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Slave Zero X: Artist Focus - Greenwood

Tell us about yourself!

Hi, I am James Greenwood and I'm from Tampa, Florida. My background is in commercial art and higher education, being a graphic design instructor/department chair for many years, as well as working in the advertising industry. My industry medium of choice is Trenchbroom, a cross platform level editor for Quake-engine based games; however, my earlier artistic focus was in drawing & stone lithography. I am the lead level designer on Slave Zero X.

How did you get started working on Slave Zero X or for Poppy Works?

I noticed a recruitment post in the Quake Mapping Discord & applied. At the time, I was employed with another company in a part-time, paid-upon-completion, basis & it seemed like an exciting opportunity. Luckily, the company where I was employed was extremely understanding and supported my decision to venture elsewhere. My experience in the industry has been very positive, with folks that I have been quite professional.

What sparked your interest to work on Slave Zero X?

Probably the thing that sparked my interest was the project itself, which was extremely intriguing: using the tools of a 3-D first person shooter (FPS) to create a hack-and-slash, traditional 2-D side-scrolling type of game (albeit with real depth of field, instead of employing normal, old-school parallax scrolling) and then porting those 3-D maps into a very established, typically 2-D, cross-platform game engine. I mean, who the heck thinks of doing that in the first place? Talk about venturing into "undiscovered territory" :)

Seriously, the challenge of mapping "in profile," rather than "in the eyes of the protagonist," sounded like a fun challenge & something new and interesting (and it was).

What do you enjoy most about working on Slave Zero X?

Probably the support and camaraderie is what I enjoyed most about working on Slave Zero X. Everyone on the team was quite enthusiastic to contribute to the cohesive vision that was established at the very beginning, to create an interesting prequel to the 1999 fan favorite.

How would you describe the world of Slave Zero X? How did that World influence the art style?

Slave Zero X is a world of grimy, cyberpunk goodness & "bioengineered meat circuitry." The result of which creates the environment of a dystopian futuristic setting coupled with creepy, high-tech viscera. It's kind of like an unholy marriage between Syd Mead & H.R. Giger.

What has been a challenge you over came working on Slave Zero X? An art piece you wrestled with? The pipeline? Or whatever comes to mind.

Probably the biggest challenge has been purely technical. Quake, being the first true 3-D FPS game, was never really known for incorporating a glut of intricate external models. The bulk of its environment was built via lovely, chunky geometry in the editor. However, trying to incorporate lots of visceral imagery & complex curves is not really something that is easily accomplished in Quake without said external models. Luckily, the coding geniuses at Poppy Works were able to tackle it without issue!

What skill has helped you most on this project?

Undoubtedly, the years of working in custom Quake content has helped me understand the advantages and limitations when it comes to brush-based world building. Of course, Slave Zero X isn't exactly Quake, since it uses an entirely different engine; however, having a prior knowledge of "what works & works well" helps immensely in this scenario too!

Poppy Works has been completely work-from-home since 2012. They are a global company in the sense that they hire any one qualified from all over the world. What has it been like working with such a diverse group of people?

Working with a very eclectic staff, with folks from the all over the globe, is wonderful. You get a really robust mixture of input, due to people's varied background and culture, while still keeping the unified vision of the project, due to the influence of western entertainment.

Tell us something fun about working with the Slave Zero X team, a funny moment, something special that stands out to you about the team, or something you would like the world to know about this experience.

Probably what I thought was brilliant about working with the Slave Zero X team was how the management quickly spotted an individual's strength and maneuvered them into positions where they flourished. For example, if someone might be more particularly skilled in detailing or texturing, then they could have a focus in a that, where they could excel.

What has been your favorite piece to work on?

That's a tough one, since it all has been rather interesting. Maybe the concept of the "Bloody Palace" levels, since they are loosely based on some of my favorite action movies of the 80s. I was given a bit more freedom on those.

Was anything cut from the project you wish had stayed in?

No, I cannot recall anything that was cut that was cool. However, I might have been focused on the maps & might've missed something :)

How did you get started in this industry? Any suggestions for up and coming artists who would like your job?

I got started in the industry from the result of being a prolific custom Quake mapper. I always wanted to create my very own FPS environments & it was simply a decision of going the route of Doom Builder (for custom Doom maps) or Trenchbroom (for custom Quake maps). A fellow custom Quake mapper, who happened to work in the industry, noticed how active I was in the Quake mapping community. They reached out & informed of an opportunity over at the company where they were employed and the rest is history.

My suggestion for up and coming artists is to simply produce content, gather feedback from as many fellow enthusiasts as possible, and continue to refine your efforts. I think that one of the biggest hurdles that mappers face is that they hardly release any content, in fear of public scrutiny. Like most things in life, practice makes perfect!

Final thoughts?

I enjoyed my experience with Poppy Works & Slave Zero X. The folks working there were supportive and enthusiastic, things were efficiently ran & organized, and the overall vision of the project was quite cohesive and never was compromised.

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