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The author of the upcoming book “Game Art” Matthew Sainsbury talked about the modern indie game scene and the way game development is different now compared to 10 years ago.
I’m an Australian game critic and technology journalist, and have been writing about games in one way or another for around 15 years now. I’ve always found games interesting – I grew up with a Game Boy and then Super Nintendo, and so it’s been a passion of mine for most of my life.
After working for a number of game publications (Official PlayStation 2 and GamePro, among others) for a number of years, I decided to do my own thing, and set up Digitally Downloaded. After a couple of years of doing that I felt I was ready to start writing Game Art. 18 months later, here we are.
Game Art: The Book About Creative Games
The main goal of Game Art was to highlight the creativity and artistry of game developers, from one-person independent studios right up to the biggest of development teams. I wanted to show a couple of things through the book; firstly, that games are indeed art, and have a similar level of thinking that goes into them as books, film or the visual arts.
Secondly, I wanted to show people that there isn’t any one “rule” about what makes game art. There are any number of different approaches to making art out there, and I wanted to highlight this. I think that we talk about games and art in this industry people tend to dismiss those games they don’t like as “nonsense”, “crass” and “not art,” and I think that’s limiting the discussions we can have about games and art.
The book features interviews with Peter Budziszewski and Tamara Schembri, Amy Fredeen and Alan Gershenfeld, Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn, Yosuke Hayashi, Kikuchi, Makoto Kitano, Mike Laidlaw, American McGee, Naoko Mizuno and Tsunako, Alex Norton, Yoshito Okamura, Jean-François Poirier, Guillaume Provost, Neil Rennison, Jennifer Schneidereit, Mavros Sedeño, SUDA51, Hidetaka Suehiro, Akihiro Suzuki and Hisashi Koinuma, Nic Watt, Naoki Yoshida.
Games As Art
I think the focus in discussions about games remains very firmly on their value as entertainment – or even as a purely commercial product. When we do talk about the artistic value of games, it’s only when it’s a game that goes out of its way to be artistic… and then for those games we tend to dismiss them for not conforming to the way in which commercial games are built.
I think people understand that games have artistic merit. I just don’t think people are necessarily talking about them in that way yet. It will surely change over time, but for now I like to think of games being in the same place as cinema as the 40s – everyone recognizes their potential, but we haven’t discovered the “Citizen Kane” of games just yet that will make the world as a whole re-evaluate what they understand games to be.
Different Approaches to Game Visuals
I think there are plenty of developers that still attempt to build realistic-looking games. Just consider stuff like Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty or even Fallout or Final Fantasy – even when they are “fantasy” games, they take place in a world that is designed to be a realistic fantasy, in the same way that films like Lord of the Rings is.
But in terms of why developers might go with a stylised aesthetic, it’s the same reason that there are so many art movements out there that don’t try to be realistic – cubism, surrealism, or impressionism, for example. When the stylised aesthetic helps the developer tell the story and convey the mood and atmosphere that they’re looking to, it makes sense to go with that over attempting to build a more realistic looking game.
The great bonus for game developers is their “canvas” – the technology they release their games on – improves so rapidly. Just a couple of years ago cel shading wasa technique that wasn’t available to developers, and now almost anyone can use it. Only a couple of years ago touch interfaces were a novelty, and now we’re seeing them used for all kinds of interesting games. Geo-Location on mobile phones is opening up a new world where developers can make games that change based on where you are in the real world.
And now Virtual Reality is coming in a big, big way, and it’s going to open up yet more creative opportunities for game developers. I can’t wait to see what is done with it, and perhaps include it in a second volume of Game Art!
About The Copycats
I don’t think there’s a crisis of original ideas in games. Certainly there are a lot of copycat and poor quality indie games out there, but I look at the sheer mass of indie games sitting on my PlayStation 4 and PC at the moment, and I see a lot of very creative stuff too – both in terms of narrative, aesthetic, and gameplay.
The thing is that there are a lot more indie games and indie game developers out there at the moment. There’s a lot being said about indies being a bubble right now, which will eventually burst because the rate in which new games are being released is unsustainable. I don’t know if this is true or not, but the fact that people are talking about it is clearly a sign that there is a lot of oversaturation of indie games in the market. It makes it hard for the consumer to find the really creative ones, and that’s unfortunate, because there’s a lot of great stuff out there.