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Games Entertainment

Bridging the Gap Between Art and Code In Games 42

Posted by Soulskill
from the division-of-labor dept.
Gamasutra posted an article written by Jason Hayes, a developer for Volition Inc., which is known for its production of the Saint's Row, FreeSpace, and Red Faction series. Hayes discusses the division between graphical artists and coders, who often clash because their aims are so disparate and their areas of expertise do not necessarily overlap. It has caused some companies, such as Volition, to develop an intermediary "technical artist" to find a balance between the two. "Integrating technical artists into a studio frees up the programmers from being solely responsible for the development and maintenance of the game's tools and pipelines. While programmers still have a hand in the design (and sometimes implementation) of those tools and pipelines, the technical artist is the driving force behind them and is looking out for the best interests of both parties."
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Bridging the Gap Between Art and Code In Games

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  • by neokushan (932374) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @04:26PM (#24680429)

    I can't exactly say I'm extremely experienced, but I do actually work in the games industry and I've never encountered this strange divide between programmers and graphics artists.
    Programmers should be given a task to implement and then left to go and do it. They might design a way TO implement that task, but even this isn't ideal and is the kind of thing the development lead should be doing.
    The graphics artists, likewise, should be given tasks to accomplish with strict limits (i.e. "I want a big red barn with a slightly curved roof that's no more than 800 triangles") that should be set and maintained by the graphics lead.
    Then all that's left is the design of the game itself, which comes down to whoever is the lead designer who is the real middleman between the programmers and the artists.
    He's the one that sits down and outlines exactly what it is he wants to achieve, the Programmer lead will tell him what is and isn't possible from a technical level and the graphics artist will tell him just how closely his vision can be matched. There really is no need for this "technical artist" and I can only imagine his role being somewhat counterproductive as the whole game relies on him having a good understanding of technical limitations AND artistry limitations, which is unlikely. He may have a basic understanding of both, or even an advanced understanding of one, but few people can master both fields.
    Then again, it can't be any worse than Valve's "lets let everyone have a say and spend months debating which is best" approach and they tend to get good results.

  • by Bluebottel (979854) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @04:33PM (#24680595)
    Code is art, therefore art is code. There, fix'd it for you.
  • by Dutch Gun (899105) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @04:45PM (#24680827)

    Technical artists in our company are artists who perform tasks that bridge the gap between what artists and coders normally do. For instance, they create all our materials using a visual shader creation tool that generates shader code from wiring nodes together visually (we have a proprietary tool, but there are a few free ones out there).

    This is a complex task that requires a balance between artistic talent and a knowledge of basic shader mechanics. I don't consider it to be a kludge to cover bad engineering. It's an acknowledgment that game developers are doing some pretty damn complex stuff nowadays, and you need a gamut of talented artists to cover a fairly wide range of jobs. The artists absolutely love the flexibility this system gives them, and because they're talking to other artists instead of programmers, the communication is easier. Essentially, this is empowering artists to do what they've always wanted to do. Generally speaking, anytime you can take content creation out of the hands of programmers and put it into the hands of artists and designers, it's a big win for your game (I'm a programmer, incidentally).

    I can see the required ranks of technical artists growing in the near future rather than shrinking. When you think about it, just about any artist in the game industry already has to have a pretty substantial technical grasp in order to operate Photoshop, Maya or Max, and whatever other commercial and proprietary tools they need to use on a day-to-day basis. This just takes it a step farther for some individuals with a propensity for solving more complex technical issues.

  • by iregisteredjustforth (1155123) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @05:47PM (#24681979)

    I am an environment artist for a big UK game developer.

    In my opinion, the creation of hybrid roles like this is basically inevitable. The depth of knowledge and skill needed for each part of the development process is deepening all the time as technology rolls forward and graphics increase in fidelity. A handfull of people can no longer make big AAA titles between them, not just because of the size and scope of modern games and the amount of content / code that needs to be done, but because of the depth of knowledge required in each role.

    In the end, you WANT a game to be made by people that are each specialists in their area. Coder's that write awesome code and artists that make lovely artwork. Increasingly people have less understanding of the other parts of development because they are so heavily invested in their own areas and don't have time for anything else. Hybrid jobs are inevitable because someone needs to understand enough of each field to keep things running smoothly, and keep proper requirements for tools, code and art assets heading in the direction of each part of the team.

    This is especially the case if you are making a big game, which requires lots of custom tools and tools support. The knowledge require by each person means those producing the code or artwork itself, almost never have enough understanding of the other side of development to mesh together perfectly, there are too many misunderstandings about requirements and limitations to let people sit in their own camps all day, someone has to go between. Our lead technical artist is one of the most important people on the team.

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