Whenever we design a game, one of our favorite things to do is to come up with the visual concepts. Who lives in the world of this game? What do the homes and schools look like? Is it a cartoony world, like in Space Cats Fight Fascism, or is it a serious world, like in Rise Up: The Game of People & Power?
When coming up with STRIKE! The Game of Worker Rebellion, TESA and Jobs with Justice had the pleasure of brainstorming and collaborating with artist T.L. Simons on everything from the world-building to the character creation. It was such an incredible and powerful experience to flesh out the visual identity of the game with T.L.
We thought it would be great to take a moment chat with T.L. and get his perspective on what it was like to create the visual world of STRIKE:
What was your inspiration for illustrating and designing the world of STRIKE? What has that process been like?
TL: When I first sat down with TESA at the start of the project, the only thing we knew for certain was that this was going to be a game about workers’ power and a city-wide strike. The early brainstorms explored a few different ways to make this happen, including setting the game in a real world, present day context as well one far in the future in some kind of sci fi universe. Fairly quickly however, we realized that something in between these two options had the most potential. We drew inspiration from a variety of speculative fiction sources as well as some classic cyberpunk worldbuilding. And then we mashed that up with the already dazzling and dystopian contemporary world defined by late capitalism. The result is Mercury City and its inhabitants struggle against HappyCorp. We want the game to feel imaginative and futuristic, yet eerily familiar and close to the struggles many of us face everyday in our lives.
We’re so excited about the art in the game. It feels like you truly brought this world to life, and that the art shines through when people play the game. What was your favorite part of STRIKE to illustrate, and why?
TL: It’s hard to say what my favorite illustrations in STRIKE! are. But some of the most intense and rewarding work was related to illustrating the twelve locations in the game that appear on the game board as well as in the Strike Deck. Each of these gives a different perspective on Mercury City. And when viewed together, you get a sense of the varied economies that keep it going. We wanted the cityscapes to feel like images from the future, but not too far in the future. I treated the visual design of this game like a piece of speculative fiction, extrapolate the trends we see today and try to imagine where those will take us in 15 or 20 years.
Your illustrations and design of HappyCorp in the game are both frightening and hilarious. That must’ve been a tough balance to strike (pun intended), but we feel like it brings a very needed level of brevity to a game that is about challenging the power of a megacorporation. How did you find this balance?
TL: Again, all we had to do was look at the world around us, and in particular, the absurdity of big tech. Everything about the way tech corporations present themselves to the world is infused with friendly, progressive, and mindful messaging that is designed to invoke feelings of benevolence even when these are some of the most exploitative and oppressive institutions ever to emerge from capitalism. I wanted HappyCorp to feel like some sinister but smiling fusion of Walmart and Amazon, intent on world domination and total automation. During the brainstorming, Brian was the one who came up with the name HappyCorp. But as soon as I heard it, it clicked. I think happiness is like a pacifying drug that we taught by late capitalism to crave. It is sold to us in a myriad of expensive forms as the only way to escape our troubles. But the only way to truly alleviate suffering is through struggle and collective action, exactly what corporations like HappyCorp are most afraid of. These were some of the ideas I drew on while developing the look and feel of HappyCorp.
Ultimately, this is a game about building the power of working people. How did that guide your work?
TL: I think you can see this most clearly in the characters we developed for the game. Going back to one of the previous questions, I actually think these characters in STRIKE! might be my favorite pieces of art. TESA and Jobs with Justice did an amazing job coming up with the diverse list of workers including their background, identity and workplace. And then it was my job to synthesize everything and bring each person to life. These are the heroes of the story. But they are not your typical superheroes or chauvinist champions or brutal warriors found in many games. They are ordinary working people whose power comes from their cooperation with each other. Giving each of these characters a unique personality and imagining what their job would look like a little ways into the future was a great process and the results speak for themselves!
STRIKE! The Game of Worker Rebellion is currently crowdfunding; you can support and receive the game here.
T.L. Simons is a self-taught graphic artist with over 15 years of professional experience developing visual identities, designing games and managing print production. He is former collective member of Inkworks Press and the creator of the tabletop game Bloc by Bloc. His illustrations and designs have appeared in numerous books, magazines and other publications. Learn more at tlsimons.com or on Instagram @t.l.simons