Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Postby bvanevery » August 27th, 2009, 5:16 am

Jetrel wrote:this article assumes you want your game to be enjoyed by as wide an audience as possible.


A false choice, although possibly you didn't intend your wording to be so extreme. "As wide an audience as possible" would be, like, competing with Electronic Arts. Mass market, mass taste, dumb it all down, make purdy eye candy. You don't need as wide an audience as possible. You need a sufficiently wide audience. Thus, sufficiently good graphics.
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Postby bvanevery » August 27th, 2009, 5:24 am

Jetrel wrote:Even those who are decent or good often make technical mistakes in their drawings. Limbs that are out of place. Poses that are awkward (because in reality they'd be impossible or uncomfortable). Perspective that would make Escher scream. These things weren't done as a matter of style or conveying the artist's message. They happened because the artist screwed up. They're the kind of thing that will make the work look stupid, even to that very artist who created it, once they realize what's wrong.


Matisse would roll over in his grave. Oh my god, distortions in Art! Call the Fuehrer, we must excise the degenerate 20th Century Art!
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Postby Aethaeryn » August 28th, 2009, 4:06 am

bvanevery wrote:Really my recourse is to write my own game, and if I'm gonna do all of that, it's gonna be commercial.

Independent games (such as Wesnoth) being open source have the following advantages:

    Easy to join. There is a large dev team, and almost all started as players. A lot of the original developers are very inactive these days, or moved on. If this project did not accept developers like it did, it most likely would've stagnated. In the commercial world, the motivation is profit. You would need to pay coders, artists, etc., to do everything you didn't want to or were unable to do. This simply isn't feasible for most, which is why you get a small number of game developers and even fewer publishers. If Wesnoth were closed-source, it is very possible that they would not have the art or development team they have today (and yes, complex games do need teams because developers have lives).

    Easy to mod. It is extremely easy to develop add-ons for Wesnoth. It is also easy to share them and download them, or improve on someone else's concept. Plenty of good add-ons become mainlined, and many more become extremely popular must-haves. Some people, such as myself, like to create content for games as much as actually playing games. Even if you just play, easily-available custom content always extends the life of the game (I played Age of Empires 2 for a good year or two after it was ancient because of great content for it).

    Easy to port. Wesnoth is available on Windows, Mac OSX, Solaris, most major Linux distributions, and other operating systems as well. If you are unable or unwilling to find an up-to-date binary, you can always compile yourself from the source. In a closed-source game, if the developers don't have the platform, they probably won't support that platform. Wesnoth touches a niche of gamers simply because it is free, and available to operating systems other than Windows (the only OS filled with games). Some of us don't want to use an OS just to play a bunch of games, but wouldn't mind playing games, either. Yes, the majority of Wesnoth players probably use Windows, but there is probably a higher percentage of players who use Linux or Mac than the general gaming population. And Linux people often know how to code (potential developers) and Mac people often know how to do art (potential artists), which tie into the previous two points.

    Easy to download and play. The last point kind of leads into this. Wesnoth is 100% free to play, without annoying gimmicks most free games have (where it's free to play, but you get benefits for subscribing that give you major advantages). It's not-for-profit, and any revenue from website advertising or donations goes to the servers, another free service.

While it is conceivable Wesnoth would have been popular without these four factors, overlooking them means you're missing out on some of the biggest reasons Wesnoth was successful. If you intend to compete with Wesnoth, point #3 will probably kill any chance you may otherwise have. Quite frankly, if you're not going to profit off of your game (and only the big commercial releases do), open source is the way to go.

EDIT: I'm not saying all open source games are successful. In fact, Wesnoth is the only one I've started playing and haven't gotten bored of yet. Still, many of the reasons that make Wesnoth great are tied to its open-source nature.
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Postby Jetrel » August 29th, 2009, 11:53 am

bvanevery; you're clearly a troll, but I'm going to go ahead and feed you for the sake of being an excellent foil. :geek:

bvanevery wrote:Open Source has very limited development resources in practice. ... You're picking the maintenance team behind the source code, because God knows you usually don't want to do everything yourself from scratch.


What you argued is all true, but any developer who actually finishes a fun, bug-free game (which is what I suggest doing) is by definition an excellent software maintainer.

bvanevery wrote:it ain't gonna happen because the incumbents are determined to keep things in place that I consider un-fun. Really my recourse is to write my own game, and if I'm gonna do all of that, it's gonna be commercial.


Bull. We don't own wesnoth. We can't forbid you to change it, and it's many times easier to change software than replace from scratch. If it wasn't easier to fix something already built, we wouldn't have bothered starting OSS in the first place. http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/ ... 00069.html

bvanevery wrote:A false choice, although possibly you didn't intend your wording to be so extreme. "As wide an audience as possible" would be, like, competing with Electronic Arts. Mass market, mass taste, dumb it all down, make purdy eye candy.


Bull. The mass market is making great stuff. Trying to be different from the parts they're doing right, such as art, because they're doing something else wrong (like gameplay) is cutting off the nose to spite the face. This is not a zero-sum game. You can have great art AND great gameplay; especially because there's a division of labor, and the people doing the art aren't taking away from the work-hours of the people doing the gameplay.

bvanevery wrote:You don't need as wide an audience as possible. You need a sufficiently wide audience. Thus, sufficiently good graphics.


Bull. Nothing you do that is an actual improvement to the game is going to shrink your audience. If the game is more fun (which is really the only metric to judge it on), then you'll have more players. Making overly-realistic art for a game it doesn't fit isn't an improvement; it's a mistake; my point still stands. No matter what style you pick, you can always do either a good or bad job at it, and you want to do a good job.

bvanevery wrote:Matisse would roll over in his grave. Oh my god, distortions in Art! Call the Fuehrer, we must excise the degenerate 20th Century Art!

http://www.paulgraham.com/goodart.html
Nice try. but matisse isn't an example of an unskilled artist. I'm not talking about different styles, I'm taking about well-done art, and badly done art. But hey, [censored], if everything's really, truly relative, no one will care if you make a game that looks like this, will they? If you're seriously arguing this, you're just stupid and wrong. The other 95% of us want well-done games that aren't hard on the eyes.
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Postby Aethaeryn » August 29th, 2009, 5:31 pm

Jetrel wrote:Bull. We don't own wesnoth. We can't forbid you to change it, and it's many times easier to change software than replace from scratch. If it wasn't easier to fix something already built, we wouldn't have bothered starting OSS in the first place. http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/ ... 00069.html

I'm glad you found this link... I was just thinking about this article the other day... It's a good read.
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Postby ceninan » August 30th, 2009, 1:50 pm

bvanevery: Right. And commercial development magically solves these problems? Here's another dirty little secret: commercial development is also about the people. Bad communication and management can ruin a commercial project as surely as it can ruin an open source one. There are far too many examples of projects with millions of dollars pumped into them that failed to deliver anything good enough (or even anything at all). And regardless, coming up with the kind of game prototype Jetrel is describing is a good idea, both in order to get funds and to give the team members a clear mental image off what they are working on.

Oh and if you need money for funding your project...
Image

You may sell it.
Spoiler:


Excellent advice, Jetrel.
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Postby Jetrel » September 25th, 2009, 10:41 pm

An update. I'll probably keep this simmering here for a bit; I thought of a major thing to add to it in this revision, and another few might occur later after 'sleeping on it' for a while.

Preamble:
At the time of this writing, open-source game projects stereotypically have a surplus of programmers, and a painful lack of artists. This has a strong negative effect on the community; many of our games are embarrassing to show off, and are attractive only to the small subset of the gaming public which doesn't care about art. We need more artists, but we don't have budgets and can't hire anyone, artists included. The only option is to attract volunteers, and doing that isn't passive. Inaction: just hoping they'll magically show up, doesn't get results - as anyone reading this article for advice is painfully aware. There are a few tricks to it:

Chiefly, you want to make a fun, fully-playable game, you want to get as many players as you can, and you need to explicitly and loudly advertise that you're open to contribution. This last bit is deceptively important, and is something a lot of open-source projects fail at. Most people simply don't realize you need the help. They don't have a clue about the open-source movement, and never even think about the possibility of helping out. It's just not a normal part of wider human culture, yet, (unfortunately, this very much includes art culture) and the default assumption is that your game, like all normal games, is considered finished. If you want help, you have to ask loudly, or you won't get it.

Getting lots of players helps because statistically, a certain fraction of your players will be artists, and a certain fraction will want to help out. The more players you have, the bigger a given 'fraction of your players' is. It's possible that if your game is aimed at certain subcultures, they'll have disproportionately higher numbers of people interested in art (this may, for example, include the fantasy/sci-fi community). No matter what, though, you always want to get as many players as possible.

The other half of the equation is keeping artists after you get them; to do this you have to treat them as first-class citizens on your project, and you have to jump through hoops to keep them happy and motivated. Obviously, no one is being paid, but you have a harder job here than with coders, because artists generally are not as well-paid in their professional life, and often don't have any time for unpaid work. The term 'starving artist' isn't a baseless cliché. The few that have time to help will immediately quit in disgust if it becomes unpleasant, because they could be spending that time doing paid commissions. Also, both artists and coders do free work as an educational exercise, but the kind of repetitive work needed to produce art assets is often not nearly as educational as the less-repetitive coding needed to create a game engine (scripting notwithstanding). You really need to go out of your way to make sure your artists are doing fun, fulfilling work, and a lot of the time that will mean handing the reins of the creative process over to them. It's painful to give up sole control over something so near and dear to your heart, but it's often the most fun part of the process, and that means it's the best tool you have to keep an artist from getting burned out. The good news is that artists are usually good at creative direction of a game.


Regarding people who don't think you actually need art:
[sarcasm]I hope you enjoy your 5 players.[/sarcasm]

People like art, and it's fairly self-evident and scientifically proven; the lack of it completely turns a huge number of people away. This article isn't a soapbox for the necessity of graphics; if you're not willing to accept that, you're deliberately limiting yourself to a tiny ghetto of people. I can't help you with that - this article assumes you want your game to be enjoyed by as wide an audience as possible.

There's a certain "sour grapes" stance in the open-source and indie community that good visuals are a hallmark of bad commercial games; this sometimes is taken to the point of mild hostility towards good graphics. It is true that many commercial games have great art layered on top of bad gameplay, but this correlation is not a causation. The good art didn't cause the bad game; the fact that "they're forced to ship the game in 15 months, even if it's not fun to play" is what caused the bad game. Open-source is both lucky and unlucky, in that you have a natural mechanism guaranteeing you can't make this mistake - you generally can't get any contributors at all until the game is fun.



The List:
I'd call these helpful tips, but all of these are basically mandatory to do. Screw any one of these up, and you're almost guaranteed to fail.


Make a fun game:
So important I'm saying it again. If the game's not fun, you're dead. Engineering 'fun' is difficult, and entire books could be written about it, so I won't cover it here. Like jazz, or obscenity, you know it when you see it, and you need to keep trying until it's there.


Use common file formats:
Use as open of formats for your art as possible. I don't mean open in terms of the open-source community, I mean open in terms of "formats people actually have programs to work with"; these are often the same, but not always. The thing that matters is that people have to ability to completely prepare art for your game without using any special tools, and are able to pop it into the game and see it in action without any of your help. Generally, this means using formats like OGG and PNG, instead of using some sort of homebrewed custom format like most games did in the 90s. Same goes for tools that 'mixdown' open formats into some compiled final form (like .WAD) for distribution. If you roll your own MOD-like music format, or your own custom way of storing bitmaps, no one will have the tools to directly make art for your game. They'll have to go through you to do it, and this will drive away a large percentage of contributors, because most people dip their toes into making art by just messing around with their own copy of the game.

By extension, most artists interested in making games actually have a certain amount of data-modding skill. You need your engine to be moddable; they need to be able to make their own levels, creatures, and characters - storytelling is usually the very part of game making that artists enjoy most. You can do this either by having a great editor, or by having accessible text-based files storing the stuff (many game artists are computer-savvy enough to edit text-based data files). Editors are better and can be used by almost everyone, but they're time consuming to make (especially for rarely-edited content types), and one danger in trying to pursue the holy-grail of having a GUI editor for everything is that some parts of game content are isometric to programming no matter how you present them, and are best left as programming. If you try to gui-ify them, you will at best end up with a graphical programming language, but will likely just create a disaster.


Instant Gratification is your friend:
Making the barrier-to-entry for contribution as casual as possible is really important, because it's usually only after they've tried making art for you, that a person will realize they love doing it. In most life activities, people don't decide they're going to do X, and then decide to like it. People try X casually, like it, and then decide they're going to continue doing it. If they don't have a chance to casually dabble in it, they end up never doing it. This is exactly the way most game-modders get started - frivolous dabbling with the included editors, which they find to be fun, and then snowballs into further work. This is probably the same factor that got everyone reading this article started on programming - you wrote something trivial in some friendlier programming environment, it worked, and the joy of creation kept you coming back for more. Instant gratification is really important - it creates momentum and motivation.

Instant gratification is necessary to keep artists motivated. If an artist starts making a kind of asset for you, it's important for you to get it into the game and visible to them as soon as possible. It's very exciting to get that kind of approval of seeing it in the official build of the game, and vice-versa, it's very damning not to have one's work put to use - rather than seeming neutral, it feels like a hostile rejection of the work. Artists rarely understand how difficult the programming you do to include their stuff is; it seems trivial, so they'll usually assume that you're not putting their art in because it's not welcome.


Artists are separate people:
They can't read your mind. They don't know your plans. This ties in with the instant-gratification point above; if you've put "including their new piece" it on your mental checklist to take care of in a few weeks time, they're not aware of that. If you're not immediately working with a contributor of code/art/music, they usually will stop making more. This is fine for an one-off bugfix patch, but this is a death knell for someone who sending you the first in what might be an entire game's worth of models or sprites. You must follow up, you must work with them and keep them engaged. Almost all contributors who might contribute a whole game's worth of art will be lost if you don't get back to them in the space of a week - preferably a few days. This strongly speaks in favor of a RERO (release early, release often) policy.

You need to inform them of your future plans, because right from the beginning, they're probably going to take the initiative and start working on things without asking. It's always rough when someone works on something that wasn't in the plan; either you have to change the plan, or you have to refuse their art (which as you can guess is very discouraging).

Another thing to keep in mind is that artists haven't spent the last decade learning to program like you have, and they'll miss a lot of things you automatically understand: a lot of choices (which are often complained about by players) are dictated by the fact that they're the only feasible thing to program. For one example, RPGs have the crappy, robotic, predictable dialogue trees we all know and love, because the alternative is solving the hard AI problem. But laymen don't know this! This is part of why (as I described above) people assume the conspiracy that development resources are misallocated towards graphics, to the neglect of great gameplay features like 'natural dialogue engines' - they don't realize that we're avoiding doing that because it's completely impossible. A lot of things that seem easy to code are hard, a lot of things that seem hard are easy. Vice-versa is also true if you haven't done art. Artists are in the same position relative to you; you might make dangerous assumptions about what is/isn't easy for them to do.


Artists can't compile:
A related part of this is that artists can't compile your game. If official releases are more than a month or two apart, you must supply them with releases; they can't be stuck in a ghetto of outdated versions, because they'd be excluded from anything new that's going on. They're a part of the core team, and they need to see how their stuff works with new changes as well. It's also mandatory that you have releases for their platform; I know that linux programmers usually won't have a way to make a mac binary (for one example). But if someone comes offering art, they'd better get one damn fast, because if they can't play your game, they're not interested in helping you. In fact you generally need to have mac and windows builds of your game publicly available, period; if you don't, the entire 99% of the rest of the computing world will not play your game, and will not be interested in making art for it. (Macs in particular are important to target because like the Amiga platform in its heyday, macs have a disproportionate number of artists and musicians.)


Plans vary wildly in cost:
Just as a non-programmer can easily make impossible requests of a coder, you need to remember that each aspect of your planned art assets carries a steep time cost. It's incredibly easy to toke up a pie-in-the-sky plan for a game that will require more art than all the humans in the universe could ever produce. You need to be canny about choosing what art assets you're going to have - you need to avoid anything that requires a lot of brute force. One huge thing you need to bear in mind is that this is a big area where you can't imitate commercial companies. Imitating what commercial companies do on code is often fine and good, but art is one area where our inability to 'throw money at the problem' makes a big difference. Specifically, commercial companies can do 'death marches' to produce content. They can hire several artists to do grueling, unappealing, grunt work to fulfill their design-spec whims. They can commission a lot of work that's not fun to make, and that doesn't improve the overall visual quality of the game.

You, on the other hand, can't. Artists will generally only make stuff for you if they feel it will benefit the bottomline 'overall visual quality' of the game. Artists will usually 'scratch their own itches' - they'll improve the things in the game that are bothering them, or they'll add things to the game that they wish it had. You as the coder, have to be careful to make a plan that isn't doomed to be a work of fiction, either by being something an artist wouldn't want to do (by dint of being grueling or something unhelpful to the core game), or by planning to have something your artists could never possibly complete.

The latter can be very dangerous, because artists, especially greenhorn ones, are just as susceptible to crazy, we-can-do-anything plans as coders, and will vastly overestimate their productivity. They will charge into an impossible plan with the enthusiasm, and ultimate success, of 'leeroy jenkins'. And it gets ugly when reality hits home, and they realize it will take them 20 years to finish their current plan.

Common and dangerous time-sinks include:
- many games have one-off uses of graphical content, such as cinematic cutscenes, or chapter/location pictures. These are nice art in their own right, and are fine for telling the story of your game, but as far as the quality of 'playing the game' itself goes, they're almost a complete waste of effort. If one dedicated-to-that-job person wants to do that art, then it's fine for you to have, but if you're asking artists who are otherwise making the bread-and-butter graphics of your game to make it, you're wasting precious man-hours.
- many games have intricate, hand-drawn animations and 2d art, when they could have just rigged a 3d model, and re-used the animation for every similar object in the game. This is why so many games have moved to 3d, despite it being harder to program - you don't have to provide unique animations for different directions, or even for different creatures that share the same body-structure.
- many games have useless ui bling; they have hand-drawn animations for windows appearing on the titlescreen, or buttons being pressed, when just having the window appear instantly would work just fine.
- Many RPGs provide unique icons for each acquirable item. This is a bit wasteful, however - the classic RPG chrono trigger, well-acclaimed for its art, didn't; it used a generic icon for each major class of item (swords, bows, etc), and it honestly didn't make a lot of difference. You can make the effort to provide unique icons, but it offers fairly little 'bang for the buck'. A perverse example of waste would be animating each icon (for example, animated glows on staves, and animated gleaming on metal swords - or perhaps animations when you equip it or use it).
- Some RPGs or strategy games provide a close-up view of battles and combat, or sometimes have larger versions of characters for an interior scene (like in sierra's old King's Quest series). Even in 3d, to add the detail to models, this almost amounts to another game's worth of art, just to move the camera closer. This is almost always a glaring example of waste on the part of a commercial company; it adds almost nothing to the gameplay quality of the game, and is really just a (well-paid) waste of money spent making all that art. The art itself is fine, it just doesn't benefit the game very much at all.

These are just examples; there are a lot more pitfalls like these. You need to both avoid planning to do these (because smarter artists won't want to), and shepherd gung-ho newbie-artists away from doing these (because they could easily waste a lot of time, when they could instead be doing core content of the game).


Prove your game will succeed:
Artists are usually gunshy of hotshot "sky is the limit" game plans. They're a dime a dozen. Most videogame projects (open-source or commercial) are unfinished failures, and most artists who have an interest in doing videogame art will have tried contributing to at least one project, and will have been burned by the project's collapse. All of their work went to waste. The problem for them is that most artists have no means to judge the skill of a fellow programmer. Most programmers can quickly look at a project and judge whether the codebase is tenable or doomed, but most artists have only word of mouth to go on. They have no clue if you've got what it takes. The only way they can know is if you've basically finished the core of gameplay. Like in "return of the jedi", the death star doesn't need to be finished, but it needs to be "fully functional."

This is good game design practice anyways, doing rapid prototyping, and hammering out a functional core game as soon as possible. But it merits being said because I can't count the number of times I've seen game projects that are little more than a launchpad for Architecture Astronauts. If your primary focus is AI development, and you're not really serious about getting the game done, don't bait-and-switch potential contributors by saying you're a game project. If you're not serious about it, but claim you are, in the secret hope it will just magically come together, screw you - the people who are making art for you generally ARE serious (or they'd just be posting on an art gallery site like DeviantArt instead). Only advertise yourself as a game project if your primary goal is finishing a nice and polished game.
http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/ ... 00018.html

Artists need authority over art:
You may have very strong opinions about the visual look of your game. If you're not doing any of the work on the art, though, you need to shelve these opinions. Your artists will usually only enjoy their own style of art, and they're not being paid to make stuff for your game, they're only doing it because they enjoy it. Either you do it their way, or you don't get art. This is categorically different from commercial games. You're not their boss, you don't get to tell them what to do. Artists need to have complete carte-blanche over the art; in exactly the same way that you, the programmer, have complete authority over what language to use and what coding-style to employ. You'd be rightly incensed if they told you to change those, and any case of you telling them to alter their work for reasons of style is a violation of the things that make the work enjoyable. No enjoyment, means no artist.

The relationship on a game project is a short-term marriage. Like in a real marriage, you may need to avoid getting married to an artist who is doing something you hate. If you're making a videogame, and you have an artist trying to contribute in a style you personally can't stand (such as anime), you might need to turn them down. It's best to be forthcoming about that; the last thing you want is a ticking time-bomb. It's a tough choice; you might not get art if you turn that person away, but you'll need to make the choice, and be true to it. It might be worth it to tolerate something you only mildly dislike.


You need lead artists:
One obvious problem, though, is: What do you do, when you have different artists who are pulling the game in different directions? You do exactly what is done with code; you pick the ones doing the most and best work (and who seem to have decent plans for getting the game done), and let them be dictators. If they're really doing the lion's share of the work, it's not a loss for them to drive away people who refuse to agree with them, and they'll ensure that everyone who is willing to contribute is contributing everything in a nice, uniform style and quality. In other words: you'll begin to look like a commercial game. This ownership and authority will also feedback into this artist's motivation; because the game is becoming 'theirs', they'll usually feel driven to work harder and deserve being in charge of the art.

The best thing is when you snag someone who is as gung-ho about making your game as you are - but wants to do art instead of code. In other words - it becomes their game, as well.

It's important that if you get someone like this, that they have authority to actually remove pieces of poorly-done, or out-of-style art from the game. Yes, it feels wasteful, but commercial companies do it all the time; it's why their games look so nicely uniform in style. It's the same reason coders trim away stuff during a refactor. You only want to do this once they've proven that the net gain of their presence is creating more art than they'd want removed - but this is exactly as it would be with code. You don't just follow the orders of any coder who walks into your project and declares that the whole thing needs to be rewritten; they need to prove that they know what they're talking about, first.

You can have more than one lead artist - if your artwork is split into obvious categories that require different skillsets, then your artists will naturally form into different groups based on their skills. Many excellent illustrators are completely incapable at 3d-modelling (and vice-versa).


You don't need concept artists:
At least, not as a separate, distinct position. Concept artists are an artifact of commercial companies which throw money at the problem of "being creative". They're ultimately a form of leadership; they create concepts which other artists reinterpret as useable assets in the actual game. This level of specialization is usually quite wasteful, and robs many of the "follower" artists of the right to be creative on their own (which is fun, and which is why they'd want to contribute without pay to a free project). They put up with it on commercial projects because they're getting paid, but they usually don't like it - they're being forced to make exactly what the concept artist came up with, and they usually don't get to add their own flair to the design.

What you need are artists who are good at creating useable assets. Without these, you don't have a -game-; if all you have are concept artists, their art is just a bunch of pictures that can't actually be integrated into the game. The pictures are useless by themselves. What's nice, is that most artists who can create useable assets will have some level of ability at creating interesting concepts as well. This might take a little while for them to develop, but it's the most enjoyable part of developing as an artist, and practically all of them will grow into it over time. Also, a group of artists as a team will usually have enough creativity between them to provide most of the benefit of a real concept artist; certainly more than enough to float a decent game design.


Artists benefit from an environment of technical critiques:
There's a sizeable number of primadonna artists out there who consider art to be 'above' criticism. It's generally wise to identify and show those people the door as soon as possible. Even if they're good, they'll do more damage than good to your project; game projects are a marriage, and that needs to be bridged from both sides of the gap, the artist side included. What is true about art is that although there's a large amount of stuff in art that's a matter of subjective opinion and taste, there's also a large amount of stuff that can be judged on an absolute metric of quality. Art takes a lot of acquired skill to do well, and some people just suck. This is The Internet™, and you're not going to be forgiven if your artist tries to excuse incompetence with 'artistic license'. You will look like [censored], you will be laughed at, and no one will like your game.
http://www.paulgraham.com/goodart.html
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However, this doesn't just apply to gross incompetence; even those who are decent or good often make technical mistakes in their drawings. Limbs that are out of place. Poses that are awkward (because in reality they'd be impossible or uncomfortable). Perspective that would make Escher scream. These things weren't done as a matter of style or conveying the artist's message. They happened because the artist screwed up. They're the kind of thing that will make the work look stupid, even to that very artist who created it, once they realize what's wrong. People should keep their opinions on style out of things, but a healthy environment where it's okay to criticize actual mistakes is good for everyone. It will make your art better. It will allow your artist to improve. It will make your artist feel like he/she is being treated fairly. It encourages a healthy dialogue about the creation of the art for the project; rather than a stilted one-liner about how their latest piece is "nice".




Synopsis:
To get artists, make a great game. To keep them, treat the ones you get (whether artists or sound designers) as your equal partners in the creative enterprise of game development, and you'll eventually pair up with at least one who is as gung-ho as you are. In order to do this effectively, you have to understand where they're coming from, and make special efforts to make your project accessible to them. You also have to embrace that once they start putting man-years of their effort into the game, it's as much theirs as it is yours.
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Postby Jetrel » September 26th, 2009, 2:03 am

Loose ends:
- add blurb about sid meier's "Be careful not to have more fun designing the game than you or your players will have actually playing it" -> vis-a-vis for imagining possible art versus how that actually pans out in terms of final effect on the bottomline

- talk about the dangers of getting half-finished chunks of art in a category which your loyal artists don't have any competence in dealing with. Talk about how important it is to refuse stuff to fight scope creep.

- talk about not ever being closed, and being honest about being OSS.
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Postby thespaceinvader » September 26th, 2009, 8:14 am

I think something important needs mentioning with regard to 2D/3D: 3D can save a lot of work if you know how to use it. But most artists DON'T. I personally can make sprites. I can animate sprites. I can do this til the cows come home, and with practice I will be able to innovate animations for them an awful lot more quickly. I cannot make 3D animations - I have made a grand total of 2 models in my time, and they were mechanical, non-animated and non-skinned. I made them for personal reference for a project long since stalled. I couldn't have animated them for beans - the program I was using was confusing enough as it was... This will be true of many (probably most) digital artists you can get your hands on. Making 2D artwork is probably more labour and time intensive. But more people can do it, and (IMO) it's probably more satisfying for your artist.

Unless your project relies heavily on 3D (I wouldn't suggest 2D for an FPS, for instance), you're generally better off with 2D.

In my humble opinion of course, natch ;)
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Postby Jetrel » September 29th, 2009, 1:07 am

thespaceinvader wrote:I think something important needs mentioning with regard to 2D/3D: 3D can save a lot of work if you know how to use it. But most artists DON'T.


:hmm: I'm really not sure about that. I'm definitely in the same boat as you, but, I've run into a lot of people who know how to 3d model but can't draw - in fact, who view drawing as some sort of black magic, and who model because they can't draw. It's easily outnumbered by the number of people who draw, period, but I'd say it's actually rather comparable to the number of people who do 2d art for videogames. Of course, sturgeon's law applies, and most of these people do terrible work, but the same is true for 2d art. I actually think there are many more competent 3d modellers out there than there are competent pixel artists. Really.

A contributing factor is that animation is a lot easier to do in 3d, because all you have to nail is getting the motion natural - the technology does all the perspective and tweening for you.. I have a few books on animation, and they devote whole chapters to avoiding mistakes that can't even exist in 3d modelling. In fact, in 3d, you don't even have to shade, which is another really scary aspect of 2d. All you have to do is sculpt the shape correctly, and all the shading is done for you. Another contributing factor is that there are a lot of career opportunities for 3d-modellers, whereas the career opportunities for sprite art aren't going to land you a job working on the next AAA title (there are plenty of spriting jobs, but none of them are the super-blockbuster games, these days).


But the real issue is that 3d just scales a ton better than 2d. The lesson I've taken away from wesnoth is that the ideal scale for a 2d project is something smaller than wesnoth. If we were 3d, we'd have finished animation projects that we're still slaving away at, years ago. Obviously we want to stay the course, but that's just .. sad. I like the look of hand-pixeled art, but it's so time-expensive that I really don't think I can ever afford to do another project the size of wesnoth, in 2d. :augh:


This is why I suggest 3d to anyone doing a game project, IF they're good enough to handle the 3d code - 3d lets you get more work done with less artists. The following is a rough equation:

time cost = (num units) * (num of anims per unit) * (num of directions) * (num of alternate costume elements)

2d can work great, but the moment you realize you're doing something where these last 3 parameters become significant, you really want to stop and question doing it as 2d vs. 3d. In 3d, all you have to do to create new content is model it, and it just sockets into existing animations. For anything where you're looking down from a 45° angle at characters that you want to have well-animated, which means any RPGs, RTS games, potentially many TBS games, and many action-games, etc, you're courting disaster to try and do it as 2d. Trying to do an open-source role-playing game, of similar scope to Chrono Trigger, would simply be suicidal with one artist. It would take years.
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Postby thespaceinvader » September 30th, 2009, 8:54 pm

It's difficult to tell to be honest - I'd be intrigued to find out the number of skilled pixel animators compared to 3d animators. I just have no clue HOW you'd find that out...
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Postby Jetrel » October 2nd, 2009, 9:36 am

thespaceinvader wrote:It's difficult to tell to be honest - I'd be intrigued to find out the number of skilled pixel animators compared to 3d animators. I just have no clue HOW you'd find that out...


I guess I should say this: there's an adequate number of 3d artists out there. (also, it's quite possible that more budding 3d artists are aware of the OSS game scene than budding pencil/pixel artists.)

Another important thing is that even you could do a lot of good in a 3d workflow. Lots of modellers can't texture for [censored]. You can (you're probably not immediately familiar with it, but both you and I have the skillset to do in with minimal training). So it's not like picking the 3d workflow automatically excludes 2d artists either.
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Postby zookeeper » October 2nd, 2009, 1:39 pm

While 3D has obvious advantages, it can still be a heck of a lot bigger pile of pain to actually work with than 2D art. For example, simply tweaking a 3D model after it's been UV mapped and textured is much more cumbersome: you can't just go and add some detail to it without also editing the UV map and textures accordingly. Probably you also need to for example re-render any ambient occlusion maps to account for your changes, too. And then you might need to re-export the model to whatever format the game actually uses, which might very well involve rigging stuff up in some other program. And if you forgot some little detail, you might get to do the whole thing again.

And of course you need to learn an order of magnitude more technical know-how in order to be able to create a 3D model than you need to create a 2D sprite. Whereas you can make 2D sprites with pretty much nothing but the pencil and eraser, there's not really an equivalent in 3D modelling (assuming you want to make models which don't suck, anyway); you need to learn lots and lots of specialized individual features.

The simplicity of being able to just open up a simple image file, push some pixels around, save and be done with it is really awesome. And maybe edit some simple text file to go with it.
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Postby thespaceinvader » October 3rd, 2009, 2:26 pm

However, the same is true of sprites, to a large extent. Changing a slight detail on somethign as complexas, say, the new drakes would result in a lot of work. There are 40-odd images for each drake, and changes need propagating...
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Postby Dave » October 6th, 2009, 4:03 pm

Jetrel wrote:
thespaceinvader wrote:I think something important needs mentioning with regard to 2D/3D: 3D can save a lot of work if you know how to use it. But most artists DON'T.


:hmm: I'm really not sure about that. I'm definitely in the same boat as you, but, I've run into a lot of people who know how to 3d model but can't draw - in fact, who view drawing as some sort of black magic, and who model because they can't draw. It's easily outnumbered by the number of people who draw, period, but I'd say it's actually rather comparable to the number of people who do 2d art for videogames. Of course, sturgeon's law applies, and most of these people do terrible work, but the same is true for 2d art. I actually think there are many more competent 3d modellers out there than there are competent pixel artists. Really.


I don't have anything beyond intuition/hunches to tell me this, but I suspect that the potential to get 3D artists for a project is similar to the potential to get 2D artists.

The main "problem" with doing things in 3D is that it's all technically a lot more complicated. There is far less standardization in terms of tools and formats in 3D than with 2D graphics, so you'll have to decide what formats to support. Then any artist who wants to contribute to your project will have to provide models in that format, meaning they have to have the right software, which they might not have, or will have to spend time learning, etc. It is much different from something like Wesnoth where anyone using Photoshop or the Gimp or Paint can whip up an image and put it in the game.

Then, 3D coding is more complicated than 2D, by a rather long way. You really have to be a pretty cool coder to grok 3D graphics thoroughly. You can use an engine like Ogre, but learning a full-fledged 3D engine's API is pretty complicated too -- and then engines also often make the whole file format thing more complex too.

Finally, there are a lot of tools that commercial development shops use that are closed source, expensive, and have nothing even close in the Open Source world. Programs for generating humans, trees, terrain, etc, are rather advanced, but very expensive.

I think there are plenty of barriers, obstacles, and things to consider when doing a 3D game, however I tend to think artists are a little down on the list. I think if you were go make a fun game with a good concept and get an engine out there, making it fairly easy for artists to contribute, you'd actually get plenty of interested artists.

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