Interview with Henk Nieborg (2)

by NFG - 7th April 2013 in Games

This is a followup interview I did with Henk Nieborg, focusing mostly on the Nintendo DS release of Contra 4. Sadly I promptly lost this text, and finally published it a loooong time later. And now I’m re-posting it because stuff and etc but whatever! Henk’s an awesome guy with awesome pixel skills. check out part one for more Q & A, and a brief overview of his career.

Contra 4: According to the credits, you were responsible for bosses and backgrounds, the latter typically being a specialty. Is that accurate, or did you have a hand in other parts of the game?

Yes, I was the senior background artist for Contra 4 and did most of the Bosses. At first the Bosses weren’t on my to-do list but they wanted to have consistency in the overall look, and gave the remaining bosses to me as well after seeing the result of another artist. Personally, I just wanted to do as much as possible on this game. I would have loved to do more but due to time limitations and a serious eye virus infection I wasn’t able to do more. Also, It was quite an ambitious project looking at the development time. All had to be done within 3 months you know. 🙂

Three months is a very short time. Were you satisifed with the final result, given the time pressure? I mean, did you deliver the graphics with a smile by the deadline, or were you clamboring for every extra minute?

Dunno if it would have been much better if they’d given me more time. Most of the gfx were done on time but sometimes i had to work 7 days a week to achieve this. Not the healthiest thing to do really. At the end the steam was a little bit off but for the rest everthing went fine. I’m quite happy with the result because i was able to capture the oldschool look they wanted. Also, most clients ask me to do fantasy stuff, this time there was more techno involved which was a nice departure as well.

I work very well under time pressure. Without the deadline things can just get out of hand very easy. I’ve got the habit to keep on adding stuff to my work and go really crazy. I’ve learned through the years that this doesn’t make it necessarily better looking. Being a perfectionist can be a problem sometimes but more for people around me i think. 😉

Did you have any additional pressure, either from yourself, the developer (Wayforward) or Konami? I mean, you guys were updating a classic game held dear to many players’ hearts.

No, Not really except for the time pressure maybe but this is the case in most projects. Being a retro gamer myself and a big fan of Contra3 on the Snes i knew exactly what to expect. I was really happy about the fact that Konami wanted an oldschool pixely look like the original Contra’s. After setting the gfx style of the game which took only 2 tries everything went automatic. I also have to say that i had some amazing development support and feedback from Matt Bozon at Wayforward Technologies during development. Very easy to work with!

I’ve tried to find a comprehensive game list of titles you’ve worked on, and it appears that this is your first DS title. True? Was it any different from your perspective, or was it a console/portable like all the rest?

Not entirely true. I’ve done some 3D textured backgrounds for Shinen’s ‘Garfields Nightmare’ on DS as well. (not mentioning ShantaeDS) Development wasn’t really that much different on Contra 4 then on any other platform or project i’ve worked on because it’s all about pixels again. When you know the hardware specs all pixels will be the same in the end. Have to say that the DS is my favorite platform to develop for at the moment, which also makes sence.

What makes the DS platform different?

For an artist there’s not much of a difference really. I’m just very enhousiastic about the whole package that the DS has to offer. You can do some cool things with the dual screen and the touch and voice functions. Also think that gamedesigners and coders will experience the difference much more than artists do compared to other platforms. In that way the DS is quite unique.

I’ve been hearing rumours of a new Shantae title. Recently noticed the mockup that’s been on the wayforward site for a long time… It looks, predictably, mind-blowingly gorgeous. Is there something in the works? Are there more mockups you can share?

Hmmm, Yes Shantae DS. One thing i know for sure is that this project has been put on hold for some time now. I’ve been pixeling about 5 complete backgrounds for ShantaeDS including some anims. There were even words about a PSP version, but this was way back at the end of 2005 so i doubt it will ever see the light of day. Maybe you could ask Matt Bozon at Wayforward because in the end it’s his pet project (NFG note: I did, and was not graced with a reply) . I personally think that Shantae DS will just remain a techdemo. In a future website update I might post some more mockups.

What are your primary tools for pixelling? Not a black and white TV, surely? =) (references this earlier interview).

At the moment I’m using a four year old PC with a decent GeForce card. Got two big HQ flatscreens connected that give me quite an impressive workspace. (3200 x 1200 pixels) Having dual screens is very useful for an artist. Having the reference on one side and your tools and work on the other works quite well. I’m using ‘Promotion 5.1’ to pixel all of my stuff and ‘Photoshop’ to create mockups and make palette changes with.

Pixel art in general: It seems that there is a significantly growing interest in the style, but I think sometimes I see more of it because I’m looking for it. Are you finding more opportunities as a pixel artist? Or do you find it more or less the same now as a few years ago when I last asked you the same question?

I’m quite happy with the way pixelart is treated right now. It’s also interesting to see that there are only a few really good pixelartists out there. Whatever that means. In the older days i did a complete project by myself, the good old days i call them. Now-a-days its just small parts like tilesets or animations. Also, Everything needs to be faster today. Most jobs i get need to be done ASAP for some reason. 😉 It also shows when you look closely at my pixels from the last few years. I do not use that many different tints (gradient) for a single color anymore. For instance i used about 4-6 different tints on one color for Contra4. I used about 16 tints per color in Lomax. That was a little bit overdoing it really looking back on it. 🙂 Anyway, Reducing the amount of colors is saving a lot of time. People are still happy with the result so why not. I will go nuts again someday on my own project. But it’s too early to mention anyting about this yet. That’s called teasing for anyone who cares. 😉

Finally, what’s next? Have you got anything in the works you’re allowed to talk about? If so, is it 2D or 3D this time?

I just finalised two projects for DS again. They’re both movie licences. I pixeled all the backgrounds for those projects and did some main character animations. I already moved on to another DS project again and this year i will also start on another very big PSP title. Feels good to have a lot of things lined up. 🙂

I hang out with a lot of pixel fans. They’ll be excited to hear about anything new. Tease away!

I’m also finally starting my personal project/prototype this year. I’m planning to come up with a really nice technology demo on the DS. This projects will involve some major pixeling and hope that this will be the crown on my pixel career. I’m really enthousiastic about this one and hope to invite some old colleagues around for this as well. 🙂

Cheers, Henk.

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