I love reaching out to find new and interesting people to interview for our readers here on TPA. A few months ago, I saw these great graphics of World War II Era tanks and other vehicles on a wargame group I follow on Facebook. The artist was Matt White and as I looked into his art, as well as his other projects as he is a budding game designer, I was really impressed with his style. The rest is history as I reached out and he has now become a member of our Designer Interview family. Welcome Matt!
Grant: First off Matt, please tell us a little about yourself. Where do you live? What are your hobbies and interests? What types of games do you enjoy playing?
Matt: I live in Lincolnshire, in the UK, with my wife and our five children. We are not far from the Imperial War Museum at Duxford and only a camping trip away from Bovington Tank Museum!
My biggest single hobby is gaming and I play and collect a lot of miniature wargames as well as historical based wargames from sci-fi to historical with friends and my kids. We play a lot of WWII, Napoleonics and English Civil War games. I used to work at Games Workshop’s design studio so I still have a lot of love for Warhammer 40,000.
Grant: What is your profession? How did you get into wargame graphic design?
Matt: For my day job I am a Game Director in video games, which is pretty much like a movie director but for video games! I have been in the industry for over 20 years and worked on all manner of video games including working at Xbox for over 8 years. I have worked with some wonderful people and lucky enough to have worked on BAFTA and other Emmy winning projects.
Wargaming, board and tabletop games have always been a passion. Creating my own games started for me a few years ago. I was doing some art at home and drew a WWII tank and posted it on my Facebook page. People liked it and I posted it on a WWII interest group, I was a member of, and I got a lot of positive feedback so I did another and another. At that point I didn’t really think I would make a game out of them. At the time I was looking for historical war-games I could play with my two sons and I couldn’t really find any as being here in the UK as we are pretty limited to a couple of online stores. And those I could find were quite expensive so I figured I could make my own game, print it out and just play that with my kids using the art I have made, so it started there really. That’s how my game Panzer Orders was born – to design and create all the art myself for a game that both is straightforward to play, inexpensive whilst having strong historical content.
Grant: What is your favorite part about the graphic design/art process? Conversely, what do you struggle with or find to be the greatest challenge?
Matt: A lot of my work really is illustration and, to date, I have created over 200 pieces of artwork. My favourite part of the process is really the last part of the creation, the final tweaks that make a massive difference. I find, in my own work, that the last 10% makes or breaks a piece. Often I will leave a piece in progress and come back to it later, with fresh eyes, to finish it off.
The hardest part can be getting reference. My main focus has been WWII and whilst there are lots of photos and museums, etc. a lot of the reference is black and white, often blurry, low quality photos so for some subjects reference is a challenge. I am lucky though, being here in the UK, we have top quality museums and of course with the internet I have made a lot of friends who are experts in the historic content.
Grant: If you are given strict design parameters for a specific game, does this stifle your creativity?
Matt: I often find that parameters actually help as it gives you a focus. In my own games, I often will give myself deadlines or technical parameters to adhere to. It really enables you to concentrate on the image or tone you are looking for. Interestingly enough, my own game, Panzer Orders, features both tanks, armoured cars, etc. and infantry illustrations. For a long time, I was struggling to fit them all to be portrait or landscape images and in the end went for both – which is unusual, for a card game to feature both landscape and portrait cards. So sometimes you have to throw the rules out of the window!!!
Grant: How long does it usually take to fully design the graphics for a wargame? What is the starting point for the whole process?
Matt: For a piece of illustration art it really varies. Some pieces can take weeks of work and some just a couple of days. I did a piece of art of a Tiger tank with Zimmerit (which is an anti-magnetic paste they hand applied to the hull, etc. of the tank) and it took ages and ages to get it right. That piece took weeks!
If it is a tank or infantry, I have never drawn before it will take a long time. The starting point for me is to really, really look at the subject matter and think what sort of tone or narrative do I want to create in the piece. Basically what feeling do I want to try and capture – that’s how I typically get started.
Grant: Where do you obtain information from to ensure the accuracy of your subjects, whether it be uniforms, insignia, equipment, maps, terrain, etc.?
Matt: Research is a major factor with my work. As I mentioned, I spend a lot of time at museums or reading. I really get a lot of inspiration from reading first hand accounts from those who were in the war. In order to really understand my subject matter I look for those first hand stories. I’ve read a lot of books based on the tank crews or infantry experience and I feel it really helps my work. It may seem odd but understanding what these people experienced, really helps me in my work. Due to the horrors of war this can be tough going but is countered by the levels of bravery, humanity and the close bonds formed that I have read about.
Grant: What do you think are the most important qualities in an artist?
Matt: This is a tricky question! I can’t really answer! I do feel its important to me to express myself to the best of my ability and this is the goal I try and achieve in my work.
Grant: What wargame companies have you worked with in the past? What games have you been involved with, either as the graphic design artist or for your own games?
Matt: Currently I am super busy really working on my own games, with my Panzer Orders games taking most of my time. You can check those out at:
Grant: What game’s graphics are you most proud of? Is there one game that you would like another crack at to improve or simply do differently?
Matt: I am really proud of my first Panzer Orders game – it was a huge, mammoth undertaking. I created over a 100 pieces of unique art for it, wrote all the design and crowdfunded the game through Kickstarter before getting it printed. The task of creating your own game from concept to print is so much work along with having a family and work!
I would like to have a crack at a RPG/wargame – like Patton’s Best or B-17: Queen of the Skies where the narrative in the player’s imagination is an important aspect of the game. I love playing these type of games.
Grant: What graphic designers/artists out there have influenced your style? Do you spend a lot of time studying other’s work?
Matt: To be honest I try not to dissect or look critically at other artists work. It’s hard to say whose work has been an influence on me – I would say the artist I most admire would be John Blanche who works on Warhammer 40,000. I met him a couple of times when I worked at Games Workshop and his work is so evocative and layered. I admire his work greatly.
Grant: What games are you currently working on?
Matt: I am currently working on my next Panzer Orders game called Western Front – this one will feature Tanks of both the Germans and Russians. This gives me plenty of opportunity to draw T34s and the KV tanks!
Grant: Where do you see your wargaming design career in 5 years?
Matt: Currently my work has been 100% dedicated to my own games and I would love to collaborate with other creatives!
Grant: What is your grail design? Any specific company that you would love to design for but just haven’t had the opportunity yet?
Matt: As I mentioned I love the strong narrative led experiences, like B-17: Queen of the Skies (though I equally love the number crunching games such as Advanced Squad Leader!). I would always love to work on creative collaborative projects (especially if they involve TANKS!!!)
Grant: As you have mentioned several times in this interview, you are also a designer. What designs have you completed and what are some that you are working on?
Matt: Yes, I did all the game design work on my own projects. As well as the Panzer Orders series, I am working on a couple of other game designs – a squad based rpg/wargame hybrid and more games involving tanks!!
Grant: How does the creative process for game design differ from that of art?
Matt: In many ways they are the same, while also in many ways they are totally different. They are the same, for me, as in you are trying to tell a narrative or set a tone through the art and the game mechanics. In a perfect world, the art compliments the game play loop of the game. For my game, being a card game, this helps as the game features artwork on the card that is both informative and evocative (at least that is my aim!!!) So a Sherman card features a piece of art that is instantly recognisable as a Sherman tank and looks evocative all at the same time.
I think they are also similar in that they are very, very iterative – always trying new things. Throwing away things that don’t work or shelving them for future projects. I think both are measures of happy accidents and at time, unbelievable levels of frustration that you just have to work through!!
The way I like to work is to try and keep both in harmony; so do some design work and then sketch something out that can prove out that design – its really iterative and I really enjoy that creative element.
Thanks for your time and insight into your design and art processes Matt. I can say that I really like the style of your art, as it lends a different look at some of these beasts of World War II. I am definitely interested in your Panzer Orders games as well and will give those a look soon.
For a look at more of Matt’s art, please check out his Facebook page (World War II Art by Matt White) at the following link: https://www.facebook.com/worldwarIIart/