Posted on: Mar 22nd 2014 by Aeon Bollig
Benjamin “Badgerpig” Blåholtz – 21 – Texture Artist / Concept Artist – Svalöv, Sweden
21 year-old Benjamin Blåholtz resides in Svalöv, Sweden, where he studies graphic design at Fridhems Folkhögskola, and moonlights as a top-tier contributor to TF2, where several people know him as simply, Badgerpig.
“I’m more or less living the ‘typical student life’,” said Blåholtz. “Lots of parties, usually at least two a week. In my spare time, I draw concept art and do texture work for TF2 items. And when I don’t feel like doing that, I hang out with friends or my girlfriend.”
In addition to his TF2 work, Blåholtz is also in the early stages of designing and developing his own fantasy role-playing game.
“I started drawing at a very young age,” noted Blåholtz. “I used to draw on pretty much anything I could, for example, old envelopes. My drawing sort of slowly died off towards my teenage years, and around the time The Sims 2 was popular, I actually used to make really terrible texture edits with GIMP.”
“Just before I turned 17,” continued Blåholtz, “I moved south to my dad’s, lost my old computer, got a new one, and stopped playing The Sims 2 in favour of TF2, which I was now able to play with a proper internet connection. After a while, I started downloading various mods off then-FPSBanana, which soon led me to the TF2 Mod Emporium on Facepunch, where I slowly learned how to work the gamefiles myself and began doing textures for various things.”
“Though it wasn’t until maybe a year back that I actually started making worthwhile things,” felt Blåholtz. “I never really studied or worked officially with anything artistic, really, so I’m more or less self-taught.”
“I was always told I was very good at drawing as a kid,” recounted Blåholtz. “I remember my classmates used to be jealous of me. I, on the other hand, didn’t think too highly of my drawing even then, though.”
Up until he got his first item into TF2, The Outback Intellectual, Blåholtz had an interest in getting into the film industry. “It was around that time I started considering the game industry as a possible career path,” said Blåholtz, “and I plan to study game development when I’m done studying here, unless I manage to get hired somewhere first, which of course would be optimal.”
While he enjoys developing concept art and doing texture work, Blåholtz plans to get into modeling and sculpting at some point as well.
“It took about a year from when I first got The Outback Intellectual in until I got my first paycheck,” added Blåholtz. “That year, my dad and I struggled to understand, properly fill-in, and get all the things needed for that IRS application form.”
“When that paycheck finally arrived, it came with about $8,700, which was about what I had been waiting for since I had been talking to my fellow contributors to see how much they had earned, so I wasn’t shocked.”
“Getting that money did feel great though,” he continued. “I had naturally never had that much money before and it meant that I could pay back my dad what I owed him for living at home for six months without working or studying, and thus not having any income. It also allowed me to buy my tablet, and visit England to see my friends there: a trip that I planned, booked and went on all by myself no less, which was a very tense but liberating experience. It worked as a clear symbolic start for my new self-supported life.”
“And I don’t want to suggest money solves all problems,” clarified Blåholtz, “but up until that paycheck I had been struggling with depression, and to some extent, anxiety for quite some time.”
“Having money gave me a deep sense of calmness and allowed me to worry less about my future. It also meant I could get and do things much easier, which freed me from a lot of boredom and time to spend doing nothing.”
Since Blåholtz’s first accepted item, he’s devoted a lot more time and effort into his work after it paid off so well. In total, Blåholtz has accumulated about $21,000 from his work.
“I’ll most likely keep doing TF2 stuff at least until I get a proper job,” concluded Blåholtz. “When that happens I’ll probably not have the time to do both. I’ve been considering contacting some of the Swedish game development companies in the near future and see what might be open, even smaller and independent ones.”
“I doubt I’d find enough good people to confidently start a new company. But if I start studying it I might find them, so, who knows?”
Benjamin “Badgerpig” Blåholtz’s work can be found on his Steam Workshop.
Zoey “Sexy Robot” Smith – 17 – Modeler / Texture Artist – Harpenden, England
Just north of London, in the United Kingdom, lives Zoey Smith. Known better by her online alias, Sexy Robot, Smith is one of the youngest contributors to TF2’s workshop community. Clocking in at just barely 17 years-old, Smith has been developing her work since she was 14.
“I’m your average quirky and awkward teenager who loves nothing more than a bit of graphics design and 3D art,” says Smith. “I’ve been working on my 3D stuff, which is primarily TF2-related items, for around three to four years, now.”
Smith has a whopping 30 items added into Team Fortress 2. Among them are the Cloud Crasher, Hive Minder, and the Bat Outta Hell: her personal favorites. In addition to her own personal work, she’s also been commissioned by Square Enix multiple times, and she’s still a year from graduating secondary school.
“In terms of [artistic] education, I’ve had pretty much none at all,” stated Smith. “Everything I’ve learnt so far I’ve had to teach myself from the ground up; I’d never really engaged in any kind of proper artistic work besides scribbles in a sketchbook in my free time. In 2010, I started making 3D models as a sort of trial; painting their textures, drawing their concepts and so on. And now that’s been going strong for three to four years.”
Smith found out about TF2 and its contribution system through making and downloading add-ons for Garry’s Mod – she liked what she saw and eventually got around to buying it.
“I still don’t entirely know why I started making stuff for it though,” added Smith, “but I wouldn’t doubt it was the vague hope of making some money in my 13 year-old self. Still, I clearly enjoyed it enough to keep at it; and for a long time at that.”
In April of 2012, Smith received the first of many payments for her contributions, a paycheck of just over $1,660. “Just imagine; you’re a 15 year-old kid, you’ve probably never touched more than $500 in your entire life up till this point,” said Smith. “To be presented with such a massive windfall was astonishing, and for effectively so little at that. I’d never expected to make more than a few hundred at absolute maximum, so it was a massive shock to me, as well as everyone around me.”
As time went by, more of Smith’s work was added, and as of late January, she has made a little over $100,000 total off of her royalties. Around 90 percent of her earnings each month go straight to her savings, for university fees and living costs in the future, while the other 10 percent is more or less spending money on whatever comes up.
“My family have never really had much money to spare,” she said. “Particularly in the past, as a result of that, nor did I. Whenever I needed or wanted something expensive like repairs to my computer; It would cause a massive blow to either my already tiny wallet or my parents. But now, thanks to the money I’ve made; I’ve effectively been set for life – for the next few years at least.”
“Enough to buy a small place for myself, enough to pay my university fees, enough to pay the cost of living in the duration of that – and that’s all considering I won’t be going to university or moving out for years, too,” continued Smith. “On a more recent timescale though, I’m able to pay for all I require on my own accord; I sit in front of my top spec computer surrounded by expensive equipment which I use in my work, as well as other unimportant things too. But hey, you can’t expect me not to blow even a little of my earnings.”
With content creation going as strong as ever, Smith doesn’t have any plans to stop any time soon. “I inevitably will have to move along and I see no better way to do that then get a job in industry,” noted Smith. “But I’m still far removed from that point as it stands, while TF2 is a great way to get started it doesn’t require the skill you need for a full on job in industry – more education and experience is the obvious answer to that. And I fully intend to go with that for the future. Wherever this whole gig leads me, it’s going to be an interesting ride.”
When it comes to getting involved in the business, “Don’t be intimidated by the big boys,” says Smith. “Everyone starts small. There are a ton of resources available to help you get started. Such as the TF2 modelling tutorials and resources hosted on KritzKast which holds a giant list of specific guides and other pages which anyone can use to learn the basic skills you’ll need to make an item.”
“Learning and making improvements from feedback is also a crucial part of the learning process in item creation,” continued Smith. “Forums such as Facepunch and its TF2 Mod Emporium or Polycount are great places to get feedback from, and the members will be glad to help with any queries a newbie might have.”
“At the end of the day, modelling is still an artistic skill; time will need to be invested, study will need to be taken. There is a gargantuan learning curve involved in moving from basic to more complicated skills, not to put anyone off with that; but it’s not something anybody can expect to walk into and make a quick buck off, even considering how simplistic TF2 is.”
“But if you are interested, be invested, dedicate time, and get to work; your time is now and a long road lies ahead of you should you choose to walk it. TF2 item creation has pretty much defined my life these past years, before any of it came around I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and I was never too well off in many regards.
“With this, everything for me has changed, I now know what I want to continue doing in one way or another, and so far item creation has helped me immensely on both a personal and all the way up to a wider level. It’s begun to define me as a person, and I will be ever grateful for the opportunities it has granted me in life both present and future. I’ve met some awesome people over these years, I’ve made close friends and colleagues who I owe a lot to for their help and support; who knows where I’d be without all of this going on around me, probably down in the dumps somewhere with no real direction.”
“So I leave you with this. If you’re interested in item creation, or have considered giving item creation a shot but are still hesitant; go for it! It’s changed the way I’ve lived my life, and it’s defining my future more and more as time goes forward; perhaps it could do the same for you.”
“Seize the opportunity and give it a shot,” concluded Smith. “No matter how crap your first attempts seem, just push forwards and don’t be disheartened by failure or setback. It could be the start of something new and wonderful, and in a few years you’ll look back and remember it as such.”
Zoey “Sexy Robot” Smith’s work can be found on her Steam Workshop.
Ben “Snipa” Henry – 17 – Modeler / Texture Artist / Concept Artist – Wichita, Kansas, USA
Living in the heart of Tornado Alley in Wichita, Kansas, is 17 year-old Ben Henry. Famous under the name Snipa, Ben is one of the youngest contributors to Team Fortress 2, and a member of Valve’s experimental team, Pipeline. “Every second I get to work on my craft, I do, and I constantly push and challenge myself,” said Henry.
“I have a loving and encouraging set of parents, who have helped to guide and support me during my workshopping endeavors. All my dad asks in return is a brand new Lexus when he turns 50. Oh, and it has to be the RX 450h. Mom, on the other hand, just wants a kiss.”
Since discovering 3D modeling software in 2009, he has been passionate about creating whatever comes to mind, especially when it comes to creating content for his favorite games.
“I’ve been mostly self-taught through tutorials online” he said. “The awe and curiosity of art has spurred me on to learn as much as I can. I used to sketch a lot as a kid too, mainly cars. But I believe this has affected the way I view things, I’m more observant, at least giving me a kick start into art.”
“Along those same lines, I remember having a real knack for art when I was younger. My teacher would butter her students, including me, with loads of encouragement. Not impressive in the slightest, but I was convinced that if I tried hard enough, I might actually be good at it! I think a little bit of the self-fulfilling prophecy was working its magic there.”
With his brother, Ben got into making visual effects in their spare time, and they mostly messed around with visual renders and not much else, until the Contribute system went live in 2010. Ben would go on to develop the Black Market Business set for the Heavy, which was added to the game in the Über Update.
That set was the first batch of items that he had accepted into the game, and when that first payment showed up? “I remember it as clear as day,” he recalled. “I ran upstairs so fast I could have sworn I leaped up the entire staircase. I’ve always been an entrepreneur throughout my life, but this… this was the start of something new.”
Since Ben’s success, he has now become part of the team that makes up Valve’s Pipeline project. “I’ve been interested in joining an internship program at Valve for a while now,” he noted, “and I had been emailing with a few employees about it previously. Then I was given the opportunity by Gabe to work with the talented Pipeline team – an offer I couldn’t resist.”
With daily goals, no boss, and no rules, the Pipeline team of teenagers spend their days managing the Steam forums, making websites and providing resources to those interested in joining the game industry.
“It’s given me something to be happy about,” he added, “but it’s also given me a not-so-good ego. I think the biggest challenge is staying humble. None of my friends have found a passion like I have, and sometimes that creates its own conflict. I think it’s posed a lot more challenges than I thought it would, affecting all areas of my life, some most surprising to me.”
With high school graduation on the horizon, Ben plans to pursue higher education, likely in another passion of his to have something to fall back on, and looks to work for a game company while in college.
“As most of us contributors and workshoppers want, a job at Valve is the end goal,” he said. “While that isn’t the actual end goal, I think it’s fair to say that, that is why we love what we do. It’s why we make item after item so that someday, we will be on the receiving end of the workshop, becoming the picker that chooses what stays, and what goes. As for me, I’m going to keep on that path until it’s completely blocked off.”
“I honestly don’t see myself working anywhere else, but if that’s what it takes to get to Valve, then I’ll do it.”
“Being a successful workshopper has given me a handful of challenges,” concluded Ben. “I believe it’s been worth it all the way. I love what I do, and I’m going to continue on until I reach my goal. I hope that others with the same ambitions continue to strive towards their goals, and I wish all of them success!”
Ben “Snipa” Henry’s work can be found on his Steam Workshop.
Baptiste “Napy Da Wise” Muscagorry – 22 – Modeler – Paris, France
Continuing on to southern Paris is 22 year-old Baptiste Muscagorry, who currently resides in a flat with his family and cat. Known by many as Napy Da Wise, Muscagorry has built up quite the prestigious reputation for himself from humble beginnings.
“I think my artistic view comes from when I drew stuff as a little kid,” said Muscagorry. “Re-imagining stuff I didn’t like in cartoons and video games. Fixing errors, finding new ways to do stuff more efficiently, that’s what I like. And I’ll probably orient myself to rehabilitation when I’ll be an architect.”
“I wouldn’t call myself a good draftsman, but to me it’s not about how you draw, but what you draw.”
Self-taught, Muscagorry got into custom content creation with the Polycount contest, when the idea that custom content could be made official was put on the table. “I remember looking at the threads, thinking ‘yeah, I want to try that,’” he recalled. “But of course, you can’t really do a contest without knowing anything about making models.”
“So I learned, thinking there would be another contest later on, and that I could totally win it. I had no prior notion on working with [the necessary] software, since my school was traditionalist at the time and didn’t want us to learn too much about computers.”
“And even if I’d have learn how to use them, TF2 required way more than that at the time. It was a great challenge, but a fun one.”
It wouldn’t be until two months after the Polycount contest that Muscagorry finished his first item, uploaded to the old Contribute system, but never re-made to see the light of day on the Workshop. “It didn’t strike me as something I would want to redo,” he said. “It was part of the [community-made] Medieval update though, along with another item of mine, which was, for me, a huge achievement. You can still see it there: the Sewed Madman.”
Despite numerous efforts, Muscagorry’s work wouldn’t be added to the game until late 2012, when the Dead Little Buddy was added as part of the Spectral Halloween Special.
“When the Dead Little Buddy got added, I tried to understand how all those papers worked,” he recollected, “and it was a mess since, while I speak English, my parents don’t. So I had to translate the forms in French, and most of the words were unknown to me since I’m really not the kind of person who’s interested in finance.”
“After talking with multiple contributors, I finally found how to fill them out, who had to sign the documents, et cetera. My parents didn’t believe I’d get money from it, or maybe a small amount.”
“I got the first payment three months later, in February. That was more money than I had ever possessed, so imagine the shock for a 21 year-old student with no job to get money basically dropping from the sky.”
“My parents reaction was also funny,” he added, “because while they were impressed, they were pretty sure it was a one time payment, and that I would never hear from Valve again.”
Of course, the payments became a monthly occurrence, and since his first payment, Muscagorry has been awarded nearly $60,000 in royalties from his collective work. “That’s about 3.5k [euros] per month,” he affirmed, “so, more than twice the base French salary.”
“It didn’t impact my life that much, since I’m not a huge spender. The first thing I did was upgrade my computer with a second screen, a new graphics card, and a new hard drive. Besides that, I used to live simple, only buying stuff when I really needed them and making sure it was quality so it would last me a long time.”
“I didn’t changed that much,” he assured, “besides the fact that I can invite my friends to dinner, buy more stuff when we throw parties, that kind of thing. Basically I’m now the bank of my group of friends and I don’t mind lending money when they’re in need. Plus, it helps when we’re going to restaurants, movies, et cetera.”
“It’s still my everyday life, without having to worry about money. And well, since I’m currently looking for housing, it’ll help there too. I’m planning to get a bigger flat than I first thought, so I could invite friends without being tight, or in one of our parents’ house. So yeah, it basically made my everyday life easier.”
Moving forward, Muscagorry plans to finish his studies and work as an architect, while still keeping opportunities open to switch career paths if designing buildings gets boring. “I’ll still continue to model for TF2, and its potential successors,” he stated. “Maybe I’ll try Dota 2, I don’t know. Nothing is set in stone and I’ll do what I want to do when the time comes.”
“I’d love to design a video game, but, architecture will still be my job, and modelling will probably stay a hobby. I don’t want to be forced to make models.”
“This experience is one of the best I had in my life,” said Muscagorry. “The community is one of the nicest: lots of people helped me to learn everything I needed to be part of this adventure. It was hard, but it was fun and very rewarding. Finally completing your first item after months of bugs is a great feeling.”
“I remember being mad over having no items added, back when I couldn’t see that they just didn’t meet the criteria. It took me two years to get an item in-game, and that was one of the best feelings ever. Finally being part of something that big, and knowing you did it right. Then there was the Merc’s Muffler craze that’s still going on. Making a popular item like that changed lots of things, from people adding me to buy it to changing whole TF2 servers into parties when someone spotted [my] self-made.”
“Then there was the [Robotic Boogaloo] update which got the same friend that helped me on my first item propulsed to contributor. I remember the long email exchange we had with a Valve developer to find a way to make the Battery Canteens work. They did fantastic work, I even got spotted by Valve for my tutorials when they added a reward system for useful contributors.”
“People keep asking me for help, and I try to answer everyone,” he assures. “Now I’m slowly getting back to modelling after a long pause due to my studies. I now also own a real-life Merc’s Muffler knitted by a fan. And that, well, that’s just the best feeling ever.”
“So remember, if you want to be part of it, anyone can do it,” concluded Muscagorry, “just never give up. Always learn something new. Be as creative as possible. And you’ll soon be part of this very unique and awesome video game experience!”
Tim “YM” Johnson – 22 – Mapmaker / Modeler / Texture Artist – Woodbridge, Suffolk, England
Kicking back in the rural east of England is 22 year-old Tim Johnson. Toting a degree in astrophysics and working at a local cinema, Johnson moonlights as a community mapmaker and content creator for TF2, under the name of YM.
“I haven’t any formal training artistically beyond AS Level,” said Johnson. “I tried to continue art lessons at school for the following year but dropped it before the first lesson. I was already taking the usual three subjects with art as a fourth, and the coursework required for art makes it more like two or three times the workload of the other subjects I was taking.”
Johnson has had experience with modding games for a long couple of years, with some of his earliest work being done with the Transmogrifier for the original Sims games. “The tutorial I used is still up, amazingly enough,” remarked Johnson. “The screenshots there are windows XP, so it must have been after 2001.”
“Before that though I did some programming using Blitz Basic, and later, Blitz 3D. My dad bought me a copy when I was about seven or eight and we wrote an arkanoid clone together. All of the art assets came from one of the example projects that came with Blitz– creatively called Blitzanoid– and we essentially just copied that.”
“I didn’t know it at the time though and we went through the steps in a logical order so that I was actually able to write it myself, rather than just copying the existing example. After that one was finished he didn’t go through much in the same step by step methodology with me so I floundered a bit on my own and didn’t do a huge amount that ever amounted to anything.”
Johnsons started with Source in 2007 with the purchase of Half-Life 2. “At this point the only thing I knew about Half Life was that it existed,” said Johnson. “With either Half Life 2, or Episode 1, I got Half-Life 2 Deathmatch for free and after much persuasion, I managed to get my dad to set up our network so that I could actually play it. He wasn’t keen on anything internet related so this was a big victory for me, it was the opening of the floodgates, really.”
It didn’t take long for Johnson to get into custom maps. He’d spend nights hopping from server to server, playing map after map, usually with no more than two or three people.
“I found the SDK by mistake when looking around Steam one day,” recalled Johnson. “[I] googled what it was for, and an hour later had compiled my first room map for HL2DM. Back then, I didn’t understand how anything worked with Source, so compiles took upwards of seven hours. And I didn’t know any better. The tutorials I was following didn’t say how long a compile should take so I just assumed that there was some heavy duty magic going on and that’s how long it took.”
“I eventually decided that waiting all night for a compile, that might then look terrible wasn’t much fun and stopped.”
Fast forward to the release of The Orange Box, and Johnson was back in the game. “The levels were small and simple,” noted Johnson, “and more importantly, I’d discovered the func_detail, so compile times were no longer measured in hours, but minutes. The communities doing level design for it sprung up quickly, as did a plethora of new tutorials. I joined the communities, followed the tutorials, made a ton of terrible maps and learnt an absolute ton about Source.”
By February of 2008, Johnson got burnt out spending all his free time making test chambers for Portal, so he started playing TF2 instead, and mapping for it came soon after. “I could play the maps with a server full of people, which made it a lot more rewarding despite taking a lot longer. I was still pretty bad with source when I transitioned to TF2, so my early maps are painful to look back on. I grew a lot in that first year.”
Within that first year, Johnson had begun work on Hoodoo, a payload map which eventually would be added to the game with the Sniper vs Spy Update after being pushed back from the Scout Update.
“Out of the blue I got an email from someone at Valve,” said Johnson, “they asked if I’d be willing to sell it to them. There were a few emails exchanged before they sent me an agreement, and three other people needed them as well since they were involved, too. Once they were all signed and sent back along with the map files, that was that.”
After Hoodoo, Johnson would go on to make several more maps, and compete in the Artpass Contest with his entry, Mann Manor, which was later added to the game as that year’s Halloween event map. “[That was] a complete surprise,” remarked Johnson. “We sent them the finished map and they took it to this whole other level of awesome. They added creepy whispering to the soundscapes, a portrait of one of the Mann brothers and a few other minor things.”
“Then the whole Horseless Headless Horseman was a complete surprise to everyone. I don’t think anyone saw it coming.”
Alongside Mann Manor, Mountain Lab was added, which prominently featured the community-made Swamp Theme, which Johnson also took part in, learning to model and texture out of necessity. “Being able to whip up a couple textures or a model for a level is a lot better than relying on someone else for them,” he noted.
With the accumulated profits from his map’s initial payments, and with the addition of Map Stamps, Johnson estimates he’s made around $30,000 off of his work since he began.
“It’s a nice second income,” said Johnson. “It’s not as large as my primary income, but it means I’m not living paycheck to paycheck. It’s actually been slowly rising, too. I haven’t landed a job in anything games related yet, so overall it hasn’t impacted life much yet.”
“I definitely want to go towards professional level design,” he continued. “I tend to be a very content person, so long term plans don’t really work well with me. I’m happy where I am now, and I’m not actively looking for something new, but I’m sure something will work itself out to send me in a new direction. Whether I’ll find something, or something will find me, I can’t say.”
When it comes to joining in the custom content creation business, Johnson says to act now. “Get the tools, get practicing, get feedback,” he concluded. “Don’t wait for this or for that, get started today and don’t stop until you’re as good as the people you look up to. I always quote Adam Phillips at this point: ‘If you want to be great at something, do it until you’re sick of it. Then go and do it some more.’”
Tim “YM” Johnson’s work can be found on his online Portfolio.