Today we’re doing another Special Weekly Dev Update. Daniel is continuing right where he left off.
Prototype Art II:
Concepts, are they worth it?
The short answer – No.
The long answer; Yes. No! Maybe? You see, it really depends on what the scope and deadline of the prototype is.
Sometimes the goal is to have a full pitch package, with a playable bit of game accompanied by concept art to show externals a wider view of the world along with the narrow bit of gameplay you present. If that’s the case, and assuming you also have enough time to actually accomplish it the answer is Yes. Without a doubt.
Sometimes your prototype has a deadline only allowing a scope containing nothing but a playable you really don’t have the time to put into making concepts, since they aren’t intended to be presented. So, no.
Of course there are any number of circumstances where it’s a maybe. Not only just the time and planning needs to be taken into consideration, but also things like the strengths and weaknesses of the involved artists as well as who the target audience is.
What tends to be the answer from my experience is that the deadlines are too short to do both. The reason is simple, it’s generally quite risky and the cost of having employees (or yourself) do this stacks up very quickly. Of course, sometimes it ends up being the playable bit that is dropped and concepts/pre-rendered images are favored.
Now, assuming you picked one path and you’re now ready to art it all up. So how do I do it?
Since making a prototype is generally a very time-boxed thing I usually start planning out what is needed by writing a list of everything I find is obviously needed to describe the game. I then sort the items on the list into different categories;
* Things that are essential.
* Things that should be in.
* Things that would be nice.
It’s not important to have everything listed from the start. I just list the things I can think off and then during the process I add things come to think off that are missing from the list, as well as remove ones that have become invalid. And of course, the categorization of any listed item is always up for re-evaluation.
With the list in hand I just start making the thing that I have the clearest mental image of and is most essential. There’s no real time to reflect too much, things need to get done so I just get at it. The biggest danger of making a prototype (assuming you have a deadline) is to not get it finished in time due to unexpected turns in making it. For example you might discover that the characters need to be a bigger focus, and therefore need a lot more work to hold up. Or maybe you realize that you might be able to squeeze in a second level set in a different location instead of just making the one.
In order to mitigate the risk from this unknown the safest approach is to have an iterative process. I make the essential items first, at the lowest acceptable quality level. I then evaluate depending on how much time I have left and how much is left to do.
If I’m already running out of time, I do what I can to polish up what I have.
If I’m good with time just go ahead and do a first pass on the next tier of items.
Once I’m at about halfway to the deadline (or when I cant think of what else to add) I generally want to start a quality pass. At this point I have a decent picture of what is done and what the target is, so it’s easier to know how much I can afford to bring up the overall quality and it’s easier to spot what is sticking out the most and potentially address it.
Sorry about the wall of text, this is a pretty theory heavy part of Game Art and it’s hard to illustrate something like this with graphics. I tried to be as brief as possible but I tend to go on quite a bit when discussing topics I’m interested in.
In the next Special Weekly Update about Art I’ll talk about how to balance fidelity, stylization, and utility.