Saturday, February 6, 2010

Game Engines and Art Direction

I don't know why, but I read the forums from time to time, and I have to say that there is a misconception that needs to be addressed: The whole notion of a game's engine being more important than it's art direction. Of course my stance on this is that both are necessary, but I'm getting ahead of myself. The answer lies in a proper explanation of both and how vital they are to the overall project. but first we have to ask...

What is a game engine?

from wikipedia:

"A game engine is a software system designed for the creation and development of video games. There are many game engines that are designed to work on video game consoles and desktop operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. The core functionality typically provided by a game engine includes a rendering engine (“renderer”) for 2D or 3D graphics, a physics engine or collision detection (and collision response), sound, scripting, animation, artificial intelligence, networking, streaming, memory management, threading, and a scene graph. The process ofgame development is frequently economized by in large part reusing the same game engine to create different games."

There are hundreds of engines out there. possibly more. The engines we're focusing on for the sake of topic relevancy are graphical engines like Reality Engine, Id tech 4, and the more popular Unreal 3. How is it popular, you may ask? Well if you've played Red Steel (Unreal 2.5 ), or played a popular game on PS3 or Xbox 360 ( Gears of War, Mirror's Edge, Arkham Asylum, Bio Shock and Mass Effect.) , chances are you've played a game powered by the Unreal Engine. In fact the games that use the UE date back as far as the Sega Dreamcast.

What do graphics engines do?

Well for all intents and purposes 3D graphical engines are there to provide added visual and physical enhancements to 3D models. These features are there to provide an aspect of dynamicism within 3D models or the environment either through lighting, texturing, or interaction. Epic Games also state that U3 can also render larger crowds, which would help for city scenes, audiences, multiple enemy spawns, et al.

2D graphical engines provide elements to help your game run a plethora of sprites and maps as smoothly as possible while also providing dynamic use of environment and character elements for interaction. Much like the 3D engine just with emphasis on pixels and rastering.

What is Art Direction?

from Wikipedia:
"Various artists may create or develop specific parts of an art piece or scene; but a sole art director unifies the vision. In particular, the art director is in charge of the overall visual appearance and how it communicates visually, stimulates moods, contrasts features, and psychologically appeals to a target audience. The art director makes decisions about visual elements used, what artistic style to use, and when to use motion.

One of the most difficult problems that art directors face is to translate desired moods, messages, concepts, and underdeveloped ideas into imagery. During the brainstorming process, art directors, coworkers, and clients are engaged in imagining what the finished piece or scene might look like. At times, an art director is ultimately responsible for solidifying the vision of the collective imagination while resolving conflicting agendas and inconsistencies between the various individual inputs."

Any artbook that comes out for any game, movie, television show, ect is an example of unified theories of design concepts brought together by an art director for use in a final product. Everything from the design of Mario's hat and overalls to Marcus Fenix's body armor are a product of art direction. These concepts start out as drawings and eventually translate into either Pixel sprites or 3D models. The latter are eventually rendered using the dynamic shading/lighting, normal/bump mapping, and what-have-you to get that polished final design.

Game Development is like a body

Development can end up being being like a body in this respect: One bad limb can cripple the overall performance of the sum of it's parts. With that being said, Game Engines are an integral part of the look and feel of a game, but a good Game Engine is not in any way a substitute for good art direction. The flip side of that is, you can have spectacular art direction and lackluster 3D models and even the best engine couldn't fix that ( IE: the bland over-lit plastic models you see in some games). Worst of all, you could have bad art direction and that's pretty much all she wrote if you're a professional studio. It's the same for controls, game mechanics, sound effects, and musical score which are just as important to the "body" of development as everything else.

As I end this discussion feeling like I've done more to confuse than to inform, Let me reiterate my point: Neither are more important than the other, but both are integral to a good character and background design and aesthetic, just like the other parts of development are integral to the final product itself. If more focus is on one than the other that's when ish goes wrong, and reviewers will have a field day. And yes a big reason why I posted this is to show some really awesome art.

Source(s): Wikipedia:Game engine,Unreal Engine,

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