Don Eskridge wanted to follow up The Resistance and The Resistance: Avalon with a game made by his own company. So he made that company and contracted me to work on the art for the first game: Abandon Planet. He already had made a prototype using some material he purchased online, but was eager to make this work his own.
The Logo - Deciding on an Art Direction
Creating the look for Abandon Planet started by taking a look at the different ways space travel and the apocalypse has been represented in popular media. Don didn't want to focus on the space aspect of the game, because the game isn't about space exploration, so the second round of inspiration focused on something he liked from the original set, a Hungarian stamp that was released as part of their space and scientific exploration set. This feel was very similar to the WPA posters, and Don was particularly drawn to the WPA-inspired Hawaii poster, and I combined that with the general structure and type and barebones illustration found in the Army Field Manuals. With an art direction set, I went about creating a logo for the game that could be distributed at GenCon to get people excited.
The Board - This Isn't Catan, So It Shouldn't Look Like Catan
Hexes are incredibly popular game piece shapes, but they didn't work for this game. Don had complained that players often think they can move between the pieces since they're touching, and that is not the case. So it was up to me to create a new board game shape. It was to be modular, but the pieces shouldn't touch, and give people the idea that they can go from space to space. But the piece should still radiate from the center hex. After some doodling, I thought about the chevron. I mocked it up quickly, and the sides touched, but I liked the general idea, so I finessed the shape a little. After I developed the shape, I made a vector linework version of the game to try to develop the symbols of the game a little from where Don had them.
Creating the World - Chevron Backgrounds
Next, I worked on the background of each of the chevrons. I wanted a top down version, but Don thought that a straight on view would be more compelling, so I worked to make each chevron's horizon line and perspective consistent, so the different environments could be read easily and they didn't compete with each other. After that, I painted a few initial chevrons, and Don expressed his interest in screening the pieces, so that each background consisted only of different hues/saturations of the color of their respective resource. I mocked that up along with some black and white versions, and found that screening the color was much more compelling. I worked to make sure each piece still retained that sketchy/imprecise look of field manual illustrations. The idea was that this game is about surviving the apocalypse, just like a field manual would instruct, and these chevrons represented the possibility spaces where one could conceivably get these resources. These weren't necessarily the actual places, they were representations.
The Rockets and the Miracle of the Happy Accident
When I was developing the game, I wanted to spend some time thinking about the rockets. Initially Don hadn't considered this part very much, and just wanted one basic rocket for the game. I developed a bunch of different rockets so Don would have some choice in the final rocket, and 3D printed them at Lost Arts. When I laid them out, the opportunity became apparent: make one rocket for each player. I ended up spending a ton of time on this, attempting to push each design out as far as possible. I wanted to retain the sketchy/imprecise nature of the art, and really build on unique silhouettes. I thought of these rockets as chess pieces: a player should be able to identify them easily by their shape on the board, regardless of color. Since these rockets were also being rebuilt, once I finished the design, I selectively damaged parts of the rockets. All of this was done while thinking about how to manufacture these with two-part molds to reduce cost, and we ended up with 16 different rockets that were voted on by Kickstarter backers.
The Icons - Your First Idea May Not Be the Best Idea
I so badly wanted the floppy disk to be in the game. I wanted so badly for that to be the case, but it was not meant to be. Don said that people were confused by it, and disapproved of it.
The Box Cover
There were a lot of variations of the cover, and Don really wanted people on the cover, but I've never enjoyed seeing people on the cover of the box. There are many reasons for this, but mainly I wanted to depict a scene that a person could insert themselves into, and not one that asked them to become a different character to be part of the game. That kind of thinking was central to most of my decisions in this game. Did this design element mean that you were making the choice? Or did it mean that you had a surrogate making the decision? I tried to put the player directly in the game as much as possible. That's another reason the sketchy/imprecise nature was chosen. A meteor apocalypse is a potentially very real and scary thing, and by getting a player 70% there with drawings that were a little friendly and cute, I hoped they would be more willing to fill in the remaining 30% with their imagination.