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  • Five Secrets Of Game Art Direction

    - Rahul Sehgal
  •  (This is a reproduction of the original post at UpYourGame.)

    When I was just starting out directing art and experience for games, I was assigned a big, high-priority game project. It was a wonderful opportunity to showcase my team's capability and make a name for myself, and I was quite excited.

    The theme of the game was Irish, and the art style was cartoony. I spent a whole week researching art styles, colour palettes and creating mood boards; of the six artists in my team, I chose the most experienced and had a long kickoff meeting where we discussed the project at length and pored over all the research material I had carried out.

    A few days later, as I looked at the first sketches, they didn't feel right. I spent another day looking trying to figure out why it just wasn't right, and another few hours with the artist. The next day, as I saw the updated sketches, it wasn't looking any closer to the vision I had of the final game art. I was desperate.

    Just then, I happened to pass by the desk of the youngest artist in our team, a lad just out of art school a few months ago. He had his Artstation page open, and I happened to see something that almost made me spill my coffee. It was a Leprechaun, a character done in a Cartoony style that was EXACTLY what I had in mind for the Big Project. I asked him to show me more, and I had found what I was looking for.

    I assigned the project to the young lad, thanking the senior artist for his time and effort. Long story short, that game went on to become the biggest hit the studio had for the last five years. I recommended that young artist for a 70% pay rise at the next review, and he was promoted to Senior Game Artist within six months of release. It was the game that made my reputation.

    When it comes to making a successful game, great Art is only one of the several pieces of the puzzle that need to fall into place, but it is a very important one. In this post, I will tell you about five hard-earned lessons I have learned from making dozens of games over a period of more than a decade.

    It doesn't matter if you are a game artist, game designer, producer or any other role; these lesson can be applied universally to the game-making process.


    This follows from the story I just narrated; every game Artist is unique in what he or she is good at, and more importantly what he or she aspires to do. The closer a project is aligned with the artist's personal goals and preferences, the better it is likely to go. Asking an artist to create game art in a style that is far removed from their preferred one is pretty risky; it takes hundreds or maybe even thousands of hours of practice to develop a particular style, and most artists will struggle to work at short notice in a style that is alien to them.

    This does mean that you are kind of limited when it means exploring art styles for your game; there are a couple of things you can do to change this. Firstly, plan well in advance and allow the artist sufficient time and space to practice and develop the required style, and secondly, find an artist who can do that art style! This is one of the reasons why many game studios doing lots of small projects work with art outsourcing studios instead of hiring full-time artists.

    Personally, I like to maintain an art team with a wide variety of skills. I have one artist who does great concept art for environments, another does cartoony style really well, one old-school artist who can make super-realistic poster style art and a few more generalist who can do a bit of everything among them.


    This is absolutely vital; I have seen many, many projects crash and burn because the team just did not take the time and make the effort to ask the three questions: WHY are we making this game? WHAT are we making? HOW will we make it? Game art needs to closely support the game mechanics, narrative and player emotional journey, and to achieve this, it is vital that the team (or individual) goes carries out a systematic pre-production before the production art phase of the game (creation of assets) begins.

    From an art standpoint, the following questions need to be asked (and answered)-

    > What are our resources for creating the game art (this means number of artists available, their experience level, availability in terms of hours per day etc.)? > Will this art style support the game mechanics?

    "If we want to do a side-scrolling platformer, is Voxel art really the best choice?"

    > How many hours (approximately) will it take to create the game art? This is where game asset lists come in really handy! It is a big help to the game project if you have an idea (however rough) about how much time it will take to create each art asset, as there will either be a programming, world building or design task dependent on it!

    > Can we actually pull this off? You might think a steampunk-inspired game world with fifty different characters would be awesome, but do you actually have the expertise to create everything AND make it look as good as it does inside your head?

    Prototyping is a fantastic way of reducing the risk of your project. If there is a game mechanic in there that involves very specific art or visuals, build a prototype at the pre-production stage! If it works well, you've just completed a key part of your game and you can then build the game around it. If it doesn't, then you just saved months of work that would have gone down the drain. Prototyping unproven mechanics is a win-win!


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