David Fernandez Huerta is the art director at ustwo games and will be at GDC 2018 to present the talk The Art of Monument Valley 2, which will discuss the ways in which the Monument Valley team solidified a vision for the game and all the challenges that came with making that vision a reality. Here, Fernandez Huerta gives us information about himself and what he does.
Tell us about yourself and what you do in the games industry.
My name is David Fernández Huerta, I’m the lead artist at ustwo games and the Art Director of Monument Valley 2. I’ve been making games since I was a teenager and started as a professional 10 years ago. My favourite thing about games is the way in which you can tell stories through interaction and art while keeping the experience simple and elegant. I think the power of interaction (especially surprising and unexpected ones) makes games the most exciting art form to work on.
What inspired you to pursue your career?
I had been making games on my own since I was 13, but never thought of it as a career option. They were always a thing on the side, even if I cared deeply about them. I went on to study Fine Arts at university, focusing on illustration and film making, but those disciplines didn’t quite fulfill my creative aspirations. One day I was checking the website of a games company and saw that they had a ‘jobs’ section. They were looking for a game director with ten years of experience. I saw that and thought “maybe in ten years I can be directing games as well”. I think realising that games are made by real, actual people that look for jobs and have lives inspired me to pursue a career in the games industry myself.
Without spoiling it too much, tell us what you’ll be talking about at GDC.
My talk is going to be about the Art of Monument Valley 2, and I’m going to show lots of behind the scenes pictures of the making of the game, all the inspiration behind the visuals of the game, and before and after screenshots during development. I will focus on the ever changing nature of our way of working and how we faced the challenges of making a sequel to a successful game.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your work?
Being an Art Director in a small team means that you have to do a lot of the hands-on work and also make sure that your team is happy and productive. Teamwork is one of the best things about making games, but it’s hard work!
What are the most rewarding parts of your job?
The first is that I get to work with the most amazing team of people one could ever hope for, who have also become my closest friends and family in a country strange to me. Second, I really love making art for games, coming up with crazy visual and storytelling solutions and all that minute to minute process of making games. And third, the amount of love that we get from both the community and peers in the industry is just breathtaking. I feel like I am one of the luckiest people in the world.
The first Monument Valley was a very unique project in many ways, and one of them is that it pretty much started with the visuals. Our former lead designer, Ken Wong, is also an excellent artist, and the original piece of concept art that inspired the team to work on the game was very similar in tone and qualities to the final game. Since then we’ve been very aware of the power of an inspiring piece of art and we encourage our artists to come up with game ideas with the starting point of the visuals to help the team get excited about future projects.
That said, we did go through many iterations for the level of detail, tone, colour, etc. both in Monument Valley and Monument Valley 2, and finding the right balance was a very long process, but having started with such a strong visual identity made all the difference.
I’m sure there was a lot of work that didn’t make the final cut. What happens to any assets that go unused?
With the original Monument Valley we gave a second chance to some of the unused ideas or unfinished thoughts in the DLC Forgotten Shores, or at least that was the initial intention. Then we got carried away and probably around 90% of the content was brand new. We had the odd puzzle here and there that came back from the dead, but they were only a handful. Probably the biggest comeback was the Oubliette level, which had had several versions made for the original game but none remained, and was re-designed from scratch for the expansion. On the other hand, for the second DLC, Ida’s Dream, we used several bits that we didn’t manage to turn into full levels for Forgotten Shores but we still wanted to release, so we made some sort of “best of the unused” mega level, and it turned out a fan favourite.
For Monument Valley 2 we created an incredible amount of work that went unused, and there are some parts that I still really like, but so far we have no plans for those lost levels. I think if we end up making more Monument Valley 2 content it will be mostly new material, as everyone in the team feels they can do better work now after all the lessons of having made the whole game first.
Do you have any advice for those aspiring to join your field someday?
Make your own games as much as possible, work with other people if you can, and make sure you test your games with people all the time to learn what works best. And be ready to change your mind.