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A Journalistic Bent: 'How Game Art Assets Can Improve'

A Journalistic Bent: 'How Game Art Assets Can Improve'

August 29, 2006 | By Jim Rossignol

August 29, 2006 | By Jim Rossignol
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'A Journalistic Bent' is a regular column in which our roving reporter takes a hard look at all the issues of gaming, games development, and the games themselves. This week's column looks at art assets and how to improve them.

The State Of The Art

This month I've been working on some game magazines. It's a return to familiar territory and one that arrives with some familiar frustrations. The experience has reminded is just how tricky it is for magazines to get hold of good game artwork, and how often that failure means that a game doesn't look the slightest bit impressive when it is presented on a page. The frequency with which developers and publishers fail their game through shabby artwork really is alarming.

Have you looked at some of the game boxes on the shelves recently? More than half those currently sitting in my local store are a shambles, and I refuse to believe it's for want of capable artists.

Just a few minutes browsing various art outlets on the web reveals a wealth of starving (probably) and highly talented artists. These people need work. But there are other problems too, problems unrelated to the talents of the development team's individual crayon-masters. These problems often come from the assumptions of marketing teams and art directors - folks who really should know better.

A List Of Improvements!

So how can art assets be better?

1. No more salacious content: Armored breasts - no! Women do not wear chainmail bikinis under any circumstances. Nor do they wear techno-bikinis if they are lady cyborgs. I will never be able to adequately articulate how wondrous and stimulating the female form is, and my attitudes routinely turn to lechery, but art directors and artists should know better. This lack of taste taints us all.

2. Action: We want exciting images. Screenshots should contain an explosion or other graphic effect, motion, or an exciting perspective. If it has none of these things, or is more than 90% brown, or obscured by bloom effects and other filters, it is useless. Just the other day, I was playing an MMO when a discussion of forthcoming games broke out between players. Games were judged by many of these hardcore gamers purely on the quality their screenshots. Very few forthcoming MMOs were deemed interesting because their screenshots were so very dull, with Middle Earth Online taking a particular kicking. Taking awesome screenshots is tricky, I know, but it can be done, especially if the developer takes some time to build in a few screenshot functions. Which leads me to...

3. Pause, playback and slow-motion functions: Getting a good screenshot from a finished game while in play can be very tricky. Magazines and websites will often make-do with half a dozen screenshots that their reviewer obtained by spamming the screenshot key during play. Often this is all they can do, because the game offers no other way of obtaining interesting images. Unless it is... Max Payne, which allowed you to pause the action and take screens of Max mid-dive. Or the Unreal Tournament games, which come with a few easy console commands to pause the action and allow a no-clipping photographer into the fray. Or even Battlefield 2, whose battle-recorder function allows us to get right into the action and take those incredible screengrabs that make people want to play. Developers often have these tools available in-house, so why not give them to the people who actually end up selling the games - the magazines and websites?

4. Three striking images: Does your game have three distinct pieces of art associated with it? Are they detailed high resolution images suitable to be used on a magazine page or in the construction of some lavish fansite? No? Then you need to create them. If we can't find awesome artwork on Gamespress.com or similar sites, then your coverage is going to be diminished.

5. The eyes have it: Is your art for a magazine cover? Then remember you have to have eye-contact. Characters with visors or whited-out horror eyes are no use.

6. Awareness of fashion: Take some time to look at what is fashionable right now. Let style magazines, illustration journals and art blogs inform your art decisions. Be aware of what people ridicule. This isn't just important for contemporary games, because science fiction and fantasy go through cycles of fashion too.

7. The unexpected: If your game is full of men with guns then come up with some images that aren't just men with guns. For an example of what I'm talking about, take a look at this.

Conclusion

Modern consumers are trained from a very young ages to judge the imagery presented to them. Most of them have a sixth sense about what is hip, what is nerdy and what is just plain embarrassing. It's nigh on impossible to stay ahead of them, but that doesn't mean it's not worth trying. The overall standard of gaming art is essential to its perception in a wider arena.

There's a reason why Games Workshop has stores all over the world and that has little to do with the cleverness of its tabletop game-mechanics. It is because it has maintained a standard of dark, hyper-gothic, non-chauvinist artwork that inspires imaginations and fails to embarrass even grown men. All games should, in their own way, be capable of the same.

[Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK - his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]


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