Darwin Yamamoto's not that different than other gamers. He spends a lot of time looking at the faces — or, more accurately, the backs — of the medium's heroes and heroines as they open up new worlds on his TV screen. But Yamamoto's also an artist and user experience designer who's done work on the look of Valve's Steam platform and for various Microsoft products like Bing.
After hundreds of hours of gaming, the New York City resident decided to render the faces of some of gaming's biggest franchises in a series of minimalist portraits. After stumbling across a link on Twitter (thanks @tiffchow), I got in touch with Yamamoto and emailed him a few questions about his oddly evocative headshots. Here's what he had to say:
What made you pick these characters? Which trends in present-day character design do you wish would go away?
I initially had the idea of drawing 30 or so video game characters I've played as over the past couple years. And, then as Halloween was coming around, I thought it would be fun to break off into a smaller series such as 'Portrait of a Horror Survivalist'. So, the latest update had characters from horror type games. (Note: If you first saw these on tumblr, I initially highlighted the horror characters, but later got rid of the theme and just showed the whole batch). As for trends, I could do with less shaved-head, grunt-type characters. Most of them seem like they could be blood-related.
What makes a protagonist stick out to you as memorable, aside from visual design? It would be the voice acting. I couldn't help but imagine Nico Bellic's and Solid Snake's voices while drawing them.
Which of these was the hardest to nail?
The hardest would be characters such as Ethan from Heavy Rain — the everyday people. I thought Jennifer from Rule of Rose might have been a bit obscure, but one of the first comments I got was from someone recognising her, so that was reassuring. I don't think I've nailed Alan Wake. [Editor's note: I love the flashlight-to-the-face Alan Wake.]
You've got a Tumblr dedicated to old-school Sega games. Did your career as a designer and artist start because of video games?
Definitely. I've always loved video games, and it's hard not to wind up drawing things I've spend so much time on. Also, old-school games left more to the imagination, so it was a great creative outlet to fill in the blanks and do my own interpretation.
Given your background, do you think most games get user experience right? I definitely think what most games get right is gradually leading players in to the experience with both controls, user interface and difficulty. If you look at the user experience in products and software, most just tend to throw you in there, leaving you to figure it out.