The early art dilemma

November 28, 2008 | Filed under: game design

When I worked at Elixir and Lionhead I often got really distressed over how much artwork got thrown away. It seemed mad to spend so much time and money on getting artwork, only to ditch it and start again. Some of this was just typical inefficiency, but some of it becomes more understandable the longer you work in games.

games are very visual things. We can rant about game play vs graphics all we like, but the first impression of 99% of games is visual. It’s REALLY hard work to slog away 10 hours a day, every day on a game that actually looks really bad. Most coder art is really bad, so in order to get an idea of whether or not the game will feel any good, and to inspire you to work hard and believe in the current game, it’s important to have something that looks nice as soon as you can.

There are two approaches to this. One is to spend a lot more time than you usually do on really polishing your ‘coder art’. I’ve spent some time doing this. I know my way around photoshop, and I’ve read hundreds of tutorials over the years on how to do all sorts of arty things. I still do some of the artwork for my games (less and less of it each game. The problem with doing this is it takes up a lot of time.

The alternative is to pay an artist to do some work before you really know what style you want, or if you will keep it. This can bexcellent, because they can prompt you into a new direction, or just turn out higher quality stuff, but it also obviously costs money. Indie games are done on a shoestring. Wasting money on artwork you know you will not ship with the game is scary. But right now, looking at my mystery new game and it’s crappy coder art, I am tempted to spend a few dollars and get a proper artist to mock up some basic stuff for me…

3 Responses to “The early art dilemma”

  1. I highly recommend getting a real artist. It is a great investment that can make a funky game look great!

  2. A third option commonly used by students making games is to actually use copyrighted art wholesale from existing sources (other games, Flickr, etc). It’s a practice that tends not to show up in the industry, but is very appealing for the purposes of demos.

  3. Paul Eres says:

    Only *most* coder art? Not all? :)