As I mentioned in my last post, after having painted a version or two of all the cards in Karmaka, it was time to tackle the mother of all Karmaka paintings: the one that would be printed on the box.
Dave and Eddy wanted a square-shaped box with an image that encapsulated the game’s characters, themes, and images. I sketched out a few ideas:
We unanimously liked the second and fourth concepts, both of which captured the idea of a journey in which we must slay the dragon and escape castle. Dave and Eddy specifically preferred the scope of the fourth one, where the mountaintop is symbolic of the journey’s end, as well as it featuring more of the epic landscape.
As I remember it, we made an abrupt turn away from finalizing the box at this stage to avoid committing to anything too early. Often in the creative process – like in a good stew – it’s a good idea to let things sit and simmer for awhile. With the momentum from this, though, we turned our focus to creating a banner for the website. It was good timing; we were ready to launch Karmaka’s web presence. For this, I recycled my fourth box concept (note the cheesy logo we were using at this point):
They liked this image, but wanted me to try to squeeze out a little more drama. They also wanted to bring back the idea of the journey’s endpoint. A distant temple, perhaps. Or a mountaintop. So…I did both!
This banner actually appeared on the website for quite awhile. On my end, it never sat exactly right. The monk/temple idea didn’t seem to fit the game (the game has no monks or temples in it, after all).
After working on the banner, and some more card revisions, it was time to set our sights back on the box art. Things were pretty clear now. We knew the art style, knew which animals were important; we knew the feel and had tons of raw material and experience to draw upon. Dave and Eddy weighed in with their final thoughts. With all that information, this painting came out:
It had the epicness, the personal journey; it had the right art style, mood, palette. For the title, I took our basic font and hand-painted over it, creating custom lettering. I added the loops on either end of the word to metaphorically invoke a key principle in the game: what goes around, comes around.
Ladies and gentlemen, we had our box!
It felt right to tie the visuals together by recalling this image on the card-backs. On first glance you might think this is simply a re-purposing of the box art, but it’s not; it’s a brand new painting:
Dave and Eddy took the near-finished version of the game to conventions. It was connecting with gamers. Karmaka picked up two awards from Boston FIG – Best-In-Show and Best-Artwork. People started talking about it.
But something even more important emerged. After many, many playtests, Dave and Eddy realized that gamers were connecting with the dung beetle. He was becoming something of an icon for the game, emblematic of Karmaka’s journey. They called me up and asked me about the prospect of re-purposing the beetle for the sides of the box, an image which could double as the new website banner.
(As a total aside, I have to tell you how happy I am that a beetle is the icon of this game. My favourite computer game of all time – Riven – also has a beetle as its icon, albeit for completely different reasons. What goes around does come around!)
Dave talked about the Sisyphus–esque quality to the beetle’s effort – pushing his dung up an infinite hill. I painted two versions. One more graphic and one more painterly:
Dave liked the painterly one best, since it matched the rest of the art in the game. He began passing it around for feedback. The revision I got was to provide a little more context. Namely, having a mountain loom in the background to make the little guy’s effort feel all the more futile, while also adding scale to the picture.
The hill on the left side was added in too so that when this image is printed on all four box-sides, it turns into an endless loop. Now that’s Karmaka!
And now here we are, almost two years later. I’m proud to have been there from the incipient stages of this game; as I said before, it’s rewarding to see something through the entire creative process. I now play the prototype copy of this game with my friends, and we all really enjoy it. I have faith that this game can go places. I’m excited and confident about its future.
Karmaka still has many, many lives yet to live.