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(Wrongly) Brushing Aside the Brush
by Randy OConnor on 08/15/11 05:36:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I've always trended toward function over beauty.  I make games to play, so would I rather look at something pretty, or would I prefer that touching a button on a gamepad produce a satisfying result?  But I'm realizing that I've been looking through the lens of someone who has mostly made small games, and I'm learning even a small game's art is critical to how it feels.

My art is good, but I don't labor over it to the same extent that most artists do.  When making a small little game like Dead End, I care that it's cute and fun and respectable, but I'd much rather you stay for the gameplay.  You won't stay for the art, I'm pretty sure.  You see art, you might appreciate it, but you move on.  Gameplay is more immediately rewarding.  I have always worried that, if they knew how I felt about the importance of game art, I would be banished from my own artists' community.

Dead End in action 

But every time I make some absolute statement like "Art is non-essential next to gameplay", I end up rebuking myself.  Every time I say story isn't anything next to gameplay, I have a video chat with Randy Smith in which he makes everything Tiger Style is doing that much more beautiful through the lens of the story and the world behind our next game.

I say all this because there's nothing like making games to force you to eat your own words and ideas of how things should be done.  Art isn't important, huh?  Well, even when art is just "functional", the emotion it creates in the game is itself a function of an artist's work.  It directs the player's approach to the game.  So for all my lack of caring deeply about beauty, man I'm starting to care how my games look.  In the new Tiger Style game, the beauty is in the details.  It's caring about every second you're exploring, you're interacting, you're wondering what's next.  My art is hugely important to everything else.

I have been worried about my little game, Dead End, for the past several weeks because one of the missing elements I've been laboring over was the player's run cycle.  My game is all about directionality, so going from a single frame that points exactly where you're going to a terrified guy running like a chicken with his head cut off, it means a lot to the player's perception of movement.  Suddenly art becomes the most important piece remaining to my game.  It's all about the art when I ask if he should be running and his belly should wiggle all about.  Art is the deciding factor in how his arms should or shouldn't be waving around.  How clear is it to the player what direction you're going, and how clear should it be?  I'm still a designer when I answer these questions motivationally, but my execution as the artist is also integral to the success of the movement mechanic.

So now, after laboring over art, the run cycle is in the game and the design dialogue can begin.  I can debate (with the help of testers as well) whether or not it is still easy enough to control the main character with a much more vague animated direction.  This run cycle has shifted the tone of my game from a man with a gun shooting zombies with cold precision, to a terrified little gardener who only might survive the zombie apocalypse.

The game is getting close.  I can feel it in my bones.

Randy is an indie developer, spending most of his time working with Tiger Style Games, but also making some other little projects.  Follow him on Twitter!

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Carole Vaudry
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You might want to check this awesome video by the Extra Credits team, Graphics vs. Aesthetics:

Benjamin Quintero
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Randy, great little piece. There is nothing wrong with you shifting your opinion back and forth, and it's probably worse if you are 30+. I grew up with a different kind of gaming experience than the younger kids that are getting into playing games now and even I still have trouble going back to some of the games that inspired me to follow my path.

I don't think it is as easy as saying "gameplay is king" or "art is king", I prefer the more recent phrase that "content is king". I may not define content to be the same as the original context of that statement, but I think of it as a marriage of gameplay and art. Yes, pressing a button and getting that instant gratification is a glorious thing, but it is often amplified by some over-the-top animation on the screen. Let's face it, I don't know that God of War would have been nearly as entertaining if he only had a palette of animations from a classic brawler like Final Fight or Streets of Rage (although those games were kind of awesome too).

If you have the talent at your disposal to embellish on the aesthetic of your game then it would be a crime not to do so. The broader market tends to side with the more aesthetically pleasing game, even if the game has flaws. Typically only the nitch are more tolerant of the lesser visuals with flawless gameplay. As an indie programmer who struggles daily with content creation I only wish that I could do more than create graphically superior games; I'd love to produce aesthetically superior games. So if you can, you should IMHO.

Alex Hill
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Hi Randy,

First things first the game looks great (unfortunately I don't have an iphone) or I'd give it a go. I don't know if it was the desired effect but watching the trailer brought a smile to my face, I think it was probably the sound effects.

I think the game is a little confused in the hero's actions though I'm sorry to say, how can he fire with such precision if he's scared out of his wits? It seems like he's got a split personality one which is a hard ass, the other is a total softie. It does look odd between actions when he's been firing then stops, then puts his hands up and fires again. A delay between shooting would probably fix that, so the guy runs about with the gun for a second or so before putting his hands up?

I hope I'm not being over critical but think of it as a compliment that this is the only thing I can pick up on thats wrong with it. As I said fantastic looking little game which has a sense of humor which reminds me of the Romero Dawn Of The Dead.

All the best

Kind Regards