Patrick Ward – Founder and Art Director
You might want to grab yourself a cup of tea and a biscuit. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.
Normally when I write a bio (haha .. like I do it all the time!) I start from shortly after I left Uni. But for this I have to go back further, to 3rd year of secondary school (about 15years old). I didn’t start with board games, unless you count Monopoly, Cluedo and Othello, but with an Atari 400 computer.
My dad brought it home for us and it was like being introduced to another world. We’d spend weekends typing in game code or listening to the distorted whistles of the tape player. Then came a game called B1 Bomber .. a text based game that had you flying over Russia to drop nuclear weapons on Soviet cities while trying to fend off Migs and SAMS. Not the height of sophistication but every mission told a story of tension and terror. At least it did in my head and the names of Arkhangelsk, Novosibirsk, Riga, Murmansk and many more bring back fond memories (although admittedly they do involve nuclear destruction). Little did I know but that was my first contact with the seminal Avalon Hill.
Next was my first foray into ‘proper wargaming’ as I thought, Eastern Front, and this really wet my appetite. My friends and I would all sit round of a weekend and try in vain to conquer Moscow or Stalingrad. I used to print out maps and take them into school to discuss (unsophisticated) strategies (though I don’t remember getting much further than the Pripyat marshes).
with the huge map and all the different characters and inhabitants my imagination ran riot
So, fast forward a few years, school, six form, girls, college, computers, girls, university .. and a friend introduced me to a Cthulu RPG. It did absolutely nothing for me but I was reawakened to a world of gaming that was still out there. After Uni I spent a few years working in pubs wondering what to do with myself. I picked up little art jobs but nothing serious. I was, as our friends in the US would call me, in fact as my mum called me, a bum, and heading for trouble.
I was saved from myself by a retraining scheme (God bless nagging mothers) who got me into a small design company, attached to a printers, as the junior graphic designer. Luckily it was all computer based and being attached to a printers I learnt both sides of the trade. On being offered partnership I thought, in my naivete, that I was good enough to go it alone and went freelance, working mostly for my former employers.
Eventually I discovered 3D in the form of 3DS4. I was hooked. Teamed up with a product designer, did some work for the M.O.D., did my first game job (the Lemmings 3D logo) .. and promptly packed in .. to do multimedia design for the local University. Fly-throughs of human body parts and bits of plants. It was my chance to do 3D exclusively. But what I’d seen during a trip to Psygnosis (the Lemmings and Wipeout people) coupled with my love of Babylon 5 and S:AAB had shown me what I wanted to do and after a year I left Liverpool and moved to a small start up in Sheffield and produced all the FMV for my first Playstation game.
A year later I was married and at Acclaim Studios in Teeside working on Wet’n'Wild (a sailing game. No really, it was), Shadowman and Forsaken 2. Two years later we got laid off, lost the house and savings. So, now a dad, we found ourselves back in Sheffield with the deservedly award winning Particle Systems, working on Exo for the PS2. Starting on set decoration, then level building and eventually to senior character artist that was a defining time in my career. Some published and many unpublished games later, Particle sadly fell victim to the demise of its owners, Argonaut, and closed in 2004.
A year of freelancing followed where I first worked on a karaoke game, a bunch of web design stuff and then on the FMV for Driver 4: Parallel Lines. This last one got me a position as VFX artist at Ark VFX in Sheffield and I had many very happy years there working on more games, adverts and promos than I can remember for clients including Kelloggs, Saatchi and Saatchi, Jameson Whiskey, Codemasters, Activision, Sega, Ferrero and so on. We had a ball.
In October 2010 the good things came to an end. That was the third redundancy in a row and I’d had enough. I didn’t want to go head to head against the millions of new and cheap 3D artists appearing all over the world so I had to take a different approach.
WAKE UP AT THE BACK!!
Halfway through my time at Ark I’d got back into boardgames. I stumbled upon BGG and to my amazement found I was working with gaming royalty. The guy who sat opposite me was Richard Wright, former Games Workshop artist who’d worked on Spacehulk. Behind me was Steve Tappin, comic and RPG artist. Both of them had worked on MtG cards and done fantastic artwork for AT43 (remember all those stunning landscapes, city and factory scenes?). Another friend I’d been with since the beginning of Particle was Rich Bentley (now a technical animator at Framestore) who was passionate about Roman History. He’s involved in something to do with Lost Battles and we’d have games of C&C:Ancients on Vassal every day.
At home I’d introduced the family to Euros and some light Ameritrash, Carcasonne, Risk (the UK rules), Doom, Wings of War etc. and had got a load of wargames off eBay. My plan was to start with the older ones and work my way through. It started well but got ambushed by Conflict of Heroes.
Conflict of Heroes turned things around in my mind. I’ve always had a dislike of CRTs. They take you out of the moment. I like to feel a story develop as I’m playing and CRTs ruin that for me. CoH had nearly everything on the counters, a simple, elegant but effective rule set and you could use real world tactics that made sense. Since then my older wargames have gone back to eBay.
This is were I get into trouble
Going back to my love of the developing story, I like my tactical wargame art to be first and foremost functional but also inspiring. I want to feel those bushes, those trees. I want to sense that I’m running across an open field with the enemy hidden in the tree line. I want to peer around the side of farmers sheds as I flank that MG nest, walk past things that show that its not just a paper map but its a living breathing world with a history. Anything else and I may as well be playing chess.
Well, by March the board art was done and I moved onto the PC game, building much of the environment assets based on what I’d made for the boards and I’ve recently finished the First Men In and am looking over Fire and Ice (the single player Bulge game) and France 1940. (Update: AtB2 has now been released to rave reviews. Uwe being happy is important but more so is the acceptance of the majority of the community.)
So that brings me to Shenandoah.
I was aware of this growing interest in iPad games and found that Shenandoah were looking for freelancers so I emailed. After months and months of emails, phone calls, deliberation, talks with lawyers etc. I took the position of Art Director, with a certain trepidation and excitement. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly.
Art Director is a lot of responsibility and I’d invested a lot emotionally into staying freelance and being in control of my own life but this was too good an opportunity to miss. I get to work on war and board games on a small but powerful computer with an amazing UI and I get to do it with some of the biggest names in the history of the industry/hobby. It’s been a journey to get here but I’m seriously counting my blessings and looking forward to what we’ve got planned for the future.
And with that ending to an overly long and embarrassingly self indulgent bio . . I’ll give you an unordered list of some standout games.
1. Conflict of Heroes series: OK so I’m biased but really this did change the playing field for me and a lot of others. Elegant, rich, simple, fast, entertaining, rewarding and it mostly makes sense. Everything you want in a game let alone a wargame and no CRT’s! I know. I’m a shoddy specimen of a grognard.
2. Combat Commander series: I couldn’t get into this at first because of the chaos but once you embrace it its in a league of its own. Can be a very exciting game. I’ve got Europe with two expansions and Pacific. If anybody wants to send me Mediterranean I’ll be a friend for life.
3. Storm over Stalingrad: surprising one as its neither very sophisticated or has massive replayability but its the only game to of got me near screaming with suspense and frustration.
5. EastFront 2: Well considering how much Eastern Front on the Atari drew me in this is no shocker. Another relatively simple game that encompasses so much.
And I can’t exclude computer games as they’re also very influential
6. Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim: I just love the wide open gameplay. It’s such a relaxing and involving series – just hearing the music gets me .. excited is the wrong word but there’s a longing to really be there and to be able to explore the imaginations of the artists. These aren’t games, they’re a gift. It’s a shame Oblivion and Skyrim settled for more realistic environments rather than that of the wonderfully diverse and interesting Morrowind.
7. Il2 Sturmovik series: The only combat flight sim to be taken seriously. Shame the latest was ruined by the horrendous online hosting and some poor post processing choices. But astounding representations of flight models and combat. I remember in other games feeling cheated if I came back with less than 10 kills. In Il2 I’m grateful when I get back alive.
8. Red Orchestra: For me this game redefined FPS’s. It really encouraged team play as without it you’d lose. It also scared off all the pwning kids and idiots and got left to team players who knew how to work together. Truly a gem of a game. The only game where artillery really worried me and dropping an AP shell onto the rear engine grill of a t34 from a hill a kilometre away was truly satisfying. It looked rubbish but it could be a dream to play. Funny story .. I’d crept out into a snowy no mans land, knowing the enemy t34′s and IS2′s were on their way and where they were going, planning to hide in a shell hole till they passed and pop up with some trusty Panzerfausts. Except as they rumbled round and over me one of my colleagues decided to drop a barrage of artillery on them. So I’m ducking down in the hole with the world exploding around me when the whole room litteraly starts shaking .. my chair..the monitor .. the desk .. I shot out of my chair near ripping the headphones off, standing in the middle of the room wondering what the heck was happening .. it was (by UK standards) .. an earth quake .. scared the pants off me.
9. Halflife 2: Lush graphics (at the time) and a very palpable atmosphere. Technically a game changer I just loved the way it felt as you walked, drove or hovered your way round. I just thought some of the action was a bit tired and linear.
10. Stalker series: The setting, the music, the freeform nature of the game play. Fantastic. In my head they succeeded where Fallout 3 failed which is probably a bit controversial but certainly helped by being set in Chernobyl, a real world location, and loosely based on a book and the film by Andrei Tarkovsky. There’s not many games that have truly creeped me out with nothing but the music, story and environment. You don’t need to see the creatures to know things are just plain wrong. And see that place over there that you have to go to .. you REALLY don’t want to be going there. Update: 2012 and I still listen to the music.