Way back in August I had the opportunity to order a copy of Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman’s Mine. As a bonus, Himalaya Studios included a promotional Quest for Glory II poster drawn by the wonderful print and digital artist Eriq Chang. After a few notes back and forth, Eriq agreed to have some of his work profiled by yours truly.
In this article I’d like to introduce some of Eriq’s wonderful work done for notable game developers such as AGDInteractive/Himalaya Studios, Infamous Adventures, and Telltale Games, among others. Eriq’s work demonstrates the kinds of deep, expressive, worlds possible when artists with a rich background in gaming transform their imaginations into ink and paint strokes.
Eriq has graciously contributed two previously unseen production illustrations from a cancelled King’s Quest IV remake, and concept art for the upcoming game PartWorld.
But before we get into the nitty-gritty of Eriq’s art, I think that it’s important that we try to understand the kind of inspiration and devotion that must go into re-imagining artwork that played a central role in our collective childhoods. Re-imagining a game is not mere nostalgia.
When I was 10 years old, my family moved to a new province, a new school, new friends, a new way of life. My mother began taking courses at the University of Alberta, and one of our new necessities was a computer that she could write her term papers on. One day my parents announced that they were driving to the city to look for a new couch at their favourite furniture store, “The Brick”. Hours later, they came back with a new couch… and a few nondescript heavy cardboard boxes that read “AMSTRAD PC2086/30” and “STAR NX-1000″ on the side. Any box with model numbers on the sides like that had to have electronics inside. I dug into them immediately, and found (packed in industrial-strength styrofoam) – an Amstrad 286 PC, its matching VGA/EGA monitor, and a dot matrix printer. Excuse my crude patois, but, I just about shit my pants.
“Careful.. that thing cost us $3500..” my father warned, worried that we might drop something. My sister and I unpacked the machine and gingerly set it on top of an old oak desk in the den. Thinking we could just turn it on and step into a world of flashy colour and sound, we stared blankly at the mundane “C> ” prompt that greeted us after booting it up.
My mother promptly walked out of the den and brought back a computer game they had bought for us the same day. ”The guy at the The Brick said you would guys would probably like this game.” She peeled off the $69.99 sticker and handed it to us.
The cover depicted a princess riding a unicorn, fleeing the clutches of a terrifying winged gargoyle. The title read: King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella. For a second time that evening, my sister and I were awestruck.
I spent the next two hours fumbling with the arcane art of MS-DOS 3.3 as my sister read aloud from the beautiful gold-embossed game manual. When the title screen for the game finally popped up, and the PC Speaker screeched its beepy-boopy tunes, we were enchanted. The smooth animation and bright colours gave the game a magical, life-like feeling. “Tamir” was a fantastic world hidden on the other side of the monitor that was revealed to us as we explored in it. It felt like a kingdom crafted just for us.
We played the game every day for over a year. One of us would draw out a map of the area and suggest possible quest solutions, and the person in front of the keyboard would type in commands and walk Rosella from place to place. Sometimes our neighbourhood friends would visit and we would all take turns in the hot seat typing-in (usually raunchy) commands. King’s Quest IV was not just something we played to pass the time… it was a daily event.
Every area in the game felt alive in some way. The ocean surf licked the sand as sea gulls meandered the blue sky… smoke drifted from a chimney far off in the distance… Rosella would fall off of sharp precipices if you were not careful enough… Rosella’s pigtails swish-swished in the air as she strutted. While both of us had played video games prior to this – in the arcades, on the Apple //e, and Mattel Intellivision – we had never seen something so… animated!
This is not just about my childhood. I promise.
While all of these graphical achievements no doubt involved impressive technological feats on behalf of programmers and designers over at Sierra On-Line, the technical triumphs were not what grounded the experiences for us. What made the world of Tamir live for us was its expressive qualities… dwarfs acted like dwarfs, the fisherman was as curmudgeonly in his walk as he was in his gruff speech, and the musical score cued in the haunted wood is frightening. Each scene was crafted to exploit a ‘feeling’ or ‘sense’ through its careful attention to colour palette, visual depth, characterization, and score. None of these details I noticed as a child – but as an adult they stand out as clear examples of how to express a world rather than design one.
This is the kind of artistic magic that Eriq Chang captures in his illustrations – the truth of far off places and characters that resonate with our imaginations. His work demonstrates the ability to integrate three artistic practices that I believe are absolutely crucial in breathing new life into graphic adventures: painstaking attention to the little details that gave Sierra On-Line’s artwork its signature illustrative style, a long-standing commitment to his passion for the wonders of childhood, and a wild modern twist that brightly lifts out the essence of a scene.
What the heck does that all mean? It means that Eriq Chang has somehow managed to pull together an artistic style that revitalizes dead culture. His work is both a hearkening back to the lost days of youth, and a looking forward to new experiences and ways of seeing things. It is not mere nostalgia or fan-art. In the exclusive artwork that Eriq has contributed (below), the radical changes in illustrative style both remain faithful to Sierra On-Line’s in-house graphic artists, and bring a new creative depth to them.
I call this a “renaissance” of computer game re-makes because the creative torch has finally been returned to artists. Instead of designing and conceiving games from scratch without any attention to their expressive qualities (as we see in most commercial games), AGDInteractive and Himalaya Studios have put artists behind the wheel and allowed them to drive the creative process. The recent Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire remake very much has that sense – see Michael Abbott’s post over at the Brainy Gamer for more praise of the game.
What follows are a few production illustrations that Eriq created for a King’s Quest IV re-make that was unfortunately cancelled. Eriq has also contributed concept art from his new upcoming game Part World (yet-to-be formally announced).
In the below scene, the heroine of King’s Quest IV, Rosella, approaches the quaint home of the Seven Dwarfs:
Eriq Chang’s re-imagining of the Seven Dwarf’s House… click to enlarge.
In the following scene Rosella is carried away by Lolotte’s evil gargoyle-like henchmen; a dark and dangerous twisty path climbs into the horizon:
the original scene illustrated by Sierra’s artists (Commodore Amiga)… click to enlarge.
Eriq Chang’s re-imagining of the path to Lolotte’s castle… click to enlarge.
Concept art of a scene from the upcoming graphic adventure PartWorld that is being co-designed by Brandon Klassen and Eriq Chang:
If you’d like to play an excellent adventure game, and receive a bonus Quest for Glory II poster created by the artist himself (the poster is gorgeous and printed on very high quality stock, trust me)… head on over to Himalaya Studios’ Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman’s Mine web site. With his stylus dipped in so many different projects and production teams, I suspect that we are just seeing the beginning of Eriq’s influence in the flourishing new world of graphic adventures.
I would like to recognize the rest of the hard-working crew over at AGDInteractive who, through their commitment to the highest degree of artistry and love for their work, have revitalized the past by creating in the present. Thank you – we as gamers, role-players, adults, children, artists, parents, and readers, appreciate your devoted efforts.