David Hellman is the artist “guilty” for Braid‘s graphic style, visual storytelling, backgrounds, character’s animations and, well, everything you can see in Braid. Also, David is one of the creators of the webcomic “A Lesson Is Learned, But The Damage Is Irreversible“, which has been named one of the best webcomics of 2004 and 2005 by The Webcomics Examiner. Moreover, it won the 2005 Web Cartoonist’s Choice Award for Outstanding Layout and the 2006 Outstanding Use of Color, Outstanding Layout and Outstanding Artist awards.
We had an interesting conversation with David about Braid, about his experience as an indie developer and about his webcomic “A Lesson Is Learned, But The Damage Is Irreversible”, which you can read it below. Enjoy!
GMZzz: I think it’s safe to say that Braid is one of the games considered to be a wake-up call for the indie games world and basically, you’ve defined a new standard for these kind of projects (not as much for the developers, but for the players expectations). From the visual style point of view, was this a “side effect” or the “intended design”?
David Hellman: Thank you for that kind assessment. I can accept it a little better because you said “one of the games.” I agree there’s some very interesting visual art happening in indie games. Blueberry Garden, Eliss, and Zeno Clash all have wildly divergent visual styles that reflect different influences and the unique personalities of their creators. With Braid, I wasn’t trying to make any statement relative to other indie games, or even to mainstream games. The main thing was to do justice to everything Braid already was. But, what do you mean by wake-up call?
GMZzz: For a while, the indie games world seemed to go in the same direction as the company games world – aiming for quantity and not for quality. I think that Braid, being a statement of quality and not of quantity, is one of those games that encouraged many indie game developers to pay more attention to their games and not to rush to release them. This is why I see it as a wake-up call.
David Hellman: I see. Yeah, I think the indie successes last year, notably including Castle Crashers and World of Goo, sends a message that indie games are a serious thing. You can eschew a job at a big company, do something self-directed, and if you do it thoroughly and with some vision, you can reach people and sustain yourself financially. Perhaps the “legitimization” of the indie space does call creators to a higher level of quality and responsibility, too.
GMZzz: I know this will sound awkward, but after Braid was finished, have you tried to play it from the player’s perspective?
David Hellman: That’s very tricky! Sometimes I’ve been playing it and catch a fleeting glimpse of what it might look like to someone else. Something I hadn’t noticed before will present itself, and it will seem new. But because I saw it come into being (in a very intimate way), its existence is never very surprising to me. It still looks like the sum of much work. Sometimes it seems like going to your friend’s apartment and sitting on the sofa you gave him when you moved. Oh, I remember this thing. It was always around.
GMZzz: If I understood correctly, Braid was your first project as a game developer. This has its ups and downs and I believe that these ups and downs are perceived different by each game developer and everyone learns a different thing from them. What do you think it’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your first game development process?
David Hellman: Maybe it’s that if you work hard at something, and allow yourself time for exploration and revision, gradually all the gaps and weak areas, however obvious to you, will be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of care and affection you invest. You’ll still be able to see those weaknesses and mistakes, but you’ll be surprised at how well it works despite those things. So, sweat the details, but don’t be troubled by them.
GMZzz: What do you think is more tempting for your future projects: to follow a visual style that you’ve already tried or to experiment a new and different one?
David Hellman: If I feel that I’m just repeating myself, it’s not interesting. Then it’s time to find new influences — new artistic inspiration, collaborators, processes or tools. Style is part of that, but style emerges in context. It doesn’t lead, for me.
GMZzz: In this case, is there possible for a visual style to be applied in different contexts? For example, the art direction and style of Braid can define or be a part of another project of yours (game, comic or illustration) or it will forever belong to Braid?
David Hellman: People have told me I have a distinct style, so it’s likely that whatever I do, people will say it’s in my style, or maybe it’s the Braid style. The comics I did before Braid (A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible) look different from one to the next, but also cohere in some recognizable way. Certain aspects of Braid’s art design, like the non-literal depiction of space in the backgrounds, came from stuff I’ve always been interested in, so it’s likely I’ll keep exploring them in the future.
So, the “Braid style,” however you define it, could indeed appear elsewhere, but from my perspective I will just apply myself to each project in whatever way seems to serve it.
GMZzz: And speaking of future projects, where can we expect to see your work – in games or in comics?
David Hellman: I would say both! It’s exciting making games, but I like telling stories, also. And because I’m not a programmer, working in games will always mean collaborating. So I need my private work to compliment that.
GMZzz: Are you tempted or do you see it possible to combine these two elements – games and comics – in your future work?
David Hellman: I think Comix Zone was already the definitive statement about that. Unless you have some suggestions?
GMZzz: Well how about transforming your comics into games (or just one game)? I mean, “A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible” is a fascinating and worth exploring world and I can’t help but wondering if this world (and everything it implies, especially its stories) suits well for a game also.
David Hellman: That would be a very interesting design challenge. “A Lesson Is Learned” was so much about being a comic, I’m not sure how that would look in game form. Well, you’ve got me thinking!