Comic artist and Creative Director Joe Madureira discusses making characters that matter.
Airship Syndicate, the developer behind the upcoming online co-op RPG Wayfinder, loves a colorful world. It’s no surprise why, either. The team’s co-founder — artist and Creative Director Joe Madureira — traces his roots back to the equally vivid world of professional comics.
It’s a legacy you can clearly see in the bold, vibrant character designs of the titular Wayfinders themselves. These are heroes, called back from death to push back a hostile force in an ever-expanding, thriving online world when Early Access launches on August 15.
On the road to the initial release, we sat down with Joe to discuss how the Wayfinders came to be and what makes them so special to both play and create.
Where do you start designing a Wayfinder? Does it begin with an idea of what the character should look like, or does the design emerge from the gameplay?
Joe Madureira: It’s definitely both. Sometimes we start with a theme in mind, like with Venomess. We’ll say “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a character who was some sort of poisoner? Do we already have a character that does damage over time? Do we even want that?”
Other times, we step back and realize we don’t have enough ranged characters, or we haven’t featured a particular type of weapon enough to show players what’s possible. Sometimes we use those kinds of concessions to at least narrow things down.
But, you know, sometimes we just start drawing something cool and see where it takes us.
What led you to build a game based around the Wayfinders instead of more traditional custom RPG characters?
Well, it’s because we actually started with a more blank slate, generic characters where you picked a class – like a rogue or a warrior. We started designing the warrior first, with a classic sword and shield, and that’s where we started developing our very basic combat. Then we started on the rogue archetype, which ended up becoming Silo.
What actually prompted the change was that I did a sketch of what would become Silo with a little more modern flair. His shoes became a little more sneaker-like and he began to look a little more “tactical gear sporty,” rather than like a typical fantasy ranger.
At that point, everyone who saw it said that Silo had more character than what we could fit into a blank slate mannequin. We wished we could have characters with their own unique backstories. We realized that, having worked on games like Ruined King with Riot Games, we weren’t leaning on our strengths enough.
So, we reevaluated the other classes we had in the cooker and asked “What if this was a paladin? What if he was older and more grizzled and not some 30-year-old stud? What could we build from that?”
Once you get those early pieces in place, the rest of the puzzle starts to make sense.
Is there any detail about the Wayfinders that you’re particularly proud of?
I think we do a good job of telling each character’s story in-game, even right now, but it’s something we’re always trying to expand.
Right now, we have this discovery system that exists even outside of each character. By visiting different locations or interacting with certain objects, you get a little more lore and some rewards. Within that system, each character also has their own quest that kicks off new chapters based on how many discoveries you’ve made.
They’re all personalized, so Senja will have her own questline that Silo does not, but we want to have them all culminate together in a special way. Even when you complete that, though, it’s only the end of that first chapter. We definitely plan on adding more in the future.
I’m sure it’s hard to choose, but do you have a personal favorite Wayfinder so far?
It’s probably Niss, honestly, but I think Senja was more of a longshot. I didn’t know if we were going to be able to pull off the combination of her abilities with her personality — the way the crowd cheers around her and rose petals fall as she attacks.
I think she was the first Wayfinder that felt super unique, to the point where we said “We’ve got to push some of these other guys a little bit more…” Senja set the bar and it was really encouraging to pull it off, so we’re going to try more fun stuff like that.
Wayfinder enters Early Access on PS4 and PS5 on August 15. Season 1 puts the spotlight on Venomess, a Wayfinder that loves to play with her prey while switching between ranged and melee combat with ease. Her chemicals can poison her enemies and strengthen her allies, and her thrusters give her tremendous mobility.
You can support Wayfinder’s development and gain entry to Early Access by purchasing one of four Founder’s Packs available at PlayStation Store. In addition to Early Access, Founders will unlock a set of time-limited and exclusive rewards that will never again be available in Wayfinder: including character skins like Hyroic Kyros, as well as a unique weapon, and mount. You can also upgrade your Founder’s Pack at any time via PlayStation Store.