Interview: Lead Artist, Shane Smith, speaks with GMBLRS on the creative process for Joker Troupe
Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes when we’re working on the art for one of our games?
Read on and get to know more about Shane, as well as what inspired his designs and how the creative for Joker Troupe all came about.
We have interviewed CEO’s, math specialists and sales people from various game developers in the past, however today, we are extremely excited to speak, for the first time, to a creative contributor in the making of a video slot. You can have the best math model, the most exhilarating features and the highest win potential, yet it would mean very little without the visuals to match.
Today we have the opportunity to find out how a creative artist - yes, in our view they are true artists – approaches the development of a new slot and how they work together with the rest of the team to deliver a spectacular game. Please welcome Shane Smith, lead artist at Push Gaming, in our GMBLRS interview chair.
Hello Shane, we have been really excited to do this interview ever since we talked about it for the first time. So, thank you very much for sitting down with us today to answer our questions, some of which were submitted by our members who are avid slot players themselves.
Let us start with a short introduction. Could you tell us a little more about yourself?
I’m just a regular thirty-something year old dad who’s lucky enough to practise his hobby for a living! In my free time, I like to work on personal projects such as concepts for children’s books, and my own video game ideas. Other than that I’m partial to Nintendo games, chocolate and good movies.
That leads me straight to the next one. How does someone become a slot artist? Are there any special qualifications needed? I suppose some knowledge in specific software is helpful too.
There’s no specific qualification needed to become a slots artist, but an impressive and relevant portfolio is essential - and a background in games certainly helps.
If you don’t have any previous industry experience, then it’s your skills, work ethic and personality which will help you get your foot in the door and hopefully keep it there!
When did you join Push Gaming? Were there any other endeavours in the gaming industry before that?
I joined Push in mid-2018. Before that I spent several years working for a mobile games studio in Paris, which helped me develop a lot of skills and knowledge I’ve been able to transfer to my slots work.
Before I broke into games I created illustrations for the greeting cards and toy industries for nearly ten years.
You gave us the choice to single out one slot to talk about in more detail and together we agreed on Joker Troupe. No doubt, a spectacular creation that required special attention due to the various features such as the expanding reels and Hypermode™.
Could you first tell us first a little more how an idea for a slot is, well, born? Since game studios usually burst with creativity, how do you agree on a concept? Or do you develop multiple concepts before deciding together on one?
Push Gaming is all about innovation, so new concepts are constantly being developed. These concepts can come from anyone in the company - artist, product owner, CEO - if it’s a good idea it’ll get the attention it deserves. The most promising ideas are then finessed into a viable game design by our product owners and mathematicians.
The artistic theme is usually part of the initial pitch, but if the Art Director or Art Lead for the project thinks of a more suitable idea before the game enters production, then we can always pivot if needed.
Joker Troupe was the first game we launched on our own platform and it’s been incredibly rewarding seeing how well it’s been performing over the past few months, along with the positive feedback we’ve received from our clients and players alike.
Which leads me again to the next question. Would you be able to lay out the making of Joker Troupe? With that we mean the steps that take the initial idea to the finished product.
In the case of Joker Troupe, the idea came from one of our Product Owners. After the concept was signed off, and the initial game design documentation produced, I came onboard to develop the art side based on the theme idea of an ‘alternate universe - traditional slot’. That was all the direction I needed to get started with concept sketches for the symbols, which are always the first thing I tackle because they’re obviously the central focus for the entire game.
From then on it’s a case of iterating on the designs and level of polish. For an ambitious game like Joker Troupe, our UI artist will produce the more functional graphical elements, such as numbers, font styles and feature elements like wheels and meters, and we’ll both follow the same process until both the Art Director and Product Owner are happy with everything. Then everything gets passed to our developers to be put into the game, sound is produced, added and voila, we have a game - after weeks of iterating, refinements and testing of course!
It was my first full game with Push Gaming, it was a great learning experience for me.
Now to the part that excites me personally most. Creating a slot with characters instead of simple fruit symbols or the likes must be the most challenging for artists like you. After all, they should carry the theme, contribute to the flow of the gameplay and ultimately have a lasting impression on players as that will animate them to return for another session on the slot.
Joker Troupe has three jokers that are at the core of the action on the reels. Can you lay down the process of creating a character? Do you still do hand sketches with pencil or am I too old-school on this one and you have some software for that initial step?
For me, characters are actually the easiest thing to design! Before working on slots, all of my roles were focussed on designing and illustrating characters, so it’s what feels most natural for me to draw as opposed to static objects.
For the Jokers, it was very important that they portrayed three distinct personalities through their design and poses. The Product Owner provided clear direction on the emotions he wanted the characters to convey based on the feature each one represented, and that was the kick off point for the designs.
Everything starts with a simple sketch in Photoshop as it makes the process of editing and sharing images so much easier and faster. But if I need a break from tech or am working on the go, I will dig out a pencil and paper to lay down some ideas, as I did for the very first Joker Troupe symbol concepts.
Once the concepts are approved, everything going forward is produced digitally starting with rough colour, and then a fully rendered game asset. This is all done while keeping in mind readability in a game context, and how it should best be layered for the animators.
Can you reveal what your favourite part is in the development of a slot? Sketches, graphic creation, implementing in the concept, playing the finished product or any step in between.
Personally I enjoy the first concept stage the most, as there’s so much creative freedom at that point. Putting the finishing touches on the assets and seeing them all come together in the final game is also very satisfying, especially when you watch a streamer experience an exciting session!
At what point are you merging all parts of a slot to a pre-finished product? I assume it is quite early on to see how the artistry is working together with the mechanics.
We test the designs in a game context as early as possible using bespoke in house tools, but final assets aren’t added to the game until they’re finished and animated. This means we need to be extremely confident in all aspects of the game to avoid wasted work at this stage.
How did you deal with the increasingly higher speed in the Hypermode™ feature, which goes absolutely mental at some point? I played the slot extensively, fun mode and real money, and it is every time exciting to watch although the particular bonus is rather hard to trigger.
I can’t speak for how it was handled from a programming aspect, but from the art side it was super important that the most desirable symbols - in this case the Red Joker and high 8 - were still recognisable even when spinning at light speed! Special care was taken to use vivid colours, bold shapes and a more simple neon frame for the Red Joker to help with this.
Responsible Gambling is core to a healthy growth in the gaming industry. Are there any mandatory or optional guides from regulators you as a design artist have to follow when creating the visuals and animations for a slot?
When coming up with themes and designing characters for slots it’s very important that they aren’t perceived as being intentionally appealing to children. This can be a huge challenge, especially as at times, we get inspiration from animated TV, movies and video games, which are often the source of the most on trend themes across all ages.
We take this very seriously, and have even shelved games in the past which we think have stepped too close to the line.
Without disclosing too much, could you give us and our readers a sneak peek at the next projects you are currently working on?
As a lead artist I’m currently overseeing the art for multiple ground-breaking games - all of which are equally worthy of some hype, but there’s one game in particular which has a darker tone than our usual themes, and if it comes together well it will really stand out in our catalogue.
Final question. Can you name your three favourite slots – first for the gameplay and second for the graphic design? My personal choices are – Dead or Alive I & II, Punk Rocker and Jammin’ Jars as well as Immortal Romance, The Shadow Order and again Punk Rocker.
So hard to choose! But I would say;
Gameplay: Jammin’Jars - not just because I’m employed by Push Gaming! - because it’s such an accessible concept which is constantly entertaining.
Graphics: Rocket Fellas Inc. by Thunderkick - Well rendered, easy to read symbols combined with impressive FX really make this a standout game for me visually.
Book of Bob by Mighty Finger - I like games which break from the norm artistically, and the quirky style of this game definitely does that with an original twist on a common theme which is helped by great animation.
Thank you very much Shane for taking the time to answer our questions. Our members and readers will be very pleased to have such an insight into the making of a modern video slot. We are eager to find out what next will emerge from the Push Gaming atelier.
You’re welcome, and thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about the artistic side of slots, something that’s not covered very often in the iGaming press. Looking forward to revealing what the art team here at Push have up our sleeves!
The original interview may be found here.