Are You a Visual Developer?

I’ve mentioned earlier in my Dead Wake post mortem (part 2) that one should not buy stuff he is not going to use. (While developing Dead Wake, I believe I bought many unused art content packs – just for the coolness factor.)

There’s one tiny thing I must add to this hint…

… since I’m a visual developer…

…buying “useless” stuff can be good sometimes.

I can imagine the game in my mind, but before I have a game art ready, I take images from other games and use them as my desktop wallpaper to help me get in the mood as in “this is how my game is going to look like”. (No, I’m not using them in my game). Sometimes, buying that extra stuff (that one won’t perhaps use in the game might help get the game done and enforce the style).

When I’m purchasing some art, I’m taking one step closer to “this is the style” decision and purchasing something requires me to spend some donuts. I’m investing in something, and I believe that this has some sort of impact on what I feel and think of things. When I’m purchasing something, I’m also going closer to a goal.

And one reason I buy things early is simple: I’m a visual person. I like to see my game in action.

When I was doing a card game prototyping (just for fun), the first thing I did was that I took some DevianArt images, made them into a deck of cards and ordered the thing. After the arrival (took a few weeks, just for the record) I had my own deck of cards to play with. It made a world difference in testing stuff. (Yeh, the game was sucky but at least my friends like the cards)

I’m going the same way in video game development: I like having at least some art right from the beginning since it helps me build the game around a certain theme. I’m much more about gameplay than anything else (story, theme aren’t as important as gameplay in my thinking: great gameplay can save the game, but great theme… well, perhaps sometimes – in my opinion) but if great gameplay is the meat & bones, then theme/art/music is the skin that makes the game much more enjoyable.

(Meatboy of course being an exception here)

For this reason, I don’t like prototyping with red and blue boxes. I’d rather have something enjoyable (doesn’t need to be finished or perfect, but something) to watch while testing.

Early visuals for the game help me visualize the game.

Your take on this, you like boxes and cones?

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. We try to design everything visually. We try very hard to avoid buying anything “off the shelf” as it were. There are times however where it’s appropriate.

    biovf is correct that, conceptualizing is very important. Even if it’s just story-boarding.

    However, there are times where conceptualizing needs to be done with the right tool for the job. For our current title, we needed a “World Map”. Our art dept is very skilled, and we even did some drawn conceptual maps for Emerald Kingdom. What we found was that nothing met our expectations and thus we couldn’t “get into the zone” so to speak when it came to visually designing the world. We broke down and purchased a fractal map generation tool. It kicked things into high gear. (Fractal Terrains, from Pro Fantasy..pretty good!)

    I think that the most important thing anyone can do is apply the golden rule of “Right tool for the job” when approaching this. Cards, Construction Paper, whatever it takes. We never throw anything away, we even have a “Failure Pile” on the file server…you never know when something can be re-used later. Same goes for your purchases…chances are, they will be used at some point during the development of something. It wont be wasted. =)

  2. Thanks for the tip Fili. On my web career the same happened (I think that applies to every webdeveloper out there). I had to start designing too (even “hating” it). Looks like I need another bunch of tutorials.

  3. The best is to learn to do your own models in a 3d modeling package. It will be extremely useful later if you know how it’s made. Even if you don’t have talent, you can use your own models for prototyping and then buy some good models (or better have them made) when finishing the game.
    One final note: art students are willing to work cheap :)

  4. Speaking of buying game art and stuff, which sites do you recommend in this subject? Or better, which sites do you buy these stuff from?

    I already googled stuff like “buy game models”, buy 3d models, etc, but everything seems so expensive to me (or is that the right price? the average is $29-49 for EACH model), since I want some models and textures just to make some prototyping.

    I have just started game development, but as an experienced web developer, I always want to have the webdesign first. It’s almost impossible to me to program without the webdesign. So I think the same will happen with gamedev: I need the art, so I can get in the mood.

  5. Well, I have to use boxes and stickmen for a while. When starting a new game, the team is very small, less than 5 men: 1-2 programmers, 1 concept artist, 1 3D artist and maybe 1 designer. In the first month of development, all I can see are boxes and stickmen. In this time programmers quickly put together some stuff to be able to test, the artists create a few models and maybe a map. Another month later we have a first-playable and we can finally get an idea of the game. It will take another 3-4 months to get to a polished look, but a lot of things can change…
    The situation is totally different when I write games for me: I start with the graphic assets, lose time on making it look good and I get bored during the project because there’s zero gameplay. So now I consider this approach as bad. Better start with cubes or very crude models, make the game fun, then make it look good.

  6. @biovf: good catch. since I work solo and hardly can use concept art in the game (like when I’m testing the game features), I hardly use them. The modelers I’ve worked with have indeed use those.

    @MikeHart: touchable? :)

  7. I agree, in the creation process it is important to have all the assets ready and fully accessible.
    I have bought lots of assets that I have never used (fonts, autio-clips, 3D models etc.), but 1) they are available when I need them and 2) now I know for sure that I am not going to use them and can focus on other issues and off course 3) I can still use them on other projects…

  8. Well, not so much as having something touchable infront of me but I like working with visual tools much more than anything. I get access to them much easier. But I will try your approach too, sounds worth trying.

  9. I think that what you’re describing is what concept art is for :-) …to get everyone inside a certain mood about the game’s theme.
    If you get an artist working with you, before modelling, he probably will make concepts and you can save some extra bucks by using that to help you visualise the game.

    As far as I’m concerned, I don’t mind using cubes and cones if that doesn’t influence anything at that stage.

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