Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

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Jetrel
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Post by Jetrel » June 6th, 2010, 8:02 am

I occasionally lurk on the forums of a project called "TheManaWorld". Whilst I'm strongly in favor of the core idea of the project (making an MMO in the spirit of the mana series, from squaresoft/brownie-brown), the project has pretty much completely failed that ideal, and is in fact one of my canonical examples of "An OSS project that's dooming itself to not getting good art".


I really don't know why I lurk there - I have no delusion that occasionally dropping helpful advice will somehow magically turn them around. Maybe it feels good to do my "good turn" of the day. Maybe it's procrastination. Maybe it's perverse curiosity - me trying to analyze the mindset of people running their project into the ground.

I'm going to go on a random rant here, because I think it's healthy for TMW. I can't tell if you're being sarcastic, or if you're complaining to me about making a helpful critique.


If that comment I made about pillow shading is offending someone, that person is of no value to you. Not only are they poorly-skilled, but being offended by that indicates that they're philosophically hostile to learning. The worst thing you can do when you suck, is to refuse to listen to someone better than you.

TMW needs to attract and keep good artists; part of this involves fostering an atmosphere where critiques can actually be made. Removing flaws is the very definition of improvement, and it's bloody hard to do when it's considered politically incorrect to point them out. The other parts... well, I wrote an essay on it: I even posted this as an addendum to that essay - it's not directed at you in particular, in fact, it's more directed at the people who want to avoid TMW's mistakes than TMW itself, since although I can't convince people that good art matters, I can teach those who do care, how to get it.

Big Essay:
http://forums.wesnoth.org/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=26396

The single most important thing, when and if you get some master artist who cares enough to bother, is that they need to have a very large amount of authority in the project. Especially, authority over creative design and direction. The whole joy of making art when you're not getting paid, comes from executing your own ideas on monster/culture/etc design. The only reason they would ever work for you is because they're having fun making stuff. If you take away the creative control, the fun leaves with it.

But furthermore, once someone becomes your MVP, they also need to be able to say no to crappy community contributions. They need to be able to say "no, it's too much work for me to fix that, we're not going to add it." It's just not possible to have a project with consistently good art, whilst allowing bad art into the game. Good artists consistently care about "the whole product". They don't want to pair good stuff with bad - they want every last part of the game to have good art, and they feel like the game is as bad as its "weakest link" in art.

There's a bad philosophy that floats around in OSS circles that you should be "inclusionary"; that everyone is supposed to be made to feel wanted, and everyone's work should be able to get in the game. It's a fallacy. You wouldn't accept a buggy code patch in, but you accept all sorts of flawed art. You can do that, sure, but it's a harsh tradeoff - you're pampering a bunch of people who don't do you any good (who in fact waste your time), and the inability to eliminate all the bad art frustrates and ostracizes almost every good artist you'll get. In other words, being too inclusionary has the opposite effect of what you'd think it would accomplish. It drives away the good artists.


TMW has been guilty of violating all of this.. if you keep it up, you'll never get any decent artists. Maybe it's too ingrained. Maybe you just don't care. But you have to understand that you've betrayed us by not supporting our goal of making a beautiful game. We don't feel indifferent. We feel insulted. We feel like you lied to us. Why?

That our number one goal is making a beautiful game, should be obvious because we are artists. We wouldn't be artists at all, especially not good ones who've put in the years of blood, sweat and tears building skill, unless we cared about making the things we spend time on, beautiful. We assume that if you're bothering to ask for community help, that you're aware of that, and aren't spitefully inviting us into wasting our efforts. When we find out you're undermining our efforts to make a beautiful game, by throwing in random garbage from unskilled contributors, it's a bit like walking in on a cheating spouse.


The exact same thing would happen for any case when a certain contributor really cared about a certain thing, and the rest of the project was indifferent. The contributor would pour their heart into it for a little while, and then as their efforts were undermined, would quit, wondering why they bothered trying. For example:
-bug free code
-highly efficient code
-unit testing
-powerful, moving storytelling
-really fun game mechanics
-etc.


Successful open-source - actually, successful games period, happen when all decision-makers either care naturally, or are forced to care by the threat of being fired, about all of the core tenets of a project. Good art is one of them - if you disagree, you're proving my point about betrayal beyond any shadow of a doubt.
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Jastiv
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Post by Jastiv » July 9th, 2010, 9:28 pm

Honestly, I don't think graphics are going to make or break a game like The Mana World so as long as they stick to the secret of mana style.
I used to really hate that game because of dependancy hunt. The things it probably needs are better storyline, better music and sound effects, and also better gameplay. (although secret of mana and its like never had that great gameplay to begin with, as they were mostly grind games)
http://wogralddev.blogspot.com/

Wograld - our graphics requirements are less demanding.

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Jetrel
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Post by Jetrel » July 14th, 2010, 10:06 am

Jastiv wrote:Honestly, I don't think graphics are going to make or break a game like The Mana World so as long as they stick to the secret of mana style.
I used to really hate that game because of dependancy hunt. The things it probably needs are better storyline, better music and sound effects, and also better gameplay.
They've never been remotely close to secret of mana's style. :augh: They don't even have any consistent style; all they have is naked badly-drawn anime characters running around with hats. They don't even have like basic clothing sets and [censored]. The NPCs are in several styles, the monsters are in several different disparate styles - It's just a complete [censored] mess.
Jastiv wrote:(although secret of mana and its like never had that great gameplay to begin with, as they were mostly grind games)
Yeah. Honestly, TMW is more of a diablolike in gameplay.
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Post by johndh » July 15th, 2010, 12:06 am

I think another helpful thing for working with projects like this is to have a realistic expectation of how much dedication you're looking for from your artist(s), and to have at least that same amount of dedication yourself. I was working on a project a while back with another modeler and he had assured me numerous times that he'd be there to finish it with me. In fact, the whole project was his idea to start with. Fast forward a little while and, after most of the art was already done (some by me, some by him), he decided on a whim completely out of the blue to drop the project and work on something else, leaving me high-and-dry to finish it on my own. As one would likely imagine, I was not pleased.
It's spelled "definitely", not "definately". "Defiantly" is a different word entirely.

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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Post by Passingby » June 27th, 2012, 7:10 pm

To the OP: Why all the hate on Concept Artists?, people on indie projects need to multiskilled and one of these skills must be the ability to express their ideas visually which includes mood,lighting, style and theme.

Sad to say but most programers are notorious for having bad taste or sense of style and yes some (aspiring) artists are not advanced enough to recognize the important of these aspects and the importance of having a unifying visual themes. (which is how many indie/modding game related projects end up looking like a mishmash of stock art).

Concept Artist working in a small team must not be only a concept artist: he can do rigging, texturing, sculpting or whatever other secondary skill s/he picked up but it never hurts to be specialized in concept art.
After all someone need to deliver some hype building visual stuff so anyone will take the project seriously. (if you are still unconvinced look at projects like Overgrowth or Mount&Blade or even Canbalt , all with high level of art).

For the rest if you want to be creative and come up with your own concepts great but you need to keep with the theme
and the reality is that not everyone who can build models or rigs knows how to do that.

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Jetrel
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Post by Jetrel » July 4th, 2012, 8:49 am

You seem to have generally misunderstood my post. I have nothing against concept art skills - in fact I find them mandatory for an open-source project. Rather than arguing against concept art skills, I am arguing against hyper-specialization. I'm saying that due to crippling understaffing, which basically is the case on pretty much all OSS game projects, ever, all artists have to be extreme generalists. This includes concept art skills - and it also includes all the skills needed to produce real assets for the game.

This may not be clear, but art staffing is so bad on open-source projects that they are lucky to have a single artist. In fact it's more common that they have none. If they're lucky enough to have one, that artist can't afford to spend much time doing concepts, or the actual game won't be able to run, because there won't be any actual game assets.



The problem here is that people shouldn't try to run open-source projects like commercial projects, because they don't have millions of dollars to make staff magically appear. Specialization just isn't feasible, because you can't hire other people to do "the work outside of your comfort zone". If there's work that no one wants to do, if you don't get your hands dirty and do it yourself, no one will. Unfortunately, not all corporate gamedev positions are equally desirable - there are a ton of grunt positions, and there are a few "rock star" positions that everyone wishes they could have as a job in the game industry. Mostly the rock star jobs tend to be fun leadership or "idea" positions where they get to tell the other guys what to do.

When you join an open-source project, you can't just decide to do the "rock star" job and nothing else. If you do, you're trying to be a general without an army. An architect, without builders. There won't BE a bunch of other employees waiting there to turn your concepts into a game. You have only yourself. You have to make a choice between whether you want to actually make a videogame, or whether you're more interested in making a cool art portfolio. Both are respectable goals, but I suggest being honest with yourself about what you're really trying to do, and not committing yourself to a goal you're not actually going to accomplish.
Passingby wrote:and the reality is that not everyone who can build models or rigs knows how to ... (come up with their own concepts).
Then they need to learn how, because they're probably the only artist on the team.
Passingby wrote:Concept Artist working in a small team must not be only a concept artist: he can do rigging, texturing, sculpting or whatever other secondary skill s/he picked up but it never hurts to be specialized in concept art.
There is no "in a small team". Statistically, that's not the norm - the norm is that he'll pretty much be the only guy. "In a small team" only happens when you're a real company - like Wolfire (i.e. Overgrowth), or Mount & Blade, and have actual "real money" involved to keep people on payroll.

Canabalt was just one guy - Adam Saltsman. He is the perfect example of what I'm suggesting - the ultimate generalist who just got into the scrim and did everything. (I think the only thing he didn't do was the background music.)
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Post by johndh » July 15th, 2012, 9:32 pm

Jetrel wrote: There is no "in a small team". Statistically, that's not the norm - the norm is that he'll pretty much be the only guy. "In a small team" only happens when you're a real company - like Wolfire (i.e. Overgrowth), or Mount & Blade, and have actual "real money" involved to keep people on payroll.
Wolfire is basically three guys, and only Aubrey is making the art, but their development is full-time and paid for by preorders, so he can take time to flesh out the ideas from concept to finished product, as opposed to most indie games where it's a hobby or side-project. I think very basic concept sketches are pretty necessary for a lot of game art, but in most cases it only needs to be a general idea of what something should look like and how it should be arranged. The problem, I believe, is on some developers insistence on beautiful concept art rather than usable. While useful, concept art per se is not part of the game and is not directly something that pushes a game towards completion. In the words of Derek Yu, designer of Spelunky et al., "It’s easy to confuse “preparing to start the damn game” with “starting the damn game”. Just remember: a damn game can be played, and if you have not created something that can be played, it’s not a damn game!" Putting effort into beautiful concept art can make a game better, but it cannot make a game, and when you have limited time and limited artistic resources, you need to put all that time and all those resources toward actually "starting the damn game". If you have plenty of time and funding to do the extra stuff like Wolfire does, or you get a volunteer who's good at painting but has no other skills relevant to your game, by all means go for it, but I'd say it's the part of the design process you can most afford to cut if you have to start streamlining.
It's spelled "definitely", not "definately". "Defiantly" is a different word entirely.

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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Post by Jetrel » October 12th, 2012, 10:43 pm

@johndh: well put.
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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Post by tr0ll » October 13th, 2012, 3:19 am

(perhaps a sidetrack)
Isn't concept art largely about attracting people and resources to a project? ... which leads to being able to pay for grunt work.

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Re: Attracting and keeping artists on an OSS game project

Post by Jetrel » December 14th, 2012, 10:48 pm

tr0ll wrote:(perhaps a sidetrack)
Isn't concept art largely about attracting people and resources to a project? ... which leads to being able to pay for grunt work.
From an gamer's standpoint, it sure feels that way, because concept art by design is really good at getting across "the core idea" behind how major parts of the game will look. I.e. at "selling" the game, visually. A small selection of it is actually used for this too - touched up and repurposed for marketing materials. In days past, this would be box art, today, this'd be stuff for a kickstarter page.

But what is it's primary purpose? Leadership. The primary reason to have concept art is - in a corporate setting where people don't get to do whatever they want, and you have a bunch of art "grunts" who have to do texturing and modeling and aren't allowed to express a lot of their own creativity, the purpose of concept art is to tell them what to do. You hire one guy who's really good at coming up with visual ideas, and he spoon-feeds the other guys with exactly what they're going to model, or texture. He, mostly alone, decides what all the characters look like (and environments, etc); there might be a little toss-around of people voting down costume elements or whatnot, but by and large it follows a military model of top-down direction - especially with the more people you have working on a project. The more people you have, the less argument over direction is allowed.

The people doing the modeling and texturing are being paid to just be machines that convert the concept artist's ideas into game-useable assets. It's the power of money; the coercion of "do it our way or you're fired" that steers them away from all the fun, creative "coming up with your own ideas" stuff, and turns them instead into professional copyists translating someone's ideas into a different medium. They put up with it because there's not a whole lot of other employment available; the company may only need one concept artist, but may need 25 other guys to turn the first's ideas into working assets.
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