Author Topic: RVG Interviews: Henk Nieborg.  (Read 1834 times)

Offline zapiy

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RVG Interviews: Henk Nieborg.
« on: June 17, 2018, 14:46:47 PM »

In our latest interview we chat to another famous graphic artist – Henk Nieborg. Henk has been in the industry nearly 30 years now and started his career with Thalion Software creating graphics for games like Ghost Battle and Lionheart. These days, amongst other things, Henk is doing some awesome pixel art for the upcoming Xeno Crisis games for the Megadrive/Genesis so please read on and enjoy!

The Interview

Zapiy

Thank you for agreeing to our interview, please take a moment to tell us a little about you?

Henk

Hello, I’m Henk Nieborg, 48 years old now but mentally half of that! 😉 Professional game artist since 1990. Got a lovely wife and two kids and living in The Netherlands where i was also born. That’s almost 28 years being a professional game developer at the time of this interview, Crazy stuff! 🙂 I’ve had the privilege to work on many great titles and talented people throughout my career. Pixelart has been my main driving force in my creations throughout the years and has never let me down. Having more fun with it now than ever before. Really enjoying the resurgence of retro gaming and the appreciation of pixel art in general. Thanks for that! 🙂

Zapiy

What was the first game art you created?

Henk

I created my first ‘inspirational’ game art on my old Commodore 64 using Koala painter and Joystick as a tool. I created many titlescreens, sprites and tile/character sets for fun. Ppl around me told that my stuff was better than anything they’ve ever seen in professional games. That’s when I started to realize I could also do this professionally which wasn’t easy to achieve and needed a bit of luck involved too. The problem only was me being in The Netherlands and all interesting game developers/companies were abroad. In pre-internet times that made it a bit harder to get attention. You actually had to write them a real letter and wait to be invited when lucky. My first published game was ‘Ghost Battle’ for the Commodore Amiga which I created in my spare time. (which was I had a lot back then) 🙂 It was a mixture of games like Ghost ‘n Goblins, Green Beret and stuff influenced by personal favorite horror movies. It was a mixed bag of everything but I was so proud that I had a game out there. Games were all real physical products back then so you had a nice finished product in your hands which added a lot to the thrill. 🙂

Zapiy

What do you for a living now?

Henk

I’m an independent Pixel Artist and Game Designer. 😛

Zapiy

What was it like working at Thalion Software?

Henk

Landing your first real job in the gaming industry was already pretty much unreal to me. I also had to relocate to Germany which added even more excitement on top. Not knowing I would be sleeping in the office for the first half-year. 😀  Thalion offered me the job after Ghostbattle was finished and me showing them my first pixels for Lionheart. I had the running hero and a 16 colour background which also ended up in the game. I’ve met a lot of talented people at Thalion back then which also reflected in the games we produced. Really enjoyed my time there.

Zapiy

You worked on a couple of games for Psygnosis, they have a very specific graphical style, was this something you had to work on?

Henk

No, This was a style that came natural to me and was already apparent in Lionheart before I did my work for Psygnosis. Also the reason Psygnosis wanted to snap me up. 🙂 I was highly inspired by traditional artists like Rodney Matthews, Roger Dean (the original designer of the Psygnosis logo), Hildebrandt Brothers, Richard Corben, Michael Whelan, Vincent Segrelles, Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo etc. I bought all their artbooks/comics back then from which I learned and were inspired a lot. I’m pretty much self-taught and was born with a drawing talent. I’ve asked and wondered afew times why my employers hired me and most of them replied: ‘You jump out of the crowd and have an eye for quality’. One of the best compliments I ever received. 🙂

Zapiy

Which one of the games you worked on for Thalion is your favourite and why?

Henk

Lionheart for sure! We did it as a team but I regard it as my baby as I was the sole artist on that game. It was my second game and the leap of quality was kinda unreal. I was still young and eager to prove myself and constantly wanting to improve on it. My colleagues/friends around me also really appreciated my talent and that was a huge driving force. We also became friends because we spend almost all of our time together. I didn’t realize back then we were about to create a classic. 🙂

Zapiy

And which game would you say gave you the biggest headache?

Henk

At Thalion? That must’ve been helping out with Airbus editing the maps or something (and even packing the game, imagine that!). We all did help out because Thalion was a small independent developer in the end. Airbus was marketed really well and made Thalion and its single creator a lot of money. It just felt strange when you’re new in the business and you work very hard the financial reward was so hugely different. Not just happening in the gaming biz for sure. No hard feelings though. Thalion gave me the chance to create Lionheart which pretty much made my name. I have to say the way Lionheart was advertised and the design of the package was really special. This all goes to the credit of Willie Carmincke (he was a very smart and gifted manager). When I wanted to quit Thalion together with Erwin Kloibhofer (the programmer of Lionheart) I also learned to know him from a darker side. 🙂 So, Thalion was a versatile learning school.

Zapiy

Have you ever programmed a game or wanted to?

Henk

No, I’ve never programmed a game. Yes, I wanted too and started learning machine code on the C64 but realised quickly I’d better focus on the visuals instead and leave the code to the experts. 🙂

Zapiy

Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?

Henk

I wouldn’t have expected for ‘retro gaming’ to return like it has. So a bit surprised maybe. Back in the early days I wouldn’t have believed that I’d still be pushing pixels 25 years on. Think only quality things are up for resurgence. 😉

Zapiy

Have you ever been involved with the creation of games on systems like the Gizmondo, Konix Multisystem or any of the other less known or unreleased systems?

Henk

Nope, Those systems never crossed my path. But I did some HUD graphics for ‘Iron Soldier’ on the Atari Jaguar. Think it got lost but was used in an early prototype. I secretly drew it on a prototype Atari Falcon machine at home in Germany while still at Thalion which Michael Bittner (programmer) brought along. The machine that came after Atari ST.

Zapiy

Can you tell us what prompted you to get involved in Retro Game Development?

Henk

After returning to The Netherlands again early 2005 the mobile phone market started to become interesting as gaming platform too. These devices started to become more powerful and had decent resolution/colour depth. It was just a familiar thing for me but now on mobile phones. The GBA was also still around by the way. I always prefered to develop for real consoles as there were more design possibilities because of the controls and the job was more of a challenge. Anyway, I started receiving emails from publishers who found my website/portfolio asking me if I would be interested in doing some freelance work. That’s when it all started rolling again. Just returning from the UK after working on triple A titles I was back at pushing pixels again. (which felt really good) I was in talks with Guerilla Games but decided to go freelance and do the thing again I love so much. During that era I also took on 3D modeling and texture jobs as we’re still talking PS2/Xbox era.

Greyfox

What games at the time (and now) would you say are your biggest inspirations?

Henk

The games created by Capcom and Konami throughout the 80’s and 90’s are still among my favorites. I also like to play modern games but they’re mostly single player adventures instead of that online craziness. 🙂 Or watch my 13-year-old daughter play online. It a great way to see what drives those kids/youngsters to keep on playing a certain game. It’s really interesting how modern gaming turned out nowadays mostly build on smart commercial models. Still, I love the creative process behind it.

Greyfox

What is the biggest challenge you face with the limitations of the hardware when creating your graphics?

Henk

That’s mainly the fun part of retro gaming and developing games on older systems. You really have to be creative and push the systems ‘limitations’ and use it in a smart way. Creativity takes over and that’s when the best things are being created.

TrekMD

How much time are you usually given to develop the artwork in any project you’re contracted for?

Henk

That really project depending but in most cases time wasn’t an issue as I delivered it pretty quickly anyway. Most of the commissions I did was creating background artwork (tilesets) for numerous games in the past. Some tileset work only requires a few days (like the ones on the new Sega Megadrive game Xeno Crisis). For instance bigger tilesets like the ones on Shantae and Contra 4 took approximately 2-4 weeks to create. It can take several months to complete a full game.

TrekMD

What is the process for making the pixelart?  For example, you worked on The Flash for the Nintendo DS.  What was that like?

Henk

You picked the one game that was never released. 🙂 For’The flash’ I created about 5 full tileset which were quite big in size. In terms of ‘Flash’ Wayforward contacted me and asked if I had interest in doing the job. After settling the price, In most case I give my quotes based on the workload. In this case per tileset. After that I receive in this case a written description of the elements needed for that specific tileset and get going. I always give my client a WIP when handling the first tileset to know if we’re on the same line. I think only a small sprite of the main character for this Flash game existed. For the rest I could render everything close to my own whimsical style. When people hire me they also know what to expect in terms of visual style.

TrekMD

You’ve been working on pixelart/graphics/animation/texturing since the 1990’s for a variety of games and companies.  How has your experience changed over the years?

Henk

Experience has many levels. It could be your personal way of working, working with people and companies in the industry. Thankfully I mostly worked with people and companies that put high regards on quality. On a basic level I’ve learned a lot throughout the years to find a good balance between time, quality and budget. since I’m doing game art most of the time there’s always a time restriction/schedule to meet. You need to find a balance between what you can deliver in that time. Having experience and being able to weigh how long a certain job will take helps a lot in this matter. I always want to deliver the best quality I can and with pixel art you can reduce the number of colours to speed up your progress without anyone really noticing it as I became pretty proficient in working on low colour bit depth throughout the years. When a job doesn’t fit me for reason like, scheduling, compensation or a combination of those I simply pass on the job.

TrekMD

Is there a project you wanted to be involved with that you could never get?

Henk

Yes, I think so. That would be making a new Ghouls ‘n Ghosts or Metal Slug. But you never know what might happen. 🙂 Hope it doesn’t happen now as I haven’t got the time.

Greyfox

Being a part of the team on some great Amiga titles, what was your creative input to these games?

Henk

In Ghostbattle and Lionheart I did all the backgrounds, animations, HUD, intro/outro stuff. Actually all visuals. 🙂 I also delivered many game design ideas as I played a lot of console games back then. On Ambermoon I only pixelled the intro animation and the odd sprite. Flink was release on the CD32 which also was an Amiga on the inside. But Flink was just a quick port from the original Sega Megadrive game.

Greyfox

Were you a part of any titles that didn’t make it to release during your time?

Henk

Had to dig deep but made many prototypes that never went into production. I already mentioned NDS game Flash earlier which was almost complete when unexpectedly put on ice. My follow-up game after Lomax would have been a top view game with a mix of 2D characters and polygon textured backgrounds. Got a feeling it is somehow good this got cancelled. 😀 This project was budgeted pretty big for the time. I’m talking PSone era. Another game that died during prototyping was ‘Sega Time Crystals’ for PS2 etc. This was meant to be some kind of party game with Sega characters. I did a lot of concept art and some 3D modeling and texturing before it got canned. There’s another ‘Metroidvania’ pixelart game which has been put on hold because of funding problems. Created a few backgrounds and animations for this but will probably stay that way. I’ve released a couple of screenshots of this here and there. There’s probably a lot more but can’t remember them now.

Greyfox

Which other software house did you admire as been on par with the company you were with throughout your time?

Henk

Maybe Capcom or Konami in the 90’s? Nothing else springs to mind.

Greyfox

Did any of the software companies you worked with,  ever consider at any point think about releasing their games on Atari Jaguar or handhelds machines?

Henk

No sign of Jaguar really. I remember hearing (and seeing) about it when I was at Thalion and Michael Bittner (Iron soldier programmer) had a machine (Atari Falcon) which had almost the same specs as a Jaguar. Think he was working for German based Eclipse software at the time. It was impressive back then. I did a lot of work for handheld systems like the GBC, GBA and  3DS. Was working freelance at the time already.

Greyfox

Do you feel that Thalion Software could have continued in today’s video game market if wasn’t for contributions of piracy of the time?

Henk

Think so but the world was so different back then. Piracy also wasn’t the reason Thalion folded. Most of the talent had left by 1993. Thalion at its peak had quite a few talented people recruited. 🙂

DeadVoivod

Which software do you use on the Amiga to create pixel art?

Henk

On the Amiga I used Dpaint 2. Think I’ve used DP3 for a bit because of that terrible half-brite graphics mode. Too many useless colours. 😉 I had an Amiga 500 with a hardrive including extra ram attached. I used a A1200 later for ‘Flink’ and a heavily modified Amiga 2000 when creating Lomax. But all with Dpaint 2 installed and our homebrew game editors.

DeadVoivod

Have you created any of your own tools and what are they?

Henk

Erwin programmed our own game editors For Flink and Lomax which were incredible! We also realized we needed a good and versatile game editor to build a quality game. I was able to easily edit maps/levels, edit sprite animations and place them onto the game map using triggers etc. You could jump directly into the game to test it instantly. One of the reasons Flink and Lomax turned out as pretty solid platformers in the end. Flink was also my first effort in designing an entire game myself. For instance the first Boss in Flink was fully animated in the editor by moving the pre-drawn sprites each frame. There were quite a few frames as it had to run in 60fps. Good old days! 🙂

DeadVoivod

Do you use a graphics tablet?

Henk

No, I’ve tried one when working in the UK at Eurocom as we were drawing a lot of textures and concept art which is way easier by tablet. I stuck to my mouse for most jobs. Not using one for my pixelart but I might reconsider again.

DeadVoivod

Do you think pixel art has lately been overused? Besides retro video games, the pixel art has now also been used a lot in the board game industry. Could you imagine creating something like that, a card game f.ex. in pixel art?

Henk

You can only overuse pixelart when it’s abused for wannabe pixelart games. I’ve seen a lot of retro inspired games that just hitched along on the pixel vibe. In terms of doing a card game only? No, A project should be in line with my interests. If a card game/system is part in a videogame I would certainly be happy to take on.

Zapiy

What was the diving force behind your involvement with Bitmap Bureau‘s awesome looking Xeno Crisis?

Henk

Well, Being able to do another game for my all-time favorite game console was hard to turn down. It became quickly one of my favorite projects because of the guys at Bitmap Bureau. The game genre is also pretty much up my alley. Something I have been missing by most of the Indie project I’ve been involved with up till now. Xeno Crisis also feels like it’s also my game. Really glad to be involved in that one and made me hungry for more. 🙂

Zapiy

Any plans to get further involved in the homebrew market?

Henk

Yup, Can’t say too much but it looks like I can pursue with my own project from July this year aiming to build a prototype and hoping to reach a lot of people by teasing my work first. It my first real own project since Lomax which I completed in 1996. We’ve got a very nice team lined up where I will be the sole artist and designer for this prototype. Can’t say much more at the moment but please keep an eye on my twitter page: @pixelhenk

Finally

Wow what can we say about those awesome replies, huge thanks to Henk for not only taking the time to chat to us but for the awesome replies.
Own: Jaguar, Lynx, Dreamcast, Saturn, MegaDrive, MegaCD, 32X, GameGear, PS3, PS, PSP, Wii, GameCube, N64, DS, GBA, GBC, GBP, GB,  Xbox, 3DO, CDi,  WonderSwan, WonderSwan Colour NGPC

Offline TrekMD

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Re: RVG Interviews: Henk Nieborg.
« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2018, 20:46:18 PM »
Excellent interview!

Going to the final frontier, gaming...

Offline DeadVoivod

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Re: RVG Interviews: Henk Nieborg.
« Reply #2 on: June 18, 2018, 03:05:00 AM »
Thumbs up and good luck to Henk with his new project.