Matt Mocarski is WildStar's creative director, which is a fairly important job to have. But he's also the MMO's art director, which presumably means he's in charge of overseeing all the drawing and the colouring in. His holding both positions at Carbine goes some way towards explaining how WildStar got so lovely looking, with a distinct visual language that lavishes its indoor and outdoor environments in meaningful detail and a beautifully understated comic book aesthetic, which I wouldn't shut up about in my hands on WildStar beta preview yesterday.
I spoke with Matt Mocarski about his job at Carbine, where he came from, how he broke into the industry and how years upon years of experience informed his artwork on WildStar.
PCGamesN: What's your background, how did you get into the industry?
Matt Mocarski: So I’ve always been an artist, ever since I was a little kid, and when I was a teenager I decided I wanted to be a comic book artist more than anything. I didn’t have any kind of formal training or anything like that, I just sat in my basement and would draw comic books.
Turns out I wasn’t good enough, obviously, so I decided to go to school and instead of focusing on illustration, I knew that computers were the next big thing, and thought I’d become a special effects guy, because Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park had just come out and I was like “this is where the future is going, there’s going to be a lot of work.”
In school I studied Computer Animation, and I really fell in love with animated films; I think Toy Story came out while I was in school, and it was just amazing, you know? It just started the whole boom of 3D animated films. I still loved the 2D stuff as well – I actually wanted to be a 2D animator while the industry was dying! (Laughs)
So I got out of school and went to the television industry, working as a storyboard artist on animated television shows, and I was doing that for a few years and having a lot of fun doing it, but it was very much like this hardcore contract work where you have to find your next job and you have to worry about that. And all my friends graduated and went into games.
PCGN: Were they having more fun?
MM: Oh yeah, they were having a lot more fun! And I moved in with a buddy of mine who was in games and I just started hanging out at the studio. I’d do contract work at the studio, and I’d just draw what everyone else was doing, and we’d go out and play LAN games together, Quake 3 and Age of Empires and stuff like that. I just kinda got all buddy-buddy with everybody.
Then a job came up and they were all like “Hey, do you think you’d like to do this?” and I was like “sure, but I don’t know if I can!” I hadn’t done 3D for a while so I took a test and I got in. The first game I worked on was Soul Reaver 2.
PCGN: So were you doing 3D models for those guys?
MM: I was primarily a texture artist. I was doing some concept work because the teams were really small back then. You had to wear a lot of hats, we didn’t have a character artist, it was just our animators that made the characters and so there are texture artists and environment artists... we did all the lighting too. So it was just kind of “do whatever you can”, you know? There was less of a defined role like you see in today’s development.
So I worked on that and then I applied at Blizzard and Blizzard hired me. I was on the original WoW team for like, four years, which was a great experience. I rose through the ranks and by the end I was a senior artist on WoW. I still focused primarily on texture and lighting, but I did a lot of modelling myself – I was one of the guys who... me and this other guy, we made most of the cities for the game, like Stormwind and Ogrimarr and all of that stuff, a lot of the dungeons too, and that was a lot of fun.
Now Carbine was started before I left Blizzard, a bunch of guys from the WoW team had started the company, and a few months later I decided to go and work for Ready at Dawn Studios, which worked on Daxter. So I got a chance to work on the PSP and work on Daxter. Ready at Dawn was kinda co-started by a couple of Blizzard guys, so they all knew me and they convinced me to come on board. And it was a great crew and a super-fun project; we built the whole game in basically less than a year, so that was totally different from World of Warcraft where I was on that for like, four years and it had been in development for a few years before that. So yeah, a very different pace from Blizzard where it was all just rapid-fire working for Sony and everything.
And then, one day one of my buddies from Carbine called me up and said “Hey, you want to take a look at what we’re working on? We’re looking for a lead!” And I was really interested, but I was just... “I don’t want to work on another MMO” – I was still a little bit burned out from just working on WoW for so long.
PCGN: So you preferred the kind of work you were doing on Daxter?
MM: So I thought... it was just different, right? And I guess I needed a break. I didn’t realise it at the time. At the time, I thought that I don’t want to work on MMOs. But as I was working on Daxter it was like... there was something I missed, and I missed making worlds, like fully realised worlds. On Daxter we'd start work on a level and they’d be like “what’s this level?” and they’d say “well, it’s a factory” and there was no backstory to the factory – it just existed because it was a platfomer, right?
You just make the most challenging platforming level that you can, it didn’t really make sense, it was just themed as a factory after all the challenge elements got into it. And I started going “Well, I kind of want to show the player... I want to know more about this place” and no-one plays these games for that reason – and it’s true. It was still a great game, but I missed something.
So when the guys at Carbine called me up, I was just like “you know what? I’m going to go and take a look at what they’re working on”, because they’re all talented people and I was super curious.