Sunday, April 3, 2016

Insisting on excellence

One of the things I try to teach in the DEVGAME class is to learn from your past mistakes. While I am a very good game designer, it has been said, rightly, that as a producer, I am mediocre.

The primary problem in this regard, I have gradually come to believe, is that I am too easy on the artists. I have a tendency to decide things are "good enough", which is usually justifiable on a piece-by-piece basis, but taken in the collective on the screen, tends to result in overall mediocrity.

I noticed this when putting together screenshots for one of the DEVGAME sessions. Simply by looking at a single screenshot, whether it was from DOOM, Rise of the Triad, Duke Nukem 3D, Unreal, or Rebel Moon Rising, a complete neophyte could have correctly identified the hit versus the mediocrity.

Consider the following image from the forthcoming game Art of Sword. It is a perfectly suitable image by a very good artist who specializes in 3D work.

There is nothing wrong with this image. In fact, the only reason I decided to bring in another artist to improve the art was due to the fact that the 3D artist is not an animator and some of the animation frames were a little too jerky to ignore. It was a borderline case, and in the past I would have decided that it was good enough, but applying my DEVGAME principle of not repeating past errors, I decided to throw another artist, a skilled 2D illustrator, at the game with an eye to improving it. Here is the result:

In all the substantive details, the art is exactly the same. What you can't see here are the additional animation frames that are now significantly smoother. But the sand texture, the brighter colors, the shadow, and the additional detail on the swordsman all add up to create a much more positive impression when taken in at the same time than the changes would otherwise be expected to make. (And yes, we will be doing something about the fonts, those are just programmer placeholders anyhow.)

The point is that as a producer or an art director, you must be more demanding of your artists than you probably think you need to be. And as an artist, you must be open to reworking and improving your art, even when you think it is good enough, because fairly small changes can make a big difference when taken as a whole.

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