LESSON: Help for Non-Artists

I’ve met many programmers facing a single major problem when they attempt to create their own games: Art. They suck at it.

It’s great to collaborate with other people who share talents that you lack, but a lot of times you don’t find the right person, or you do find someone but they may have a hard time committing without getting paid. Or maybe you simply want to be more flexible in general.

Whatever the reason, your lack of skills in the art department shouldn’t be an impediment. There are many ways to get around it if you’re smart about it.

First of all, I should let you know, we are lucky to be living in a time where consumers value creative content over production quality. By this I mean that people are a lot more open to consume “home made” products. I call this the “YouTube Generation”. They’ll watch crappy-looking videos on YouTube over high-budgeted programs on TV. Here, you are at an advantage.

That doesn’t quite remove the problem completely though. You do still need some graphics. This is where you can turn limitations into creative choices. Make a simple pixel game because you don’t have the money to pay an artist and pretend it was a conscious choice to make it “retro”.

Talking about pixels, that will actually be our first option. Pixel games are in the rise. They give a sense of nostalgia and simplicity that appeals many players. As a non-artistic person, you can create pixel graphics that concisely represent each element in your game, without any regard for high resolution.

Our second option is to use flat graphics. There’s been a trend in the past decade to go minimalist. This works out great for many developers. It’s all about crafting clean graphics with stark squares and circles. Choosing the right color palette is very important with this style. That’s where websites like www.colourlovers.com can come in very handy. Choose a palette, use only those colors and you’re good to go.

The third and final option heavily depends on your commercial intentions. It’s about using existing graphics. There are actually three ways of approaching this:

  1. Steal Graphics: If you do not wish to publish you game at all (i.e. it’s supposed to be used as an exercise or early prototype), just take source material from other games. This is excellent for private projects. You will get professional-looking graphics at no cost. However, the disadvantage is that you cannot publish this game anywhere (whether it’s for commercial use or not). Nevertheless, if you do finish the game and you think it’s got a market, it may be a good idea to invest in replacing the graphics with licensed ones. This is a great way to mitigate risks and spend money on graphics only when you are sure it’s worth it.
  2. Free Graphics: There are many websites where people collaborate and offer free graphics. Some of these include www.opengameart.org and www.lostgarden.com . The main disadvantage your will find is shifting through all the graphics, finding the right ones, and making sure they fit together nicely. They’re also free for a reason. Many aren’t top notch quality. You will also have to be careful about giving credits to each respective creator. It may work for a free game, but if you’re making a commercial title it may be more of an unnecessary hassle than anything else.
  3. Paid Graphics: You will need a little pocket change for this option. Pages like www.graphicriver.com offer a great library of high quality graphics. They usually offer two types of licenses. The cheaper option is actually quite affordable and can be very much worth it if you don’t intend to make any money with you game. Additionally, if you do change your mind in the long run, you can always upgrade your license and allow yourself to distribute your creation commercially.

I hope these tips are helpful and, above all, encourage you to get your game done. Whether you’re an artist or not.