Creating Epic Worlds With Tirzah Bauer
When we think back at the epic battles we shared over the years, how many of us think about where the foundation for that epic battle began? Games often time provide us with a canvas for us to paint epic battles and memorable experiences within.
But how are these created? A simple flat terrain wouldn’t be the most engaging experience. What is it that makes a battleground epic? For this we turn to one of ArenaNet’s environment artists, Tirzah Bauer, for insight into the life of an environmental artist and map designer.
Greetings Tirzah, or as many us know you, Tiny Tee. Thank you for joining us today to talk about the life of an environmental artist. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your role at ArenaNet?
Hello! Thank you for having me. An Environment Artist deals with a lot of things! We get to design and implement environments for people to play in—everything from castles to candlesticks (as my lead, Dave Beetlestone, always says).
Did you always want to be an environmental artist or did you just find your career pulling you that direction?
I actually first applied as an Animator. I didn’t quite have the experience needed for the position so I applied for a screenshot artist position, which I also didn’t get. Thankfully the Environment art lead saw my portfolio and had me come in for an interview and art test. I got the job and started the day that Guild Wars 1: Factions shipped (everyone was celebrating haha). I’ll be celebrating my 9th year at ArenaNet in May. It’s been a fantastic job.
Over the past “few” months, you’ve been working on a very special place within the Guild Wars 2 world. One that a lot of people are really looking forward to. Can you tell us a little bit about this new zone that you’ve been working on?
I’ve been working on a new World vs. World Borderland map! World vs. World (or WvW) is our large-scale PvP realm where three teams of players and guilds team up to take control of castles, towers and other objectives.
The theme of the new environment is Desert and will be replacing the current Alpine themed maps. We will be bringing back the Alpine map in the future. The new Desert Borderland has evolved in all respects from art, design and mechanics. I can’t wait to play it with everyone.
So the idea of rebuilding the entire WvW Borderlands lands on your desk, after you pull out your hair in a panic what do you do next? What’s the first step to creating an epic battleground?
Lots of thinking and dreaming. I play WvW and gather feedback from other players, coworkers, and my own experience. We collaborate and come up with things that will make WvW better and what the next step will be.
Do you ever draw them on paper? Make post-it’s with ideas or have any other unique tradecraft for brainstorming ideas?
For WvW I always start with “paper” (photoshop image) layout. This way I know how many keeps, towers, etc. are needed, and can play with layout and map-flow ideas. I then translate that into a 3D map and work from there.
How much freedom do you get when it comes to creativity in the design of these realms?
I get a lot of freedom! Environment artists at ArenaNet really get a lot of say in the look and design of these environments. Not only do we get to make areas look pretty, but we also get to work with designers to make sure the environments work well with content. Sometimes we’ll have a cool area that we made that the designers like and make content for, and sometimes a designer will come to us with a cool idea and we’ll build an area for that idea.
In the new borderlands, what unique areas did you really want to introduce into the WvW scene and how do you think they will affect the way players interact with the world?
I really wanted to provide more strategic benefit for holding objectives outside of score. The objectives in this new map work with the terrain to provide tactical benefits for your team, and make it rougher on enemies who try to bypass your “turf”.
On the art side of things, I wanted the objectives to feel like real places. Areas that you like to hang out in and defend! Even the sentries have little camps that they can hang out in now. I’m always imagining silly stories in my head when I make environments so that the environment itself is alive.
The previous borderlands was rather flat and above ground. With the new borderlands, the vertical axis is being used more and there is even underground areas for players to enjoy. Can you tell us a little bit about the challenges and how you overcame them in creating this vastly larger, more engaging battlefield?
Creating a challenging but fun play space is the hardest thing to do I think. I’m trying to create that balance between unique and challenging content that’s not super frustrating, but not so trivial that it’s easily overcome. Generally, as a team, we try a lot of things and play through it, determining if it’s fun or just plain crazy.
For example, I had this crazy idea to put oil pots and cannons so high in the sky that they were out of reach of player skills. I thought it might help with defense as the offense would have to build a siege weapon to take out the oil pots and cannons. It was super fun for the defenders, but also way overpowered. The extreme height was rough on the players’ camera below too. Tyler Bearce (WvW game designer) gave me the idea to put in the same gate design that they used in Edge of the Mists and we really like how that feels now.
What is your favorite part about the creative process you undergo when creating new game worlds?
My absolute favorite part about the creative process is that after months of hard work, I get to play it with people in-game and hear their reactions!
Thinking back over the years of building game worlds and playing those game worlds, what would you say is one of the most critical things to get right when you are creating the pallet for an epic experience?
Creating experiences takes a lot of hard work, patience, team-work, caffeine…etc. If I had to choose the most important, I’d say it’s “have fun”. We are making entertainment after all. Some days it’s stressful and feedback can be overwhelming. But if you’re generally having fun with what you’re doing, then it’s going to translate well into what you’re creating.
Lastly I understand you’re a bit of an artist after hours. Do you have any art you would like to share with us? Where can fan’s follow your work?
I enjoy doing illustration on my free time, and I’ve recently started doing sculpture as well! If you’d like to see my work you can check me out on twitter or art blog:
I’ve also just opened up an Etsy store:
The Art of Tirzah Bauer
About the Author
Benjamin "Foghladha" Foley
Benjamin founded the Gaiscioch Social Gaming Community in 2001 and has since been the founder & activities director for this well known community. His role has gone beyond just running the Gaming Community and now includes running the Athletics Program in Portland, Oregon, as well as acting as the Managing Editor of the Gaiscioch Magazine, and is the Lead Producer on the Gaiscioch Livestream Productions. Additionally he networks with game developers to form relationships between Gaiscioch and development studios.
His experience in publishing dates back to helping his Grandparents who operated a printing press for over 40 years. In high school and college Benjamin excelled in journalism and played an active part in the school newspaper. Benjamin currently works full time as the director of technology for a franchise trade publication & education company.