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News . Feature Stories . Serious gaming: Biomed grad illustrates new Android game

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July 19, 2013

Serious gaming: Biomed grad illustrates new Android game

Pirate-themed game released for the Android platform in July.

Serious gaming: Biomed grad illustrates new Android game

By Carolyn Jack

The launch of something called the Age of Pirates sounds as if it ought to involve a champagne bottle and an18th-century sailing ship.

Well, don’t rule out the bottle, but these particular pirates are setting out in a cell phone. That makes for tight quarters, yet the 64-x-64-pixel screen space they occupy encompasses a complete Caribbean-themed world crafted by the imagination and hands of 2013 Cleveland Institute of Art graduate Derrick Nau.

Creating the initial 153 digital illustrations for Trese Brothers’ new Android-platform Age of Pirates game, which was released July 11, offered Nau a perfect opportunity to use the expert skills he developed as a biomedical-art major at CIA – not to mention the amusement and the challenge he’s looked for in everything he’s done, from academic study to playing drums in a metal band.

“I’ve always been into games and stuff. I guess I’m kind of a nerdy guy,” the 26-year-old Nau said over the phone with a grin you could practically hear through the receiver. Raised in Athens, Ohio, Nau first came to CIA in 2004, but left in 2007 to play in the band Skeletonwitch, where he also kept his design hand in by creating comic-book-style band art of monsters and other fantasy figures. When he returned to CIA in 2011 to complete his degree, biomedical art caught his attention.

“I’m kind of competitive: I thought biomedical art was one of the most intellectually challenging majors at CIA,” he noted. With his continuing interest in drawing fantasy life forms, “I thought biomedical art was a good way to explore that.”

Pursuing the subject, which included an “Anatomy for the Artist” class taught by Amanda Almon, gave Nau the opportunity to observe surgeries, attend cadaver labs and draw from life, while his concurrent studies in game design helped him learn about player motivation, game characteristics and the theory of game operation.

His two areas of interest were not as different as they sound. “Biomedical-art and game-design fields relate through the overlap of interactive media,” Amanda Almon explained in an email. “The idea of engaging the audience to explore and discover new things to learn through an experience is shared between both fields. The growing concept of ‘serious gaming’” – games with important educational purposes – “is the future of where biomedical art and gaming intersect.”

That future can be fun, too: Age of Pirates immerses players on a high-seas adventure in the living fantasy world of Laanbrakan, where the fighting, sailing, trading and wars of wits offer interesting narrative complexities and a wide range of choices, assisted by the game’s 130,000 map sectors – improvements over Trese Brothers’ popular Star Traders game and even its Temple Assault Elite, which was named one of the best strategy games of 2013.

Trese Brothers’ Andrew Trese, quoted in a Pocket Tactics review by Owen Faraday, described Age of Pirates as having interactive story lines, long-term goals, customizable difficulty, captain’s equipment and that tiny-but-huge Laanbrakan phone-screen world to explore. Not to mention all the swash-and-buckle theatricality of steampunk-Caribbean style.

Nau and the Treses are old friends, having grown up together in Athens. Nau had kept up with them and was eventually hired on as an illustrator, a job that provides plenty of difficulty: The Android format has limited processing power and image details can get lost, so complicated ideas and situations have to be conveyed clearly and simply.

Keeping the Trese Brothers company vision in mind and calling on the draftsmanship and technical facility he learned at CIA, Nau developed a concept and crafted pictures for Age of Pirates based on his own research of pirate-era imagery, including Dutch Masters paintings and photographs of ships and beaches. It helped that one of his CIA classes had sent him to the Cleveland Museum of Art to photograph and catalog his own personal visual encyclopedia of style, technique, composition, period and color, he said.

Nau worked with two monitors, one displaying his reference images while he digitally painted on the other. Because company members work remotely, they would have a “Google hang-out” once a week to confer with one another and, if necessary, Nau would adjust his work to better fit his colleagues’ ideas. He called the whole process a fun challenge that CIA helped him meet by having developed his artistic self-reliance, giving him the tools to problem-solve on his own.

His success is no surprise to Almon. “Derrick is a serious, detail oriented and intelligent student with a strong aptitude for solving visual problems through impeccable technique,” she wrote. “He can use a wide range of media in his work; from 2D to 3D static images to animation and interactivity.”

Almon thinks game design offers Nau and other CIA students an excellent career path, one that promises expanding job opportunities and better financial security than artists have traditionally enjoyed. “The gaming industry is a billion-dollar operation, commercially,” she explained. “From large AAA companies like EA, Ubisoft, Microsoft, Sony, etc., to smaller independent ‘indie’ game companies, options for employability are diverse.” Moreover, she said, serious educational games represent an important growth sector.

For Nau, the future is looking bright. Though he plans to wait and see what time will bring, working for a digital-game company that is now a full-time, successful operation “has really opened my eyes to what’s possible” with an art education, he said.

He never thought he’d be working on an Android game with old friends. With another of those audible smiles, Nau added, “It’s really cool. But I might be biased.”

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