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Crowdsourcing our Live Ops Design: An Interview with UI/UX Designer Michael Cheal

Home / Games / Crowdsourcing our Live Ops Design: An Interview with UI/UX Designer Michael Cheal

In June 2018, we ran a competition for Hempire players to design our next City Item Pack.

We received hundreds of entries, eventually awarding the grand prize to Tom Nash, a British player who submitted the theme, “Alien Invasion. There is life out there and the city is ready.”

On August 1st, 2018, we launch the City Item Pack inspired by Tom’s entry. To celebrate, our Community Manager, Jaymee Mak, sat down with our resident UI/UX Designer, Michael Cheal, to talk about the process of turning a player’s idea into one of our most innovative Live Ops packs to date.

Jaymee: “How long have you been at LBC?”

Michael: “4 months.”

Jaymee: “What’s your background in Art / Game Dev?”

Michael: “I used to be a graphic designer for about 4 years, then got a job at EA [Electronic Arts] for a few years working on FIFA. Then I bounced around a couple times to different mobile studios in Vancouver, and now I’m here at LBC.

Jaymee: “What kind of art do you do in your free time?”

Michael: “I like to work on my own games. I love doing UI and illustration, and I have a word-puzzle game that will hopefully be released soon, which is exciting. I also like making fan art for movies. I recently did a couple things based on a movie called ‘A Ghost Story’, which was fun. My wife and I wanted to start a movie blog where we would illustrate the movies as we review them.”

Jaymee: “That sounds super cool. Is she an artist as well?”

Michael: “Yeah, she went to Emily Carr [University of Art + Design].”

Jaymee: “Artsy family!”

Michael: “Yeah, although she does more comic stuff.”

Michael: “So I do the movie fan art for fun, but I also wanna work on my own games.”

Jaymee: “What do you like about doing UI?”

Michael: “It’s a really nice balance between game design and art. It lets me get more involved in the player experience – especially in mobile – it’s super important.”

Jaymee: “What first came to mind when you heard about the Alien idea (the winning entry to our ‘Design Hempire’s Next City Item Pack’)?”

Michael: “We had to figure out what kind of alien theme we wanted because there could be a few different versions of it. We went with a conspiracy-theorist-style, which is a bit more fun, versus serious aliens, or scary aliens. Like the ‘Alien’ movies, or something.”

Jaymee: “Yeah…THAT would be weird in Hempire.”

Michael: “Yeah, we wanted to make sure it made sense in the town. And it adds a bit of humour to everything.”

Jaymee: “Especially because we have a lot of players that play late at night in bed – you don’t really wanna be freaking them out…”

Michael: “No. [Laughs] You don’t want that.”

Michael: “So immediately I was just trying to think of imagery with the main statue. Because there’s a lot of cool things we could do with that. We had a couple different options that would’ve been really fun, that we may bring back at a later date, if possible.”

Jaymee: “What was the process to flesh out your ideas?”

Michael: “Lots of Google searches to try to come up with ideas of what kind of physical objects come up when people think of aliens. Just to get the ideas going. So that’s where I came up with the billboard – which comes up when searching alien conspiracy theorists. I also wanted to get a lot of different ideas for the UFO design. There were actually a ton that we came across, and I wanted to go for something that stood out on the map. There were a couple ideas of having a crashed alien site, and there’s the one that’s going in the game that’s alive, beaming up a joint. It’s a little bit more fun and it stands taller than if it was crashed in the ground.”

Jaymee: “How did you come up with the beaming up of the joint? Because it looks REALLY cool.”

Michael: “Well, the original idea was going to be a UFO-topped bong, with an erlenmeyer flask shaped chamber, resembling a beam. We moved away from that because it would’ve been more complicated, and not as obvious at first glance. But I think in the future we might want to make it because it also got a good reception. We went with the UFO beaming up a joint because it was extremely clear, and the imagery of an “abduction” is familiar to most people.”

Jaymee: “So Novy [our Technical Director] helped you out with the process?”

Michael: “He helped with the reviewing and feedback. I didn’t know that Novy had art experience until halfway through the task. [Novy has studied 3D Animation and VFX, and has worked as both a Technical Artist and Graphic Artist.] So that was really helpful, being the only artist on the team.”

Jaymee: “How did the ideas change as you worked on it?”

Michael: “As you’re creating the art and testing it on the game map, you start to realize what translates well. So I ran into [the issues of] the size of the billboard, having the satellite dish read well on such a small screen, you know, thickness of the actual assets themselves – the barbed wire fence was really tough, actually. In hindsight, I may have gone with a different look for the barbed wire – just because it was so thin – making the tiling work perfectly with barbed wire was a bit of a challenge and that actually took way longer than I was planning. Which took away from the time I had to work on the actual art. And now I know for the future, of thinking ahead for those things. This was the first time I created City Items so it was a very big learning experience. So that was fun.”

Jaymee: “What City Item Pack would you love to work on in the future?”

Michael: “From the Community Contest, when I heard of the Alice-in-Wonderland-style, I immediately got really excited about. But I’m glad we didn’t do it right away because I don’t wanna rush it. I want get better at making City Items before I take on something that crazy.”

Jaymee: “Yeah, because it could be super fantastical.”

Michael: “It could be awesome, yeah. And it’s a known property, so it’d be very recognisable. That’d be a challenge, but also an exciting opportunity.”

Jaymee: “Anything else you wanna add or say to the Community?”

Michael: “Just that it was very fun, and it was awesome to see all of the Community suggestions and crazy ideas that people came up with.”

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