Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cutting corners... wisely

Have you ever heard the term "programmer art?" It's a common thing. It's where you have a game programmer who only has enough time to be an expert at programming, and thus has very little skill in the art department. A lot of people will argue that this isn't a problem, and that innovation will make your game a success regardless of art. Minecraft has become a classic example.

This concept is only partially true. If whatever innovation you have really sticks out, and if it's what people want, and if you can get word of the game to your target audience, you might end up with a success. I will note that I am NOT talking about graphics, or fidelity. I am speaking of visual style. Even Minecraft has a somewhat unique and appealing art style.

So if having good art is part of the game(pun intended,)  what other things are? The list is huge. Maps, physics/mechanics, music, sound effects, and story are just a few. This raises an even bigger question. How do you do all of these things yourself? The answer is that you aren't likely to. If you are working on a fairly big project, you aren't going to be able to do the work of experts in all these areas alone within a reasonable amount of time. So whenever possible, you need to try to scrape together a team and delegate some of the work.

To be honest, I myself have never successfully put together a team and come out with a successful project. It's just not easy to do unless you happen to be an already successful company with a budget containing millions of dollars. It is still possible however, and we know of some extremely successful or high quality projects that have come about from things like open source(which I happen to be a fan of).

So it's great if you can get a team together or even just one person to do art or something similar. But what if you can't get a team together, and you don't have a multi-million dollar budget either? The solution is simple. It's this wonderful thing called cutting corners. All the kids are doing it these days.

Basically, you start by taking what you're good at(like programming,) and using it to pick and polish the main feature(s) that make your project special. Then, rather than trying to do a perfect job on everything else, just try to do a fairly good job in half the time. Polish is always a good thing, but don't feel bad about not having the uber-cool new weather effects if that's not the point of the game.

Yet another way you can cut corners if you do it properly, is using third party content for things like art and sound. You must choose carefully which things you go to third parties for, and which things you take the time for yourself. Just make sure you don't go to www.smallSetOfMediocre3DModelsWhichDontReallyFitYourArtStyleAndEveryoneCanSeeEveryWhereElse.com. Use third party content sparingly.

You probably won't end up being a one man show like I am. You haven't had my horrible people skills blessed upon you. ;)


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