She Games Interview: Kassondra Krahn, Designer of Worlds
Kassondra Krahn has a unique ability: she can transform imagination into reality—in video games, that is!
Have you ever paused while playing a video game to admire your surroundings or marvel at the details in a landscape? As a 3D Environment Artist at Next Level Games in Vancouver, BC, Kassondra merges her passions for art and gaming to create these environments. I had the opportunity to interview Kassondra about her career and her experience as a woman in the video game industry.
KASSONDRA’S GAMING PROFILE
Currently playing: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Favourite female character in a video game: Lightning from Final Fantasy
Most anticipated game: The Last of Us: Part II
Additional hobbies: music, travelling, cooking, painting, and sketching
Describe the moment you fell in love with video games.
I think this happened when I was a kid. My family would play Zelda games on Sundays when I was growing up, and it became this really nostalgic thing for me. After that, I kept playing games with friends, and eventually it became a full-time hobby (and now a full-time career!).
What came first for you: art or gaming? And how did they meet?
Games were always a hobby, but art was always a slight obsession growing up (that hasn’t changed much). It wasn’t until I finished university that I even realized I could get a job that could combine art with video games. I always thought working in this industry was for people who could code or were far more tech-savvy than I am. Luckily, I found a program that taught 3D modelling/sculpting/texturing and so on and instantly fell in love with it. It has been great to find a career where I’m able to channel that every day.
Tell me more about your educational and training background.
After high school, I went to the University of Guelph to study Fine Art and Art History. During my four years there, I found myself writing papers on ancient churches and civilizations, breaking down modernist painting, and learning about a variety of incredible artists and mediums. On the Studio Art side, I was able to be more hands-on as I learned how to create oil paintings, use printing presses, and draw using perspective. Between the two, it was a really nice combination of majors. This is all a bit different than what I do now, but I was only 18 at the time and I needed a few years to sort of figure out art and what I was going to do with it. After I graduated, I backpacked Europe for a few months and saw about every museum I could along the way.
Following this, I worked in a few different art galleries in Vancouver; however, I was really missing the creative element of just making art every day. After a bit, I decided to go to the Vancouver Institute of Media Arts for their Game Art & Design program. That was a big year trying to learn everything I could about 3D modelling, and luckily after graduation I managed to get hired pretty quickly at a game studio.
What do you do in your current role? What do you enjoy most about your work?
My role at work is an Environment Artist, so basically I am in charge of creating level art for a game. This can range from hard surface architecture and organic landscape to different types of props. There is a huge variety in even just one environment, as you have to manage so many assets. I really enjoy environment art in games because of the sheer number of things I get to work on within a scene itself.
What elements of your art background or other influences do you draw on in your work?
I think having my fine art background is pretty essential to my current work, as using compositional elements and colour palettes can really help an environment come together. Generally, I’m trying to interpret from real-world references and reproduce from that, but the beauty of CG is that I can truly make anything I want that could never exist in the real world. I think that’s where having an artistic foundation can help making a piece feel realistic but juxtaposed with some artistic licence or stylization.
Do you have any role models in game development or design?
I am pretty obsessed with anything made by Naughty Dog. Their art is top-notch and combined with good gameplay and awesome storytelling; it makes for an incredible experience.
As a gamer and 3D environment artist, what would you say is the importance of the game environment?
I think gameplay should always be prioritized over art, because if a game isn’t fun, what’s the point, really? I prefer an environment that feels natural and well composed but also uses visual storytelling to guide the player through the game. A good example of this is the new God of War game. The environments in that game are spectacular and feel grounded in the world, but there are certain gameplay elements that the player starts to recognize. Examples of this are the sculpted cracks in the walls where you can climb up with your son or the painted runes on rocks which you can leap over or lift up. You feel immersed in your environment, but there is also a sense of direction from the game on what to do next.
What challenges and/or opportunities have you experienced as a woman in the gaming industry?
The game industry is absolutely a male-centric work environment, which doesn’t really bother me at all. I’m always a bit of a cheerleader when I get to work with women (I can’t help it), but as long as the people I work with are passionate and respectful, it makes no difference to me. Coming from the gallery world, I found I generally worked more with women (for no particular reason; that’s just how it happened for me), so at first it was a little bit of a new experience to be, at times, the only woman in the room. After a short while I got used to it, as I’m really fortunate to work with such an incredible group of people.
What impact did video games had on you? Has your career affected the way you game?
Video games are everything to me. It’s such an interactive medium that combines art, storytelling, and teamwork. I’ve always played games mainly for gameplay and plot (I generally play quest-based RPGs), but now that I’m in the industry I find myself obsessing over the art of every little rock and column in a game. I will literally place my character near a boulder and spin the camera around it to try to see how it was sculpted or textured. Games are becoming better in terms of gameplay and how immersive they’ve become, and it’s kind of insane how much the graphics have improved even in the past 5 years. I can’t wait to see where mediums like VR go in the future and how games will continue to evolve.
Where do you hope your career takes you?
I really enjoy working with people and talking out ideas, so later in my career I think I’d like to do something where I can work closely with a team of individuals. This could be as an Art Director or a Lead Environment Artist. We’ll see how it goes!
What advice would you give to girls interested in getting into the industry?
Don’t ever be intimidated by an industry that’s not as female-centric as others. The ratio is only increasing in our favour, plus the people I have met in this field have been some of the most incredible people to work with. Just be yourself and you will find your fit; I have no doubt about that. You go, girl!
A She Games interview by Kesiah Stoker—Journalist, Do a Barrel Roll
All the artwork in this article was done by Kassondra Krahn.