Hexagonal Wonders with Hexels

by Brooks Weaver. 0 Comments

Concept art is just that, it’s “conceptual”. Some use Photoshop to do their mock-ups while others use PowerPoint. Depending on time (and software) constraints, I go back-and-forth between the two software packages - that is, until I spotted something ‘else’.

A few weeks ago as I was checking out a few of my favorite artistic websites on the internet, I came across a piece of art entitled “The Way” by Nicolas Bouvier (aka SPARTH) - the Lead Concept Artist for Halo 4. It wasn’t pixel art, which I am huge fan of that kind of art since I grew up playing 8-bit and 16-bit games, but it was definitely something awesome.


Check out the full version of “The Way” by Nicolas Bouvier here.

It reminded me of a level of a game that, well, if it would have been in a game I would have taken my time walking through the level because it looked more like a dream than anything else. It’s geometric shapes blurred into support structures that held up checkerboard walkways - I just sat and stared at the picture for a while.

But then I discovered more of this “Hexels” art on the website where the software to make this type of art is distributed to the world; both in free (Hexels) and paid versions (Hexels Pro). The company is called Hex-Ray Studios, and it’s made up of a two person team: Ted Martens and Ken Kopecky.

Ted is the art / design side of H-RS, while Ken is all about the programming side. But that’s only the beginning. Hexels and Hexels Pro is used around the world by both casual users and by (what I like to call) “heavy hitters” in the gaming and entertainment industry. Companies like Polytron (makers of FEZ) and names like Kynan Pearson (Lead Multiplayer and Level Designer of Halo 4) and Lee Petty (Art Director at Double Fine: makers of such games as Psychonauts, Brutal Legend, The Cave and the up-and-coming, crowd-funded game Broken Age) are just some of the people that utilize the simple, yet powerful artistic tools of Hexels.


Check out the full version of “Sunset Lit Environment” by Makkon here.

So what about Hex-Ray Studios? Who are they and how did Hexels come to be? Well, to get my questions answered I went right to the source:

[W2W] What is Hex-Ray Studios (H-RS), how did it come to be and what does “Hex-Ray” mean?

[H-RS] Hex-Ray started after I surprised Ted with a strange little program that let you paint with hexagons. He had the crazy idea of selling it, so we started brainstorming company names. This went on for a couple weeks, most of which I spent trying to convince him that "Laser Pizza" wasn't a good name. Eventually, we started thinking about hexagon puns, and Hex-Ray popped up.

[W2W] What is Hexels? Would you classify it as an art program, a game development program or both and why?

[H-RS] I'd like to think all art programs are potential game dev tools, but as long as Ted and I have known each other we've both been interested in programs that allow artists to easily do things that are difficult with the current tools out there.

We are, and are surrounded by, game developers, so we had that group in mind when we designed Hexels. So it's always been intended to be an art program, but we've tried to make it especially useful for the types of art used in games--pixel art, and variations thereof, for example.

We've also tried to make it useful for generating maps and other data for games by putting in other export formats, like XML, as well as, the upcoming texturing features that will be in Hexels 1.2. In the end though, it's really our users that classify Hexels, and they've been using it for more things than we ever dreamed of.

[W2W] With how Hexels is being used throughout the world, can you provide some graphical examples of “artists” that have reached out to you with some of their own creations?

[H-RS] Every few days, we hear about an artist at a famous game studio using Hexels, and it's really exciting. We see their tweets and blog posts, and those often end up on our madeinhexels tumblr.

[W2W] With how social media impacts our world, have you ever thought of updating your website to include a web-based, Hexels development environment; i.e., essentially, people could logon through Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. in order to develop Hexels-based artwork that they can then share both on your website and on the various social media websites?

[H-RS] Creating a web-based version of Hexels would take a lot of internetty magic that just isn't in our skillset at the moment. Hexels works really well as a standalone app right now anyway. In the future, if everything eventually goes web-based, we might have to change things up.

[W2W] The artstyle on H-RS.com is stunning to put it modestly. What is the inspiration behind it?

[H-RS] That's almost entirely Ted. All I do is let him know when I don't like something. :)

[W2W] What is Pixels Fireplace?

[H-RS] Ted put it together a few years ago as a free Windows app using GameMaker, and then in early 2012, I rebuilt it from scratch to be scriptable, extendable, and cross-platform.

[W2W] What is a typical day-in-the-life at Hex-Ray Studios?

[H-RS] Ted and I do most of our work at our own places, after the requisite day job activities have been finished. Once or twice a week we get together, work on Hexels, crack open a couple beers, and play video games.

[W2W] What games do you two typically enjoy playing?

[H-RS] I enjoy strategy and puzzle games, with the occasional third-person action games. Currently playing Valkyria Chronicles,Demon's Souls, and Faster Than Light (FTL).

[W2W] What’s next for H-RS?

[H-RS] So many possibilities! Ted and I both have a number of game prototypes we've made that we're thinking about turning into real games. But for the time being, we're focussing on improving Hexels. Version 1.2 is almost feature-complete, so for the next few months, we'll be working on ironing out all the bugs.

Check out the full version of “The Maze” by Bastien Grivet here.

So what will you create with Hexels? Try it now for free for Windows or MAC here, and thanks for reading!

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