Special Weekly Dev Update – July 10th, 2015

Hi Everybody.

Today Daniel is back with a Special Weekly Dev Update, or a SWDU if you would. Actually, no. Don’t, thats not great. Maybe SpeWeDUp? Hmm, no something is a bit off about that too. Anyways, lets get on with it.

Game Art Balance I:

An easy mistake to make is to think that by balancing two things means there should be equal amounts of each. Nothing could be further from the truth, most of the time balancing things against each other means figuring out how much you can squeeze into the less important without messing up the more important one.

Today we’re going to be looking at three of the axes of game art; fidelity, stylization, and utility. But don’t fear, there are many more.

To begin lets look at what they are.

This is what many think of as the amount of detail something has. For example a character made of 100,000 polygons and 5 * 8192×8192 textures has a higher fidelity than the same character made with 1,000 polygons and a single 256×256 texture. It’s however different from detail, lets say you have two Cubes that to your eye, even on close inspection, appear identical. And only when you look at how it was made can you tell that one has much higher polycount and texture size than the other by several orders of magnitude. In this case there is a difference in fidelity but since the extra fidelity is not used to add anything there is no difference in detail.

This is how the Art Direction deems the asset should look. For example if you’re making a mushroom for a realistic FPS game you probably wouldn’t want to make it look like it belongs in Mario Kart. This impacts everything from what shapes are used to what style the textures are painted in to the proportions of an object.

The purpose of Game Art is ultimately to enable gameplay. An object needs to communicate what it needs to to the player and it needs to be as usable as it is expected to be by the player. If you are making an explosive barrel, the color that screams explosive barrel to the player (so that they can see which barrel to shoot) is red so it needs to be red. But it might also need to be big enough to be easy to shoot but not so big that any stray bullet will hit it.

Knowing this of course brings up several issues where the needs of the different axes conflict with each other, some more obvious than others.

Fidelity vs Stylization:
You are making a chair, the poly-budget is high enough for you to make two chairs in the target style, what do you do? Stop wasting time on making two chairs, just make one at the target style and be happy you could get in under budget.

Fidelity vs Utility:
You are making a pistol for the first person view, these are usually pretty high-poly. However the game needs to run at 60 fps and your pistol is eating up 10% out of the total frame time, double what is acceptable, now what? This one is a bit trickier, mainly because there are different solutions. You can optimize, reduce the fidelity until acceptable. You can start over with the ingame mesh and get it right. Which of these is faster really depends on the situation. Another option would be to, if you never see the pistol from the opposite angle (since this is the first person version), cut off the entire opposite side of the pistol.

Stylization vs Utility:
You’re making that lovely red barrel. The style has it looking awesome, fitting in perfectly in the world. But playtesting shows that the player can’t find it. To remedy this you could make them much more brightly colored and bigger. However this would make them not only look completely out of place, but also ugly. The solution is to figure out at what point of compromising between the two you achieve the optimal balance. Or, if possible, figure out a way to get both utility and stylization. This is of course much easier said than done.

These things might, especially the first two, sound super obvious but they are still common mistakes. Sometimes due to inability figure out the balance, sometimes because they ran into the deadline, and sometimes because of stubbornness, a refusal to admit the requirements of reality.
This is why many games run poorly, look like crap, and are unplayable.

Now, this is just scratching the surface when it comes to what you need to find the balance for when making every single piece of Game Art.

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