing, art work, anything that could get into the game. “People forget about how many young people want to get into our industry,” he explained. “For them this is a godsend, they think this program is the best thing they’ve ever heard of. They can’t wait to show their work; how else are they going to get guys like us to see what they produce? They want to try their talents out, get into the game, and get their badge of honor, so to speak.”
This allows artists to practice the skills needed to turn concept art into a working model, and they can be sure their work will be seen and evaluated by industry professionals. The team will also be looking for talent they can work with on future projects; if someone shows that they can provide above average work on a routine basis, it’s very possible the relationship could turn professional.
Even if an artist only has one model selected for use in the game, that can be used to promote the model so others will license it, and they get to say their work appeared in a popular game. It’s a huge opportunity.
It’s also a new, more efficient way of doing things. “Seeing the money that came in, you look at what you have, and then you ask how you’re going to do it,” Fargo said. “You just can’t operate as normal. We got to use existing tools, and to be more clever. We’re being smart and efficient about how we use the money and resources.” With such a large community working on assets and focusing on the 3D models, the core team at inXile has been able to get things up and working much faster than on previous projects.
“We’ve seen more progress in 90 days than we did with Fallout in probably the first nine months,” Fargo said.
This is a win for everyone involved. Artists get to take a shot at getting their work in a real game, increasing their profile, and making money. Fargo and his team get to stretch their budget, increase the visual diversity in their game, and with the time saved they can focus on what’s really important: Making a large game that’s fun to explore and play. Kickstarted projects may seem like they’re drowning in money, but developers are realizing that they have to find new ways to produce quality content with smaller budgets. In that area, inXile is ahead of the curve.
“I think people are going to be surprised at how big our game is,” Fargo told the Penny Arcade Report. “That’s going to be the real surprise for people. It’s big in depth and in scope.”