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Baker's Dozen
Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.

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BAKER'S DOZEN for 04/21/2004
Hittin' the Habitrails

Gary Clair on Hamsterball

I first met Gary Clair a handful of years back through my good bud, the media artist and all around Renaissance man, Matt Busch. Gary, an ex-student of Matt's who works in those fabled studios in California, the land of never-ending options and fine expense account business lunches, needed a place to crash during his visit to that year's edition of the International Comic Con--San Diego. Matt more than vouched for Mr. Clair, and so he was in as an official roomie. Which turned out was a very fine thing, indeed. Gary's good people.

And he's a very fine cartoonist, which even a cursory glance at his one panel cartoons or even sketches proves, as well as a fine designer and imaginative storyteller. There are all kinds of good things I could say concerning the subject of Gary's creative abilities, but one of the things I love most about Gary's work is his truly extraordinary ability to add just the right nuances or slightly skewed viewpoint to push his subjects, and the viewer, into a place rarely seen or imagined.

Which brings us to the topic of Hamsterball, the award-winning game which Gary worked on, and the story of how he got involved in helping to create a game that offers players a decidedly different view of the world.

Hamsterball

Bill Baker: So why is the game called Hamsterball, and what can you tell us about the basic storyline and ultimate goal of the game without giving too much away?

Gary Clair: It was designed to be like a classic arcade game. And like most games of that genre, there isn't much of a story. You play a hamster in a ball who is in a race on a crazy obstacle course. The ultimate goal is to be the fastest racer, and to see what the next obstacle course is going to be.

Hamsterball Screenshot

BB: What formats is Hamsterball available in at present?

Hamsterball loader GC: Hamsterball is a classic arcade style game for the PC available to download through www.raptisoft.com They plan to do a MAC version, if the PC version does well.

BB: Who's the game designed to appeal to?

GC: It was designed to appeal and to be challenging to the hardcore gamer. But after early testing, most people couldn't get past the 3rd level! So they added varying difficult levels so everyone could play it.

BB: So how'd you get involved with helping to create the game, and what were some of your major contributions to it?

GC: I was brought on to do character designs, obstacles and levels for the game. They only used bits and pieces of my level designs. Something that would take me minutes to imagine, and an hour to design, could take them weeks to program. So they just took elements of my design and added it to their work. I also did the rank illustrations.

BB: Did you have any input or suggestions into the actual play aspects of the game, or were you limited to just doing the visual designs?

GC: They stopped asking me after I suggested that a level should take place through Richard Gere's colon, and the finishing line would be the hamster ball shooting of his anus. [General laughter]

Can you imagine what a seller that would be? Especially if we got him to endorse it? "Richard Gere's Hamsterballs?" I think that would sell like pancakes, and Then they could turn it into a 3d amusement park ride. Cha-ching!

"Coming soon to Orlando Florida's Universal Studios...

"Journey through Richard Gere's colon in a Hamsterball" ... they could have Cirque de Soleil dangling from his butt hairs! I smell a hit! [Still more laughter]

Hamsterball Screenshot

BB: So, how involved did you get in the whole process of visually designing the game? For instance, did you have draw up every aspect of the environment, or did you deal only with the primary characters and elements of their environs?

GC: They mainly wanted me to do level designs for inspiration. They took my designs and they used what they liked, and disregarded the rest. I was hired mostly as an 'idea guy' and to do the ranking illustrations. There was a cool feature that they were working on, but I'm not sure if it's on this build of the game, or if they are saving it for the next game, which was an "Uh-Oh! Boss Button". If you are playing at work, and your boss comes around the cubicle corner, you'd push the 'enter' or 'Esc' key on your keyboard and it'd instantly pause your game and minimize it. Something faster than the Alt+Tab keys. It's something I wish all games had. I got busted recently for playing "Battlefield: Vietnam" The Alt+Tab locked up on me and froze the screen. I tried passing it off as 'collecting foliage references'. [Stifled laughter from some source] They didn't buy it either.

Hamsterball Screenshot

BB: How did you go about creating the actual designs? Did you start by putting put pencil and pen to paper, then scanned those images before working with them on the computer, did you do it all on computer, or was it perhaps more complex -- or simpler -- than all that?

GC: It was simple for me. On the levels, I would start with the starting line, and drew crazy paths and obstacles to the finish line. It was harder for the programmers to make sure all the physics worked properly. So they used what worked, and changed what didn't, and they re-did the rest. It was a fairly fast process.

I try not to draw on paper anymore -- just because I hate scanning. I draw mostly everything on the computer using a wacom, and I send all my work through e-mail. Raptisoft is in Michigan, and I live in Los Angeles. We never talked on the phone. Only through e-mails and instant messengers. Which is my preferred way of communicating.

Hamsterball Screenshot

BB: I understand the game's basically still in release, and has already garnered an award. What was your reaction to hearing about the award, and more importantly, how's the gaming public receiving Hamsterball?

GC: Yes, we won the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences "Computer Downloadable Game of the Year" Award after only being out for a month. We were surprised when we learned that we were nominated and shocked that we won. It was up against some really great games. We didn't think that many people had heard about it yet. It's been out now for two months now, and we didn't see an increase of sales because of the award. There is very little advertising of it right now, It's spreading mostly through word of mouth, and it's now on www.realarcade.com and Yahoo.com, and Microsoft contacted us about putting it on their site. So, for us, it's been a real successful game.

BB: So what are you working on next, and what else do you have planned for the future?

GC: I'm working on the digitally animated feature Foodfight! which is being produced by Threshold Entertainment who has partnered with IBM on the project. I am moonlighting on two more games for Raptisoft, and on top of that, I'm producing a comic book in my freetime. ha ha.

Gary Clair Pic

BB: OK, aside from the accolades, the big bucks and all the other perks that go along with being a big shot game designer, what do you get out of doing this kind of work?

GC: I just see the numbers of how many people have seen my work through the games I've worked on, and I think to myself "Wow". It brings a lot of pride and insecurity.

Makes me wish I would have spent more time on it. [Laughter]

BB: How about creating art, generally? What does that do for you, personally and professionally?

GC: It just fulfills a need. It's something that I have to do. I have to create... there's no way around it. If I didn't have an outlet for my imagination, I'd implode... shut down. But I've never been happy with anything I've ever drawn. I don't know if I'll ever be the artist I want to be, but right now my life is about the pursuit of that goal.

Gary Clair Pic

BB: What do you hope that folks get out of your work, be it via playing Hamsterball, or enjoying some of your drawings or animation work?

Gary Clair Pic GC: I hope that we get $19.95 from them. [General laughter] Hopefully my work will make them laugh or helps provide some form of escape from the burden of reality. That's my goal as an artist.

BB: Anything else you'd like to add?

GC: Hamsterball is available at www.raptisoft.com and my website [www.garyclair.com] should be up and in running in a few weeks.

******

Did I forget to mention that Gary Clair is a dangerously funny man?

Oops. Sorry about that.

If you'd like more information about Gary's work and upcoming projects ... or perhaps desperately need a reason to continue trekking through this bleak, unending and unendurable vale of tears that is this life ... you'll find that, a few belly laughs, and maybe even enlightenment at www.garyclair.com.

OK. Laughter and stuff about Clair only. But, hey, two outta three ain't bad.

Especially these days.

<< 04/14/2004 | 04/21/2004 | 04/28/2004 >>

Discuss this column with me in World Famous Comics' General Forum.
Read my weekly blog, Speculative Friction, on my website BloodintheGutters.com.


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