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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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  • ...they should fuse the marketing department with the sales force. Errr, never mind, I'm not sure we would want to see that critter...

  • by peter303 (12292) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @04:16PM (#24680251)
    The head of Disney-Pixar Animation, Ed Catmull, talked [siggraph.org] about the same issues in filmmaking last week. He was concerned with balance between artists, technologists and production staff (schedulers) in maximizing creativity and get movies out.
  • they are the same now days with unpaid overtime and no comp time to make up for it.

  • "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."

    Really?
    Have you seen this game [braid-game.com]?

    The clash comes because of EGOs, it's as simple as that.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Yetihehe (971185)
      It's really artists' fault. We programmers are too good to clash over simple problems like theirs.
    • Really, I am not even sure what you are trying to suggest by this vague post. Are you saying that coders and artists should have less ego involved when working with each other? That sounds like what you are trying to say... and it doesn't really conflict with that quote in any big way.

      You link to a game with a hand drawn look, and somehow that proves there are no communication issues between developers working on different parts of the game except pride. The assertion seems somewhat of a non sequitur, frank

  • "I take the specs myself because engineers can't talk to people!"

    This sounds like a go-nowhere position... A better solution would be the artists being sent off for a class or two in programming so they *understand* when the programmers tell them that they're asking for something unrealistic given the timeframe.

    • by 91degrees (207121)
      A programmer should be able to just tell the artist. You need to work together - not fighting!
      • Surprisingly few people get it even laid out in terms as simply as that. "Its just software." is a running joke because thats how lots of non-technical (and even technical people) think.

      • A programmer should be able to just tell the artist. You need to work together - not fighting!

        Goody goody gosh. Although you come across as a Care Bear there, you've got it damned straight. But sometimes the fight begins, is carried out and ends in a single individual's mind. It's not always PvP. An individual has to believe both sides of the fight are accomplishable within themselves.

        In Australia (in the University of Victoria, anyway) the degree for Multimedia Design merges art and software by teaching logical discipline to artists, using modern tools such as Maya and Flash et.al. so that this

  • I actually read the article and it seems to me that the 'technical artists' are just artists put in the engineering department to roughly understand what is going on (according to the article "Most technical artists, by today's standards, come from an artistic background and favor the use of dynamic scripting languages such as MaxScript or Mel.") and act as a mediator between the artists and coders. If that is what they do, it seems inefficient to have them in that capacity and looks to a patch to cover up
    • 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 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 Anonymous Coward

      I worked for the Evil Empire (aka EA) for 2 years as a technical artist. There's nothing *new* about this field -- certainly EA went through the hassle of categorizing the discipline into levels one through five.

      I wrote many, many scripts in Maya, as well as other scripting languages. Three of the technical artists I worked with had Engineering degrees. NONE of us actually did any "artwork" per se.

      Much of a game is art-driven (hell, most of some games) and it's helpful, esp. early on, to have a techni

    • I am mired in the mush of a project that is in dire need of a technical artist. Why? Because even with a clean 'pipeline' setup, perfect test files - we have had two separate *groups* of artists, and with every single file they send us, they create two additional ways to do the technical parts incorrectly.

      Each file creates exactly what we ask for - the animation does exactly what we asked for. But the ways that actually translates to in-game, they do differently every time.

      What's worse is that th
    • by dubbreak (623656)
      Do you work in a small or a large company?

      My initial guess would be small. The larger the company the more need for intermediary roles. I've worked as a "Business Analyst" which is the biggest BS term ever. One day I could be doing System Analyst work, the next pure business budgeting and scheduling, booking meetings, later I would be tracking down bugs or writing sql for data mining... tonnes of garbage that fell in between or beyond what others with more specific roles could complete due to the size and
  • Code is art, therefore art is code. There, fix'd it for you.
    • by bsDaemon (87307)

      I sense a new ThinkGeek shirt in the near future, "I may not know art but I know how to code," anyone?

  • I actually just happened to install Freespace 2 the other day. The code is open and works great on linux, and for that matter the game data itself is freely redistributable. I highly recommend everyone check it out.

    Only one problem I found, the java based FS2 installer seems to grab the 64 bit build of fs2_open. You may have to replace it with a manually downloaded 32 bit fs2_open. Enjoy!

  • 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

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