Interview:Robb Waters

 Day For Night Games’ The Black Glove is being made by a group of developers responsible for some of your favorite games. People like concept artist Robb Waters, who spent a whopping fifteen years of his twenty-year game industry career at Irrational Games.

Robb, you did concept art for System Shock, Thief, BioShock, Freedom Force, Freedom Force vs. the Third Reich, The Lost, BioShock Infinite, and The Black Glove. What were some of the most fun games to work on?

Tombstone from Freedom Force
Tombstone from Freedom Force

The most fun I’ve ever had on a project was concepting the dozens of heroes and villains from the Freedom Force game series. I grew up wanting to be a comic book artist, pouring over the panels and trying my hardest to “Draw the Marvel Way.” When I got the opportunity to create/co-create and concept every hero and villain for an original superhero universe I was really beside myself with glee. Seeing my characters come to life through this game series was a dream come true.

You created the look for fan-favorite evil AI SHODAN for System Shock. How was she born?

Shodan_system_shock_1The main inspiration for SHODAN came from my love of the movie Tron. I was really struck by the aesthetics of the black and white film mixed with colored neon accents. The movie had such an amazing and innovative look that still looks just as fantastic today. SHODAN was sort of a female version of the MCP character mixed with the tower guardian character, Dumont. I was also of course obsessed with Giger’s bio-mechanic work, so I tossed both of those influences in together and hit blend.

For BioShock, you worked on memorable characters like the Andrew Ryan, Sander Cohen, the Little Sisters, and the Splicers. Any particular favorite among them?

Andrew and Sander.
Andrew and Sander.

I really enjoyed giving Sander Cohen a face. Ken had given me the direction of sort of an embittered artist type character. I thought this guy should be memorable and eccentric-looking. I based him on Dali as he was the definition of an eccentric artist, I then wanted to add some more theatrics to the character so I thought about adding the pancake and crazy make-up. My source of inspiration for this was taken from the movie “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.” I saw this movie when I was pretty young and remember being so unnerved at the scene where Joan Crawford is applying make-up in such a crazed and desperate way. In a nutshell, it scared the crap out of me and that imagery always stuck with me.

For BioShock Infinite, you did the concepts for Songbird, The Boys of Silence, The Motorized Patriot, the Handyman, the Founders, and the Vox Populi. I’m guessing that Songbird and The Boys of Silence are your two favorites, right? How did those designs come about?

songbird conept sketchSongbird was a long time in the making as we struggled for awhile to figure out exactly what the Songbird wanted to be. I think I started with the da Vinci/WW1 scalloped plane wings. Once I had those I needed to more or less figure out a form that would be immediately iconic. I started with his silhouetted head. After I had that figured out, the rest of came together rather fast.

boysThe Boys of Silence came about playing off the name of the character. I wanted to play up the adolescent angle by placing him in sort of a boarding school style uniform. I knew I wanted to have the head/face somehow obscured so it would highlight his special abilities. I drew inspiration from Mummenschanz the Swiss mask theater troupe. I had loved to watch them growing up. As I got older and looked back at some of their masks I was struck by how abstract they were and how much they sort of freaked me out as a kid. How could someone wearing a bunch of toilet paper roles as a mask look so creepy? Abstracting forms is something I love to do… To boil it down to its purest form.

For The Black Glove, you’d done concepts for The Maze of the Space Minotaur.

The cast of The Maze of the Space Minotaur.
The cast of The Maze of the Space Minotaur.

I loved designing all the Space Minotaur characters as I have a soft spot for retro 8-bit graphics. The challenge in creating simple chunky characters is being sure they all read very differently. So once again I was able to boil them down to their bare essence… that being form and function. Throughout the game, you get to witness these 8-bit characters within The Equinox. It was super fun to translate the simple abstracted sprite forms into physical characters.

What do you most like about working on The Black Glove?

I love the creative freedom that comes from working on a small team. Seeing your idea’s come to life without having to compromise your vision having too many cooks in the kitchen.

SHODAN is a trademark of Electronic Arts Inc. and Sander Cohen, Andrew Ryan, Songbird, The Boys of Silence, Tombstone, and Freedom Force are trademarks of Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc.