Ooooohhhh we’ve got a real treat for you this week! Silvio Porretta, Atari and Neversoft’s graphic artist guru stopped by to answer a few (or quite a lot) of our questions about the final days of the Atari Jaguar and of course the seminal Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater!
Silvio, fantastic to have you here at Arcade Attack! Your back catalogue is well know but how did you first get the opportunity to enter the video game industry in the first place?
Completely by chance. I learned to create 2D animations and bitmap graphics in my bedroom for fun. I always loved movies, comic books, role playing games, fantasy and sci-fi, etc… Video games seemed to offer all of that and more in one format. One day I met this young French man while exchanging pirated games, and he told me that he had a small gaming company and could use my help as an artist/designer. That same person, Francois-Yves Bertrand, is responsible for getting me a job at Atari and then Activision years later.
What was the first ever video game you worked on?
Blaston for the Amiga 500 and Arcade. I had full creative control and worked for free. It was fun.
Fight for Life was Atari’s last ever Jaguar game released. How does it feel that you worked on this piece of gaming history?
The thing that I’m really proud of is the fact that I had to learn texture mapping in just a few weeks and became very good at it. Not many people could do what I was doing at the time.
Do you have a personal favorite character in Fight for Life?
Maybe I did but I don’t remember. Maybe the girl in red with the high boots, or the marine type of guy. I still have my artwork from that era and my favorite drawing is a close up portrait of the Devil.
There are strong rumors that the released Fight for Life was not fully completed and rushed to meet the release deadline. Is this true, and if, so how much pressure did you feel while working on this title?
Not so much. All I had to do is learn the new tools and adapt quickly. I always delivered and the president of Atari was very satisfied with my work. I think the pressure was mostly on FYB.
It is also rumored that a fabled more complete version of the game was completed by FYB but never released. Do you know if he or anyone else has the complete version of the game anywhere, and if so, how different was this version to the released game?
It’s possible that FYB has a more complete, unreleased version of the game. He would be the only person to have such version. I would think that the difference would only be in the performance and maybe a few improved animations.
Did you work on any other Atari Jaguar titles that were never released?
Only on a conceptual level. FYB had a very prolific imagination and he would always ask me to develop visual concepts for the various design ideas he’d come up with.
You worked at Atari during a very interesting point in their history. Can you describe the atmosphere in the Atari offices and how did you feel when the company went bankrupt?
The atmosphere was grim and heavy, it was clear that something was up. There were rumors that things weren’t going so well at the company and we were pressured by our supervisor to push our limits. But here’s the thing – I worked at Atari without a work visa, so basically I was an illegal alien working for a big US corporation. You see the irony here? Atari’s lawyer was working on my paperwork but it’s a long and tedious process, so while I was waiting I had to leave the country every three months just for a few days and then get a new tourist visa when I’d come back. I did it once with no problem by flying back to France. Unfortunately the second time around I went to Vancouver and the officer at customs became very suspicious, and refused to grant me access back to the country. I called FYB right away and that’s how I learned that Atari had just fired everyone at the company. Perfect timing! I was stuck in Vancouver Canada with no way to get back in the country, so eventually I flew back to Paris leaving all my personal belongings in the US. It was a bit depressing as I thought that I’d never be able to go back to the US, until Activision flew me to Los Angeles in early 1996 for an interview.
How did you get the opportunity to work on the awesome Tony Hawk’s games?
I transitioned from Activison to Neversoft in the summer of 1998. I helped wrap up Apocalypse for the PSX and I guess my work impressed some people at the studio. I was then offered the Art Lead position on a skateboarding game months before Tony signed up. I went all in with this project and it became the iconic title we all know about (woohoo!!! – Ed). I was the Lead Artist, which was pretty much the same as being the Art Director. I defined the entire look of the game and oversaw a team of artists.
Did you ever get to meet Tony Hawk in person, and if so, what was he like to work with?
Of course I did, and many other pro-skater legends as well. Tony was very involved in the development of the game on various levels. He’s a very nice guy and very business oriented.
After your work on the Tony Hawk games you moved on to some more indie titles and co-founded Last Legion Games. How do you look back at this time of your career and did you have more freedom when working on games?
Before AltEgo I moved to New York in 2001 where I co-founded my first indie company, Invasiv Studios. It was a personal interest to take a different approach with the making of games. To me, games must be considered as an art form to some extent, not just a product.
You have worked on other creative projects in between your amazing career in gaming. Can you explain a few other projects you have been involved in and how do they compare to working in the games industry?
Creating art pieces shown in galleries or magazines is incredibly fulfilling as I can let my imagination go without worrying about any technical limitations or what the audience would think. I’ve always seen games as an art form, but a limited art form that doesn’t really let you express your creative side. For example, in art there is no censorship, and you can also touch political and social issues or anything that matters to you. There are no boundaries. Art is an expressive medium and a catalyst of creative energy while games are a form of entertainment and a product. Both are very different and I am an artist before being a game maker.
Out of all the artwork you have created for numerous video games over the years, which game and art are you most proud of?
Surprisingly THPS was certainly the most boring game I ever worked on, at least from a creative perspective. But in terms of research and the amount of personal involvement I put in to understand and fit in the skate scene, I would say that this is the work I’m most proud of. It wasn’t only about creating nice visuals but also it forced me to go out there on the field and really breathe the skate culture.
You have created work for both 2D games (Blaston) and 3D games (such as Pitfall 3D and Apocalypse). Is there a big difference and skillset needed when working on these two types of games and which style do you personally prefer?
It’s becoming increasingly easier yet more complex to make games. The mindset behind making a 2D game vs a 3D game is very different. Back in the 16-bit days you had to think in terms of pixels with very limited color palettes and animation frames. While working in 3D you have to think in terms of 3D space as opposed to two dimensional worlds. In my opinion it takes a lot more effort and skills to create a 2D or PSX style 3D game than it does today with all the new tools and almost no limitations. I don’t have a preference, 2D and 3D are very different and require a different thinking and artistic approach, yet they complement each other.
What are your personal favourite video games of all time?
There have been many over the years but Ico has a special place in my heart. Recently I played Zelda: Breath of the Wild with my 8 year old daughter for over 400 hours and I’ve got to say, this game blew my mind on many levels.
You are now back in the video game industry working for Neobards. What games can we expect to see from you in the near future?
Sorry, I must keep my mouth shut. I will only say that it’s a PS4 title. Also, I’m still waiting for my work visa so I’m technically not working with Neobards yet.
If you could share a few drinks with a video game character who would you choose and why?
Link would be boring. Mario annoying. The girl from Mirrors Edge is pretty. But I’d like to have drinks with a bad guy, a big bad dude who would have endless stories to share. A dude who certainly doesn’t have many friends and who’s been hated by many over the years. Bowser would be my choice. I’m sure that guy can hold his liquor.
Can’t argue with that! Thanks for stopping by Silvio, we wish you all the best for the future!