[Does the Golden Ratio have application in game design? These two trained artists -- Rob Kay, lead designer of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and Andy Tudor, lead designer on Need for Speed: Shift, talk about using classic art training in game design, in this article originally published in Game Developer magazine earlier this year.]
Some people will tell you that having a good eye is an artist's gift -- that no sooner have artists left the womb than they're able to see the world differently than regular folk, and hence have a natural tendency toward brilliant art. These people couldn't be more wrong. The notion that artists are "born, not made" is complete nonsense. The simple truth is that artists learn to hone their eyes over many years of education and practice.
The two authors of this article both took this long journey to obtain good eyes, and then journeyed past, to the brave frontier of game design. In making the switch we found that visual arts and game design share a lot in common.
The principles we'd learned as we became artists were useful in game design too. In this article we'll share three art principles that we've found particularly useful as game designers: thumbnail sketches, the Golden Ratio, and anticipation.
Thumbnail sketches are small abbreviated drawings, just an inch or two in size, which artists use to explore ideas quickly. A graphic designer might do thumbnail sketches of possible page layouts, a fashion designer might sketch interesting new silhouettes, and a product designer could explore new form factors.
These rapidly sketched ideas give them multiple directions for attacking their problem. They help artists find strong ideas and rule out weak ones before precious time and resources are committed.
A common practice is to explore a wide range of possible solutions with thumbnail sketches before committing to any single idea. This approach works, is widely practiced, and becomes second nature to most artists.
I first had thumbnail sketches explained to me in my high school graphic design class, and have used them non-stop since. Jumping into game design, the habit stuck and I've found thumbnail sketches really useful here as well. These "sketches" don't have to be in perfect visual form either, if you're not an artist. Ideas can be sketched out in text, diagram, diorama, or stick figures.
It's worth noting that the major difference between thumbnails and prototypes is that thumbnails are far faster to create. Creating them quickly means a range of possible options can be explored in minutes, not days. The key use of thumbnails then is a rapid exploration of the solution space prior to prototyping. The end result is one well-defined problem, and multiple ideas for solving it.
This early exploration via thumbnails increases the chances of revealing the "obvious solution," which of course only becomes obvious once it's found. Here are three examples, two from my time at Harmonix and one from AiLive.