Background illustrator needed!

Update: We’ve received a surprising number of submissions from many many talented artists! I’m going to shut this down while we go through them all. Thanks everyone for spreading the word!

Exocolonist is looking for an illustrator for contract work. Mainly to work on the background art for dialog scenes. Sarah Webb started us off with plenty of amazing concept art, as well as part of the backgrounds we need. We were sad to see her go – you can follow her exciting new work at Cartoon Network here!

So we are looking to match an existing style:

Beautiful, right? I love these sooooo much.

There are another 20-30 illustrations left to do (more if we have to redraw the existing ones). This might be something like 3-6 months of full time work, or up to a year part time, working remotely.

Update: I’ll let you know when we have new background art to show!

Inspirations for Exocolonist

It’s been a year since I announced I’m working on I Was a Teenage Exocolonist, and may be another year yet before you can play it. But it’s about time I tell you a little more about it… starting with what inspired me to make it in the first place.

Let me tell you about my favorite Japanese game series, Princess Maker:

Princess maker 1
Princess maker, Gainax, 1991

I’ve gushed about these games before. I admit it – I’m obsessed with them.

You play the adopted parent of a girl who could grow up to be anything – not just a princess, though that’s a traditional goal. You manage her time, scheduling her school or work or leisure activities every month.

Babysitting in PM2

Babysitting in PM2
Babysitting and magic training in Princess Maker 2

It’s a life sim game, and though it seems like every franchise from Assassin’s Creed to GTA is part life simulator now, there’s something especially charming to raising a character with skills like Temperament and Decorum and Housework, who might never touch a weapon or have an adventure in her life and might grow up to be a farmer or an innkeeper.

And that’s just fine.

Princess Maker 3
Princess Maker 3 endings

Yeah… your little girl could also become a sexy sorceress or a prostitute. Or marry you, her own father. Titillating! Sexist!! But in other ways open minded, empowering, and empathetic, especially in the later games in the series.

I used fan patches and clumsy auto-translation software to play the Princess Maker games (which are now on Steam, although the official translations aren’t great). I ate up games inspired by them like Cute Knight and Long Live the Queen from the distinguished Georgina Bensley (Hanako Games).

Emotions matter in Long Live the Queen
Emotions are key in Long Live the Queen by Hanako Games

There’s been a spate of magical-boarding-school inspired ones, including Magical Diary (also Hanako – with a sequel coming soon), Academagia, and Littlewitch Romanesque, which are interesting because I prototyped something similar myself in 2008 (then made Rebuild 1 instead).

More recently I’ve been playing the painfully true-to-life Chinese Parents which adds a factor of emotional abuse the child must endure as they study for exams.

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Dad
Thanks for the vote of confidence, Dad…
Not you too Mom!
Not you too Mom!

What I love about these games isn’t the fantasy of actually being a parent (no thanks!). It’s the idea of living a life in a small span of time, and seeing how it turns out, then doing it again.

I can trace my love of life sims back further, past The Sims and the Creatures games and the original Tamagotchi, to a funny Sierra game called Jones in the Fast Lane from the early 90s. It was loosely based on board games like the Game of Life: you go to school, get a job, eat fast food and try to acquire stuff in the cynical modern world. The CD version had hilarious voice acting from the Sierra staff that is forever ingrained in my head.

Jones in the Fast lane, Sierra, 1990

I Was a Teenage Exocolonist has its roots in simulated life games like these. It has other elements too: visual novel, collectible card game… but in the Exocolonist code the main character class file is named ‘Princess.cs’ as a nod to Princess Maker and these other games.

Sarah Northway – My Time as a VR Artist

This was originally posted on the Oculus blog for International Women’s day in March 2019.

At 17, I applied for my first ever tech job with the words “jack of all trades” at the top of my resume. I figured this was a good thing; it meant I was flexible and good at everything I did. Employers, unsurprisingly, saw it as a mark of aimlessness, and a career adviser told me to pick one thing and focus on it.

I chose my greatest love, programming, and in the fullness of time I got pretty decent at it. But I wanted more: to invent, craft systems, write, illustrate and design graphics. So after 10 years as a coder, I quit and went indie.

Sunlight in the tropics made me squint... worth it!
Sunlight in the tropics made me squint… worth it!

My husband Colin and I spent 5 years traveling the world and making our own small independent games. My first game Rebuild was hugely successful, and solo: I’d done all the design, writing, code, and art myself. It was a flat 2d game of course, because I wouldn’t touch 3d models with a 10 foot pole. I’d taken stabs at all the software – 3DS Max, Maya, Blender, ZBrush – and bounced off each one. I couldn’t get my head around the camera angles; I’d wreck things in the Z axis while working in the X and Y. Watching professionals, I felt I’d need years just to memorize all the hotkeys required to use those tools effectively. I swore I’d never make a 3d game.

Until… VR.

Tilt Brush to be exact. I tried a private demo, waving my arms around to paint great huge solid lines of light. I was completely taken by the medium. My husband was too, and we immediately switched gears and teamed up with Radial Games to write Fantastic Contraption VR, a puzzle game where you grab and snap tinker-toy-like pieces together to make lifesized vehicles. It used those same large arm movements we found so neat in Tilt Brush.

Don Piano by Sarah Northway, Tilt Brush + Audio, 2017
Don Piano by Sarah Northway, Tilt Brush + Audio, 2017

I stayed deeply into Tilt Brush. Some of the early sample art packaged with it was mine. And I’m not – well, I had never considered myself to be an artist. I just found it so incredibly intuitive and easy to use. If you want to draw a line from here to there, you just… move your arm from here to there. Nothing like the frustrations I’d had with traditional 3d modeling software.

I wondered if I could make art assets for a VR game inside VR, and the answer was oh yes you can!

Trees made in Gravity Sketch
Trees made in Gravity Sketch

After some experimenting with tools like Medium, Quill, and MasterpieceVR, I discovered Gravity Sketch, and used it to make a little (unreleased) game about gardening on an alien planet. I modeled while sitting cross-legged on my bed, scaling and rotating the object in front of me as I tweaked it, leaning over it to see details, scaling it up to get a sense of how it would feel in the game. The hand motions in Gravity Sketch are so natural, and the basic functions – draw, move, rotate, copy, undo, all mapped to a different button to make creation flow so effortlessly.

I’ve seen the future of 3d modeling, and this is it.

Made in Gravity Sketch
Made in Gravity Sketch

Along the way Colin and I found ourselves in the VR community, and time and again we were intrigued by the incredible art being created. Like Cabbibo’s liquid iridescent creatures made from math, Liz Edward’s paintings which become your whole world when you step into them, or Sean Tann’s interactive rainbow experiments.

VR is a new artistic medium, and the artists experimenting it are wonderfully unbounded in their ideas. We wanted to help connect these artists and share their creations with the world, which is what brought us to create The Museum of Other Realities.

MOR lobby featuring Fruit Tree by Sarah Northway, Gravity Sketch, 2017.
MOR lobby featuring Fruit Tree by Sarah Northway, Gravity Sketch, 2017.

Initially, the MOR was a series of self-enclosed art experiences by a variety of VR-centric artists, joined together via a lobby area with entrances to each one. Entirely digital, the lobby was styled as a traditional brick-and-mortar art gallery with neutral white walls and smaller pieces of art on pedestals.

We thought it’d be neat to make the lobby area multiplayer, so visitors could get that legit museum vibe while watching strangers come and go, or chatting with friends before and after the experiences. The MOR – still in early alpha – began holding monthly “release” parties where all the artists logged on from their respective VR rigs to check out the new exhibit and connect with each other.

MOR multiplayer featuring dresses by Anand Duncan
MOR multiplayer featuring dresses by Anand Duncan

Gradually, the separate experiences fell away and the lobby took over the entire project. Today the MOR (still in alpha) contains nearly 100 works from 30 artists. There are full-room art pieces which move and flow around you, interactive dance halls with ribbons of color, tiny dioramas you can teleport down into, a bar and cocktails you can clink, mysterious floating alien jellyfish, motion captured musicians, photogrammetry villages, wearable dresses, roaring dinosaurs, laughing skeletons, spaceships, and at least a couple Sarah Northway originals, made in Tilt Brush.

I have since moved on to my next thing, but Colin and a growing team are still working on the Museum of Other Realities – beta version now available. If you are a VR artist and want to be involved, please get in touch!

I Was a Teenage Exocolonist!

Exocolonist Logo

Here’s what I’ve been working on!

I started I Was a Teenage Exocolonist a little over a year ago, and am aiming to release it in early 2021. Yep, she’s a big girl! Part life sim, part card game, and all young adult science fiction goodness. A couple months ago I teamed up with two fabulously talented artists, Meilee Chao and Sarah Webb, and thanks to them the game feels more real every week.

Pomona Colony - your home
Pomona Colony – your new home

Setting: You’re 10 years old when your colony ship finally lands on the planet Vertumna. Your parents are geoponics engineers who fled war-wrecked Earth and imagined living a simple, peaceful life on a new planet. Hah! Not so much. Vertumna’s covered in thick jungle and fraught with alien monsters and strange phenomena. But to you – a teenager who suddenly has an entire world at their feet – it’s all opportunity.

Exocolonist takes place over 10 years, with time advancing every week as you decide how to spend it. Inspired by life sims like Princess Maker, you can do things like work in your parent’s greenhouses, or learn to repair the colony’s failing robots, or join a survey crew to explore the jungle. Each raises certain skills and gives you different opportunities to help your colony. The game ends when you turn 20 – assuming you and the colony survive that long. Who you become is up to you.

Exocolonist characters - concept art
Exocolonist characters – concept art by Meilee Chao

For years I’ve wanted to write a book, specifically YA science fiction. Exocolonist is scratching that itch for me. It’s more narrative-focused than Rebuild 3; closer to a visual novel or game book. I custom wrote the parser and have over 1000 events roughed out in the game. Yep: big.

There are 10 dateable characters in Exocolonist (and I may be adding a secret 11th!). They go through puberty with you, through innocence and awkwardness, all those hormones and stupid decisions. I’m getting in touch with my inner teen for this and it’s not pretty. But yeah, you can get down with some of them if you play your cards right.

Exocolonist Megafauna - by Sarah Webb
Exocolonist Megafauna – concept art by Sarah Webb

Cards! That was a pun! Because Exocolonist also has a card-based battle system. This part is still in early design, but the idea is that your deck is made up of memories: all the decisions you make and events you witness become abilities to use in battle. And “battle” can be any kind of challenge you face, like taking a math test, or calming a crying kid you’re babysitting, or performing at a talent show, or… rescuing your teacher from tentacle-faced horrors.

I’ll be posting more development updates here, and you can join the mailing list for important announcements. I may be doing a Kickstarter campaign and/or Early Access, and the target release date is for Steam PC/Mac in early 2021, but a lot could change in that time!

What the heck have we been working on?

It’s waaaay past time for an update. Here’s what Colin and I (Sarah) got up to for the past 2 years. With the power of source control, I can look into the past and see exactly when everything happened!

October 2016: I created a new repo for a project called “There”. Colin was fascinated by the incredible art and experiences people were creating in VR, and wanted a central place where people could go to enjoy it. It was initially going to be a monthly bundle of VR toys and interactive art connected through a free multiplayer lobby. Over time the lobby grew to become the gallery itself – now known as the Museum of Other Realities.

Skull Island by Cabbibo
Skull Island by Cabbibo – one of the original artists featured in the MOR

January 2017: After we added the Level Editor to Fantastic Contraption VR in version 1.6.0, we handed the project off to co-creators Radial Games. They optimized the bejeezus out of it and brought it to the PS VR and Windows MR later that year. Meanwhile…

February 2017: Designer Robin Stethem joined the MOR team. I left to prototype my own VR games.

March 2017: One prototype became Machete Garden, a VR game about exploration and farming on an alien planet. I created the art for it inside my Vive using Gravity Sketch and Tilt Brush. I got all excited about the future of graphics tools, having found 3D modelling suddenly so intuitive and easy in VR. I enjoyed working on the art, something I haven’t done for many of my games.

Machete Garden
Machete Garden – by Sarah Northway

April 2017: Colin sent out the first multiplayer pre-alpha build of the MOR (called TH-er at the time) to friends and VR artists. The online space was a hit, and monthly updates have followed since then, with a private virtual party to celebrate each time a new exhibit or gallery wing is added.

Anchored by Danny Bitman
Anchored by Danny Bitman – one of the first exhibits in the MOR

May 2017: Maris Tammik and Em Halberstadt from A Shell in the Pit Audio began adding sound to the MOR.

August 2017: I shelved Machete Garden.

I just couldn’t see myself wanting to play this game, as it was more about enjoying the space and discovering new species than any serious strategy. I’d hoped to release it through one of the MOR’s monthly interactive experience bundles, but as that project pivoted towards an art gallery I had to consider releasing Machete Garden as a standalone game. I felt that would be pointless unless I radically deepened the gameplay.

I was also sick to death of fighting with 3D physics and optimizing 3D graphics. And finally, I wanted to tell the story of why you’d volunteered to come to this lonely planet, but was faced with having to do it using full voice recording and no justifiable budget. I decided some of these problems may just solve themselves in a few years, and decided to put Machete Garden – and VR – aside for now.

Machete Garden
RIP Machete Garden – for now

Also August 2017: I started a new game, initially codenamed Princess of Mars and now called I Was a Teenage Exocolonist. More about it soon!

January 2018: The Museum of Other Realities was incorporated into its own thing separate from Northway Games. It’s so big you can easily get lost in it now. 30+ works range from intricate tilt brush pieces on pedestals, to recreated 3D photogrammetry ruins, to a whimsical rainbow dance room, to a giant skull filled with creepy cackling skeletons.

Skeletons by Liz Edwards - insane cackling by Em
Skeletons by Liz Edwards in the MOR – deranged giggling by Em

April 2018: The MOR was so bursting at the seams with art that Colin and Robin added a second floor. They started experimenting with a donation system, and a strange crypto currency art-purchasing experiment featuring works by John Orion Young.

Don't Panic by John Orion Young
Don’t Panic by John Orion Young – featured in the MOR

August 2018: After trying to do all my own art for Exocolonist, I came to my senses and hired two artists to bring my game to life. And this brings us more or less to today. More about Exocolonist including concept art in my next post!