Jason Nobriga (Jamdat Mobile/EA) – Interview

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So, here’s a funny story. A while ago, Adrian did a great podcast on Thrill Kill the slightly underwhelming but extremely controversial fighting game that was canned by EA. He thought he’d found Thrill Kill graphic artist Jason Nobriga but it turns out Jason never worked on the game! He has however worked on the excellent strategy game Chaos Overlords and lots of those Tetris offshoots you will have enjoyed. Here’s an interesting Q&A with the non-Thrill Kill artist! And he lives in Hawaii so we’re mega mega jealous.

 

What are your earliest and fondest memories of playing video games while growing up?

That would be back in 1978-79, it was the first time I saw Space Invaders, I would follow some of the older kids on our bmx bikes and we would visit the local pizza joint called “Magoo’s” in Honolulu. Everyone was hyping over this game, when I finally got to see it and play it…it stressed me out!!!

I was horrible playing it and being 11 years old with empty pockets half the time, going thru quarters under a few minutes was a waste of money to me, I would rather spend the money on comics and I did.

 

How did you first get the opportunity to enter the video game industry?

In 1993, I met through some musician friends of mine a computer engineer buddy of theirs, John Morris. All my friends knew I was into comics and drawing (nothing professional at that point) and they told me that their programmer friend John was looking for an artist to start working on some games, and I was intrigued. Eventually we met, and I was embarrassed because as we were talking, I had no experience with computers, and thought he would just look me over and not offer me to work with him. But I was wrong. He told me “I can teach you that stuff, I need someone who can draw.” And that was the beginning for me getting into computer graphics. Learning “Color it” & “Painter” the poor-man’s Photoshop, I loved it.

I didn’t know what computers were capable of at that time. From there on, John and his brother Jim were programmers, along with their life long friend William Chow who was their game designer & artist, Chris Nelson, SFX and composer formed Stick Man Games. It took a year out of our time to complete. Mind you, most of us had full time jobs, so I would come home after work and get started creating assets on John’s computer and within a few months I had enough money to buy my own Apple Power Mac 6100! Lol! I was so happy. I would stay up as long as I could to create the characters.

 

 

What was your exact role on the PC classic, Chaos Overlords?

Primary role was artist. Concepts on the characters, UI & very rudimentary 2D & 3D animation, game tester/guinea pig. Being with Stick Man Games, those guys showed me an whole different world of PC games I didn’t know existed. They introduced games like Myst by Cyan, Syndicate (and a few years later) Marathon by Bungie. That. Was. Fun.

But the game development of Chaos Overlords was hard for me game design wise, The way to balance the game and its economics just confused the hell out of me. I would really doze off in design meetings.

I just wanted to draw.

 

Chaos Overlords incorporated a clever turn based element to a Syndicate style game. What games or other media helped inspire the creation of this dystopian cyberpunk title?

I think you nailed it. The pure inspiration was Syndicate, along with that old cult classic movie “The Warriors” which William Chow (Game Designer & artist) loved growing up and told me that when he saw that movie he wanted to make a game that incorporates tons of gangs to battle. Those two combinations were the core of Chaos Overlords’ birth.

 

Chaos Overlords developer John Morris started work on a sequel in 2006, yet it is still be completed. Did you ever start work on this game or know why it has taken so long to be developed?

There were a few attempts over the years to get CO2 started. Unfortunately, there was always commitment issues along way. Sometimes my schedule didn’t allow it, or when it did John’s schedule would shift.

The older we got, life really got in the way. When we were doing the 1st Chaos Overlords in 1996, we were all in our mid twenties, back in 2006 and there was another attempt in 2013-ish, I brought in another artist whom was interested in jumping aboard, Chris Won, very talented artist whom I worked with at Tetris Online. We were going to get funding with one of those fundraiser sites, but that fizzled out very quickly.

I haven’t had contact with John Morris in several years, so I’m not sure what his plans are at the moment.

 

Do you personally feel we will ever get to see the sequel and if so, is this a project you would be keen to work on again?

I hope there is a sequel, but I’m 50/50 on the game. My art style has changed, and there are so many talented young artists out there that will have more of a visual impact than I could ever do now.

 

 

You are probably best known for your stellar artwork on numerous high quality mobile games. How did you get the opportunity to move away from more standard PC and console games to work on mobile?

After Chaos Overlords, Stick Man was slated to do another game, and at that time 3DO had just purchased New World Computing, we were a few months into the new project till 3DO ended all third party developers which included Stick Man Games, after that I pursued doing freelance editorial illustration work locally & nationally.

Several years passed, and John Morris again called me with the opportunity to do graphic work for mobile games, mainly Tetris. This was the beginning of a good run for me working on various mobile & Facebook with different dev groups over the years.

 

Can you explain the main differences with working on a mobile game as opposed to a PC title?

As for my process, not much difference. As far as scheduling goes, big difference, especially with online games. Online games, there are always updates with bugs or features, there was a time crunch for that. PC products, at least back in the day, we worked on a game for 1 to 2 years then released the project hoping all the bugs were fixed.

 

You have worked on many highly praised Tetris titles. Have you always been a fan of this series and can you recall the first time you played this classic game?

I think the first time was back in the early 90’s on a Apple SE. I thought it was really cool. At that point I didn’t think I would ever do work for them.

 

 

How do you aim to refresh and show innovation to the relatively simple game mechanics of Tetris when you start a new game in the series?

Tricky question. There is balance of what’s new and what needs to stay familiar with that title, you are not allowed to change things but there is freedom in other aspects.

I basically would research what other dev groups have done in the past and avoid it, but there is a lot of back and forth with the visuals, with TTC and getting its approval to proceed.

 

Out of all the Tetris games you have worked on, do you have a personal favourite and can you explain why?

I would say the 4th Gen Apple Video iPod 2005/06? Mainly because I was art directing and doing the most of the concept work for it. We (Jamdat Mobile) found out that they were going to dev for that device ( it wasn’t on the market yet) . We needed to create a demo for it within two weeks. Luckily we made the deadline with some great feedback on the project from Steve Jobs himself (at least that’s what I was told by the higher ups at Jamdat).

 

What was it like working at EA compared to other companies and do you feel their sometimes badly tarnished name in the gaming industry is unfair?

I never really followed what was said about them, but during the time I had working for them after they had purchased Jamdat, there was a lot of mixed feelings with the merger, some predicted exactly what eventually happened to the dev group.

They mainly wanted the I.P. and picked apart our dev studio the following year. But up until that time. I had lots of fun… Lol!

 

Have you ever had the chance to meet with Alexey Pajitnov and if not, would this be dream of yours?

Not really a dream of mine, but he we often visit Henk Rogers when we were still Blue Lava Wireless, Henk would introduce Alexey to the dev group, so I got to meet him very very briefly.

 

 

I initially contacted you about your supposed work on Thrill Kill, an unreleased PSX title. I now know you never worked on this title. Do you have any personal opinions or recollections of this game, and maybe an idea of why it was cancelled at the last minute?

Sorry I don’t know.

 

Where is the best place for our readers to learn more about your games or artwork?

I don’t really have too much online presence anymore, the best place to start is to visit www.jasonnobriga.com, and I’m more than happy to answer any questions from there.

 

What games or projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently working with an ex-coworker from TOA on a iPhone & Android format. I can’t say anymore than that. 🙂

 

If you could share a few drinks with a video game character, who would you choose and why?

Odd question (we’re odd people – Ed). lol. Maybe Duke Nuke’em.

 

Adrian

 

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