Illustrator and character designer, Nicholas Kole, has contributed to a diverse range of AAA and indie projects. He worked on the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, creating character designs that brilliantly updated the look of the original for the remake. He collaborated with indie developers like Spiritwalk Games on their digital card game Shardbound, and recently with Drastic Games for their upcoming Soundfall.
Kole presented on multiple panels during LightBox Expo, discussing topics such as Procreate and a closer look at his work on Spyro. While speaking at the event, Kole also talked with Cliqist about his role on Soundfall.
Capturing the Shape of Music
Kole worked on Soundfall last year and shared that the game’s concept mixes music with a survival shooter. When starting the project, he saw the chance for original designs with Soundfall.
“All creatures and characters are based on musical shapes,” Kole says. He researched musical notation, the shapes of instruments, and sound concepts when creating the designs for Soundfall. Kole adds that enemies in the game are intimidating, “but intrinsically musical.”
“The character of Melody was really fun,” Kole says when discussing Soundfall’s protagonist and his favorite design for the game. With Melody, he had the “idea of tapping into internal music as a source of power” for her armor and such. He also imagined music would make her sprout Valkyrie-like wings.
There were also different musical styles used for the visuals in Soundfall. Kole says that for another playable character, he crafted a more hip-hop oriented design.
“It was really fun to try to hide all these things,” Kole says. “It was an interesting opportunity to learn how obvious, in-your-face ‘this is a piano’ you can do before someone realizes it’s a piano.”
Dreaming of Cosplay
On Kole’s ArtStation, he mentioned that pattern designer Stella Chuu cosplayed as one of his Soundfall character designs. This elated Kole, who had always wanted to see someone craft a costume for one of his designs.
“That was a big landmark for me,” Kole tells Cliqist. “It was a weird unspoken dream of mine.”
According to Kotaku, this was also a rare instance of paid cosplay for indie games rather than AAA titles. Kotaku reported that Drastic Games reached out to Chuu and fellow cosplayer Bindi Smalls “to dress up as a pair of the game’s characters, Brite and Melody.”
Kole adds that Chuu’s cosplay even lit up.
Jumping from Project to Project
Before his involvement on Soundfall and Spyro, Kole earned his undergraduate degree in illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design. While studying there, he also worked as a character and background artist on Shadow Shoppe, Rosemary, and The Bridge for the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab.
During his Spyro presentation at LightBox, Kole shares that his first job after graduation was on Project Copernicus, an MMORPG that was meant to compete with World of Warcraft. The eventual cancellation of that project served as his jumping-off point into a career as a freelance character designer.
Through communication on DeviantArt, Kole then worked on The Dawngate Chronicles, meant to compete with League of Legends.
After Dawngate was also cancelled, he worked on Shardbound. That project would end up providing him a link to someone who joined Activision, leading to his work on Spyro.
“I love doing these remakes,” Kole says while answering questions from the audience at LightBox. “My ultimate dream would be to make new projects in the spirit of those games.”
Polish or Explore?
When asked how working on AAA games compares to indie games, Kole talks about the differences in resources.
“AAA games have a lot of budget and money,” Kole says. “The polish is high, so you can achieve more visual goals.”
He adds that a AAA company can also exert more control.
It’s different for indies. Kole explains that with them, polish is traded for more freedom to do different things and explore.