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On making a game before adding art

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by TenKHoursDev, May 12, 2019.

  1. TenKHoursDev


    Nov 9, 2014
    So I've run into trouble where I've developed the basic systems for the game, but none of it resembles a game. If art was needed I ignored it. That is how I got to this weird place:

    If anyone sees a problem its that it doesn't look like really anything. Nothing ties you to reality here apart from the physics.

    To elaborate: I'd ignored the art for so long I forgot how to make things look real! Projectiles appear out of nowhere, guns/engines/rocket trails don't seem to exist, and I can tell some employers have been kind of confused when I've shown it to them.

    Anyway have any of you had this problem?
    An art gap forces you to make due rather inadequately? I know there are smart ways to go about this but I was so bogged down in the code that higher levels of design thought escaped me.
    Lurking-Ninja likes this.
  2. Lurking-Ninja


    Jan 20, 2015
    I had. Back, when I started to do things "more seriously", so I started to show my prototypes for friends/colleagues and family, they gave me feedback that they don't know which gray box is what. So I colored them (green is the tree, pink is the player, etc) and then they said they still don't get it. So I started to prototype with real (but still not final) assets. Downloaded a bunch of stuff, simple tree, simple house, simple character, etc and just drop in from disk (have a small folder with prototype assets). More or less neutral, but still resemble the intention, and my audience told me that now they get it.
    The thing is, I'm an audio-person, I learn best when someone explains things to me in voice. Which is a bummer, because either I ask someone to teach me to new things or I watch tutorial videos. When I read something, it doubles the time for me to learn, and not because I can't read or I don't understand what I'm reading, it's because I learn more efficiently after hearing the explanation. But majority of people are visual people. They need visual feedback, they need to see what it's all about. Grey boxes usually just don't cut it.
    Last edited: May 12, 2019
    Shiro_Rin likes this.
  3. Shiro_Rin


    Jun 24, 2014
    I feel this in the very depths of my soul.
    Onto the subject though, I'm not an art creator, I decided to learn code myself. I feel a generic asset that looks gives visual placement is a better choice than my own mediocre creation or straight grey boxing. I try to use said generic assets as soon as possible to keep track of everything early on. Unity's Standard Assets have been the biggest help in that. It's been a lot easier to get my game plan down this way as well, for me anyways.
  4. bobisgod234


    Nov 15, 2016
    I found while making a platformer, that animations do actually contribute significantly to the "feel" of the controls. I find I get to a point where prototyping with something more than just grey cubes becomes helpful.

    Since then, I usually have ended up creating more elaborate place-holders (e.g. animated stickfigures) during development as needed.
  5. Billy4184


    Jul 7, 2014
    First, you need to separate these two:

    - Prototyping a game;
    - Showing your game to investors (in this case, investors in yourself, rather than the game, though the game is still the crucial piece).

    Prototyping the game is for yourself, not anyone else. Presumably, as the game designer, you have a lot of mental context for what it can/will be that someone seeing the prototype for the first time doesn't have.

    Personally though, I think prototyping with white cubes is ridiculous and only for the most zealous followers of some rigidly ascetic approach to game development. I like to see at least the shape of what I'm going for. I usually do a sort of low-poly style with just colors and no textures - it doesn't have to be pretty but the shape of objects and their color have to communicate identity. After all, if I'm going to be staring at it for hours it had better not require some kind of mental unpacking from abstraction every time I look at it.

    It should go without saying that anything you present to other people should be orders of magnitude more attractive, polished and juicy than what you are capable of putting up with yourself during development. I don't know how anyone would arrive at the conclusion that showing white cubes to investors is a good idea. If you can't create art, simply find/buy some solid, basic art, and put a little text in the corner (Art sourced from X) or whatever.
    Lurking-Ninja likes this.
  6. TenKHoursDev


    Nov 9, 2014
    Where in the world did you get the idea that the project was being shown to investors?

    Here's the thing: the only plans made for this game were to create it. It was never clear how or where it might go (nowhere at this point it seems), so there were never any asset purchases. I had various justifications for that. When the project began I was going through a dark time, afraid of responsibility/failure/etc. (not lectures needed, thanks) so you understand. I learned a lot.

    I've recently learned two things :

    1. Some things are so simple they must just be accepted.
    2. Intangible results/rewards are just as important as the tangible ones.

    #2 case in point: if I had offered playtesting to people I think it could be been intangibly beneficial. I showcased that project over the years in person via the YT app, and most people just said "cool" and the conversation went on...
    Last edited: May 13, 2019
  7. Billy4184


    Jul 7, 2014
    In your first post you mentioned that you showed it to employers. That's why I clarified that by 'investors' I meant 'investors in yourself' - investing in you as an employee. The only difference between getting investment for a game and looking to get hired is what exactly you are asking people to spend money on - the game that you show still needs to achieve the same effect.

    Fair enough, but in the end the employer is going to look at what you've shown and decide to a large part based on that. So I would suggest making it very pretty and polished.

    What do you mean by this?

    Well, that comes across to me as people simply not knowing what they were looking at.
  8. angrypenguin


    Dec 29, 2011
    I don't think that the issue is art so much as it's interactive design / player feedback.

    There are games with simple art where players still know exactly what's going on. See Geometry Wars for example. It's all simple shapes, but with colour and movement it's really clear what's going on even when stuff gets really busy. In a completely different direction there's Thomas Was Alone, a story about some cubes.

    A few things to think about:
    - How does the player know what to do?
    - How do they know how well they're doing and/or whether they're succeeding?
    - What are you doing to give players a sense of progress?
    - How do they know when things are going wrong?
    - How do you draw attention to things that they should know / do / interact with?
    - How do they know the effects of the things that they do / see / use?
    - How are you communicating danger / safety / value?

    I suggest listing out the key things that a player needs to know in order for your game to make sense, and then list the ways you are communicating each of those. Do this from a fresh player's perspective, referencing only what you can see on the screen and/or hear from your speakers when running a build.
    BIGTIMEMASTER and Ryiah like this.
  9. Voronoi


    Jul 2, 2012
    I think you needed to switch to some kind of placeholder art so that people testing it get an idea of what kind of game world you are talking about. Also, I think you have looked at this game so much, you are numb to the initial reaction or feeling of a person encountering it for the first time. I've encountered both of these in my game development.

    Once, I was making a platformer and focusing on the player controls. I perfected the jumping, swimming, movement of a cube, while others worked on the art assets. As soon as the cube was replaced with a fish, everyone asked what I did to break the player controls. It felt slow, sluggish and no longer 'fun'. The truth was, I did nothing to the code. Introducing scale changed the perception immediately of how the character moved.

    The second game, I intensely spent time making my own game for quite a while. I did everything, the art, music, programming and controls. Once I started sharing the near-finished product, I found I was the only one that could control the player (mobile tilt-based controller). Everyone else that played it just spun the character around in circles, unable to make any progress.

    In your particular case, the video made me a little nauseous watching it. The combination of colors (the odd sky color) and lack of context for where/what I am supposed to be doing was the cause I think. It seems like the motion is a space-based game, but equally I could be a bacteria or something really small. Maybe a WWI dogfight? I think it would be quite unsettling for most people to watch.
  10. TenKHoursDev


    Nov 9, 2014
    I agree wholeheartedly. Sometimes you get so focused on one thing (for myself: it was the code) you don't pay attention to other details. I get the unsettled feeling too. The video linked is from a few versions + videos ago so I've not rewatched it until now. I think I did some Vector3.MoveToward to manipulate the camera position, so that could explain it.

    Honestly the entire project, while sorta sound with OOP methodologies does need conceptual rework. The algorithm I developed to control the ship (its a space game akin to Freelancer) is too math heavy and unwieldy. I haven't worked on it in a year or so, with not much intention to begin again...

    FYI the sky color is the result of tilting the sun light toward the horizon with the skyblue skybox...
    I think in the future I will try to keep things much simpler.

    Maybe abandon the silly control scheme unless it can be done properly. With that project I really wanted to get to building AI to fight with/against...


    Jun 1, 2017
    This is same thoughtline I had when I watched your demo.

    If game play is not crystal clear with cubes and cylinders or very very simple placeholders, it needs more work.

    In this demo, movement seems very rigid. The rebounding action is not clear. The goal is not clear. I first expect its space combat but then I think pinball when you rebound. So I'm not sure what is happening. Also the rules don't seem consistent. Sometimes you rebound, other times you just stop when colliding with a box.
    TenKHoursDev likes this.
  12. Antypodish


    Apr 29, 2014
    I would say, do prototypes in cubes, or simple objects.

    I personally put higher emphasis on mechanics in my project, rather than visuals. If time come, I may shift my focus to graphics, if that will be necessary. But for now, I use as well simple objects.

    For example here
    I use cubes as main structural blocks. I got simple coned shaped jet, facing down, some lights and some cheap particles. Quick to prototype, and enough, to get some basics idea, what it means.

    But when comes to presentations, as other said already, people like to see nice pictures.
    Replacing cube with asteroid, or strawberry, will shift between one audience to other.
    But with cubes, is hard to say, which audience is targeted.
    Or targeting audience, which likes cubes :) (see minecraft)

    However, presented prototype is good for people, which understand mechanics and can comment upon that.
    So I see cubes as asteroids, since I see you fly like space ship in space.
    You shoot and enemy shoots.
    You get hit and get bounced back.

    Is functional from technical point of view.
    But is not necessary appealing at current state (if matter at all).
    So your friends, or colleges may not be positive about shown demo.

    Is a bit like playing dwarf fortress in ASCII. Is not for every one.
    Yet it had and has old active community.

    But I think there is enough information conveyed.
    Last edited: May 14, 2019
    TenKHoursDev likes this.
  13. AndersMalmgren


    Aug 31, 2014
    In VR depending on genre visuals are tightly coupled to visuals. We do almost all POCs on actual models. Some times I download simple free ones from the store and replace them with paid ones later.