Jason Martin. What a lovely, quirky, mad crazy talented man. I have known Jason for a million years, and damn if we do not look GOOD! Seriously, I’ve known him for almost 14 years. We met working at Walt Disney World, same as with Jack Geckler and performed together at the Voyage of the Little Mermaid.
Man those were fun days. Anywho, as fate would have it, life moved on after Disney and Jason found himself embedded in the game world but not in your normal gaming environment. Casino Gaming. Actually, many people don’t realize that Casino Gaming is a HUGE industry and they have been catching up with the rest of us and have been creating some really beautiful and exciting games.
Here’s Jason’s take on the industry and his art!
1. How did you get started in the game industry?
Strangely enough, by accident. I’ve loved games since they were 8-bit, but it wasn’t until I worked with a fellow at a small production house in Florida who was a veteran of one of the biggest casino slot companies in the world, that I hadn’t even THOUGHT of casino games as a possibility for a career! But he explained to me the financial numbers involved in the casino industry, and suddenly I realized I should’ve been looking for those kinds of jobs YEARS ago! Then, when me and the rest of the staff of our production house got laid off in 2008, on a whim I looked to my old Career Services website to my alma mater, Ringling, and lo and behold, there was a small gaming company in south Florida looking for someone that knew what I did: Flash, Illustrator, Photoshop, and strong in the illustrative and 2-D animation fields. I wrote them an e-mail, got a surprisingly fast response (small companies can move SO much faster than big companies!), and then spent the next 2 months working on my first of dozens of games I did for them, a Alice in Wonderland-themed slot game. After I worked well with the other Office Manager in the company, they quickly offered me a full-time job and I moved with my wife down there to work for them for the next three years. I can say right now, with complete confidence–the Career Services staff of Ringling, alone, have made my tuition pay for itself!
2. What is your profession and background?
My website is www.ConceptCreature.com, and my blog is gearsgoing.blogspot.com. I’m currently freelancing a lot with different companies that need concept development of characters, environments, and even children’s books. I’ve been attempting to get back into the gaming industry on a full-time basis again, and have had many nibbles over the last two years, but nothing that’s bared steady fruit. It ain’t easy to get in the big leagues! A lot of the freelance I’ve received lately has been from word of mouth, so just remember that your reputation is everything, in ANY industry!
3. Tell me some of the games you worked on and did that enhance your passion for gaming or was it disenchanting?
There’s good and bad in everything, and knowing how to handle it all is what makes you succeed and rise to the next level. The thing I love the most about gaming is that you get to use both hemispheres of your brain. After you have a new idea, or new game play options, you then need to collaborate with everyone to figure out HOW to implement those ideas, and I love that balance of technical and creative. But the phases I loved the most of making games was the very beginning and the very end. When I’m in a room, and I’m pitching a new game to a group, that’s when I’m most alive. ‘Cause you’ve really gotta sell it, and people aren’t going to be enthusiastic about something unless YOU’RE enthusiastic about it. At that same point, people are throwing ideas back at you, or really challenging an idea you came up with, and it’s the back-and-forth of this that really gets me juiced, because I don’t care WHO comes up with a good idea, as long and it’s a good idea, and if someone sees a hole in your theory, it’s great to talk it out at the beginning, and figure out the solution then, versus ignoring the elephant in the room. So somebody will throw out an idea off your pitch that suddenly makes you go, “My god, that’ll really take this to the next level!” and then you feed off that, and start adding to their idea, and before you know it, you’ve gone from a basic idea to something that can really be amazing. THAT is the stuff I live for! And then the other part I love is the final phase, when you’ve gone through all the troubleshooting of making the most amazing visuals that’ll run without breaking the machine, and getting to see people’s reactions to your creations.
4. What is it like working in a slot game environment?
I would never really think of that as a “gaming” company but it seems that they are trying to pull in cool animation, fun art and interesting game elements. Can you describe any of that? Some companies are doing amazing things, and some companies aren’t. There are a handful of casino gaming companies out there right now that I feel are really taking things to the next level, especially with their animations or even their entire physical console designs, but there are also a lot that are just plain phoning it in. The best thing about the industry is, it’s pretty recession-proof. When things are good in the economy, they’re REALLY good in the casino business. When things are bad, it’s not so bad for that business, since there’s a lot of retired people that already have a nest egg that they have budgeted to spend a bit of each week in a casino.
5. What about games excites you?
My god, everything! I love how quickly the technology changes, perpetually bringing new product, play, visuals, and experiences to the gaming experience! I love how there are these amazing people in the industry that perpetually are pushing things as far as they can go, and others that are tiny teams creating amazing new games. I love that there’s such variety in the genre of games, now, that women are almost playing games as much as men are. I love that it brings so many new cultural influences together to places that would never have been exposed to these concepts before. It’s honestly just amazing! Each time I’m reading Game Informer or IGN or listening to GameTrailers.com, I’m learning something new and getting inspired by someone else.
6. Do you feel cinematics help the gaming experience?
I think 15 years ago, when we were dealing with small RAM chips, slower processors, and not even talking about PS2, cinematics were the icing on the cake of game play. My biggest pet peeves with cinematics is when a game won’t let you skip a cinematic, or when the pacing on them are so bad, it makes you cringe. Having done editing, especially for comedy, timing is everything, and to have four seconds of dead space between one line and the next can REALLY kill the drama of a cinematic! That’s when you REALLY want to skip that! Also, some people just want the gaming experience, and not the story as much, and I think it’s kind of audacious that some game makers don’t allow that to be an option. That doesn’t happen as often, nowadays, but every now and then you’ll still see it. Bottom line, video games are an interactive storytelling experience, and game producers need to remember that. With the amazing things that the new Unreal Engine 4 seem to pull off, I see cinematics continuing to phase into standard game play, without too much of a break needing to be taken for that extra “wow” or plot point to be explained.
by Jason Martin
7. What was it that inspired you artistically and why do you want to do what you do?
My biggest influences as a kid was the 90’s Disney animation Renaissance and Nintendo games. I also moved to Orlando when I was 14, and became obsessed with the theme parks. I’ve always been one to take a cool idea, and expand on it. I was writing out story lines and drawing out levels to new sequels of Mario Bros. or Mega Man when I was 12, and studying how many trash cans and restrooms were in each area of a theme park attraction when I was in high school. I guess you can say I was professionally nerding out!
8. What is your favorite game and why?
I can’t pick one. I love them all. Right now, with a new kid, the casual games get a lot of attention, ’cause I can just pick them up and put them down easily. So that means simple games like Plants Vs. Zombies are getting a lot of my rare spare time, nowadays. But the wide range of games that have impressed me recently are the BioShock series (thematically, story-wise, conceptually, challenge-wise, the playability, the UI–Irrational thinks of EVERYTHING in a game! So excited for Infinite to come out!), MineCraft (One programmer made this in his spare time??? I initially hated it…’til I started checking out the Wiki, and understanding the mechanics involved in the game. Then I couldn’t put it down!), and civ-builders like Empire Earth, Civiliation, and even the thematic ones like Rise of Legends were enjoyable time-killers for me.
9. What is game do you hate and why?
I hate any first-person shooter that has a healer. Drives me batshit when you set up five thousand proximity mines in a hallway, and some jackass can walk right through them, and still shoot on my team! That whole uber-healing mechanic just drives me nuts. I’m also just tired of the first-person shooters that ALL look the same and play the same. There’s some insanely creative people out there doing amazing things, but it seems like there’s also a lot of larger companies just phoning it in. As an artist, that annoys me, too, ’cause if you worked on one of these games, what would you have to show in your portfolio? Some old, raddy-looking buildings and environments that look like every other building out there that you might as well grab from TurboSquid, and you’re competing with the other hundreds of artists for the same job!
10. If you could be any game character, who would it be?
Probably Kratos. The guy’s just got the most amazing moves, and frankly, who WOULDN’T want to kick the crap out of a god’s butt that happened to be messing with you? 11. What is your dream job?Anything that involves visual storytelling, honestly. I love getting that reaction from people when they see something that moves them. From there, and in the most general terms, I simply want this: to work with a great team that keeps me honest, pushes me to be my best, and inspires me as much as I can inspire them. It’s just so amazing when you have a team that you can trust implicitly to work as hard as you do, and produce in a way that keeps you wanting to do better, and then afterwards want to go out and have a beer with to celebrate your hard work. That’s all. I’m pretty easy to please.
So glad to be able to showcase my dear friend, Jason. He’s so talented, great family man–his wife just had a gorgeous baby girl not too long ago, Maya, and he should be working for a long time!!
Game On, Jason–Andrea