New mother Yvonne Yong finds gaming irresistible. She plays to win and tells Rozana Sani about giving a game its soul
LOOKING at her as she sits waiting for the interview to begin, one would never guess Yvonne Yong is into games or gaming.
Looking demure with a no-nonsense bob haircut and a reserved expression, the only indication of her passion is a bulging knapsack and the tell-tale box of Warhammer table top miniatures in her hands.
She breaks into a grin when asked about the miniatures.
“These are Orks. They’re the most warlike aliens in the table-top science fantasy miniature wargame Warhammer. I paint, assemble and modify them. On weekends, my fellow Warhammer enthusiasts and I will gather our respective ‘armies’ for battle. I play to win,” she says.
The Warhammer gaming community here is small and female players even fewer.
Yong, 26, is a game concept artist with E-One Studio, a Kuala Lumpur-based independent game developer company. Her artwork can be seen in the company’s latest point-and-click PC adventure game, Hoodwink.
“The game took two years to complete in a largely male-dominated team. I started as a junior and, by the end of the project, was lead concept artist.
“I bridge the game designer and scriptwriter’s plan with the 3-D artist’s output. I create art that helps to flesh out the visual concepts of the game as well as character design. This helps establish the visual direction of the game for the rest of the team,” she explains, highlighting that concept art is more about illustration than 3-D work — setting the mood and giving the game its soul.
CREATIVITY AND ART
Knowing how an environment provides for a good game is all too familiar to Yong. The elder child and only girl of three siblings growing up in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur, she had her fair share of climbing trees and exploring drains. It was in this setting that Yong discovered the joy of creating things with her hands — be it building mud castles or making gifts for Christmas.
Then she expanded her playground to include board and PC-based games — from Pokemon and Starcraft to Mass Effect and Diablo. The artwork of the games caught her eyes and sparked an interest in game art.
“After finishing school, I had my heart set on an illustration course at The One Academy and I received a partial scholarship for it. However, my financial controller mother and father, who is in printing, did not agree with my choice as they had a more traditional view of careers. But I had to follow my heart,” says Yong.
For a girl who scales mountains and enjoys outdoor activities, Yong took it as a challenge to prove herself. After graduation, Yong, armed with her computer and Wacom tablet, landed in In-Fusion doing pre-production art for Ibn Battuta, the animated series. The team was lead by art director Milx, who taught and trained her to be a concept artist.
After gaining confidence in her portfolio, she joined E-One Studio as a concept artist. There, she picked up yet another skill, 3-D modelling and texturing which she constantly applied in her work. She has served as a character designer, concept artist, 3-D modeller and texture artist.
While doing all this, Yong fell in love with her gaming buddy, got married and gave birth to a baby girl who is now 5 months old.
Now that she is a mother, her daily routine is to work on her E-One Studio projects during office hours, and then rush home to the family.
“After the baby has gone to sleep, I continue to work at home,” says Yong. Work refers to commissions and artwork she does on a freelance basis. Yong works on a computer she built herself. To see clients, she lugs a Lenovo IdeaPad U310. Though not keen on using notebooks initially, Yong now uses the U310 to do 3-D rendering, design digital character models and other artwork.
“It is useful when I visit clients as it provides great graphics,” she says.
Yong also dreams of creating a game herself. “As part of an indie company, we are all encouraged to pitch our ideas for the company’s next product. It is hard to create an original game with concept, script and gameplay. It is my ardent wish that one day I will get investors for my own game.”
Meanwhile, she continues to upgrade her skills by reading.She admires Jason Manley, the CEO of art and animation studios Massive Black Shanghai that count Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, id, EA, THQ, Blizzard, NCsoft, Warner Bros, Hasbro, Michael Bay and Nike as its clients.
“I’d love to be the art director for such a set-up,” she says with yearning.
But such jobs are available mainly in animation centres like Singapore and Taiwan so, with a young family and all, Yong’s priorities have changed.
“I look forward to the day when international animation of such stature comes to our shores. Then life will be perfect,” she says.
In the meantime, Yong continues to create and illustrate while spending time converting miniatures, playing Warhammer, going rock climbing, mountain biking and playing psp and computer games as well as drawing regularly.