Art Rant

In the process of researching game development for Key of David, we came to realize the importance of art. Not figuratively, like game development "is an art". I'm talking about the importance of the raw basic process of drawing and coloring things.

About a year and a half ago, when we were getting serious about this idea, we were contemplating maybe building a related board game concept, just to kind of cut our teeth in just the general "game making" business. We actually thought it was a good idea as it would allow us to make a product, but also, we could reuse the art for the video game concept art later. How clever! We'd get some art, maybe it wouldn't be greatest, but at least we'd get some experience commissioning art.

It was the first run-in with truly asking ourselves, what do we want this to look like? How do you communicate that to someone? What's the process?

Turns out, at that time, we still weren't sure what we wanted in terms of art even IF it was just a board game that was a knock-off of another board game. Fast-forward a year, and now we're 100% convinced that "game development" is much more of an art-based industry than it is a programming based industry. We say that as programmers.

This may be less true for games that avoid realistic art, like puzzle games or 2d retro kind of games, but for modern games that focus on realism-what we're making, and what we enjoy playing-definitely it's true. The budgets of these big games reflect that. Art teams on big video game projects, which include animators, 3d character modelers, concept artists and illustrators, and all the people associated with motion capture are MOST of the budget.

The nature of programming is a little different. There's a lot of programming that goes into a video game, for sure, but it's more difficult to compartmentalize and cut into pieces. There's a saying in programming that that it's analogous to a woman making a baby. "It takes 9 months to make a baby, you can't speed up the process and get a baby in one month by adding 8 women."

When we were researching the various aspects of the game development pipeline, it became clear that primary bottlenecks were animation and modeling. It also became clear that a lot of people interested in game development overly obsess about creation tools (the game engine, the 3d modeling software) maybe thinking that the "fun" is going to come from the engine somehow or the "art" is somehow going to come from learning how to use the tool. But art doesn't come from the paint brush, it comes from your head. Fun doesn't come from a game engine, it comes from you experimenting with what you built with it.

That's really my two cents on the main obstacle that keeps people from really getting into game development. You have to know where to start. A lot of people start in the wrong place, or at least they "start to focus" in the the wrong place. That starting focal point is art and imagination, not tools.

I've seen a lot of game dev advice videos where the advice was "make a small game". But what if you didn't imagine a small game? What if your vision is something big or artistically ambitious? Why waste your time making a small game that isn't at all what you're passionate about? I understand that the advice is aimed at "proving" to yourself you can do it, getting a handle on the process,etc. but if your passion is a big game, it's probably an art intensive game.

My advice is to start bringing what you're imagining into the world even if it's in baby steps with black and white sketches and a couple of pages of story notes.

For Key of David, We knew we wanted realism, 3d, and we knew we wanted a compelling story which meant 3d cinematics. That made the idea of buying it even more daunting when we realized how much money we were going to have to ultimately raise. At the same time though, in a way, the possibility becomes more real. When you've firmly decided, "hmmmmm, this will cost MILLIONS!", and that doesn't scare you and you accept it, you just go to the next step. "Ok, how do I get millions?" Once you get to the core of the game pipeline problem, and see it clearly, then you know where you need to focus your energy.

The game engine, the 3d modeling, that's important, but it's not AS important right away in the beginning. Right away is actually the thing that isn't computers, coding, collision physics, or inverse kinematics on your animation rig. It's being able to tell these artists who draw things what your vision is. It's being able to know enough about your story to write down scene ideas these characters will be in. All these things you can do right now.

So if I was to give someone wanting to do their own game and bring their own vision to life some advice....and there's a LOT of people out their who have youtube videos and entire websites devoted to giving advice on this sort of thing (most are like us, who haven't yet released a game), I would say "start with the art". The technical stuff is already conquered territory in the general sense. You'll spend time learning it, but it's just time and patience. The artistic expression of your idea is the new thing. That's the input that you're trying to feed into the "pipeline". You can learn about the pipeline the rest of your life and die without making anything if you lose sight of the thing that goes INTO THE PIPE.

There's people out there, all over the place that can explain various aspects of the game development pipeline in 1000 different ways, but there isn't anyone out there who can bring YOUR idea into the world except you. There's artists who can help you, but you have to talk to them and work with them. It's not cheating! It's art collaboration. Learning about yourself and your idea through relationship and systematically making small iterative improvements in your idea is how art works!

End rant.


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