Monthly Archives: February 2014

Failed Car #Cringe

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This one hour color study is all I had time for today. Other than this I started to do some reading on perspective. That car I painted (or “painted”, I worked on it for like 15 minutes until I realized everything about it was failed)…I decided to post it anyways. Makes me cringe so much, but here we go:

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OMG it hurts my eyes. But I guess the only way from here is up, hehe. So yeah, perspective…I need some. Please don’t give up on me >.<

Some Color Studies

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Some color studies that I made today and yesterday. Note to self: I need to add more defined, sahrp edges into my paintings. I tend to blur everything a bit too much, like I did with the cave study. If you want to watch me stream some painting I do it regularly on own channel (link).

I also tried to paint a car today, but it just looked so horrible I’m way too embarrassed to show you the results. It’s like BAD. Really bad. Watched some Feng Zhu videos afterwards, trying to analyze what went wrong with the car. I guess it comes down to two things; 1. I can’t really draw straight, confident lines on my tablet, and 2. I don’t know enough about perspective and 3D forms. I’m really trying to catch up on perspective, but it’s just so Goddamn hard, and every time I try my hand at it I fail big time. I know I gotta bite the bullet if I ever intend to get past this, but I just keep on avoiding perspective…

Snake Study

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Just a snake study that I made today. Feeling like I’m coming up with a flu, trying to just relax and take it easy today. When painting this I tried to approach it like a light and color study, focusing on WHY the color and light falls on this snake the way it does. I don’t wanna copy the photo, I want to learn from each image. There’s no point in just coping when it becomes mindless work. Cheers!

Master Studies

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ffgnbfskulderblad_casen_feb_14Above: a master study of John Singer Sargent’s amazing portrait of a beduin.  I’ve never done master studies before, so decided to try them out as a way of developing a deeper understanding of how color and images work. I have never really understood why artist do master studies before I listened to this great video my the skilled Noah Bradley (video here). Studies of the work of established artists and image creators helps one understand what really goes into creating a drawing/painting. It also helps you in develop an understanding of when a painting is “finished”. I learned so much from doing this short study. Had no idea about the variety of colors that went into that image. For example the eyes are yellow if you color pick them, but your mind still tricks you into thinking they are white, because “that’s the color eyes should have”. Amazing!

So much red in a portrait that looks brown at a first glance. I did a fair amount of color picking with the tool in Photoshop, but even so I learned a lot. Next challenge will be to only use the color picket to double check if I managed to pick the colors correctly by eye. Hopefully in the end I will not need it at all, and then be able to create my own images from scratch.

The onion study is of an onion I found in my kitchen this afternoon. Onions are great objects to practice light and shadow with since they have a lot of interesting reflections going on. It’s also pretty easy to look for all the different light and shadow properties like the core shadow, the terminator, cast shadows and so on. It’s a bit like buying a marble and painting it in Lambert gray to do light/shadow studies, but more convenient and cheaper. After reading (and re-reading on the flight back home) the excellent book “Light and Color” by James Gurney the past week I feel so excited and hyped about really sinking my teeth into all that stuff. It’s like when I read Andrew Loomis’ books last year; I get so many revelations about art I feel like I have been guessing my whole life when painting or drawing. It makes you realize how much you actually suck, but that’s OK. You can’t improve if you don’t learn how little you actually know about something!

Some heads that I made in my sketch book while on vacation last week, and some anatomy studies of bones. I’m trying to go back to the basics and really learn them properly. Kinda dull work, but It needs to be done since I seem to lack A LOT of understanding about anatomy, perspective, light and color.

How Hay Day Helps My Friend Look After Her Sick Mother

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A typical farm displayed in Zynga’s Farmville.

Let’s talk about games and the value they add to people’s life in unexpected ways.

In the beginning there was “Farmville“. Farmville is a game where you play as a farmer (wow really?!) taking care of your own virtual farm. You plow land, harvest crops and raise animals. If you feel like it you can start your own bakery or collect rare farm-themed items or trees. Farmville was a huge hit on Facebook back in 2010. When the game peaked it had over 80 million monthly active users, and almost everyone on Facebook had at least one friend posting those annoying notices asking you to help them out with their farm. Farmville opened up a new opportunity, and suddenly everyone in the gaming business talked about how gaming on Facebook was the new, brave future! If you attended any game conference during this time almost all the talks were about Facebook, Farmville and social gaming boom. Game developers seemed to be both inspired by Farmville’s success, but also mocked Zynga (the company behind the game) for not making “real games”. Many saw them as evil business suits just trying to trick their players into spending as much money as possible, only delivering a very poor gaming experiencing as return. Many “real gamers” hated Farmville and the kind of games Zynga produced. They deemed them as “soulless” and sneeringly said that only people who did not know any better would choose to play a game like Farmville, only because those poor players did not know about “real” games like the Zelda-games or Final Fantasy or something else a bit more sophisticated. How could a “simple” game like “Farmvill” bring something good or interesting into the life of its players?

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Players are free to arrange and re-arrange the objects and crops on their farms. Inviting your friends to play the game may make your farm bigger and better. That’s one explanation to how Farmville became so popular; the players were doing the marketing for the game.

Last week I had dinner with my two friends Anna and Emma when suddenly Anna pulled out her phone and showed me a game she was playing. It’s called “Hay Day“. She had been playing it for a couple of weeks, and was totally addicted (her own words). My other friend at out table pulled out her phone and she too was totally into this game! They wanted to talk with me about the game, because they know I make games for a living, and I was very happy to talk games with my friends! These two women are not what you would consider “gamers” and they both express worries when their boyfriends spend too much time playing World of Warcraft or Magic instead of hanging out with them.

So as the conversation started to take off I noticed something very interesting. Lately a lot of my hardcore gamer friends have been playing this game called “Clash of Clans“, a mobile game from the very same creators that made “Hay Day”; Supercell. This small Finnish company sure knows something about how to catch the attention and retention of players who are used to play very complex and time consuming titles like League of Legends or online MMOs. But making a “casual” game that reaches people who never play (mobile) games or who may think that games in general is a waste of time, this is something that’s extremely hard to do (in my experience). How do you teach a game to someone who’s not even familiar with words like “loot” or “tutorial”? And how do you get millions of them to play your game? Supercell recently sold 51% of its shares worth 1,1 billion € and “Hay Day” is one of the most downloaded and played games for mobiles!

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Can you tell the difference? A player’s farm in “Hay Day”. It looks and plays very much like “Farmville”, but this time around the main platform is not FB, but mobiles and touch pads.

As I sat there in the kitchen with Emma and Anna, showing off their farms Anna suddenly became serious. “You know, my cousin is a teenager now and she thinks everything and everyone is sooo embarrassing. It’s almost impossible to talk to her about anything. So I asked her this summer if maybe she played some kind of games or followed some series on TV. Only to find some kind of common topic to talk about. I don’t want to grow apart from her.” It turned bout Anna’s cousin played “Hay Day” on her iPhone, so Anna downloaded the game (it’s free) and started playing, hoping to better stay in touch with her cousin. It didn’t took her long before she was hooked, and to her surprise she enjoyed the game! “Today I play a couple of sessions every day, and I almost feel like I’m addicted to it! I’ve restricted myself to not bring the phone into the bathroom”, she laughs. Emma nods and smiles. My two friends start talking about if one should or shouldn’t connect your “Hay Day” account to Facebook. So my two very non-gamer friends discuss tactics, what crops to invest in, how to harvest your pigs, animations of goats, and they become  super excited when they learn that they both could sell and exchange items like carrot cake with each other. Both of my friends invest many hours a week on taking care of their farms. They proudly show them off and wants to know secret tips and tricks. Is this still “a poor gaming experience” like Farmville’s critics claimed? Is this still not “real gaming”?

“My mother is sometimes very ill”, Anna tells me. “She has this condition where she needs to stay silent and can’t speak because of her throat. I worry very much about her, and she doesn’t live close to me, so if I call her when she’s ill she can’t even talk in the phone, due to her illness”. Anna is obliviously very concerned about her mother.  Anna’s family is very precious to her, and it breaks her heart to worry about her mother when she’s ill. “I don’t want to call her all the time when she’s ill just to check up on her”, Anna explains, “But I constantly think of her when she’s sick or I worry that something has happened if I don’t get a text or a call in a few days. I just want to know if she is OK or needs my help. But without making her feel like invade her life all the time”.

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People who only see video games like a waste of time or even a threat to children or society usually claim that games doesn’t add any kind of value to people’s life, or even may be removing value (and morals). They claim games make people violent, lazy or less social. But playing “Hay Day” together, exchanging crops and seeds had brought Anna and her cousin closer, and thanks to the game they now had a neutral topic to talk about each time they hung out!

So Anna suggested her mother downloaded “Hay Day” to her phone. Not only did her mother like the game, she loved it! It didn’t take her long to be as into it as Anna was, and not before long mother and daughter found themselves trading items, exchanging virtual carrot cake in cyber space. I’m a game developer and I’ve never played a video game with my mother!

“The best thing”, says Anna, “is that when I worry  a lot about my mum, and can always log on to Hay Day and visit her farm. Every morning I check if her cows are milked. If they are, it calms me down, because then I know she is doing well and made it out of bed this morning. One night I logged on late and saw that her cows were milked in the middle of the night. So I gave her a call and asked if she was having trouble sleeping. She was surprised and asked how I knew, and so we talked on the phone for a while, which calmed us both down.” Anna smiles. I ask her about the pigs on her farm and Emma and Anna laughs about how you harvest bacon from your pigs and they just become thin versions of themselves that you then need to fatten up again. Anna’s farm is very well organized and she is obliviously proud of the work behind it.

This “simple” game is bringing Anna closer to women from three generations in her family. It connects her with friends and gives her something fun to do many times a day. It helps her to check on her sick mother without making her feel like she is “babysitting” her own mother. It helps her stay in contact with her cousin. How could this not be meaningful? I’m sure there are plenty of stories like these out there. Games that work as a tool that build social bridges into real life. Games that ties together generations and help us get closer to each other.

To Be Honest

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I know that I myself like to read other people’s blogs and stories when they are honest. When someone has the guts to tell you what’s really going on, or what’s actually on their minds. I guess we are all afraid of being too honest, when we are out in the open, when everyone can read what we write. We are afraid that what we say or type may or may not be used against us at some point. When we look for a new job, when we do business, when we meet with our friends. Why do we expect the worst? At the same time when someone says “OMG I can’t believe how he/she can spill her life’s story on a public blog”, we eagerly read what they are writing. We are hungry for honest, brave writers who dare to share personal stuff. Maybe stuff about broken hearts, about depression, about feeling lost or alone. Because bad and difficult things happen to all of us, it’s part of being a human, part of being alive. We all go trough rough times every now and then. I guess the thing that makes us differ is how much we share about it. Do we tell our families? Our friends? Or Twitter followers or our blog readers? Or do we hide it, behind a smile, behind a photo of a perfect lunch at a fancy hipster restaurant (Instagram, I’m looking at you!). Some people despise weaknesses and would never ever share anything personal online or with even the closest of friends. Other are so scared of ruining a potential career in the distant future they just lock their problems away and try to deal with them when no-ones watching.

Those who talk openly about their problems, who dare to be honest, to admit they are not perfect, they are important. They prove to us that even the most happy person, or the most beautiful one, or that one you thought had the perfect life, even they have their own problems and daemons. In a way it makes you feel less alone, it makes your own burden easier to carry. I think messy, broken and torn are way more interesting and beautiful than perfect or whole. You know that maybe everyone else are just trying to get by, just like you? Sometimes life is awesome, and sometimes it’s truly not.

I’ve always struggled with how personal I want to be, both here and also on social media. I have realized that I’m not too afraid of what other people think about the stuff I post. If someone read stuff I post here, and decided to judge me, then fine. I would say that people who are quick to judge others often have plenty of problems and their own mess they really should spend time cleaning up. Really. I’m totally fine with not everyone being comfortable sharing every personal detail about themselves online. I’m honestly a bit creeped out about these blogs where people share absolutely everything about their life, or shows like “Keeping Up With The Kardashians”. I don’t wanna add to that noise. I don’t wanna come across like an attention junkie. I want to craft posts that actually has e deeper meaning expect “buy this dress or look at my new breakfast”.

What I’m trying to say whit all this rambling is that ever since I lost my job two weeks ago I have had some time to think and address stuff that’s been on my mind for some time. I also moved into a new apartment, gotten some change of surroundings. Of course I’m still sad about the job, I loved working with my team, and I miss them so much. But I try to view this as an opportunity to maybe find something new and even better. When you remove one part of your life another one will eventually take it’s place. I wonder what it will be.

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Above: latest batch of stuff. I’ve been experimenting with some new techniques in Photoshop to paint the walker. Really using all the tricks in the book: custom brushes, masks, photo collages to sample color and texture etc etc… I know all that stuff can never make up for a good understanding of the core basics, a good foundation of the fundamentals in painting and drawing, but it was fun to experiment and just mess around. I want this to be lots of hard work but also fun. I create for fun, because the process in itself is fun. It’s thrilling to have a small hobby and get better at it. I don’t want to work with this, but I’m so happy I can fill my life with something that feels meaningful to me; art. Especially now when I’m in-between jobs I need something to focus on, besides the job hunting and waiting for things to clear up. My plan is to paint every morning until 12, then make some lunch, take a walk, do some cleaning and work out later on the day. Hunting for a new job is a lot about waiting. Waiting for someone to get back to you, or waiting for someone to make up their mind, so why not fill the time with meaningful stuff? This is a chance to do all those things you don’t have time for when you work 9-5. Oh well, I’m sure I will become lonely, desperate and depressed sure enough anyways : D

Do You Want To Hire Me?

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So once again I’m looking for a new gig. I’m sad to announce that the awesome crew at Tarsier Studios were unable to offer me any more work after my contract ended last week. Yeah, it sucks. I feel sad about it, but at least I had five nice months there before my time at the studio was over. If you know anyone looking for an associate producer or a community manager, be sure to send them my CV, or send me an email to contact@saracasen.com. I figured I wanted to write something about myself here, just to get my thoughts out of my head, and to maybe give you a short presentation of who I am and what I’ve done. This blog usually focuses on my art hobby, so here’s something about what I actually do for a living! So here’s a few lines bout me, nothing planned or too fancy.

To start things off, I feel like I learned plenty, that my XP and skill tree is now bigger than ever, and hopefully that will show in my work from here on. At Tarsier I got a good insight in what it’s like to work closely with a big producer like Sony, and also I was part of developing secret stuff from scratch. It feels valuable to have been able to broaden my horizons over the past years, working for three different studios. Before I got paid to do games I went to game development University in Sweden, Skövde. I got a bachelor’s degree in game design, and during my time there I completed several game projects and worked as an QA intern at small game companies. My time at Uni was totally badass and I just got blown away by all the talented students and bubbling creativity!

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My first (paid)job in the game industry was at at a start-up named Junebud, working my ass off to get things of the ground, learning everything the hard way. The thrill and excitement to take something from early idea to a launched game! We put together an MMO named MilMo, and I’m still very proud to have it on my CV, to have built a helping and friendly community for a free to play game (!).  I have been employed at Sweden’s biggest publisher of games; Paradox, where I was part of a new in-house studio developing a Magicka MOBA: Wizard Wars. I worked with setting up the company-wide data telemetry system and lay the foundations for metrics guided game design over there. Working at Paradox in Stockholm was great, but eventually I decided to move back to Malmö in Sweden because I never truly felt Stockholm was the city for me. Hard choices, but sometimes you gotta follow your heart.

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After my time at Paradox I got hired by Tarsier. Looking back at my time at Tarsier, I’m happy to have the experience of working with mega publishers and also develop something small and unique inside a mid-sized game company. During my time in the industry so far I’ve mainly worked with community management, setting up events in-game, hosting competitions, writing blog posts and helped players, but I’ve also worked with game data and as an associate producer. At my time at Junebud I concluded reports about revenue, retention and looked to the telemetry to find pesky bugs and ways to improve the mmo MilMo. Collecting data about your users and using it to help make business and design decisions bout the game was kinda new back then, and at Junebud we tried to embrace this opportunity. Since math is not my strongest skill I’ve used the insights hands on community management has given me, to combine it with data, to do game analytics.

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I’ve noticed that I thrive and deliver the best results when I get to work with people or the user experience at heart. Sometimes as a bridge between users and developers, like in the case of MilMo, and sometimes I have been providing structure to a team of skilled developers, like I did at Tarsier. I like to keep track of tasks, do planning and make sure things get done on time.

I can honestly say that my morals and production rate goes downhill if you lock me up in a closet and only let me do number crushing. I’m a bit of an extrovert, and I really need a brain storm session now and then, or a casual meeting to help my ideas reach its full potential. I try to be very respectful and want to make sure all members of my team feel that they contribute, that their input is valuable, and I try to include everyone on their own terms. I’ve learned that the development team almost always has what it takes, but sometimes you just need to inspire them or gently push them in the right direction. I’ve more than once gone out of my way to arrange company parties or beer nights. I think that what keeps me in the games industry is the awesome people you meet and get to know. Together you craft things that capture other people’s imagination. Sharing your knowledge is a big passion for me, so when game development schools ask me to come and give a lecture about game design or community management I’m never late to book some train tickets and put together a power point presentation.

I’m not sure where I will go from here, what my next adventure will be, but I’m sure I will be OK. Today is also exactly four years since I moved to Malmö for my first job in the industry, at Junebud as an intern, doing my exam project about viral marketing and community management. When I look back I realize I’ve come a long way, and that I have been lucky enough for some key persons to believe in me and give me a chance to prove myself. I’m thankful for that.

Onward, to new adventures!

Lizard Rider

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I’m back from a weekend trip to Åland, Finland. It takes roughly 24 hours to get there and back again…This is some of the stuff I made in my new sketch book, while on the train/ferry/bus/whatever. I’m trying out a new approach to drawing and creating. Usually I just rush trough the stuff, trying to create as much as possible in as little time as possible, trying to convince myself I have so much I want to learn I can’t spend more than an hour on each piece.

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Then I saw this awesome video a few days ago, arguing on how as a noob artist you need to stick with your images for a much longer time than just those speedpaint time limits of 30 minutes – 1 hour. You need to develop patience as a virtue, to bare the pain of the image looking like crap for the very first 1 – 2 hours. So I have decided to stop doing all these quick studies for a while, focusing on art that takes more time, to level up my patience. Quantity CAN NOT make up for quality. These drawings were made very carefully, one stroke at a time, thinking about what I wanted to create, and planning the design. Inspired by the woods and nature where I used to play as a kid. I hope you enjoy!