Blog Interview

Shaun Yow: Balancing the Creative Vision with Technical Constraints


Sandsoft Games bright talented family is growing. We are extremely happy to welcome Shaun Yow as an Art Lead. Shaun has been in the games industry for 10 years, and had been leading and managing artists of different disciplines and outsource vendors on a variety of projects, including #PC, #console, #VR, and #mobilegames.

We asked Shaun a couple of questions about his way to the industry and favourite games.

What are some of the reasons that made you join the gaming industry and keep you stay?

“I got hooked to games like Diablo 2, Ragnarok Online and Neverwinter Nights over 20 years ago. I knew then that I wanted to join the gaming industry. I loved creating art and combining it with my passion for games: Here I am today as a game artist.

I’ve stayed in the industry because of how dynamic it is. I get to work with passionate people and solve new problems every day. This keeps me motivated and excited about my work.”

How do you balance the creative vision of a game’s art direction with technical constraints and the need for optimal performance across various gaming platforms?

“The first step is to understand the requirements of the game, such as its genre, target platform, and visual quality goals. Once we have a good understanding of the requirements, we can start to identify potential bottlenecks and areas for optimization.

With an experienced team, we can often catch potential problems early on and prevent them from becoming major issues. We can also do stress testing with placeholder assets early on to get a sense of how the game will perform under load.

For example, in the case of a battle royale game with 10 player characters, we would start by stress testing with 10 characters with animation and VFX. If the game performs well, we can then increase the number of characters or the quality of the assets. However, if the game starts to slow down, we will need to make some optimizations.

This is where close collaboration with the client engineers is essential. They can help us to identify the areas where the game is spending the most resources and make recommendations for optimization.

Ultimately, the decision of what to keep and what to cut is a balancing act between visual quality and performance. We need to make sure that the game looks good, but we also need to make sure that it runs smoothly. The specific decisions that we make will depend on the specific game and its target audience.”

Can you discuss the collaborative process between artists, designers, and developers in bringing a game’s visual style and storytelling to life? How do you ensure everyone is aligned on the artistic direction?

“By having an art bible and design pillars, an art bible defines the visual style of a game. It includes things like the color palette, the character design, and the environment design. An art bible is essential for any game project, as it helps to ensure that everyone on the team is working towards the same vision.

At the beginning of a project, the art bible is crucial. It helps the team to stay on track and to avoid creating assets that do not fit the game’s visual style. However, as the team gets more familiar with the art bible, they may become less reliant on it. This is natural, as they will have internalized the visual style of the game.

However, it is important to keep the art bible up-to-date. Trends change, workflows change, and the team may need to make adjustments to the art bible to reflect these changes. Additionally, the art bible can be used to communicate the visual style of the game to new team members.

In the art team, we need to be constantly sharing our work in progress (WIP) with others. It is essential to get feedback early and often, so that we can make necessary changes. However, this also comes with its challenges, as a WIP may not give the best impression of our final product and the feedback may be skewed. You don’t need to be an artist to feel if something is “off”, that’s why I encourage everyone and anyone to give their feedback. This is the same as with food. You don’t need to be a master chef to know if food tastes bad. If something tastes “off”, then something is wrong, and in the same vein may be worth taking a closer look. Ultimately, it is up to the artist to decide what feedback is worth taking on board, and to share their concerns on why some feedback may not be feasible.”

With the increasing demand for inclusivity and representation in gaming, how does your team approach diversity and cultural sensitivity in character design and world-building?

“The first step to creating inclusive and culturally sensitive characters in games is to see them as characters, first and foremost. They should be complex and well-rounded, with their own unique personalities, motivations, and goals. They should not be defined by their race, ethnicity, or any other cultural background.

In order to create characters that are respectful and accurate, it is important to do the research. Learn about the cultures that you are representing, and avoid stereotypes and appropriation. Get feedback from people from different cultures to ensure that the designs are accurate and respectful. The same goes for world building, a good amount of research and feedback will go a long way.”

What strategies do you employ to foster creativity and innovation among your art team, especially when working on long-term projects that require sustained inspiration ?

“Keeping up with the latest happenings in the gaming industry is essential for game developers. This includes playing newly released games, watching the latest TV series and movies, and reading gaming news and blogs. By staying up-to-date on the latest trends, we can learn about new techniques and technologies that we can use to improve our own games.

One strategy for staying up-to-date is to have regular team sharing sessions. In these sessions, each team member can share about a game, or piece of art, or tool that they have been enjoying. They can talk about what they like about it, why they like it, and how it has influenced or helped their own work. This is a great way to learn about different perspectives and to get inspired by the work of others.

My own practice, every time a new task comes in. I’ll always put aside some time to research first, I encourage the team to explore other means to improve their workflow. So before starting the task, ask the questions: How can I speed up this process? Are there tutorials out there that have done this before? Are there plugins or software has been made for this purpose?

Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment. Try new things and see what works. The gaming industry is constantly evolving, so it’s important to be open to new ideas.”

You have a strong and diversified experience in product management. What were some of the things that convinced you to join Sandsoft?

“I was really impressed with Sandsoft’s vision to create innovative games that are both fun and meaningful. I’m also excited about the opportunity to join Sandsoft at this early stage. I believe that this is a great opportunity to learn and grow, and I’m confident that I can make a significant contribution to the company’s success.

I was also really impressed by the people I met during the interview process. They were all so passionate about games and about Sandsoft. I felt like I could really connect with them and that I would be able to learn a lot from them.”