Student Spotlight – Emelie Edholm and Sara Leone

We chatted to 4th year students, producer/designer Emelie Edholm and environment artist Sara Leone, about their working process, their time studying at Abertay and being members of Thunder Lime – the winning team of Dare Academy 2018 for their beautiful and imaginative game Kinoko.

Question 1

You both work in two different areas of games/art. How would you describe your work to people that are not familiar with it?

S: I do 3D art – so I take a picture or drawing of an object or thing and I try to reconstruct it in 3D using a computer. I also do some digital sculpting. It’s making something that already exists but in a digital world!

E: I’m kind of a jack of all trades. As a designer I get to do a bit of everything but as a producer I’m more of a team lead. I make sure all of the planning is organised and that everyone is on top of whatever work assignment they are doing.

Question 2

Were you always interested in digital art and creating games or did you explore other avenues first?

S: When I was in Italy I went to high school for graphic design so I was already into digital art in general but then I interned then worked for a small games company called Studio Evil in Bologna and I got a passion for making games there. They pushed me to pursue a career in games – so big thanks to them!

E: I actually worked in retail for 10 years before I applied to university, I worked there from when I was 17 til when I was 27 or 28 and then ended up in games. I always liked games and found them interesting but the last few years before I applied to university I realised I was reading up on the news of the industry more than actually playing them… I still loved playing games though! I just realised I was more interested in the background of it and that’s how I thought I should really do something like Game Design and Production, so I applied to Abertay!

Question 3

Sara, you create amazing, imaginative worlds and beautiful environments in Kinoko. Josh Watt, our last student spotlight interviewee, mentioned the amazing textures you have been creating recently for your honours project. Where does the inspiration for these landscapes and environments come from? Are there any games, movies or books that are major influences for you?

S: So for Kinoko it was mostly Emelie’s ideas at the beginning and we stuck with Studio Ghibli as a main inspiration cos we love it and we are just geeks about Japanese anime things! We really love the colours and little details, all those movies are highly detailed and beautiful. Another inspiration was Zelda: Breath of the Wild. We wanted to make a game that would be similar and that could get to the same level, to some extent, with our capacity.

E: Visually both of those references are so lush, it’s just green and amazing and WOW!

S: Other references were Sea of Theives, for textures, cos they have very beautiful hand painted things but they’re not too heavy. So if you compare say World of Warcraft, it’s more crafted as a style whereas Sea of Thieves is lighter. I tried to figure out a way that was clever enough for me not to have to do everything hand painted by myself every time and use some procedural bases to create more textures, so it was kind of an experiment but it worked out!

Question 4

Emelie, how was the production process for Kinoko and overseeing all the different parts of the team?

E: The production process was sort of really easy because everybody was very motivated. From the start everyone had a passion for the project for whatever area they were working in. I tried to make sure, despite the fact that it started with me having a visual idea of what I wanted it to be, that it would be easy for all the different members of the team to make it their own and make something they were proud of. There was a lot of creative freedom!

In a sense, the team was pretty easy to manage, of course we had some issues – that always happens along the way – if it’s procrastination or if it’s just differing visual ideas, but we’ve always been very good at communicating about what we think and what we want to do. I think it was very easy as everyone was open and honest and that helped a lot in the management of the team. I’m sure if we hadn’t all been open about stuff it could have really tipped the team so it was important that everybody was talking, not just me standing there telling people what to do!

Question 5

Could you both describe your working process? Do you have a clear idea of how everything will pan out from the beginning or do your ideas constantly change?

E: I think in our case, the design changed a lot, but that’s down to the fact that we didn’t really have a set goal. It was just broad strokes of what we wanted the game to be – if we talk about Kinoko as an example. I think we already had the visuals from the start, like how we wanted it to feel and how we wanted the player to engage in the environment, but yeah, for the design there were a lot of iterations and a lot of changes.

S: Yeah there was a lot of change… but I think it was good as we all discussed it together!

Art wise for Kinoko I managed to establish the visuals early on. But then the style evolved throughout all the semesters and Dare so if you look at the videos from the first semester then the second it’s almost a different game with the same assets and for Dare it’s a different thing again. But I think those changes helped to establish the identity of the game.

E: Also, Sara created a test scene really, really early on in the first semester, which was more or less just a path with trees, grass and big rocks surrounding it, but you can still pretty much see that scene in Kinoko today. I mean that could’ve been an iteration that was done just a couple of months before we were actually done with Kinoko because it looked SO GOOD. Then we kind of took a detour and tried other stuff…

S: Yeah! I don’t even know what happened in semester two!

E: Sara nailed the environments straight on. We were super proud and they were beautiful but I think we just didn’t realise that she had actually nailed it, it was that good and we should’ve just stuck to that… but then again, hindsight!

S: And we had some crazy ideas too…. Like LET’S MAKE EVERYTHING GIANT! I still love that idea but it’s crazy. And at some point Kinoko was supposed to fly…

E: There’s loads of things that I think awwww that would’ve been so freaking cool! But then again, as we tell people going into Dare now, just scale down. The idea we went with is super simple but it’s effective and people love it.

Question 6

You are both graduating this Summer. What is the most important thing you’ve learned during your time studying at Abertay?

S: I would say finding a group of people that really like what they do. So for me, the Kinoko team as we all got really close. As Emelie said earlier we were very motivated so everyone wanted to do well because that was their passion. I think finding those people really helped me because if I wasn’t with Kinoko I think I would’ve just trailed off on my own and probably been a bit lonely. So yeah, finding some people to work with (even if it’s not the same project) is really nice! And also the workspace, finding a good workspace is nice too.

E: Yeah I just have to agree on that. I think Abertay in itself has taught us a bunch of technical things but it’s the getting to know people, putting yourself out there and trying different things that’s most beneficial. As Sara said it’s so important to engage in uni, in social events and in different societies. It doesn’t have to be Abertay Game Development Society, it can be anything as long as you get to know people, because those are your future colleagues, those are your future Dare academy members and the people that you’ll do 3rd year projects with. It’s important to find people that you trust and that help you grow.

Question 7

You were just at GDC in San Francisco showing Kinoko and next up is Abertay Digital Graduate Show to display your honours projects. What are your plans for after that and your goals for the next few years?

E: So for GDC it was only 4 members of the Kinoko team who were there, not me!

S: Her spirit was with us – we should’ve had a mini cardboard cut-out! But after ADGS… we both have a job at Pocket Sized Hands, so possibly continue working there. I’d actually love to but I don’t know what will happen with Brexit. If I can stay I would love to keep working with them. I will try to apply to other companies as well just because I’m interested in applying everywhere. If I can extend my contract to be full time, then of course I’m going to stay! In the future I would like to get into the AAA industry, I think I want to do the five-year period – everyone says 5 years is the time then after that you kind of burn out. So my plan is to do that then possibly go indie, either by myself or find other friends and people who would like to make cool little creations.

E: I’ve also applied for a couple of jobs but I just got hired by Pocket Sized Hands as their Business Developer. So I will be helping to build their business relationships and go to conferences and try to build a network of companies that they could get contracts from. That’s exactly what I’d like to work with so I’m thinking of staying as well, at least for a while, and get that experience because no one is hiring a graduate for that kind of job. They usually require years of experience so for me this is super, super valuable and I’m so thankful that they’re taking a chance on me doing this!

S: They’re awesome.

E: They are! We love you Pocket Sized Hands!

Question 8

Lastly, are you going to continue working on Kinoko in the future and will people be able to play it soon?

E: Kinoko is going to be published on Steam, it should hopefully be up within the next month.

S: And it’s going to be for free!

E: As it’s a short game, so only takes 15/20 minutes to play through. We hope to get it on Epic Store as well, so Steam first then that.

S: So for working in the future…if someone wants to fund us to make more, that would be nice!

E: If we were to continue it would maybe be something that is put on ice for a year or so and then we’ll see what happens!

Check out the work!

You can see Emilie and Sara’s work, including Kinoko, at Abertay Digital Graduate Show, on from 10th to 14th May 2019.

Follow @Kinoko_TheGame on Twitter to keep up with when it’ll be available to download and play!

Image credits:

Kinoko images – Thunder Lime

Lost Myths: Sons of Ragnar images – Sara Leone, Eleonora Dragoni, Aurelie Moiroud, Alejandro

Franco, Charlie Gillies and Sara Quenel