Game Development – Art and Design

When designing games, there is always a point where it becomes important to do some bit of art or graphic design work on the components. Every designer has reached that point whether it be before any actual playtesting has begun or long after the game mechanics are finalized. Things just aren’t attractive without a good layout and some aesthetic work. For some, this is no problem. They get out their art pads or fire up their design software and create beautiful things. I am not one of those people.

I struggle with art. I don’t call myself an artist but some people have suggested that I am. I draw little cartoons and sometimes a still life or single objects. I create characters and scenes in vaguely proportional dimensions. I have even drawn some things that I am proud of. What I am not, however, is a graphic designer. I have worked hard to make this site attractive, and I have heard some compliments, but honestly, I have just borrowed from themes and looks of things that I like. I chose colors that I like, not because they go together, but because the represent me well and are different enough to not be boring. I drew a little hat logo that shows up in your browsers title bar, or when you bookmark me as a favorite. I’ve done a lot of borrowing, but that does not make me a designer.

I struggle with everything I create. When designing games, I try to make my prototypes functional first, then figure out how to make things work later on. I put important things like numbers and card names in corners, and place game text in familiar areas. Again, this isn’t graphic design, this is just burrowing from previously successful norms. If you have been following Dead End project you have seen the bland cards, with a functional, yet completely uninspiring layout. This is fine for the early stages of development when cards are changing so frequently that assigning some sort of standard format to them is just not possible. Information has come and gone from the cards. Names have changed, numbers have disappeared and reappeared… there is just not enough stability yet to the system to commit effort to a finalized layout. Yet before I am willing to call the game “complete” there must be good design and art.

Early Scallywags art.

If you look back at the work I did on Scallywags you can catch a glimpse of my first attempts at computer aided design. I drew the characters on paper, and replicated them in software. That was the easy part. What was difficult was trying to figure out how to put those characters, along with names and game text on a card.

Early Scallywags art.

I really didn’t spend too much time on this process because I was interested in having a playable game. At that time I thought the graphic design was satisfactory, but realized over time that it just plain sucked. Thankfully, some kind people came along and made much better versions of the cards over the years it was available on BoardGameGeek.

One thing I never considered when starting this website is how much I would come to rely on design and graphics in place of text. I did not have a logo at launch and instead just had some plain text where the current logo sits. I hated the plain text title and knew that I needed something special to fill that space. Thankfully, I have a close personal friend that is a great graphic designer. DT Butchino of Sketchpad Studio came to my rescue one evening with an awesome, informative graphic to use for my logo. When he designs things like this I am amazed at his ability to convey information through simple layout. I completely lack this skill and that’s okay. In the board game industry, there are game designers, graphic designers and artists and only very rarely does one person do all of those things well. As a game designer, presentation should not be my concern. If I license a game to a publisher, it ultimately falls on them to make my concepts attractive to buyers. And that’s okay.

Princess Dice logoMaintaining a website, however, is a completely different story. I am the author, designer, and publisher. There is no team to lean on for creating content and no income from this work that can be spent on an art team. That’s where friends come in. D- being the great friend he is has hit me with random design help for years. When I’m struggling with something, he has frequently come to my rescue with quick little concept sketches or layouts. If you check out my games page you will see his work. He designed the logo for Bomb Squad some 10 years ago. It’s one of the coolest designs I’ve ever seen. He sent me prototypes of the Princess Dice and Dead End logos that I used to make the final ones you see today. He even drew the bullet casing on the Dead End logo because his abilities go beyond just graphic design, he’s also a great artist.

Project Dead End logo

In the past I have tried to maintain “my” work myself. My games. My art. My design. My logo. What I’ve learned is that I spend way too much effort on doing the things that I am not good at instead of focusing on the parts that I am good at. Making the best game I can from an idea should be my focus. If I want to expand on that idea with stunning design and visuals, I should lean on people that have those skills. I am marveled by those skills.

The goal of this site is that I will be writing about games from the initial concept through their publication with complete transparency. I cannot say that a publisher somewhere will be picking up the games for traditional publication. I cannot even say that I will be self publishing the games in a traditional manner. What I can say is that at the very least I will make these games available freely as Print and Play titles or maybe even through sites like GameCrafter.com. Part of the process will be the layout and artwork. I look forward to sharing more of D’s work as the designs progress.

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