Column by Chris O'Neal
Posted by Chris O'Neal on September 25, 2017 @ 9:29 pm CT
September brings a slight lull in the Brotherwise schedule. Our major conventions are done. The onslaught of holiday orders hasn’t yet begun. We find ourselves with some time to focus on what we love most: making new games – or, as this column is meant to document, making The Game, our third planned (but as of yet unnamed) title.
The Game is coming together so well that we decided to start art development early, and for the past couple of months, we’ve been working some amazing artists to create the look and feel of the new game.
The Game is a game of character building. Without giving too much away, players compete to create the hero who best fulfills his or her destiny by acquiring traits, completing challenges, and facing adversaries. Storytelling is a core part of the game, and we want the dominant emotion of the game to be the delight and pride that comes with watching your hero’s story come to life. To allow players the most room to craft these stories, we’ve chosen a style called "concept art."
For most small publishers, outside of the actual printing, art is the single greatest cost associated with producing a game. Art can be dreadfully expensive and can put a small company in the hole before its game hits a single table. One reason for Brotherwise’s early success is that we kept our illustration costs fairly low. Boss Monster’s pixel art looks great, and has been a huge part of the game’s success, but it was also very affordable by game art standards. In the pixel art world (which is surprisingly robust), a sprite can be commissioned for less than $50. Our entire art budget for the first Boss Monster was less than $5,000.
With The Game, we find ourselves worrying again about our art budget. For The Game, we need to solicit over 150 unique pieces of art. This is not unusual compared to trading card games like MTG, but it is very high for a stand-alone game. We have more than doubled our art budget since Unearth, and it’s a little scary to have so much invested in a game before it even hits the printers.
Cost aside, we have found the solicitation, guidance, and management of all the artists for this project to be daunting. For every piece we solicit from an artist, we put together a two or three paragraph brief that includes guidance on the composition, emotion, mood, and inspiration for the image. We also include anywhere from three to five "inspiration" pieces of art or imagery that we think capture the desired look of the piece. We ask for a preliminary sketch, revisions to that sketch, and sometimes, revisions to the final piece. The back and forth can go on for weeks, but the goal is to get every image just right.
Art direction on a new game is a costly and time intensive process for everyone involved, but it is also a ton of fun. With each new art piece, The Game is coming together, and it’s a real joy to see that process in real time. Because of the nature of concept art, everyone who looks at a piece of art from The Game sees a different story. We can’t wait to see players telling their own stories when The Game finally makes it onto tables.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.
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