When you really think about it, almost every video game is a rather complex package. The story must be developed, music and sound added and the visual aspects of the game must be designed and implemented. Everything else aside, developing the visuals is a BIG JOB. There are a number of different assets developers choose in creating the cohesive package you see when you sit down to play a particular game. A game that looked amazing 30, 20 or even 10 years ago would likely be laughed at today because there has been such an advancement in the creation of these assets.
One of the first steps towards developing a game that will match the idea you have in your head is determining what assets you will include and how you will develop them. Look at some of the most utilized visual assets and see how they fit in the overall process of building a video game.
Level Art – Level art is a very important part of game design. It is easy to confuse the idea of level art with environment, since they do seem to overlap in some ways. However, level art is essentially the place where art and gameplay meet. A level artist will work with the other artists to determine where each of these assets is placed in relation to the environment—making certain that the game’s physic engine is not compromised. In the early days of video games, the level may have been quite simple (a maze, for instance, in PacMan.), but today developing the level, art and putting the pieces together can be one of the biggest jobs in the entire game development process.
Environment – A nicely designed environment can make for a highly immersive game experience. Ask game aficionados what the biggest differences are between games today and games 15 years ago and you will probably hear someone mention the environment. Plain, static environments were the norm not too long ago. Today, game environments are an extension of the games themselves. Games with constantly changing environments (like the Slender Man or Slender Man Returns game, or the games in the Elder Scrolls Saga) are very appealing and make the player feel more like he or she is actually IN the game.
Characters – Character design is, of course, very important. However, a character doesn’t have to be painstakingly created to be appealing—even simple characters like those in the Super Mario Brothers series are memorable and attractive. The most important key is making sure this asset fits in with the environment and the props, objects and other things around the game world. Over the past years, the polygon count dedicated to characters has increased dramatically. Think about Lara Croft from Tomb Raider in 1996 compared with the more recent iterations—the difference in her appearance is mainly due to games supporting a higher polygon count.
Props – Props are non-living things that improve or change the gameplay. This could include items like a barrel that the character jumps over, a flag the character much touch at the end of a race or the barriers that keep two fighters from coming out of a wrestling ring. These are such an important part of the game that they cannot be overlooked.
Destructible Objects – Destructible objects have been a critical part of games for many years now. Think back even as far as Donkey Kong. There were barrels that the character could hit with a hammer and explode to make reactions on screen. While today’s destructible objects are at times more creative, they are basically the same thing—just with more polygons and better physics!
Cars, Planes and Other Vehicles – This is one area where technology has made a big impact on gaming. The earliest racing games or flying games were very simple. The car may have been able to swerve back and forth to avoid oncoming traffic, but it did not give the feeling of actually driving a car. Today’s games are fully immersive because designers have figured out how to make the vehicle drive just like a real car (truck, plane, etc.) Consider a game like Gran Turismo. The way the brakes and gas work allow you to speed up and slow down just like a real vehicle, plus the steering is tighter and response much more accurate.
Guns and Weapons – Guns and weapons have been a part of games almost since the very beginning. They have changed dramatically to where now on a shooting game, you can feel the difference between a pistol, rifle and flame thrower. In addition to how the gun reacts, they are designed better to where they have a different look when equipped or when they are stored on your back or in a holster.
Depending on the type of game that is developed, there can certainly be other types of game art assets—so this is only the beginning. Take some time to study the different assets in a favorite video game and take note of which one or ones the developer focused most of the effort on creation and implementation. It may surprise you, but changing which assets have the biggest focus can change the entire look, feel and even success of a particular game.
OpenXcell Studio has been intrumental in making all types of game assets. From low poly to high poly designs, we fulfilled game art requests for a plethora of games. After the touch screens landed, the market has got even broader. While there are a lot of free stuff ove the web, the X-Factor always lies in the creator’s vision and the ability of the game art company to execute it.