Tom Cooper is an artist/designer from Canada. His games and creations are beautiful and expressive. And now he answer our questions!
1. How long have you been making games?
I have been making games for about six years. I got started after high school when I began working as a game tester and learned 3D modelling while working at Silverback Games in Halifax. But I really feel like I got my start making games after entering local and on-line game jams.
2. Where do you find ideas for your games? Tell us something about your creative process.
I tend to set out making games without a solid idea. I mess around inside Unity for a while until I find something interesting. I like to not constrain myself and let the game go in the direction it wants. I’m drawn to things that have an emotional effect on me and I am constantly aware of how I feel while playing the game.
3. Emotion is really important in you approach to game design. Why? Which games come to your mind when thinking about “emotional depth”?
I am trying to express myself through my games so I make games that make you feel emotions that are real to me. In my game RTR I was trying to show how I sometimes feel disconnected and lonely and have a strange relationship with the shapes and sounds around me.
Emotion should be important to all game designers and to all artists. But most game designers only focus on making you feel a few emotions like feeling power or success. People crave these emotions and game designers have been cashing in.
This is part of the reason so many people feel alienated by games today. They are seen as a waste of time or childish. Games are important to me and I want to be a part of their future. A future where games are respected as a medium of powerful and true expression.
‘Journey’ is one game that really had me feeling strong emotions. It was beautiful and not just because of the aesthetics. It was a wholly satisfying experience.
4. Together is an interesting puzzle game where the player controls simultaneously a number of characters while thinking about human relations. Where did its idea come from? Do you like puzzle games? Which ones are your favourites?
‘Together’ was literally the first game I tried to program. I wanted the scope of the game to be really small. After making a script that would control a cube using the arrow keys, I realized I could just duplicate the cube a couple of times. If there were obstacles in the way it would lead to cubes getting out of sync, which I could work into some interesting puzzles. I wrote the quotes for the levels after playing through it a couple of times. The game seemed boring and unsatisfying. I played through Rod Humble’s “The Marriage” and I started thinking about the cubes as little people and how the movements and situations were a great metaphor for human relationships.
I loved Portal2 because It really satisfied my love for spatial reasoning puzzles. I was always the kid that would solve those hard wooden/metal puzzles you find on old people’s desks.
5. Road to Ruin is a game you’ve made for the Halifax Game Collective’s month long “Elder Technology” jam. Where did its idea come from? Was it your first idea when thinking on the jam theme or have you had others?
When I first heard the theme I knew I wanted to try making a simple game that had you engaging in a 3d space of some kind. That was the starting point. I messed around in Unity with render settings and lighting. Imported an animated model of weird gears spinning and some sound effects built from wave forms and filters. I just kept building it out from there with whatever “felt right”. “Elder technology” makes me think of old electrical equipment and steam engines so I wanted to create something in that vein. This familiar feeling emerged from the game as I was making it so I kept pushing it. I was trying to see how much could I make you feel using just the environment and sounds. The layer of a doom and gloom environmental message came after seeing what I had created and thinking about what it would be interpreted as. I reformed the game to pursue one of those interpretations.
6. What do you think of game jams? Are they important? Any particular story you remember from one of these jams (weird bug, crazy feedback, etc.)?
I find it hard to get motivated to make something if I don’t know if anyone ever gonna see it.
This is why I love game jams. I’ve been in about seven jams of different lengths and intensities. Ludum Dare and local halifax game jams and more recently the halifax game collective’s month long jams. I almost always collaborate with really talented people that share my passion for games. But I have realized that the games I make alone are very different from the games I make when I collaborate.
I have a lot of stories from game jams. But one sticks out as being memorable. The halifax game jam themed “Discovery” where I worked with about five other people to create a top down 4 player gamepad only co-op dungeon escape game titled “Cave”. In Cave each player was in charge of one of 4 different items. The items were pickaxe, shovel, rope and lantern. The player with the lantern had the only light in the scene and the camera was locked to them. The pickaxe player was in charge of smashing the obstructive boulders. The rope player was in charge of creating rope bridges. And the shovel player was responsible for digging up keys. You had to work together to solve puzzles and dig the 4 keys hidden in each level then get to the exit. Each player would feel controller rumble when standing over a key, all except the shovel player responsible for digging them up, so you had to communicate verbally about where the keys where hidden.
It was a really cool game that was only ever played one time in ernest because it requires 4 people all with rumble gamepads to sit at a computer.
7. Art direction in Road to Ruin is really impressive (we also love color palette in Forrest of Dreams). Do you recognise any influence from other artists? Which artists working on games do you like the most?
Thanks! I have been really influenced by modernist painters like Piet Mondrian for the simple colour pallets and I’ve always loved and drawn influence from architecture and sculpture. I’m currently attending NSCAD (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) a school known for its history in conceptual art. Going there has had a huge influence on me as an artist and game designer. It let me put games in context among other artistic mediums and let me see with fresh eyes ways of creating more meaningful work.
8. If you have to choose three and only three game developers to follow their work closely, which ones would you choose and why?
9. Are you a heavy gamer? What games are you playing now?
Despite all my talk about how games have a lot of problems and most aren’t really emotionally meaningful. I still play a ton of games. I’ve played games my whole life and love shooters and puzzle games and twitchy fighting games. Im still really big into n64 smash bros and play Hearthstone, League of Legends and Faster Than Light. But if thats all that games ever where, it would be a tragedy. If every movie was Star Wars I would cry.
10. One last random question. If you could rewrite any character’s back story from any video game you can think of, which one would it be and what changes would you make?
I don’t know if this counts as a rewrite but I would make sure people knew that Mario was just high out of his skull on magic mushrooms. Being a plumber was too boring so he got blasted on caps before work. The games actually makes more sense this way.