Quest 5 Design Sketches
Sharp is a refugee from the world of advertising and graphic design.
He hopped the fence from commercial storyboarding and junk-mail
design to greener pastures at Dynamix in 1990. Shawn, Art Director
for Space Quest 5, penciled over 200 sketches in a two month period
(around February or March 1992). I'm very proud to present a great
deal of those to you.
now living up in Seattle, Washington and working on a MMORP for
a company by the name of Arena.net (we're part of NC Soft). With
Dynamix closing years ago, the team that did Space Quest 5 has of
course all gone their own ways. But still consider SQ5 to be one
of the most fun titles they've worked on." - Shawn Sharp
in an e-mail to me (October 2003).
agreed to do an exclusive interview with .
It was conducted in November 2003 as part of the Shawn Sharp Special.
Sharp, could you please introduce yourself to the fans out there?
Who are you? Where do you live? What kind of work do you do?
this suddenly sounding like an AA meeting? Hi, my name is Shawn
Sharp, I’m a gameaholic… Ok, anyhow, yes, I was an
art director at Dynamix for 9 years and in that time did Space
Quest 5 along with a slew of other PC games. Dynamix is of course,
no more, and, after a three year stint in hell, um, I mean Texas,
I’m back where I belong: in the Pacific Northwest –
Seattle specifically – and still doing games.
far as the kind of work I do. Damn good thank you very much! No,
seriously, the role of art director (AD) really varies a lot from
project to project and from company to company. It’s also
changed as the industry has changed. Back in the ol' days (he
says with a 49er accent), for instance, on SQ5, I was doing the
look and feel stuff, drawing backgrounds, designing characters,
scheduling, animating, and managing the art staff. In the later
years of Dynamix many of the projects were big enough that I focused
mainly on the look and feel and other people handled the staff
and asset management stuff. However, after Dynamix I moved down
to Austin to do PS2 titles and was once again doing all of the
above as well as modeling, producer-like stuff, technical R&D
and, I dunno, sweeping floors or some such. Whatever it takes
to get a project out of the door. In my current gig I’m
focused entirely on the production design aspects as a concept
come you got landed working on computer games?
Hmm, it’s a long ugly story full of treachery and deceit.
Or, not so much. Actually I was working in graphic design and
advertising and had been doing free-lance illustration for Iron
Crown Enterprises (a pen and paper RPG company) when Dynamix contacted
me. Randy Dersham called me to see if I wanted to move down to
Eugene, Oregon to art direct computer games. We had just moved
to Portland, Oregon from Pittsburgh, my wife was in school and
we really didn’t want to move again so soon. Besides, I
had no idea what a computer game was. A year later he called again
and we decided the money was right and did the move.
any wifes/kids/dogs/water-buffalos or grandma's roaming around your
slummy hut... er, I mean manor?
Yes, I have two wives and one kid. Wait, reverse that: I have
a wife and two boys, a really cool cat and two evil jack russells,
the bane of my existence. How I hate them.
kind of work did you do with Sierra? Your most important projects?
How does your avarage day looks like?
Art directing. I could glut your site with describing just what
that means so I’ll spare you, but the Reader’s Digest
version would be to say, “make the art go.” Actually
that sounds more like Homer Simpson.
Most important project? That’s hard to say. I suppose the
biggest anyhow would have been Tribes and Starsiege; I was the
senior art director managing the look, feel and much of the creative
direction of those two titles.
Normal day? Ah, really depended on the project and my role on
it. At times my normal day was only 10 hours or so, at times it
was as much as 56 hours. Typical tasks would include designing
locations, characters, vehicles, modeling, texturing (in the 3D
days) directing photo shoots, and lots of creative brain storming.
All-in-all, a blast.
did you leave Sierra and why?
I decided that when the company closed, and consequently stopped
paying me, that it was time to move on. Actually the death spiral
was dragged out over a year’s time until Vivendi finally
had the good sense to simply lock the doors. Don’t get me
wrong: It was a great company and we did some wonderful games
over 9 years I was there, but, towards the end it had turned into
a political cesspool and when it finally closed I doubt anyone
was too surprised.
was it like to work on the Space Quest 5 project? How was it to
work with David Selle, Mark Crowe and all the others?
Mark Crowe? Mark Crowe, boy, that name sounds familiar. Is he
related to Russell Crowe? Mark was an absolute pleasure to work
with. To this day when I’m asked what my favorite project
was to work on I always say SQ5 and I feel Mark was mainly responsible
for that. It
was just fun all around. It was a lot of work too but we had a
great team and I think part of it was that it was also at a time
when the company and the industry itself was young and maybe a
bit cavalier. Granted that was only a few years ago but things
have changed a lot in those few years. Also, I was one of the
few experienced artists Dynamix ever hired – we mostly hired
right out of school – so for most of the team it was the
first art job they had ever had and we excited to be doing what
they were doing.
Since that time most of the team has gone on to other industry
jobs. Rhonda Conely for instance went on to co-design and art
direct several of the key titles for Humongous. Sean Murphy is
at The Fizz Factor in Austin, Mark Crowe was at Pipeworks last
I knew and I think everyone else are now assassins for the CIA.
There was that time Mark, Dave and I were in Tijuana with those
women and the fake passports when the Rabbi and the two “farmers”
walk in…um, maybe I shouldn’t share that one.
you actually create and invent the stuff you sketched yourself?
Or did you had to work with idea's from Mark? How much "free
room" did you have to sketch your own stuff without interference
from the team?
I’d say it was a really cool mix. One of the reasons it
was such a pleasure to work on SQ5 was that Mark was really good
at describing what he had in mind but at the same time was very
open to my ideas. Mark started out as an artist so he knew how
to describe what he wanted. On many if not most projects coming
out of Dynamix we would typically end up producing a ton of work
that would end up getting tossed due to an attitude of “I’ll
know it when I see it.” Mark, the team and I were able to
work together in such a way that we threw out little if any art
as I recall. I also want to point out that the team contributed
a lot of great ideas as well. This is often not the case on a
the resemblance between Dr. Phill and junk mail, except that both
are pure evil?
Funny you should ask. It happens that they are both a conspiracy
perpetrated by the government in conjunction with the Illuminati
against the American people as a diversionary tactic. Also included
in this vile architecture of evil are such things as the infomercial,
home owner’s associations, telemarketers, credit card companies
and low fat Twinkies. Ya know, I’ve never actually had a
Twinkie, low fat or otherwise.
to the SQ5 hint book, you created over 200 sketches for the project.
How many survived the hands of time?
Oh good god, I have no idea. I tend to hold on to art from past
projects so in fact I probably have most of them. I’ve recently
scanned a bunch and sent them your way. Somewhere, no doubt, there
there's any stuff you created that wasn't used later on for the
actual game? Do you still have that/those thing(s)?
There were a lot of sketches building up to the final designs
but actually not nearly the number of iterations one often sees.
was it creating a landscape like Klorox II, or the Genetix Lab,
where everything was desolate and menacing?
I mention living in Texas? I’m all about desolate and menacing
baby. Actually desolate is a lot easier to do than lush and green.
In the game I’m working on now I’m designing forests,
swamps and jungles. Man I’m tired of designing trees and
you collect plugs?
I have one of the most extensive collections of nose plugs in
north America including one owned by Elvis and one made for Napoleon.
in god's name, created the awful Goliath labyrinth?
MARK, MARK, MARK! It was him, all him, not me! Actually I suspect
it came down from Sierra. Roberta Williams seemed to be a big
fan of mazes.
given the opportunity, would you work on a new SQ game?
hell yeah! Although a flock of wild platypii couldn’t drag
me away from my current job.
looking back at the work you've done for the project, what do you
think of it?
It’s just ever so embarrassing. Actually some of it wasn’t
so bad but it was a looooong time ago. I’d like to think
I’ve gotten better.
What does it mean to you, that after so long, people still care
about Space Quest?
sad really. Well, maybe sad is too strong a word. No, no sad pretty
much covers it *grin*. Seriously I think it’s really cool.
I have way too many role-playing manuals and comic books to criticize
any one else’s hobbies. It’s actually really encouraging.
So often we do a game and, once it’s off the shelves or
out of the trade journals it seems like it’s just lost to
the ether. I’m always taken aback to learn someone is playing
a game I did a year ago much less still fans of a game from so
many years ago.
last words for the fans out there?
You mean other than “get a real hobby?” No really,
I think it’s great that people still appreciate some of
the old games. In many ways I miss the old adventure games and
the old days of game development. It was more of a seat of your
pants learn while you go sort of atmosphere and could be a real
blast. Makes me want to dig out my copy of SQ5 and see if I could
get it to run on one of my systems.