While the coding of a game is more “behind the scenes,” the graphics of a game forms a player’s first impression. That being said, the artwork of a game cannot be overlooked! Careful planning and techniques should go into the development of a game’s art.
Thinking Ahead: Planning Out the Graphics Your Game Needs
Before you even start coding your game, you need to plan out every single element, including all of the sprites (individual graphics that may or may not be animated).
Imagine your future self playing your completed game; what do you see? What’s the style? Also be sure to consider the game mechanics when planning out the art. If you know there’s going to be a scrolling background, take that into account. Include all characters, maps, and items in your graphics plan.
I like to layout my graphics plans numerically, in the order the of preferred creation. Each sprite will have the intended size, description, and additional notes. For example:
- Size: 960 x 460
- Description: A purple and black starry sky, simulating a clear night.
- Notes: Make sure all other graphics pop off of this background.
- Size: 32 x 64
- Description: A teenager with brown hair and a red baseball cap that’s on backwards. Appears skinny and cartoon-like.
- Notes: Include multiple sprites for a walking animation.
A solid plan of attack simplifies the process tenfold.
Animation In Games
How do you get people in your games to look like their walking? How does this animation work? Good question!
Animation in games works just like movies do. An animation consist of multiple frames. Each frame contains an image that is essentially the same as the previous frame, but is altered slightly. For instance, the leg on a character might be moved forward. When all of the frames are viewed in quick succession, you see the illusion of animation. The object isn’t actually moving, it’s actually a completely different image.
A series of animation frames may look something like this:
When put together, the walking illusion is created!
Understanding how this animation works is very helpful when you plan out the graphics you need.
Tackling Graphic Design
Even though I can barely even draw a stick figure, I still take part in some of the graphical elements of my games. While it isn’t my main focus, it’s handy to make minor tweaks and create small images. Even if you hire someone else to carry most of the burden, I encourage you to download some software, just in case something arises.
The graphic design software I use is Gimp. Not only is Gimp powerful and easy to use, it’s also FREE! Nothing beats free when it comes to budgeting for a game. With a basic image manipulation program like Gimp, you’ll have access to more than enough tools for you to get by. Options vary from paint brushes, pencils, and airbrushes, to filters, rendering, and mapping. I edit and create graphics more than you’d think for someone who tends to outsource.
But What About Photoshop?
I can only imagine that Photoshop is a very nice tool. It’s obviously industry standard, proving its effectiveness. So why don’t I recommend it? Photoshop costs $20 per month. If you’re the head of your video game project, you’ll have so much code and other game elements to worry about. It’s not very likely that you’ll be using Photoshop enough for it be worth that much of your wallet. It is an awesome product, however. So if you’re made of money, go crazy. I’ll just sit here all jealous.
So you’ve just started learning about game design, and you want to start off with a 3D game. Here’s what you should do:
Don’t start off with a 3D game. 3D games require 3D vectors, complex matrices, and other mumbo-jumbo that isn’t too fun to deal with from the start.
All preaching aside, check out 3DS Max. This is a really nice 3D modeling program… so nice, it costs around $3500. But don’t fret! Autodesk, the company who created 3DS Max, allows students to download it for free. The only catch is that the license prohibits you from selling your creations with the program, so don’t go about selling games with models you made in the student version of 3DS Max.
If you’re looking to monetize a 3D game for less of a price tag, check out Unity. Unity isn’t just a modeling program, it’s a full fledged game engine. It’s $75 a month for the Pro version, and it’ll be double that if you want the package for iPhone or Android. However, this is a big step down in cost from 3DS Max, considering it’s so much more useful to the game development process. Unity isn’t actually a modeling program like 3DS Max is. A good free 3D modeling program to go with Unity is Blender.
3D game creation is stressful on the mind and the wallet.
Who’s Job Is It, Anyway?
Not all of us are born with an artsy side. I, for one, don’t have a creative bone in my body. If you’re like me, then there’s no shame in passing off this task to someone else. To create a game that is well polished, the graphics are going to have to look professional. (Notice I didn’t say “high-definition.” You don’t need hardware-breaking graphics to make it look nice.) Games are only as strong as their weakest link – you don’t want your artwork holding you back. It’s silly to have your game fail just because you took on too much!
When you decide not to make the graphics yourself, you can hire a freelancer to do it for you.
Hiring Someone Else To Do Your Graphics
What exactly is a freelancer and what do they do? A freelancer is a worker that specializes in a field, such as graphic design. They perform small tasks for many different people, charging each client a small fee. You can hire a worker and track them easily on freelance websites, such as oDesk, which is my personal favorite. Freelancers are inexpensive but tend to produce high quality work. To make sure you get the right artist, examine all applicants thoroughly. You can read more about hiring freelancers on this page.