GAME + ARTIST: Cat Musgrove

GAME + ARTIST is a series of profiles of young, up-and-coming artists who help create or are inspired by video games. These profiles seek to reveal the artists' inspirations and ways of approaching art, in his or her own words, with the hope that they can in turn inspire others. This profile of artist and game designer Cat Musgrove is the fourth in the series.

Cat Musgrove

NAME Cat Musgrove

WEBSITE Trouble Impact

FROM Austin, TX USA

RECENT PROJECTS INCLUDE AAA games at Activision, indie game Color Thief (PC)



GOT STARTED with an interest in film

I'm the art and game design side of a 2-person indie studio called Trouble Impact that I started with my friend Issam a little over 3 years ago. Before that I worked as an animator for about 5 years at a company called Vicarious Visions (an Activision company) making AAA games. The last thing I worked on there was Skylanders: Swap Force. Animating is fun, but I didn't really enjoy playing the games I was working on, and I wanted more control over the design. I looked into working a few smaller studios, but I was eventually able to convince Issam to start a company with me. We work really well together (we'd done a TON of game jams while still working at Vicarious Visions) and he's pretty much my best friend, so it seemed like a good idea. Since starting Trouble Impact, we've released one game—a mobile endless-runner-meets-turn-based-combat game called Amelia vs. the Marathon—and we've been working on a much larger-scale puzzle game for PC and consoles called Color Thief for the last 2 years. I had always wanted to design a puzzle game, and it's been a really awesome learning process. I also do game jams every once in a while by myself, which is really fun. I need to finish more of them.

I don't actually enjoy playing most games, so making games was not something I had any interest in doing until the end of college. I played games as a kid, and I watched my brother play a lot of games when I was in middle and high school, but I definitely grew out of playing them myself. The games that weren't too violent for me were too tedious or repetitive, and I just didn't find games very fun. I went to college to study computer animation with the aim of working in film. A lot of kids from my school end up in feature film, but about half of them end up in the game industry so I thought I should educate myself "just in case" my senior year and I took a class called "Games and Society." It was the first time I ever really thought critically about games, and the idea of interactive systems just sounded so much more exciting than film. Like, here was this weird new medium that's constantly changing and doesn't really know what it is yet. It didn't matter if I didn't like playing games, it’s a huge possibility space and I figured I could learn how to make games that I would want to play. I didn't really find that working for a huge AAA company, but now I'm finally getting to learn and explore with my own company.

Color Thief

STUDIED animation

As I mentioned, that class that I took my senior year of college was a huge influence for me. Also I was just really lucky in that my college experience was amazing. I went to a school called the Ringling College of Art and Design. You learn the whole process of animation: not just all of the technical side (modeling, texturing, rigging, animating) but also about story, character motivation, and visual design. You also learn how to share knowledge with your peers, how to take critique, and most importantly, how to learn things on your own. It was a great school, and I think it gave me a huge leg up in terms of understanding how to be professional and how to have the confidence to take on new things.

INSPIRED BY up-and-coming game artists

Right now there's, like, this budding group of young women 3D game artists that I've been finding through Twitter that have been super inspirational to me. Heather Penn, who I mostly know from her work on Overland (since it's being developed here in Austin) does beautiful work that makes me jealous and want to be a better artist. I also love the stuff that Chelsea Saunders has been doing; she's really prolific and you can tell how much she loves to try new things. I also recently met Lucie Vitage during a local game jam and her work—and the rest of the work that's coming out of the Klondike Collective—gave me a kick in the pants. These young people! ;) Haha, not like I'm that much older, but they're all so prolific and talented and make me see 3D art through fresh eyes. They make me want to work harder! I also get a ton of inspiration from a lot of webcomic artists/illustrators that I follow on Twitter and Tumblr: Kate Beaton, Natasha Allegri, Anthony Clark. Game design wise, Jonathan Blow has been a HUGE inspiration to me. I discovered his lectures right as I was transitioning into game design and he really helped shape my design philosophy.

REMEMBERS PLAYING Ocarina of Time

Pretty close to the time I stopped playing games, I played Ocarina of Time (probably around middle school?), and that game had a really strong sense of place, which always stuck with me. Like, when I remember it, it feels like a place I visited, which was really different and special. I don’t know if any other games have made me feel that way since. Probably the closest I’ve felt was playing Shadow of the Colossus.

Ocarina of Time

HAS DIFFICULTY pinning down her style

I think I have a style, but I have a hard time defining it. Like, when I look at my drawings or 3D work, there's definitely something there that sets it apart, but I've never really tried putting it into words. I felt really weird recently when we got feedback on Color Thief from the IndieCade judges, and someone said we had a "powerful aesthetic” and I’m like, “Tell me what it is!!”

Every once in a while I realize how big our game is and that really intimidates me. Like, I don’t want to make it smaller, but realizing that we’ll probably be working on it for another year and a half at least is weird sometimes. It can also be a little hard to stay motivated day-to-day when you’ve been working on something for so long. And then you sort of beat yourself up like, “But this is my dream project! I should be so excited every day!” Also, sometimes when I’m trying to design new puzzles, I get really stuck and I don’t feel like I really have anyone I can turn to for help, so that process can be really hard. All of it is hard. Making games is hard! :)

GETS UNSTUCK BY jumping from task to task

I'm really lucky because there are only 2 of us making this huge game, so I can jump around to different tasks if I get stuck. On the rare occasion when I really can't do that (like if I NEED to finish a particular area for a demo), usually I just try to look at a lot of reference for inspiration and muscle my way through.

First published on February 17, 2016.