From Bro Force to Gorn: Luc Wolthers talks game development

Luc Wolthers is a concept artist at Free Lives - a game studio local to Cape Town. Best known for its debut game BroForce, a witty commentary on America and its hypermasculine culture, talks about his experience in becoming a super rad artist for games such as Gorn.

Would you describe yourself as a game designer & concept artist? Or a generalist?

I am a generalist with a focus on art.

Maybe we could start by chatting about those Monster Designs - they’re really cool and dark. Are they for a professional project or for yourself?

They were for a dropped prototype, a game we were internally building for a while called Confederate Smashers which was to be a left for dead inspired wave shooter with dismemberment and a few other features. But the scope of the game proved too big to be prototyped in a short time.

Oh wow, that sounds really cool. So what would you say your creative process is with a game like that?

We normally start our ideation process by chasing our interests. on that project my team felt like we wanted to make a satanic Doom inspired game, but with unique setting and enemies to sperate us from our contemporaries. The theme shifted over development as we changed our goals.

I can't speak much to the creative process on the game because it was ultimately unsuccessful. We have a short prototype period where we need to prove whether a game is within a certain scope. if it takes too long to get something out we take it as evidence that the game will take several years to finish.

Do you work mostly in a team to ideate and then work individually on the concepts, or bring the first draft to the team?

We work mostly in teams, but we have small teams. Normally 1 artist, a coder and a sound guy during the prototype phase. If a project is shown to have legs then we scale the team-up. Importantly, bigger teams don't necessarily mean you can make bigger games.

Also, I can imagine if I'd done such dope art I might be a bit disappointed that a prototype like that would be dropped, but then again, apparently in games that happens quite often? How do you feel when a prototype like that is dropped?

It is disappointing to have to discard work, but there are many future projects that will still require work and expertise. so it doesn't bother me much.

That's a fair point, I'm really impressed by how you and Jonathon managed to make Dodge Brawl in about two weeks, and it already looked quite polished and was really fun to play. So, talking about successful games - were you and your team aware of how successful Gorn would become?

Dodge brawl also had Jem Smith as gameplay designer. We are still being surprised by Gorn's continued success. :D

So would you say you chose to take Gorn further because you could develop so much in so little time? Were you the sole artist on the project?

I was not the sole artist, I worked with Marcelle Marais. In total the Gorn team was; myself and Marcelle(artists) Ruan(Programmer and designer), Jay(Sound design) and a lot of help from Shaz and Adone(producers at different times).

and Jem - support code -

Jonathan and Jarred also contributed art and shaders.

as well as fil and Dawid who were early artists on the project.

And so for yourself, what would you say was the most important element or mindset to ensure that you improved as an artist? The last time we spoke you said you'd been in the industry for about 4-5 years - and you've really skyrocketed. Was there an attitude or an approach that you undertook that steered you towards success?

So I have always been into making production art instead of art as a discipline. I had a laser focus on developing skills to fit into a pipeline. Truth be told I don't feel like I have developed as much as an artist as I would like, I have divided my focus between 2D, 3D, animation, and now game design and programming.

I would say the one thing I did was never box my skillset in, I am always picking up new disciplines. In the South African context, this is very helpful (less so for international companies). That was my habit. from the attitude side, I really like what I do, but I never expect to have fun all the time. A lot of this is either boring, hard, or frustrating. I guess that in spite of the bad times I still make sure to get to work on time every day and try my best.