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Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!
Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!
Concept and UI artist on Warframe Janice Chu has shared some of her thoughts on game art, visual design, creation of environments and some of the best tools for game artists. She was also kind enough to name some of the most visually stunning games of the recent games? What games really caught your artistic attention this year?
I’m originally from Calgary, Alberta, Canada but I moved to Ontario for animation school and learned concept art on the side. After graduating, I moved to London Ontario for work as a concept artist. I currently work at Digital Extremes as a concept and UI artist.
At Digital Extremes I get to have a whole range of roles from designing weapons to environment concepts. I also get the wonderful privilege of helping out with some UI icons for Warframe. Outside of work, I like to work on other people’s indie games as well as my own!
When I start to do environments, I do a little bit of research. This includes finding inspirational art and real life references. After, I organize and pull things from each image of what I like from it and see if it’ll fit in the “bigger picture”. I think anything can look nice on paper. I do a lot of my planning on paper first before actually getting to Photoshop and Modo. I draw out floor plans and quick sketches on paper and write down notes that could potentially help me figure out ideas and designs.
I’m really lucky to work with people who let me have the freedom to experiment with different styles. The best thing is that they are able to make it as close to the concepts as possible, which makes both sides very exciting.
Designing The Visual Style of the Game
Some things that I always have to keep in mind are consistency with shapes, color and silhouettes. If an object and/or color are not consistent with the rest of your game, it will end up confusing the player and even look out of place. So for Knight Hood, all enemies or bosses will have a triangle insignia somewhere on them while the good guys have a circular insignia.
Readability is always a challenge, especially if it’s a top down type of game like Mainframe. Everything from structures to enemies and weapon design had to be readable at a distance so they all had to have some distinct yet unique shape to them.
I think it’s helpful to have a few high level pieces where it has all the design elements that you want in the game, that way you can keep referring back to it. Eventually, you’ll know what you can or can’t do when designing.
Colour coding is also super important in games these days especially if you want to incorporate it into game design. They can be visual cues like helping figure out what good and bad are, pathways, hazards etc. It can also help set the mood for either story or level. For example in Mainframe I used red mostly to show danger or a damaged area.
I’m still in the process of learning some tools that help with my concept art. As for building the actual game, I’m still a beginner there! But I can list a few tools that help me out all the time with my concept art.
Super easy to use to help you block out simple ideas whether it be props or environments. I use this mainly for props now
This is a must nowadays in concept art. It’s really handy and very user friendly. Helps me set up environments and lighting. I like it way more than Maya.
I’m still in the process of learning this program, but from what I’ve seen from other people, it’s really helpful doing props or blocking out characters.
The Importance of Good Visual Style
Good art style will bring a lot to a game. It definitely helps bring uniqueness to your game so that it’ll stand out from the rest. I think about art style the same as packaging design. You have to be able to attract the audience either by making an art style that makes them curious about what your game is about. It should also be able to communicate what kind of game it is while still being functional.
Sometimes devs will go with something because it looks cool, yes, that’s definitely a factor. I’m a sucker for cool looking art styles! You have to love the design as well so that you can inspire/motivate the team so that it’s always exciting. I don’t know if art style “will sell more copies” but I think cool art styles will create a buzz in social media, which could influence buyers.
As for being “cheap to do” (like “pixelart” & “low poly”) that’s something I don’t believe in. If you really want a certain art style, it’s going to take some thinking to get there and a lot of trials and iterations. There are no short cuts to making an appealing game; you can’t just jump from point A to a finished game.
Great Examples of Visual Game Style
Oh gosh, what a tough question! There are so many appealing games these days, but I’ll definitely name a few that have stood out to me.
One has definitely been Sunset Overdrive. I’ve never seen concept art/ art style like that put into games. I think Insomniac Games is great for doing different art styles, which is awesome.
Journey of course was amazing. That game definitely pushed style boundaries. I think when that game was released, no one even imagined games could look like that.
Bastion and Rayman Legends were two games that had amazing art direction. Bastion created a whole new look for top down type gaming while Rayman Legends redefined side-scrolling games.
Uncharted 2, also stood out to me. I think they were one of the first games to create a color script, which helped tell different parts of the story. Definitely helped with mood as well.
Tearaway also has a great style. Media Molecule always does a very cool job of creating unique art styles. I’ve always wanted a paper crafty looking game and they did it in such an appealing way with colors and design making everything work together. When Media Molecule posted how they did some UI mocks I was mind blown.
Other upcoming games that have stood out to me – Firewatch, No Man’s Sky, Little Devil Inside, Ashen and Hyper Light Drifter.
Art styles that fascinate me have to be different, innovative or weird. Maybe it can be something out of the ordinary that you don’t see very often in games. Or if it has been done before, how do you make it different so that it does stand out? I’ve seen a lot of low poly styled games and each of them are very appealing because none of them are the same. Each of them has their own “thing” that makes that game special.