För oss utomstående kan det vara svårt att begripa hur mycket arbete som lades ner på spelomslag under 1980- och 90-talet. I min förra omslagsartikel om Defender of the Crown berättades om hur Cinemaware hyrde in modeller från en agentur och kläder från en Hollywood-butik.
I vintras presenterade jag på Eurogamer. se en topplista över de åtta tjusigaste spelomslagen inom fantasygenren. Vinnaren blev Dungeon Master från 1987 och givetvis känner jag mig därför manad att nysta upp berättelsen om hur även detta omslag blev till.
Att David R. Darrow illustrerat originalmålningen är ingen hemlighet; annars är det i många fall inte lätt att ta reda på vem som egentligen skapat originalgrafiken – men i Darrows fall finns han omnämnd i flera olika sammanhang. Hans signatur finns även kvar på den färdiga boxen.
I Dungeon Master Encyclopaedia berättas det kortfattat om hur omslaget blev till; en rolig anekdot är att de tre personerna på bilden inte alls var professionella modeller utan människor i Darrows omedelbara närhet – plus en helt slumpmässigt utvald kille på ett gym(!)
Följande uttalande av David Darrow är från en artikel, Mastering Chaos, av Richard Hewison i nummer 10 av Retro Gamer:
In the foreground is my now ex-wife, who had to hold a very heavy candelabra for the photos I shot for reference. The guy grabbing the torch was programmer Andy Jaros, and the muscle-dude in the background was some guy I found at a gym.
I walked into a fitness centre and asked the receptionist if there was a really huge guy there who she thought might like to pose for pictures for a ’hero video game cover’ and she went and got him. I paid him to come to my home and pose for the pictures with a fluorescent bulb in his hands as a sword. The woman’s costume was really a modified night gown, the muscle man’s stuff was invented, and Andy Jaros brought his own costume.
Yeah, he owned all that stuff!
Det där är alltså välkända fakta, men jag nöjde mig inte med detta; David R. Darrow må ha avslöjat delar av sin berättelse redan, men jag hade fler frågor jag ville ha svar på – och jag ville dessutom ha lite bildmaterial att publicera. Så jag letade helt enkelt upp honom.
Hans första svar via e-post blev kort och lite lätt avståndstagande:
Not sure I have any more cool facts [to tell], except that the word ”Master” was hand lettered separately and ”stripped in” with old-school printing techniques. I actually regret not making it part of the original art. I don’t remember why I didn’t.
Och det stämmer. Originalmålningen visades på London Science Museum och var en del av utställningen Game On, som pågick från oktober 2006 till februari 2007.
Darrows målning är tänkt att föreställa en scen som utspelar sig i prologen från manualen till Dungeon Master – vilken kanske inte alla orkade ta sig igenom.
Denna berättelse skrevs av Nancy Holder, numera välkänd och prisad skräck- och scifi-författare – och tidigare gift med FTL:s grundare, Wayne Holder. För mig var det naturligt att anta att Darrow fått i uppdrag att avbilda denna berättelse på Dungeon Masters omslag.
Riktigt så enkelt var det inte.
Illustrationen visar de tre (eller fyra) huvudkaraktärernas sista minuter i livet och fungerar som inramning till spelarens utmaning att besegra spelets antagonist, Lord Chaos. Hjältarna i målningen är Halk the Barbarian, Syra Child of Nature, Alex Ander – och Nabi the Prophet som reducerats till en hög dödskallar.
Ur manualen till Dungeon Master:
”[Syra] was as lovely as Veyla, with light brown hair and a warrior’s strong features, a gown of white falling off her shoulders[…]The muscular youth was obviously a Barbarian. The other man was, perhaps, a thief—some of the pouches on his leather belt had burst, and a handful of gems and trinkets spilled across the dirt and stone.”
I vilket fall fortsatte jag med att mailledes fråga om det fanns något material från skapandet av målningen. Darrow – fullt upptagen med att gifta bort sin son – hade inte riktigt förstått att jag höll på med en artikel, men lovade att återkomma när han hunnit leta igenom sina gömmor.
Kontakten var därmed skapad; nästa steg blev att möta David R. Darrow i egen hög person genom Skype en sen måndagsnatt. Hur kom det sig egentligen att han blev inblandad i FTL Games titlar överhuvudtaget?
The first artwork I ever did for FTL Games was the cover for the game Sundog, and that was just a fluke. I went down to meet them and we all liked each other right away, and I sketched up some ideas and they liked it.
So I was the one they definitely wanted to call when it came to Dungeon Master artwork.
I was not in the video game industry exclusively, in fact not at all; I did anything I could get my hands on to support my family. This project looked fun, because it was a videogame and I was in my 20’s. So I met with Wayne Holder and Bruce Webster, and I’d already known Wayne Holder’s name from when I got my first computer in 1984, which was a CP/M-based system. It came with a pretty impressive spell checker, for its day, and it was written by Wayne Holder. That is how he got the money to produce the game, which is something that he actually wanted to do in the first place.
You still know Wayne Holder?
Yes, I do. I’m not exactly sure where he lives, he’s since become much more private since he closed FTL Games. I’ve been in contact with him probably three times in the last five years by e-mail. I have not been in touch with him in the last two years or so.
SunDog: Frozen Legacy från 1984 var FTL Games första spel; ett slags köpmans- och rymdsimulatorspel á la Elite. Spelet släpptes ursprungligen till Apple II men portades ett år senare till Atari ST, som hädanefter blev FTL Games huvudsakliga plattform.
Med en fot inne var det självklart att Wayne Holder och Bruce Webster på FTL hörde av sig till Darrow inför Dungeon Master.
En lång diskussion mellan mig och Darrow följde, och handlade om huruvida FTL hade några idéer kring omslagets grafiska utformning, eller om han hade fritt fram att skapa något. Darrow nämnde då för första gången Andy Jaros namn, grafikmakaren bakom Dungeon Master och dess uppföljare.
I looked at the graphics they came up with in the game – it was probably mostly Andy Jaros’ work – they were very iconish, low resolution sprites.
They were kind of introducing 3D into a game, but not in a moving way; you could look down a tunnel and see that you could take a step forward, and there would perhaps be some items on the floor.
It was all very simple graphics, so I looked at what they had and realized – as they did – that just showing these simple graphics on the screen would probably not sell the game as much as the whole story, the whole involvement; the fantasy and the imagination.
So from their icons, that’s where I came up with what I fleshed out for the game. Like, the grid on the floor was based on the stuff in the game, the doors opening, the secret ways of opening doors – all this stuff was based on the little, tiny graphics they showed me when I came in.
So you did not paint from the story that Nancy Holder wrote?
I honestly don’t remember if I had that story to begin from. I’m not laying claim to inventing those characters, I don’t remember where I came up with the pile of skulls. It seem to me that I saw skulls in it, or I stole it from something Drew Struzan did in his creations for the Indiana Jones-series of movie posters and comps, because he had some pretty cool skulls in his work – and I was trying to give it a movie poster feel.
I’ve never been much of a reader and I don’t read fantasy stories, so I wasn’t interested in that as much as creating the artwork that would help sell the game – and that is one of the reasons that the cover is fairly simplistic other than the detail in the speckles and the chunks of ground. The room is fairly sparse and that was because I didn’t want to oversell it, I just wanted to contribute to a person’s imagination.
I didn’t even know what a role-playing game was, or any of this dungeon stuff, before I got into it; I was kind of the outsider of the whole community.
And they just bought your first suggestion right away?
No, I did a lot of little sketches for them, I don’t remember how many – five or ten at the most – of different perspectives. But this was the one that I thought communicated kind of a combination of bringing a movie look to it and also involving the very simple graphics that were actually in the game.
Since they had the artwork some nine months before the game came out, the artwork may have influenced the story. It would make a whole lot of sense that, if she had not written the synopsis yet, to just go ahead and use the artwork and make it look like it was a well though-out game.
Why did you use local amateur models and not professionals?
It was mostly a budget consideration, but not altogether; I didn’t have much of a budget – or they didn’t have much of a budget – for the artwork
I was just trying to set a price for my time and effort and it was something they couldn’t afford at the time, so we agreed on a royalty thing and I cut my price in half and said:
“You know, I think this will probably do alright and I think I can help sell it with my art – so cut me in for a little piece of what you sell later”, which turned out to be a very good decision.
Dungeon Master såldes i 40.000 exemplar enbart första året, och är till dags dato den bäst säljande mjukvaran någonsin till Atari ST – med en marknadspenetration på över 50 procent av alla Atari ST som sålts. Spelet portades till bland annat Amiga 500, Apple II, PC och SNES.
Sättet Darrow och FTL skrev kontrakt var dock en smula mer oortodoxt.
It was a verbal contract, we just agreed to it. It ended up being quite a bit more than I asked for originally – which they were very happy to do, I might add. I called them after a couple of years, I hadn’t heard from them because I moved out of town, and I said “Hey, I don’t know how the game is doing – but we agreed that I was going to get so much from part of the sales, remember?” and Russ was the guy handling the finances, and he said “Oh my gosh, you’re right. We never wrote you a check!”
And several days later I got a very large check in my mail – they completely forgot about the whole thing, but completely remembered when I reminded them and sent me a check right away.
So instead of hiring models you asked your wife and the programmers?
Well, I didn’t have the luxury of hiring from a modeling agency. At that time, models probably would have cost between 75 and 125 dollars an hour – and you don’t know what you’re gonna get as far as an actor or anything else. Basically, the model agencies in San Diego are all about pretty people; so you can get a guy with muscles or a guy with good looking hair, but they’re only good if you can just get them to do what you want – most of them were used to glamour posing, not acting.
I thought it would be fun to use one of the programmers in the game; Andy Jaros was involved in some of the programming and at least design, and worked for the company full-time – he was very enthusiastic about being part of that.
– Can I get you to pose? I heard someone told me that you have a costume.
– Yeah, really – can I!?
Where did he get that costume?
He was into some kind of roleplaying thing. My recollection is that there was some community of people that he hung out with that would do some live roleplaying from time to time. I didn’t fully understand it, but he shows up with all this stuff and I said “This is great! I don’t even have to go get a costume for you”. That saved me a bunch of money, right there.
If I had hired people for modeling prices, they would probably have cost me about half of my painting budget. And then asking my wife to help out, that was just a matter of expedience – she had a good figure and a nice long hair, and a night gown I could turn into something. So I just asked her if she could do it; she agreed – although she was almost six months pregnant with our second child at the time.
Those pictures were shot in August of 1986, and my son was born in January. He just got married last Sunday, by the way, and he’s 26 and a half years old. It’s a long time ago…
And the muscular guy from the gym, you don’t know his name?
No, sadly; I did my due diligence and I got contracts and releases from everyone, so somewhere in my paperwork that I’ve been carrying around for 30 years I got his name and his signature saying I could use it. But even then it wasn’t that critical, because his face wasn’t used in it.
I don’t remember what I payed him, probably around 50 bucks to drive over to my house and pose in my garage. The hard part was approaching him at the gym; telling him what I wanted to do – and I would like him to pose in his underwear, because I pretty much needed to see his body. And then I explained; I am married and I’ve got kids, this is for a game – honest. *laughs*
He understood, but it was interesting – he was a real quiet guy. When I was telling him what I wanted he just kind of nodded quietly like he was taking it in and thought it was cool. He was obviously working with his physique for his outer appearance, so I’m sure it was appealing to him that somebody wanted to use that. I think it was the next day he showed up, and we shot photographs for about an hour and that was it.
He’s the model you changed the most, all else are close to the original.
Yes, and that was partly because my wife didn’t want to be shown in a bikini; I was in the beginning thinking Boris Vallejo and [Frank] Frazetta – that’s what I had in mind first. I think I went Frazetta-ish with that guy, not in style – but just the idea of a leather loin cloth and a little bit of long hair; kind of Fabio mixed in.
You only worked with games for a brief period, but later you also worked with movies?
I did some work for a studio in Los Angeles that was called Cimarron/Bacon/O’Brien and they were handling all the movies for Arnold Schwarzenegger back when he was doing T2. I got to do a bunch of the advertising work; they would hire me to do sketch ideas. And these were things that was only going to be shown to the Hollywood executives, the people at the studio – and Arnold among them. They would talk about different approaches and used my sketches as reference.
So I had my father posing for Arnold and he was wearing a leather jacket that I had, and he was holding my young son under his arm – all I knew was that in T2 there was going to be a little boy in it and Sarah Connor was back; we could not reveal that they were now allies. There was all these tricks to play visually, where it looked like maybe she was following him to get her little boy back – you didn’t really know at that point. The boy was unknown, nobody knew who the actor (Edward Furlong) was, so I did not have any pictures of him to work with.
All in all, they were fun sketches to do. But one of the ideas sold the poster, which was the close-up with Arnold with the little sawed-off shotgun on his shoulder and the sunglasses. That was fun stuff, and working my parents into it – of all things.
The leather jacket I used was a typical 80’s-jacket with the big shoulders and way too high waistline – I still have it, by the way; it’s a good, warm jacket and one of those things you don’t throw away – and I put it on my dad and it just made him look beefy. I shot him from down low on the floor; leather has a certain way of pulling and stretching when you reach an arm out, so I used that to give him a little bit of Arnold-size. And then added Arnold’s head on it.
All these pictures were shot in my living room, and my parents just happened to be visiting that week when I had that job. When I would get these jobs they would ask me “How many of these can you do by tomorrow?” – Hollywood was some 30 minutes away by car, so I told them that I could do about three by the afternoon. And then I knew I was going to be up all night.
And all this was back in the days with film too – so I had to take these pictures and try to run them down to a one hour photo place, before they closed around 8.30 at night, to get my pictures developed. I had to develop friendship with people all over the place with businesses, just to get things done quickly. Polaroids were never good enough for me, the really good one’s with high resolution images weren’t manufactured anymore at that time.
Jag och David Darrow pratar ganska länge den kvällen; om amerikansk ekonomi, om hans porträttmålande och allmänt om livet. När vi väl lagt på och jag går och lägger mig sitter han kvar och funderar – på morgonen ligger ett mejl och väntar.
If you get a chance, Let me skype with you for a few minutes. I have an idea…
Förbryllad och sömndrucken kopplar jag upp mig på Skype, där Darrow är kvick att ringa upp. Det visar sig att han erbjuder sig att rita av mig, och via den inbyggda kameran i plattan tar han några bilder av mitt pillowface ur olika vinklar.
Dessutom har han en originalposter från själva målningen kvar, som han också erbjuder sig att underteckna skicka över. Denna betalar jag för, nån måtta får det vara på gåvorna.
Det går ytterligare någon vecka och jag sitter och skriver på texten du just nu läser. Plötsligt undrar han om jag även vill prata med Wayne Holder, grundare av FTL – som Darrow precis sagt att han inte pratat med på två år.
I emailed him the same day I was interviewed by you to tell him about it. He emailed back and I asked about you contacting him.
Så…nog fick jag vad jag önskade alltid. Här finns den avskalade berättelsen om hur omslaget till Dungeon Master blev till. Här bredvid ser du sketchen av mig, signerad David R. Darrow, som jag nu har på min vägg bredvid en kopia av originalmålningen till Dungeon Master.
Och dessutom har jag nu satts i kontakt med Wayne Holder och kommer att skriva ytterligare en text under hösten om mannen bakom Dungeon Master – föregångaren till en hel spelgenre som senast fick ett tillskott i utmärkta Legend of Grimrock – 2012 års bästa spel, enligt mig.
Och medge att allt nedan ser ut precis som Darrow tänkte sig. För 26 år sedan.