Hi, Dee here with the third episode of Game Dev EXP – Art for games.
Today we’re gonna talk about concept art in detail, why it is so important, and what is the recommended framework when it comes to concept art for games.
So, you might be thinking that concept art is important and everyone already knows that, but believe it or not, I’ve seen a lot of companies that don’t pay any attention to it. Some of these companies would just get their concept from an online reference, do some tweaking, and call it a day. This is clearly against your personal growth as a concept artist. You are responsible for the visuals and feels of the game which is going to be judged first by the players this is why even excellent gameplay isn’t enough to make a game popular, you need good visuals (even if simple shapes). Simple gameplay that has stunning visuals, however, would probably sell even more (Journey for example) and that is because the first thing a player sees is your art, your theme, your feel, and a e s t h e t i c.
without the concept stage, these subjects will not be consistent and the artistic identity and coherence/consistency of the game will be a mess which will guarantee less appeal and therefore fewer players actually playing the game.
Now that you know how important it is to commit time and budget to the concept stage, it’s time to define what it is and how to do it in the best way possible.
Concept art is anything from rough sketches to polished paintings of something. That thing could be a character, an item in the game, a specific place, a natural object, a certain creature, or even a vehicle.
When game designers finish their initial design document, this is where the concept stage begins.
First, you need to study the game design document (GDD) and extract everything that needs conceptualizing (characters, places, items, etc…).
After that, you have to develop the visual identity of the game, and this task is probably a share between you and the game director. This is a crucial step in branding for games. A visual identity is a statement that sums up the game’s atmosphere and theme. For example, If I would build a visual identity for Dark Souls I would go with “Decaying dying world where the player is not even the main character”. This statement will automatically set an artist's mind of a darker color pallet, Grotesque-looking characters, a rich setting, and a deeper meaning. Often this means you shouldn’t do something cartoony or stylized but rather something real and solid. Something that screams realistic and yet contains fantastical elements. Hence a game that has very grounded mechanics and a character that looks and feels like a human but in a dark fantasy world.
Building the visual identity isn’t easy and the best way to go about it is to iterate quickly over different identities while having reference to these identities. It’s okay to have references of other media in this stage; it’s encouraged, in fact. It will help with visualization on both your end and the director. Usually, the final visual identity of the game is a mix of all visual identities brought up during this stage. The better the base ideas, the better the end product so make sure to discard bad ideas from the start.
Now that you have a clear GDD and visual identity, it’s time to start using that pencil of yours. The first phase of the concept art stage is the rough sketches. Start out by sketching the most important place in the game, this place Must match the visual identity that you’ve built to a tee. Just do rough sketches; no coloring, no complex details, just the general outline, and shape. It usually takes multiple iterations so don’t waste time trying to perfect something in this early iteration (the rough sketch). Once you have a sketch that displays the main idea submit it to the director and use their feedback to adjust your sketch until you reach the desired one.
Then, start by sketching out the most important character in the game. This will probably be the protagonist, but sometimes it’s the antagonist. Sometimes the game has no real characters (say FPS game about hunting in the wild) in this case, sketch the most iconic creature in the game, a creature that will likely be on the cover.
Remember, everything is in iterations, so don’t feel discouraged if the director asks for a lot of changes; This stage is dedicated to doing just that.
Now that you have your most important place and character designed, it’s time to explore the art style. Try sketching out the same character but with different styles. For example, if the game is set to be stylized as anime, you can have the same character drawn in 9 styles. If the game is set to be stylized, then you have cartoony, blocky, thick outlined, and more styles to choose from. Again, it’s all about iterating quickly in this stage, so don’t perfect anything, just sketch out the bare minimum that gives out the basic style. Usually, the director has the final say when it comes to the art style, so once that’s done and you know exactly what style to draw in and the visual identity of the game, it’s now time to produce more detailed sketches.
This phase of concept art is all about details. Sketch different characters and places using the approved visual identity and art style as your guideline. Try different color palettes, different outfits for characters, different materials for buildings, different foliage & wildlife for a specific place, different climate, different lighting, etc. This stage usually requires more than one artist for bigger projects. But for a small project, it’s all on you, that’s why it’s a good practice to categorize all different tasks, for example, environment, places, characters, creatures.
And then proceed to work on each category until you finish all of its tasks, this way, it’s easier for you to keep the same theme across all different tasks.
Phew, that was a lot of work, but wait, there’s more! so keep those eyes open and that mind sharp, please 😊
After iterating over all tasks and finally settling on all sketches that are going to be used for the game, it’s time for my favorite phase, digital painting!
Up until now, you might have been sketching digitally, but I personally like to sketch on paper, it’s just a personal preference.
However, this phase is all about fine-tuning; I’m talking splash art for all the different sketches that you’ve done. This process will probably be the hardest and longest since it takes a fairly long time to perfect a painting of a character or a place. But keep in mind that your work in this phase will probably be used as promotional material or in the final version of the game, so you really need to perfect your paintings and pay close attention to every single detail. Also, don't forget to export at high resolutions 4k+.
And there you have it, the importance of concept art is that it defines the game, stimulates players’ emotions, provides promotional material, helps with the 3D / 2D content creation, and even helps in pitching the game to potential investors or publishers.
Anyways, thanks for reading, hope you learned something new and I’ll see you next time. Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter. Bye. 😊