Interview with Anthony Tan from Way To The Woods

Screenshot from Way To The Woods. Features a computer generated deer.

At the age of 16, Anthony Tan has already worked on upcoming PlayStation VR title Job Simulator and more recently teased his own project, Way To The Woods.

Last week a tweet by No Man’s Sky creator Sean Murray created a quite a bit of excitement. Interestingly, it wasn’t about his own eagerly anticipated, open universe title but instead featured the work of 16 year old artist Anthony Tan (@bogus_roxy). I immediately started reading through the linked Reddit thread looking for more information, or a website where I could learn more about this game and its young creator. After following a link to the Way To The Woods development blog on Tumblr, I reached out with some questions and Anthony very politely agreed to answer them!

I was interested to learn about about his experience and learning such skills prior to university education, and how others could possibly follow in his footsteps to create their own great work.

Concept Art from Way To The Woods. Features two deer following a path across rusted car rooftops.
Concept Art from Way To The Woods by Anthony Tan

How did you first get involved in game development?

When I was a kid I spent a bit too much time messing around in the World Editor for Warcraft III. Then when I was like 13 I started making some super embarrassing flash games hidden deep in the internet somewhere. My first leap into the real industry was this year, as a 3D intern at Owlchemy Labs on Job Simulator!

Are you self taught? Have you had any mentoring? Did any learning resources really give you a head start?

I got into digital art at around 12 – 13 because my brother bought a Wacom that he didn’t use. So I stole it and played in a program called Paint Tool SAI. copious amounts of internet tutorials and embarrassing fan-art helped a lot! I didn’t start with it, but the website CtrlPaint run by the awesome Matt Kohr is super awesome.

Screenshot from Way To The Woods by Anthony Tan. A tunnel with a bright red entrance.
Where could this possibly lead? – Way To The Woods by Anthony Tan

How would you describe your overall workflow? Are you quite organised or is there a large element of trial and error involved in your approach?

Oh god. It’s so much trial and error. I learn as I go, which is super fun but also leads to lots of mistakes. This was especially true when I was trying to learn rigging!! I remember painting all my skin weights by hand, and then realising that oh – I did it all wrong, I just wasted 4 hours.

How do you overcome difficult or unfamiliar problems?

I Google it!! I thought this was obvious, but there are seriously so many people who… I guess are sort of against Googling things? The fact is a lot of programs are weird!! Other people have had the same obscure problem as you, go read about it!

I also bug a lot of artists I like through email :)

Do high school and your teachers help support your interests and skills? Which area of study has helped you make the most progress with your games?

Nope! School is like a totally separate world. My art teacher was an eccentric weird-o who really wasn’t that great at art. reading lots of books in Literature and English classes however exposed me to lots of different creative work! They’re classics for a reason. :O

Screenshot from Way To The Woods by Anthony Tan. A horned deer and her fawn.
The deer and her fawn – Way To The Woods by Anthony Tan

How do you manage your time spent making games alongside your studies and socialising/having fun?

i don’t actually have a schedule! I just do whatever comes up. When I have free time, I work on making games! I generally have a lot of free time so that means a lot of making games. Although, if i’m working on something and a friend says hi I still talk to them! I think as long as I know I did the best I could do that day, i’m ok!

Although i’m sure I would be much better if I actually properly scheduled my life. But, everyone has a weakness!

You mentioned working on Job Simulator also. How did you get involved with that project? Was it your first time working on a game with others?

I had made this game called Modern Bugfare 3, which I posted on /r/unity3d. it got a lot of attention due to the art, and I got a message from Alex Schwartz of Owlchemy Labs from there! it’s funny, because Modern Bugfare 3 was just an elaborate joke I had started with my friend to freak another friend out. the more effort / work put into the game, which was intended to be terrible, the funnier it got. I guess that sort of overflowed and I ended up with something that actually looked genuinely cool.

Yeah! Job Simulator is the first ‘real’ game i’ve worked on with a team :)

Any advice for others starting out? (Especially for people around your age)

Don’t fret the programs! Just dive in and start making stuff.

My friend, Steph (@StephersJF), is one of the Team Junkfish developers behind Monstrum. Like many, she’s totally in love with your art! She wanted me to ask if you could offer some advice or beginners references for on Maya and ZBrush?

Hey Steph!! First of all Monstrum looks super cool and spooky!! Hmm…

ZBrush: This program is weird. At least, for me it was. You’ll get used to the interface! I just dived straight in and sculpted, only to find out I did it all wrong. But really take the time to understand sub divisions! Also, there are a lot of tutorials from super cool people on sites like Gumroad! They’re really long but it’s worth it to take the time to watch them. They’re also generally only like $5!

Maya: When I was first starting out I was really confused by the whole concept of “normals”. Why were some faces so hard and paper looking? Why were some so smooth? It was a mystery to me. But it’s not that scary once you just play around with the tools in the Normals tab!

I hope you enjoyed reading this interview with Anthony Tan from Way To The Woods. It was really interesting for me, to learn about his own learning habits and creative approach to game development.

When I was 16 I knew implicitly that I wanted to create video games. In high school, I focused mainly on my art and design classes, closely followed by computing. I was under the impression, that to develop the skills required to make video games I would need to attend university and somebody would impart this required knowledge upon me. This was 2003 though, so despite my naivety, the tools for self study weren’t as openly available as they are now and in addition, software licences were pricey. To make matters worse my household had a 56k dial-up modem, so the Internet wasn’t the powerful resource it is now. Excuses aside, I didn’t take it upon myself to chase down the people who were already doing what I wanted to do. Until now, I never pursued my ambition to the same extent that Anthony already has.

Times have changed and technology has continued to improve. The Internet is a vast repository of information and high-speeds make creative collaboration possible almost anywhere in the world. Open source software is available for almost every possible requirement; even powerful game engines are now available freely for non-commercial use. Anthony Tan has put his available resources to good use, and at the young age of 16 has already managed to produce noticeable results.

It was really great to hear back from this young prodigy and I wish him all the best with his current project, Way To The Woods; which I’m really excited to eventually play!

I’ll be chasing him up with more questions in the future, until then you can follow his work from the links below: