The Drugbound Art Process

shoulderpads that could make a space marine blush

Being an independent game developer with a limited budget I knew that art was going to be a problem for me.
Talented artists are expensive and I knew Drugbound was going to have quite a few assets. I had already commissioned a talented artist from San Francisco
to do the first set of background images. Her work was great and well worth it, but I realized that I wouldn’t have the budget to have her do all my assets.

I decided to try a new way to get art assets that I hadn’t heard many other people try before.  I hired a very talented local artist, Tim Mayer, who does comic book work to do concept art for me, and from his concept art I would try to create vector images in inkscape or illustrator to export to .png for game assets.  I had Tim whip up some great concept art for a boss idea I had for the very first level where you’re in the desert.  For inspiration I suggested to him the cool road warrior bad guy from Mad Max 2: Road Warrior who would have a jetpack and would Hurl buzzsaws at you the entire level.

Once I had the concept art I spent a day or two learning about vector graphics using Inkscape. I really only had to learn the basics but creating the art went a LOT smoother than I was expecting.  Also my whole process sped up once I figured out that I could add a semi-transparent layer underneath my main draw area where I could put the scanned image and “trace” the inked lines.

Then I added colors.  I spent a day or so reading about color theory and color selection.  I read how some of the other studios mix and pick colors and I tried to do the same.  Especially helpful was the art department write-up from Valve’s Dota 2 Art Guide pdf (thanks Valve!).

The vector art was astonishingly easy to change frame-to-frame in order to animate.  Vector art uses paths and strokes and anchors. If you want to move an arm you just select all the anchor points in the arm, rotate them, touch it up a bit and voila you have a moved arm.  MUCH easier than trying to animate in Gimp or Photoshop on a rastered image/bitmap.

I exported to .png, loaded the asset in my game, and started playing. The. Guy. Looked. AMAZING. I was so satisfied with my work that this is now the process chain that I am using today for the rest of the Drugbound assets.

shoulderpads that could make a space marine blush

jetpack inspired by the nomadic Ork aliens from Warhammer 40k (in case you weren't able to guess).

There are a few things to consider first before going through with this asset production method.

  • Make friends with a good local artist so you can work with him/her in person. Being in person with Tim while he worked was a huge help. I found Tim on the pinboard at a local comic shop in my neighborhood. I’ve also met a couple cool artists on twitter.
  • When designing entities for your game make sure you pick entities which will require fewer animation work or none at all.  It’s easy to trace concept art into assets, but depending on your artistic talent it might be much harder to derive animated frames from a static and motionless piece of art.
  • Spend a day or two learning to use a vector graphics program.  I am currently using Adobe Illustrator because I got a good deal on Adobe Cloud, but I used the open source GIMP up until about a week ago.
  • This takes time!  This road warrior “boss” took about 5 hours, which is 5 hours away from development. If you really don’t want to spend time pushing pixels (or anchors/paths) then maybe paying an artist would be more up your alley.