Monday, 19 March 2012

game design: art direction

Creating a good game isn’t just a case of having the right people. Large production teams mean you can get out more content, but the more people you have working on the same thing, the harder it is to coordinate. Many game series rely on an easily recognisable style to sell copies, and so there needs to tight quality control to make sure that work produced by different individuals fits into the larger picture. An art director has to has to set the style for a game, and throughout the production process, they’re responsible for making sure the work produced will come together in the final product.

In some ways, games are a much more unforgiving medium than film. You can’t hide things with careful camera angles or cropping; everything in the virtual environment you’re creating is laid bare for the player to scrutinize. In film you can direct the viewers’ attention to a certain subject, and if they miss something, once the camera moves on it’s gone. Games have to anticipate the player moving at their own pace, and there’s no knowing or controlling what a particular person will choose to look at; at most you can try to draw their attention with visual clues.

Somewhere you have to compromise between quality and quantity, between artistic realism and practicality. There’s a limit to what can realistically be achieved within a given timeframe, and not having a clear stylistic aim once the actually work begins is a sure way to waste valuable time. This is where concept art plays a valuable role, but even that is usually produced by people, who will all have their own visual style and ideas, and will all have a different take on the same subject. 

Luckily, there are tools that can be used to maintain artistic consistency. Reference libraries are invaluable for sharing ideas and quickly establishing a theme. These will probably include photographs, textures, colour palettes, a variety of artwork and even screenshots of previous games if the project is trying to emulate a pre-existing style. Modelling a few test assets prior to starting production allows a more accurate estimate of production time, and also can be used as reference for further assets.
A clearly defined pipeline for modelling assets means inconsistencies can be addressed before they become excessively costly to correct. Checklists for stylisation and overall quality can help to make sure all assessts meet the same standard.

For efficiency, it’s likely that many assets, such as textures and meshes, will be reused. Working out where and how these assets will be used requires planning in advance. 

Ultimately, the role of an Art Director is a creative one. Even if they don’t directly contribute to any individual detail, their influence is seen thought the final product, in the visual style of the game as a whole. An art director will need to be able to make informed artistic choices, and therefore it is essential that they have a solid knowledge of the basics of art, such as composition and colour  theory.

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