Card Art: Behind the Scenes


Two Drakes slide through a golden nebula and launch their missiles at an unseen enemy. The above image is a screen-res version of a much higher print-quality file used for just one of the over 300+ pieces of card art I created for the upcoming War For New Eden board game with Titan Forge and CCP Games. Today I thought I'd share some behind-the-scenes with my readers regarding the process I went through to create so much artwork in support of the game over the past fifteen months. And what exactly went into this insane amount of work. So bear with me.

First of all I think it is important to start off on the right foot. When I say "fifteen months" I mean from start to finish of the entire project. Not the 300+ pieces of card art. I didn't get started on those until almost October of last year. Up until that point I was extremely busy creating art for the packaging and actually designing all the different types of cards and support pieces that would be needed in the game. A lot of work had to happen and get approved before I could even get started on the individual cards. But all of us knew this vast amount of work was always looming out there, we just never knew exactly how vast it might end up being. In fact, some of it didn't come to light until the Kickstarter itself got started and we began adding additional expansions, more cards, and more stuff to the game. So this vast ocean of potential cards kept growing under our feet.

Remember the game itself was also being designed and created during this process. Often things would change, evolve, or even be removed as the process went along.

This is an early "Faction Development" card featuring what would become the final design. Eventually we would decide to remove the "sides" from the art section and let the art bleed from side to side.

Ok so we have this vast amount of cards all of which are going to end up being mini-poker sized cards in the game. To add even more complexity to the process there ended up being two main types of cards - Factional Development cards (like above) and Event Cards - which require full card illustrations (like the Drake image at the top of the post). Hopefully, at this point, you are getting a good sense of the scale of this process and the challenges I was facing. Just to make that even clearer - here is all of the cards laid out for you.

Wow. Just so you know, when I say 300+ cards I'm not joking around. At this point I had already created original art for much of the packaging, the ship cards, the mineral cards, and other pieces. And I had already started the process of trying to figure out a game plan that would allow me to create everything needed and still meet the deadlines we had set for ourselves. This was the challenge. If I went the same path I had gone up to that point I would never finish, in fact I'd need at least another year to even get close to being done.

What I eventually decided to do was to let every card determine its own best method based on what it needed. To explain this approach I need to tell you a bit about how I received each card and the subject matter that went into that individual card. I also want you to know that during all of this I was working directly with the team at Titan Forge, especially my good friend and Project Manager Jed. I wasn't out here just making stuff up, we talked about all of this endlessly and in great detail. Sometimes I would miss the true meaning behind a specific card, or that card would change, or a piece of art wouldn't quite work and I'd have to go back to the old drawing board. This didn't happen a lot, but it did happen - especially in the beginning of the process.

I would get a google sheet with each cards title and the description of the action that would be printed on that card. For example, "Temporary Shipyard. You may build ships in systems you control without engineering complexes. They cost an additional mineral." And it would be up to me to figure out how to best illustrate that card. For every single card. 

So when I look at that sheet above with all the cards laid out like that - all I see are stories. Each card has a story behind it. A decision tree that started with a design direction, a goal within the context of the larger game, and then a simple text description that I would expand on with art. Over and over again.  So when someone asks me, "How did you do that?" I must admit that every card is unique. But there are some overall considerations that went into it.

First of all I used as much original art as I could. In fact, some of the art in the game is directly lifted or re-purposed from art that is available on my store. One of the expansions is called "Resources" and the box art I used is from a poster I created of a mining fleet. In dozens of cases I re-used already existing pieces to help create the art of the cards. This especially helped with the backgrounds, the nebula. In all cases my goal was always the same - to create a unique piece that worked together with each card. The end result was always primary. Secondary to that was to be consistent and keep an overall theme alive. I wanted them all to be special, but they all needed to look like they belonged to the same game.

Take the Drake piece from above as an example. The nebula behind them is a piece of digital painting, just one small section of a much larger piece that I used other sections of on other cards. The missile trails, the engine trails and lights - all digital painting in Photoshop often done on my Wacom Cintiq. The drakes themselves are 5k retina screengrabs with lighting and coloring added in post during composition. The original is 4"x6" at 300dpi and the image is used on the "Offensive Specialist" Mission Card in the game.

This approach is what I landed on (in general) for the approach to the cards. There is not a single card in that library that is a simple "screenshot". There is one card out of all of them that is about 90% a screenshot. That one is of a Keepstar exploding. And in that case I used a screenshot from CCP Aperture because it was just perfect. I had to paint extra onto the image to make it work on the card. Eve is a horizontal game and these cards are all vertical. Some cards, like that one, might only take a few hours to complete - while others could often take a few days to finish.

My primary goal is always the end result. To make something beautiful and creative. I've never been an artist who is hung up on process, as long as it gives me what I need to achieve my goals for the piece I'm working on - it is all fair game. I call every piece an illustration because I created them all from nothing. And I'm proud of them all and I hope that when the game gets into your hands someday soon - you will enjoy them all as well. 

I'll be sharing more art and more stories from the battlefield in the coming months. My part in this project has come to an end, and now I wait just like everyone else for the final results.

Good grief I created a lot of art. I'm still stunned that I actually finished and met my deadlines.