The concept art book is becoming increasingly popular with fans, with each new entry showcasing amazing illustrative talent that really helps to add detail to the worlds we love to explore in the games we play. Filled with exciting conceptual art that fleshes out established characters and environments, these books offer us an insight into the thoughts and ideas pursued by a modern studio as they design and iterate.
Awakening: The Art of Halo 4 is one such book. A collaboration between 343 Industries and author Paul Davies, it's a collection of pieces of conceptual art commissioned by 343 during the process of making Halo 4.
Paul Davies, the books author and a massive Halo fan, spoke to us about his role in putting the collection together. A respected journalist and former editor of CVG, we discuss his love of Halo, working with 343, and the importance of concept art in modern game development.
First things first Paul, you're a massive Halo fan. How are you enjoying the return of Master Chief so far?
I'm enjoying it even more than I thought I would, no exaggeration.
The dramatic element is much more mature, in line with the novels that I've also enjoyed reading - in particular Greg Bear and Karen Traviss.
Visually it's almost like we're playing on a new console. It's astounding, no?
It's certainly a good looking game. Have you been playing through the campaign? Or do you prefer the multiplayer side of things?
I wanted to get Legendary campaign behind me before signing up as a Spartan IV on Infinity. I've done that, so I'm ready as I'll ever be. I just hope that my training with my Xbox LIVE buddies has been good enough to prepare! At the review stage I had something like a .3 K/D which is shocking!
Practice makes perfect, as they say. So, what do you think it is that draws so many people to the Halo universe?
The obvious thing to mention would be that Halo has always been considered a flagship game for Xbox. It earned its stripes with Combat Evolved in 2001, gaining the trust of of gamers. Since then the series has always lived up to expectations, and often surpassed them. So, your 'hardcore' are always there from day one.
Over time, so across a decade, Halo has been - in my opinion, but also I think objectively speaking - among the very best in nurturing a community. Bungie.net is surely the blueprint for Activision's COD Elite service, and so on.
The sci-fi element is top notch, and for oldies such as myself that remember when Star Wars first arrived, that same spirit is alive in Halo. And the coolest thing is that you're taking part. I hold Halo to be as important as the BSG remake, and better at fan service than the Star Wars prequels.
Oh, and MLG loves Halo!
Awakening: The Art of Halo 4 is a concept art book released at the same time as Halo 4. Being such a fan, working on the book must have been a labour of love?
Well, to highlight that... the book was happening at the same time as the arrival of our first child. And I was fully focused on both! I even had the art director at Titan telling me to get back to the family as everything was in hand!
Abandoning your children in favour of Halo is something that I can personally relate to, but we should probably move on before someone calls the authorities on us both.
How does a project like Awakenings get started?
Haha yep - moving on...
According to my publisher at Titan there is no set-in-stone process involved because, understandably, every major client is different.
What was especially wonderful about working with 343 Industries is that, from the very beginning, the team was willing to share absolutely everything that they had in terms of assets. So we had pages and pages of concept art of all sizes to consider, tantalisingly filed under Work In Progress mission headers.
Also, it was established early on that this was to be a collaborative effort. 343i didn't just 'dump' a stack load of concept art on the desk and say "see ya later, looking forward to seeing what you can do". This book, what it would say about the importance of great concept art, was precious to them. This was very exciting.
So how did the collaboration with 343 work? What was it like working with them?
Over several months the Titan team, including a very dynamic publisher, communicated several times a week with our main contact at 343i. Early on we submitted our initial design thoughts, presentation style, chapter progression, based on how we viewed the importance of characters, environments, gameplay modes and what was both new and different for Halo 4. I suggested a few directions for the editorial, considering such things as amount of detail alongside the tone of voice.
Ultimately, both parties were in agreement that the artwork would do most of the talking. And that any further qualification/explanation would come directly from the team. Who wants to hear my thoughts, really, when you can know what was on the mind of Sparth or Robogabo as they strived to attain their goals?
I should add that, considering the 343i guys were still putting the game itself together earlier in the book project, we got a fantastic level of support, including the senior guys, in particular Kenneth Scott the Art Director. From a fan point of view, this is huge value for the book I think.
It must've been exciting watching the game develop, even from your position as a collaborator working on the sidelines. Just how tangible is the influence of the concept art on the finished project?
Well, I think this relates to what has really knocked me out with Halo 4 - how closely the in-game world reflects the detail and emotional intention of the concept work. Some of the images in the book are quite abstract, to 'suggest' a situation within the game. But you'll recognise so many scenes from the book in the game - for example the cover for the standard edition, which is awesome, is the first real breathtaking moment on Requiem.
You were being sent the concept art from 343, but did you ever see the game during the development of the book, to get a better idea of the context behind the images and art you were being sent?
No, the game was so tightly under wraps not even the Didact could could fight his way inside.
Concept art books are becoming increasingly popular, with science-fiction themed games getting particular attention. What do you think attracts people to them?
Games such as Halo and Dead Space are now treated as seriously as major movies along the lines of Ridley Scott's Prometheus or JJ Abrams' Star Trek. And so the concept stage involves more than populating specific, limited areas within a gaming space, but also needs to inform the universe that surrounds it. Consequently you have a vast collection of imagery that would otherwise never see the light of day, created by some of the best professional artists in the world, that fans love to pour over. In addition, any student of illustration can benefit a great deal by observing the masters at work.
Why do you think that Awakening - and other concept art books like it - are important in fleshing out and enriching the games we play?
That all depends on how much you enjoy the outer limits of something that, I'm sure 343i would agree, needs to appeal to the widest possible audience. The story-telling element isn't so much a factor for an art book. Indeed Kenneth Scott was keen not to get too "granular" with such detail. Leave that to the novelisations. But as something that enriches the experience of the game, it's another dimension to stimulate a mind that appreciates so much about the visual content received via Xbox.
Awakenings is a very luxurious book, do you think that kind of high quality presentation, or the inclusion of art in limited and special editions, is indicative of how important it's becoming to fans?
Definitely. And anything less would be rightly criticised for not paying due respect.
Awakening: The Art of Halo 4 by Paul Davies is available to buy now, and costs £29.99. Get it direct from Titan Books.
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