"Oh man, we married a lot of losers before we found the prince," says David Robinson, Afro Samurai
senior producer with Namco Bandai's internal U.S. team.
He means art outsourcing firms, of course, talking about finding a good match as part of a new, in-depth Gamasutra interview
"It wasn't that the companies were bad, it's just that a lot of people [think] that they can do game development, but it's a hard business," says Robinson. It's hard to get customer service."
So Namco Bandai's internal U.S. team created "vignettes," Robinson says, with art director Duke Mighten creating a pre-production process for art.
"It was a very long six-month kind of process where we would work with them, and we would give them a piece of concept art, and some rules, and they had to match it," Robinson explains.
"And they would send us back different iterations over time, and it didn't matter if they got it wrong the first time --what mattered is how quickly we could get them right, and how honest they were about screwing it up."
One of the biggest challenges, according to Robinson, was the "language barrier failure."
"It's one thing to be a polite professional saying, 'This isn't right,' and it's another when the outside studio doesn't acknowledge the severity of the problems," he says.
At the time, Robinson recalls, the team was a "really small internal studio," and having Namco Bandai's president checking in for status updates while the company dealt with the outsourcing firms could be "really hard on the nerves."
So out of five firms the internal team was originally working with, only the relationship with Malaysia-based Igloo sustained long-term. Robinson says Igloo presently does "easily 70 percent" of all the team's art.
It was Igloo's "communication strategy" that helped them win out in a year-long vetting process, Robinson says.
"They really kicked butt with their communication strategy. Because art is kind of easy now; people can do great art, but it's the communications strategy that leads you to not have to re-do the art."
He adds, "And especially on a platform game, that's all you're doing, is pushing verts all day long. If you don't own it, it becomes a huge problem."
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