AuthorTopic: [FILLED] Looking for artist(s) to develop new style for existing 2D Steam game.  (Read 3850 times)

Offline x4000

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The game in question
You may or may not have heard of A Valley Without Wind, or my company's other projects AI War and Tidalis (also both on Steam). AVWW is our latest title, just having arrived on Steam in late April.  So far it has done reasonably well for us, but there seems to be a very big divide in opinion of the game based around the art in particular.

The Problem
The art that is currently used by the game is all spritesheet animations, mostly which was rendered in Vue or DAZ 3D and then which was post-processed rather heavily in photoshop to give it a painterly look.  Some of the tiling backgrounds were from Genetica or other sources.  In other words, mostly the art used here is royalty-free stock art which I then lit, rendered, and post-processed into a semi-consistent somewhat-painterly style.

Some people seem to genuinely like the art style, and I think that it is beautiful in parts.  Other aspects do not gel however, and I know that some things could be better.  There are also inherent limitations of doing prerendered 3D for enormous numbers of objects: all those textures make loading slower, take up RAM, etc.  That puts extreme limits on the number of frames we can have in a given enemy animation, for instance, and makes something like a transition from one state to another impossible.

That's less of a problem with something inherently more abstract, like pixel art; but I think we're falling into something akin to the "uncanny valley" with the current art style.  It's causing lots of moaning on various forums, and it's my belief that we could see wider success with an art style that was more universally accepted.

The catch-22 with this is that AVWW has already been a very expensive game to make, and it has thousands of images already comprising it.  And we are always working to add more enemies, more spells, more objects, etc.  So this means that if we want to try out a new art style, that's going to be very expensive because of the amount of rework to be done, as well as then the ongoing cost of adding ever more content.  On the surface, this would make it sound like we are either stuck with the current art style or going to have to rely on incredible amounts of charity from artists -- the former may wind up being what happens, but the latter is not ethically acceptable to me (or remotely sustainable in the long run).

The Project
Ultimately, right now what I want to do is work with several artists to develop out several different prospective art styles.  Some of them will be pixelart-based (hence my posting here), but I'm also going to look at other forms of 2D art via other forums.  Right now I can honestly say that I'm not sure what I'm looking for, except that I'd like for the artists to take the foundation that I've laid down (the game is already released, after all), and transform it into something that makes people go "wow" instead of "ugh."  I could see a number of ways that could happen, but the specific style depends on the artist in question.

As I said, right now I'm looking to develop proof of concepts.  This is a paid offer, not a speculative one.  The process would be:

1. I'd like to see portfolio work from anyone who is interested in this, and what your usual hourly rates are.

2. If you have any specific ideas that you would like to propose for the art direction, feel free to mention them, but this is not required.

3. For the artists whose style I believe would be fitting with the project, I'll be back in touch with more information about the specific prototype art I'd like you to work on.  Even if your style isn't quite what I'm looking for, I'll at least have the courtesy to let you know.

4. When we look at the specific scene in question, based on your rates and estimate of time it would take to recreate the scene in your style, I can then be certain that this particular prototype fits into my budget for this.

5. Ideally within the span of the next two weeks or so, multiple artists will complete the work in their style, and then if any further tweaks are requested by myself to the initial work, those would also be paid at the agreed-upon hourly rate.

That's the whole of this project, at the moment.  It's essentially for R&D only, from my perspective.

Next Steps After This Project
Once an art style is selected, the next step will be to work with that artist to determine what the likely total project cost would be to convert the entire existing game over to that style.  Not to mention the timeframe.  My expectation is that multiple artists will be needed, ultimately, so then the next challenge will be seeing if we can find multiple people who can work in that style.

At that point I'll have a more accurate idea of exactly what the revision costs as well as the ongoing-development costs of the new art style would be (although I already have a pretty decent idea, having worked with 2D, 3D, and pixel artists on other projects in the past).

With those cost figures in hand, plus an actual visual prototype that people can see and look at, the next step will most likely be a kickstarter.  It's possible that a discount sale from our game could give us enough of a windfall to fund the entire thing ourselves directly (this sort of thing has certainly happened to us before), but we already have a fulltime staff of 5 and so there's a limit to how much extra financial burden we can take on even if we hit another major windfall this summer.  Most of our general budget goes toward expanding the game itself, which is what keeps bringing in new players the most reliably at the moment.

My hope is that with a solid prototype in hand, plus reasonably accurate conservative cost figures (aka, with overage built in just to be safe), a kickstarter for improving the art of this game should be a popular idea and something that people can get behind.  This has been a pretty high-profile game as far as indie games go, but you can gauge that for yourself.  Short-term this is basically just a paid stint doing a prototype of what the game could look like, and then if we're able to procure the funding to make that a reality, then this would turn into something larger.

More Project Details

Currently the game is prerendered 3D, with most characters being 128x128 images with running animations that are typically 21 frames or so.  Some of the monsters have a lot more frames than that, and vary in size from down to 32px square all the way up to 1024px square.  Most monsters don't get larger than 512px pixels square because of RAM limitations.

Generally speaking, aside from the running/flying animations, everything else is single frame -- characters spin as they jump based on rotation of a single sprite frame, then have a different frame for falling or ducking, etc.

The particle effects are something that I will probably continue to handle -- I'm quite pleased with how they've been turning out, and I don't think anyone has been particularly complaining about them.  Those are generally sprites rendered in particle illusion individually, and then animated procedurally in-game using our own custom particle system.

At the moment the game supports anything from 800x600 screen resolution all the way on up to anything above that.  The size of the viewport simply changes, rather than scaling individual elements.  That gives a fairly different feel to playing at 1080p and makes repeating background textures a lot more glaring, for instance.  My thought is potentially to cap the maximum resolution at 720p and just employ scaling above that rather than allowing the viewport to get any larger.  I mention this because I know that has some substantial effect on the amount of repetition and thus the size that background repeated textures must be.

There a few different art directions that seem viable to me, and which I'm interested in exploring.  But if you have ideas beyond the below, don't hesitate to suggest them:

Option 1: The simplest and probably least expensive option would simply be to tidy up what is already there.  There's a painterly aesthetic already, so if you have a tablet and good drawing skills you could probably add some flourishes and corrections that would help quite a bit.  Plus potentially there are some things that I'm overlooking about differentiating the foreground and the background that might be worthwile, etc.  

I don't think that this option would ultimately be transformative enough to win over the people who absolutely abhor the current style, but I could be wrong.  And if it turns out that I'm not able to procure a large art budget for the actual implementation phase of this project after the prototypes are all done, then this could be a middle-of-the-road route that would at least improve things somewhat.

Option 2: Going hardcore pixelart.  This would be replacing basically everything except the particles and probably the font, and it would be a pretty big job for several people, to put it mildly.  One immediate challenge of this is the scale of the art that we are currently using: 54 pixels per meter at the level of the characters (though some things are closer or further away, obviously).  

Doing a pixelart character that is extremely detailed at 128px square strikes me as expensive and perhaps infeasible, though I'm sure it could be very beautiful.  Perhaps a better idea would be to instead do the art at half-scale (which I know is still twice the resolution of the SNES), and then I can program the game itself to upscale your sprites to the appropriate in-game scale.  That would make things look extra blocky, but the scaling should be sufficiently high-quality that we wouldn't see blurriness.  That's something we'd have to experiment with.

However, that option appeals to me the most because it is relatively simple technically-speaking, and lets us save a lot of RAM.  Presumably with pixelart, instead of 21 frames for running we could get away with 2-4 instead, too.  For some of the larger monsters that have animations, rather than them being completely frame-by-frame of course they could have their component parts individually animated like the larger bosses were back in the SNES days.  That would take more coding, but not a whole lot.

Option 3: Whether it's pixelart or some other 2D art style, we could convert the entire game to a radically new look (again keeping the font and the particle effects, and potentially even the GUI if it's not a pixelart look).  But rather than doing frame-based animation, we could do a system that worked based on smaller component parts that then are animated via something like Spriter (or, if need be, an in-game surrogate tool that we'll code; we did that for our game Tidalis, to excellent success visually speaking).

This route would mean that we could have very high-res art, but it obviously would have to be of such a style that hero arms and legs could move against the body as separate entities without looking strange.  So that limits things and makes anything remotely 3D prerendered right out of the question.  But it would let us keep a very high resolution on things while also having very low RAM usage.  Depending on the nature of the artist, I imagine that this could be relatively faster to do since pixelart takes longer based on the size of the image whereas traditional 2D drawing does not.

Conclusion
It might seem odd that I'm mentioning the non-pixelart options I'm considering on a pixelart forum, but I figure that it's best if I'm as upfront and clear about what I'm trying to do as possible.  Right now I'm just looking to work on some prototypes with a handful of talented artists and to see what we can cook up that would be inspiring for people who might fund us in a kickstarter.

Thanks for reading!

Chris Park
arcengames@gmail.com
Founder, Arcen Games, LLC
http://www.ArcenGames.com/
« Last Edit: June 25, 2012, 03:34:35 pm by x4000 »

Offline Seiseki

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Ever since I first saw a gameplay video, back when it wasn't even a side-scroller, the game has been kinda notorious for it's art style, within my circle of friends.
As you say, there is a clear uncanny valley feel with the pre-rendered 3D and photograph based textures.
But I do agree that color and atmosphere wise the game look quites stunning in a few areas, which will be hard to achieve with pixel art, since it relies a lot on smooth gradients and glowing effects.

I really hope you find someone who's up to the challenge, since remaking an entire game will take lots of time.
I think the game could really benefit from a Limbo-like art direction, but with color instead of black and white.
That kind of rough and painterly style should be relatively easy and quick to draw and it gives you a nice sense of depth and atmosphere.
And you can also have one artist for characters and monsters, one for effects and another for background and foregrounds. As long as they use the same methods and tools.

I'd definitely recommend against pixel art, since it requires specific skills from specialized artists, takes quite a lot of time for larger and more detailed work, not to mention animations which is the trickiest part.
It's also hard to scale to different resolutions.
Also the fact that it would be such a huge leap, you want new graphics but not necessarily a completely new art direction.
« Last Edit: June 19, 2012, 10:59:17 am by Seiseki »

Offline rikfuzz

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Would recommend aping Muramasa's art direction and associated animation tech as much as possible, that game looks incredible.  Finding talented artist(s) capable of such a large job may be difficult though.

Offline Seiseki

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Would recommend aping Muramasa's art direction and associated animation tech as much as possible, that game looks incredible.  Finding talented artist(s) capable of such a large job may be difficult though.



The way they use parallax foreground and background is something to strive for. But not that kind of fidelity in the artwork, since talent like that will cost.
You can still get the same feel with more rough art assets by following certain principles.

Offline Matwek

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But I do agree that color and atmosphere wise the game look quites stunning in a few areas, which will be hard to achieve with pixel art, since it relies a lot on smooth gradients and glowing effects.
WHy not just apply the same effects to the pixel art. You can get some really cool effects if you mix mediums.

Offline x4000

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At this point we have contracted with three different studios to work on the prototypes -- we'll see how things shape up!  Thanks to everyone who wrote to us.