In an effort to keep our content varied and most importantly interesting, we have recently been reaching out to Graphic Design Artists to provide them an opportunity to talk about their craft and their works. I for one love a good looking game as much as a well designed game and feel that the visual element to wargames can make them successful or hold them back. Prior interviews with Graphic Design Artists that have appeared on our blog have included Antonio Pinar Peña, Nicolás Eskubi, Ilya Kudriashov, Ania Ziolkowska and Matt White. In this interview, we talk to an up and coming artist who has actually done a lot of really great looking games over the recent few years, as well as tried his hand at design, in Iván Cáceres
Grant: First off Iván, 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?
Iván: I live in Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. I’m an astronautics, comics, history, games enthusiast and the games I mostly enjoy are hex & counter operational games, although I’m open to play almost any game.
Grant: What is your full time profession? How did you get into wargame graphic design?
Iván: I own two tattoo studios and I’ve been tattooing myself for twenty years. Studied Fine Arts at the university and started designing my own games for fun about eleven years ago, but had made redesigns of some favorite games before.
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?
Iván: The best part is getting the cover finished and making it express the correct feeling for the theme and battle involved. I love the moment when it starts to take shape and I feel confident that it will work.
Conversely I do not feel comfortable laying out rulebooks, not my strong point I guess.
Grant: If you are given strict design parameters for a specific game, does this stifle your creativity?
Iván: In the projects I’ve worked on until now I’ve had all the possible freedom to design and illustrate, which is something I’m very grateful for. What stifles my creativity is too close supervision of my work.
Grant: How long does it usually take to fully design the graphics for a wargame? What is the starting point for the whole process?
Iván: As for the moment this got to be a part-time job and I work in several projects at the same time, so to finish an average game (box, board, cards and counters) with good quality takes me usually half a year. But it varies depending on the size of the game and the budget available. The starting point usually is setting an overall style with the publisher with a moodboard.
Grant: Where do you obtain information from to ensure the accuracy of your subjects, whether it be uniforms, insignia, equipment, maps, terrain, etc.?
Iván: The internet is my main source, but I also rely on books. My first project Santa Cruz 1797 was based on my hometown’s most well known battle so I was fortunate enough to have access to first-hand documentation in local archives and museums. But this is not the norm and I usually dig in specialized forums when I have doubts about some subject. I know how harsh the fandom can get about historical accuracy, so I take it seriously.
Grant: What role does a good map play in a proper wargame? How does it help tell the narrative of the battle depicted?
Iván: Game maps set the space frame where the game, and therefore the narrative, develops. Its one of the most didactic elements of the game , but also should transmit the atmosphere of the topic and the era. To me it’s the most important element of the game after the cover.
Grant: How does the design process for counters compare to the process for maps? What is your goal with the look of counters?
Iván: Counter design is a whole different thing. Usability is the main goal when I draw counters, but even when the priority changes you got to keep in sight the aesthetic coherence in the whole elements of the game.
Grant: What do you think are the most important qualities in an artist?
Iván: To design game art you have got to be versatile, because some of the elements of the game will ask for some design abilities and some for others. I’m especially proud of my skills on creating original art instead of using stock images. I think wargams artists have a great value in their love for history, but that should not overcome the main goal of game design, making the product visually attractive.
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?
Iván: The first company was a Spanish wargames publisher called Bellica 3G, who trusted me enough to publish my first design Santa Cruz 1797. Then I spent some time working for Conflict Simulations Ltd. where I learned a lot creating art for nearly twenty games from their prolific owner Ray Weiss. Then came Compass Games and several work offers which I cannot talk of yet. Got to say this is a very friendly market to work in, although it struggles with limited budgets.
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?
Iván: I’m quite proud how the map for the upcoming Sevastopol game captured the feeling of the period and a sorrowful atmosphere. Now that I have more experience I can now look at my first designs with a more critical vision and with Santa Cruz 1797, while I’m quite satisfied with the final result, I see I could have improved things like the cover or some of the map tracks.
Grant: What graphic designers/artists out there have influenced your style? Do you spend a lot of time studying other’s work?
Iván: I find the wargame scene and some of the designs suffer from a lack of professionalism in general and that shows in games graphics as well. We are a small family, with its advantages and disadvantages. Love the old SPI covers and my goal is to give my games the overall sense of professionalism that the Victory Games products distilled, with those superb bi tonal rulebooks, flawlessly laid out. I’m always in search of new references and some of the strongest influences lately have been Olivier Revenu (Battles Magazine), Nils Johansson (Maori Wars) and Kim Paqvalin (UP Games). I want to be them when I grow up!
Grant: What games are you currently working on?
Iván: I’m currently working on three projects. One about the end of the siege on Sevastopol in 1942, based on the mechanics of my Santa Cruz 1797 from Bellica 3G, Granada: Last Stand of the Moors from Compass Games and a last project which I cannot talk of yet. Besides, I’ve been collaborating with Cuartel General a wargames fanzine and The Merry Mushmen an Old School RPG zine.
Grant: Where do you see your wargaming design career in 5 years?
Iván: I would love to make this my main occupation, as difficult as it is that the the wargaming market is such a small niche. So I do not disregard trying to broaden my work sights to other kinds of games. Anyway I will still be enjoying and learning from this wonderful hobby.
Grant: What is your grail design? Any specific company that you would love to design for but just haven’t had the opportunity yet?
Iván: I feel like Victory Games designs were like the peak of wargame design, reaching the level of production of the humblest of its titles would be my dream. Nevertheless, I love how today’s publishers pursue depicting military history in innovative ways. I feel like GMT leads the way in this subject, with lots of first-line designers and, at the same time, think I could contribute to them with my particular vision of art and how it should be applied to wargaming.
Grant: What type of software and hardware do you use for design?
Iván: I use a mix of traditional drawing (pencil & nib) with Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator.
Thanks for your time Iván. I know that you are busy working on several new projects but appreciate that you were willing to share your story and give us a little bit of insight into the life of a graphic designer. You have a very impressive list of games that you have done graphics for and I look forward to enjoying your work for years to come.