I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this before, but I thought that I’d talk about one of my favourite types of online videos and how they can also be useful if you’re an artist.
I am, of course, talking about videos that discuss and explain design techniques in computer and video games. But, apart from messing around with a few basic “game maker” type programs in the past, I haven’t made a game [EDIT (16/10/17): Unless you count this gamebook-style interactive novella I wrote in 2015. I can’t believe I forgot about that!]
So, what relevance do these videos have to making art? They can teach us quite a lot, such as…
1) Graphics aren’t everything: Anyone who knows anything about gaming will probably know this already, but it’s possible for a game to look visually spectacular but to be terribly designed. Whilst hyper-realistic graphics might enhance the player’s enjoyment of some games, they’re worth nothing if the actual game itself isn’t both well-designed and fun to play.
Of course, art is – on the surface at least- all about “graphics”. I mean, you are literally creating a single static image (using ink, paints, digital tools etc..). However, there’s a lot more to making a good piece of art than just pure technical brilliance.
I’m talking about things like composition (eg: the layout of a picture), visual storytelling (eg: what is happening in the picture), perspective (eg: the ‘camera angle’ used in a painting or drawing) and the overall visual consistency of a picture (eg: do the colours go well together etc…). If you do these things well, then even an ‘unrealistic’ picture will be far more visually interesting than a hyper-realistic picture that doesn’t do these things well.
So, even with art, graphics aren’t everything.
2) Budget isn’t everything: One interesting thing about game design videos on sites like Youtube is that they are just as likely to focus on the design of obscure low-budget games made by small teams as they are to focus on the design of well-advertised mega-budget games made by software companies. Since game design revolves around ideas (and how those ideas are implemented), games of all budget levels can either include good or bad design.
Thankfully, since art isn’t usually a collaborative medium, we don’t have to worry about team size. However, if you’re new to making art, then it can be easy to think that you need a large art budget. That you need fancy branded art supplies or the most well-advertised types of graphics software. You don’t.
Good art is about skill, rather than about budget. An artist who has put a lot of time into practice and learning can produce stunning artwork using basic, cheap no-brand tools. An artist who is less experienced will produce lower-quality art even with expensive branded tools. The thing that matters most is skill (which can only be acquired through practice, learning, experimentation etc..) and not how expensive or prestigious your art supplies are.
Good game design doesn’t require a large budget. Neither does good art.
3) Ideas mean nothing without implementation: One of the most interesting things in game design videos is when they talk about games that have great design ideas, but which fail because those ideas aren’t implemented properly. In other words, it’s about whether a game puts it’s ideas into practice in a way that is enjoyable (and understandable) for the player.
This has a lot of parallels with modern art. One of the most trendy art movements at the moment is (still) conceptual art – this is the idea that the idea behind a piece of art matters more than the actual art itself. This is why things like unmade beds, pickled sharks and old urinals end up in art galleries. But, although the ideas behind these works of art may be complex, philosophically deep etc… they don’t always get those ideas across to the audience in an immediate, quickly-understandable and interesting way.
So, even if you have a great idea for a painting, a drawing or a sculpture, then you still have to pay a lot of attention to how you will put that idea into practice. How you will use your painting, drawing or sculpture to communicate with the audience in the most effective, understandable and interesting way possible.
Because, in both games and art, a great idea means nothing without good implementation.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂