Art Direction

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April 11th, 2010

Art direction in games dictates how the game will look while taking into account technical goals for the project. Good art direction results in distinctive visuals that make the gameplay clear and leave you with technical resources to spare, while also maintaining a simple workflow for creating the art. If that seems complicated, it is! I have been trying to figure out art direction for awhile now, and I found some work on an old game concept that I think illustrates a lot of these points.

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I came up with this before MadWorld-- no seriously!

One thing I don't like about next gen art is the lack of high quality self-shadowing. The problem is that if a game has self-shadowing at all, it is cast from the low polygon game model to itself. The head in the above image has complex shadowing around the eyes and nose that I painted in. The idea is that I would paint (or bake) a few textures for different light directions. The good news is that it is really easy to make art like this!

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Another nice thing about this style is that you can mix 2D and 3D interchangably.
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This scene is displayed in the 3DS Max viewport

I made a whole scene in this style to see how it worked. I used some basic techniques to "bake" or prerender the basic lighting into the textures and then cleaned them up in photoshop to add detail and make them look hand painted.

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More 2D in the same style

Being able to switch between 2D and 3D without an obvious change in the visuals is a real time saver since 2D art is much faster to produce than 3D.

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Setting a mood is also important
The last thing I am going to mention, but probably the most important, is the actual content of the visual style. A game should look unique, and convey a mood of it's own. Here I restricted the art to just a few mostly darker shades of gray to give everything the look of being at night with artificial lighting. It turns out that the things you decide to leave out are as critical as the things you put in.
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I took a lot of inspiration from city living

I have tried to apply everything I know to the art direction in Overgrowth. Are there any other major things I missed about art direction?