Brooke Condolora is one half of Brain&Brian, an independent game studio currently working on Burly Men at Sea. She and her husband David, the two halves of Brain&Brain, previously released Doggins, and Brooke’s art style, which she describes as essentialism, can be seen prominently on display in both games.
In our interview with Adam DeGrandis, he described Brooke’s work as “serene, yet stunning at the same time, and fun”, and suggested her as an artist he thought was doing work that stood out to him in the indie game dev community .
We thought so too, and reached out to Brooke. We asked her about how she came to be working on Burly Men at Sea, her art style, and her day to day life as part of Brain&Brain. Here are her answers:
IndieHangvoer – Briefly, what is your history as an artist, the history of Brain&Brain, and what drew you to the indie game development world?
Brooke Condolora – I grew up drawing and writing stories, so I feel super lucky that as an adult I get to call that work.
For several years, I was a freelance graphic designer and web developer, gradually moving toward illustration. Though I’ve always loved games, it somehow never occurred to me that it was possible for someone like me to make them. Then my husband David saw Indie Game: The Movie, suggested that we make a game, and I was immediately on board. Our first, Doggins, started as a side project and later became full-time for me. Now we both work full-time on Burly Men at Sea.
I think what most draws me to the indie game scene is the possibility. Games are still so new as a medium that they haven’t settled yet, and there’s so much room for exploration. It’s an exciting place to be.
IH – Your artwork has an incredibly expressive minimalism about it that’s very unique. Did your work always have this quality? I’ve noticed it in your work on Doggins and Burly Men at Sea, but I’m wondering how this style developed for you.
BC – I think it has developed with the games themselves. I was doing some illustration before Doggins, but the majority of my work at the time was still logos and websites. Most of my experience as an artist happened after getting into games. Doggins’ style developed around the needs of the game, and in exploring that, I found what felt most like me. I got a bit braver with Burly Men at Sea, took the minimalism further, and stopped using texture as a crutch. In a way, I’ve circled back to what I originally loved about design: reducing a thing to its essence. I heard the term “essentialism” recently, and I think it describes what I do even better than “minimalism.”
IH – Currently, you’re working on Burly Men at Sea. What artistic inspiration did you draw from, or what were some influences in your design? How do these play into the “folktale adventure” theme of Burly Men at Sea?
BC – Since the game’s story is drawn from various Scandinavian folktales, the landscape and colorful fishing villages of northern Norway served as visual inspiration. Modern Scandinavian illustration also had a big influence on the art style, from artists like Sanna Annukka, Lotta Nieminen, Darling Clementine, and Polkka Jam.
The game’s narrative scenes are set like the pages of an illustrated storybook, to further push the folktale theme. Some of that was inspired by Saul Bass’s stylized storytelling in Henri’s Walk to Paris.
IH – Your website list you as a traveling Illustrator, and it’s clear that you and your husband are not spending all your time indoors behind a screen, but are out in nature and the world a lot. How do you think this has influenced your approach to game development at Brain&Brain?
BC – I think the strongest influence has been on the type of stories we tell with our games. Doggins was a lighthearted story about a dog who lives an ordinary life but dreams every night of weird adventures. Burly Men at Sea takes that even further with fisherman brothers whose daily grind is interrupted by the opportunity to see more of the world.
Both reflect the type of life that makes us happiest. We work, and we appreciate the ordinary, but we also seek out what challenges us and satisfies curiosity.
IH – What’s a typical development day like for you working at Brain&Brain? I get the sense that there are very few of these for you…
BC – Haha, that’s very true. For the past nine months, we’ve been traveling around as nomads, so typical is never typical for long. We’ve been in Montréal for the past month, and we have no idea where we’re going next. But we do stick to a pretty regular workweek, which serves as a counterweight for the chaos. We’re sort of the opposite of the Gustave Flaubert quote, “Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” I just hope the originality still comes through.
I try to do my most intensive work in the mornings, when I’m able to be most creative and focused. I save the more tedious work for afternoons, usually supplemented with a podcast and second cup of coffee. We try to get out to work at coffee shops a few times a week, and if there are other developers around, we sometimes join them for co-working.
IH – What other games have you been playing other than one you are working on?
BC – To be honest, I’ve been reading more than playing games lately. (And by that, I mean I devoured eight books in the last month.) But I most recently played through Samorost 3 and The Banner Saga. Since then, I’ve been casually playing Picross, but I’m getting hungry for another good narrative game.
IH – Could you suggest an artist that you think is doing really cool work for another Indie Game project? What makes them stand out to you as a fellow artist?
BC – Claudia Molinari of We Are Muesli has been doing some beautiful work with visual novels and is incredibly prolific. She’s an artist in the true sense of the word. I’m fascinated by Tamas Kemenczy’s work on Kentucky Route Zero, which is unlike anything I’ve seen. And Sam Boucher’s bold, colorful art for GNOG just makes me smile.
Our thanks to Brooke for taking the time to answer our questions and give us a peak into her process and life as an indie developer
Burly Men at Sea, Brain&Brain’s next game, has been backed by the Indie Fund, and is due out on PC, MAC and iOS sometime in 2016.