Today we’re doing a Special Weekly Dev Update. This is a first for us so if there will be more in the future will depend on how you guys like it compared to the increased time investment to make them.
The goal of this is to (hopefully) give insight into how and why we do things, and perhaps help you better make your own games in the future.
The order of the discipline for the Specials is not in any particular order, in part because of our scheduling restrictions, and in part because its not really do one first and then the other. They tend to intertwine the entire way.
Astrobase Command is not a prototype. But everything starts in the beginning, and for games the beginning is a prototype. Prototypes are relatively small things and can be more easily explained and summed up than an entire production cycle. This is why the Specials will focus on prototypes.
This first Special will be Daniel talking about the initial stages of how he finds a style for a game. This is in part Art Direction and in part Concept Design.
Prototype Art I:
Making a prototype is a lot of fun. It’s a limited period of time where you get to fill your mind with new cool and shiny things. It’s something I’ve done quite a bit and always enjoy getting another opportunity to do.
Starting out making art for a new prototype I usually start by taking a while to get a feel for how it will feel to play. If it has any particular story elements tied to them or if it belongs to an existing IP that of course has to be included in the consideration.
Depending on if the vision overlaps with already existing art, or if there is a need to be extra unique, or if I already have a good visual library in my mind; my course of action differs. If I have a good visual library to pull from I skip ahead to either concepting or production. If I am exploring new ground I start gathering references.
References are super powerful but can also be very dangerous. References are basically any images or videos of stuff that has some element you like for your own project in it.
Their power is that you get to very quickly get a great way to communicate to a Concept Artist (or really anyone) what style of technology, creatures, mood, colors, etc you are aiming at. This is one of the cases where an image says a thousand words.
The danger of using references is that for a less experienced artist (or other people without a lot of experience in how to art) it is easy to just pick up a specific reference, instead of using it as inspiration, and make a copy of it.
Making a copy of someone else’s work aside from moral, and potential legal issues generally has the piece end up being boring and uninspired. So much of creativity in design comes from the individuals mind.
Another potential pitfall with using references is that if you find something where one element of it is a great fit for you it’s pretty hard to not let the rest of it sway you from your vision. Of course sometimes those things swaying your vision are valid solutions to issues you haven’t yet realized you will encounter down the road you’re going. You need to weigh this carefully.
Concept Art is a tricky subject as the term has become a bit blurry. Much of Concept Art that the average person sees from companies is not made to communicate how something should look between people on the team. To show the production artist what it should look like all you really need is the designs for the specific object and some information (painted or written) of what types of materials and colors it should use.
What you see from most games getting called Concept Art is really highly rendered, detailed, and polished illustrations. Much of their purpose is to be Promotional Art.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with promo-art. It’s not only pretty pictures but it also helps to communicate the style to non-artists, externals, and players. It does however take a lot longer to make than just getting the design down.
When a concept reaches a 3d artist it helps to have a nice picture for them to pull from but it is not needed. Most of the work done aside from figuring out the design of the object will end up being discarded as you can’t use a concept as a texture (usually), and even if you could you wouldn’t want to since it’s not compatible with PBR shaders or procedural textures.
Another consideration you need to make is if it is worth it to make a single concept. Especially when working on a prototype. I’ll go into that in more depth along with actually how to actually make the art for the prototype in the next special.