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I'd like to try my hand at making games. In making some simple ones, I realised I can't do art!

I've tried to find others to help: Most existing teams wouldn't want me because of my limited experience (I'm in high school) and I've been unable to find an available local artist with an appropriate skillset.

How do you guys do it? Do I have to wait until college to see if I like working in games? Is there a way to get free art so I can start messing around on my own? Or am I just having bad luck or looking in the wrong places for others interested?

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My girlfriend is artist. To find artistic girlfriend is my advice and very elegant solution of this problem :-P. –  Notabene May 16 '11 at 14:10
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@notabene: Tips were we can find girls that are willing to live with us and are artistic skilled? All ways I can think off are illegal =/ –  JustSid May 16 '11 at 17:13
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Minecraft had/has horrible default graphics, and yet it is a wildly successful game. Some time after its release, notch added in custom texturepacks, so that users could install graphics made by real artists. However, the game was successful before that point because of the fantastic gameplay and open-ended nature. Game first, graphics later :P. –  crazy2be May 17 '11 at 0:03
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"Girlfriend"? What's "girlfriend". –  Nick Bedford May 18 '11 at 4:38
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Minecraft has beautiful graphics, actually! –  akled Dec 27 '11 at 9:05
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closed as primarily opinion-based by Byte56 Nov 11 '13 at 22:47

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

20 Answers

up vote 124 down vote accepted

I work full time doing security software, and in my "free" time I work on my game. I'm not spending any money on making my game, I'm only using free software and making my own art. Don't get me wrong, I'm NOT an artist, just a programmer. It's not stopping me though. I just keep chugging away on my game, and I'll worry about making it look really pretty later. Or just make it good enough that the art doesn't matter. For now it's ordained with what I call "Programmer Art". Depending on the type of game you want to make, the art can be really important. But for a lot of games, it's all about the game play. Look at Dwarf Fortress. Not really a lot of "art" involved, but the game play is great!

If anything, you can get your game built with Microsoft Paint textures and sprites, then you'd have something to show off to get an artist interested.

You should definitely try your hand at making a game. I'm loving making my game. It's the most fun I've ever had programming. Every aspect is a new interesting thing to learn.

Not everyone can do it all, so we just have to make do with the skills we have. Our skill is programming, so that's what we do. I think it's been proven more often than not, that it's the game play (programming) that makes or breaks games, not the art.

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+1 If you don't have artistic skills, then getting the gameplay on its way is really important! Leave the real art to the real artists, and focus on having something to show them so they can go "Wow! This project is actually going somewhere! How great would it be to put my art in there?" –  Jonathan Hobbs May 16 '11 at 6:01
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Very encouraging answer. Yet the textures that you are using are already very nice and way beyond the capabilities of somebody as artistically challenged as me. ;-) –  Konrad Rudolph May 16 '11 at 20:59
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@Jonathan Of course; that’s what I would do. But @Byte56 specifically mentioned that he’s doing all the textures himself, and then talked about MS Paint so I was expecting really crappy graphics and was very positively surprised when looking on his website. –  Konrad Rudolph May 17 '11 at 6:53
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@Konrad Wow! Ok, I didn't see that. Awesome! Now I'm impressed too. –  Jonathan Hobbs May 17 '11 at 8:02
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The hallmark of a good game is if it is fun even if it looks like crap –  Azaral May 7 '12 at 3:29
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To get some free artwork have a look at these other questions:

Where can I find free sprites and images?

Open-source 3D models easily usable in OGRE3D/jMonkeyEngine

This of course probably won't look as good as artwork made specifically for your game, but you can always replace it later on.

Another option is to take photos of things and use those. It's fairly simple to create a texture or cubemap from a photo for example.

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+1 for photos, I'm going to have to try that myself. –  Kzqai May 17 '11 at 15:28
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I want to add a slightly different point of view from what has been previously answered.

First, I disagree that gameplay is the only important thing in a game. Visuals sell, and you will most likely have your game played by other people if you show a pretty screenshot that catches their eye. Because of this, I do not recommend you disregard art, or use stock or placeholder art for your game. This also goes for sound and story (if your game has one).

Second, I wouldn't recommend you work on a project alone. Having more people in your project is a great way to stay motivated, and also by sharing ideas with other members you are more likely to get a better game.

So what you have to do is gather people who are interested in making a game, and making a project with them. It sounds hard, but it is actually very easy, if you approach the problem from the right angle. I've done several indie games with other people, and I've had really good experiences doing so.

Let me tell you that you are in a very privileged position, being a programmer. There are lots of people in the world who love games and would want to make one for themselves, but only very few know how to code. Even though it is technically possible to one-man-army a game project being a programmer, it is simply impossible being an artist. You would be surprised to know that for every "how do I make a game if I'm a programmer and not an artist?" question, there are a dozen "how do I make a game if I'm an artist and not a programmer?" questions.

So, people are there. There's a lot of artists and musicians and game designers who want to make games, and would do them for free. Unfortunately, pretty much everyone who is able to competently participate in the development of a game will most likely not be interested in joining your game, so that's the problem you want to attack if you want to successfully make indie games.

In few words, it's (good) programmers that are scarce, not artists.

In my opinion, there are two ways to solve this problem. I've done both, and I can assure you both work.

  1. If you're interested in making games, but don't have the specific requirement that they have to be your games, you can offer people to make their games! If you can prove you're a competent programmer, there are lots of artist forums you can lurk, and if there's an interesting idea, you can contact the artist by telling them you're interested in making their game. If you say it right, it is almost guaranteed they will say "yes".

  2. If you can prove you can make and complete games (for every finished indie game, there are thousands of projects that will never end), and if you have a good idea, you can hit the forums and propose that idea. Maybe the first time only one person will join you, but if you can deliver a finished product, and make sure you publicize your progress and success in said forum, you will gain credibility and more people will be interested in joining you for your next project.

    For my latest game, I was able to convince two graphic artists, one musician, one writer and nine voice actresses (two of them who are actually professional) to help me for free. Of course it is crucial to actually deliver. I did, and because of that I'm confident that I will be able to get their help, and other people's help for the next project.

Keep in mind both of these options are viable only if you're serious about making games. If you stop halfway, or if they sense you're not being serious, you will lose reputation, and people won't join you in subsequent projects, so proceed only if you're actually capable, and willing to walk the walk.

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This is a good answer in general, but does kind of make some assumptions about the OP's ultimate goal. Given that the question asked "Do I really just have to wait until I can go to college to see if I like working with games" I would recommend first make a few small games on your own with programmer art before you waste anyone else's time, in order to see if you'll stick with it. And then when you start contacting people, make it clear you are still early in your learning process and this is a learning project. –  jhocking Jan 21 at 12:59
    
@jhocking: op said he had always been a software developer. I've known several good people still in their teens, so age is kinda irrelevant. –  Panda Pajama Jan 22 at 0:27
    
Who said anything about age? My point was, he should first figure out own if developing games is right for him, before he wastes the time of any future teammates. And anyway I wasn't contradicting anything about your answer, but rather adding on/clarifying that he may need to do some work on his own with programmer art before your other advice will apply. –  jhocking Jan 22 at 1:49
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Here's a thread that contains a ton of links that you'll find useful; everything from legal, to art to music, etc. http://www.mangatutorials.com/forum/showthread.php?742-The-Ultimate-Indie-Game-Developer-Resource-List

It's mentioned in other answers, but while you're looking for an artist etc, you should be developing your game at the same time. Use programmer art, stand-ins, free sprites anything. Most of the time, before even thinking about final assets, I just want something up and running quickly to see if it's fun. Prototype the crap out of it and find the game. Then, when the gameplay's locked down, you can start putting in the proper art. Doing it the other way around leads to lost money, and work that needs to be redone multiple times, which aside from harming your project, sucks your motivation to finish it (and if you're making a game to get a job, showing that you can finish a project is a good thing).

If you still can't find an artist, then make the graphics yourself. Dwarf Fortress was mentioned, but there's also games like Geometry Wars, where the graphics are created through math. Anything is possible to get around if you put your mind to it.

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We're in a similar situation when it comes to art, me and a friend build games in our spare time. We're both developers who love games, we must've started a dozen game projects.

The projects that have stuck, we've approached a number of people on artist community sites whose art styles have matched our ideas.

Having a project up and running, ready to show you're serious and to demonstrate your passion for the project has been enough for us to generate some interest.

Give it a go :)

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+1 for actual games being developed! –  Zaky German May 16 '11 at 18:35
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I don't think the fact you are not an artist is that much of a downer, programmer are essential to make a game, and if you don't have content, it's not really a problem: - Do the game without content, and try to find artists after the game has more features: you will have more leverage, and you will have much less pressure to add those features. - Use an user-friendly 3D modeling tool, like sketchup.

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You could always go for the "less is more" approach and use as little and as simple artwork as possible.

Retro-style vector graphics are pretty popular these days, so there's plenty of inspiration to get there. Just draw some lines and make 'em glow a bit.

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I think glowing lines might be a bit simplistic, but I like your direction. Very good advice. –  Jonathan Hobbs May 17 '11 at 4:56
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First, you're doing really good by doing all this stuff before you get to college.

Now, have you tried exploring art yourself?

I'm a programmer, not an artist

Is a common cop-out people use to avoid judgement on their artwork.

But if you just put the time into it, you can learn to draw, too. (and a couple of bucks for a Wacom tablet!)


But how does a single programmer make a game?

You just keep working on it until it's done.

It is true that the barrier to entry to create a game that captures attention and has a market has been raised quite a great deal just by the quality and amount of money and time invested into games that are actually selling.

So, because companies like Blizzard or Edge Of Reality are investing so much time+money just to get the next card game/First person shooter out, the game marketplace today is a very competitive place. Compare this with the time when Mario Bros. was bleeding edge technology, and John Romero was able to sell games like Crazy Climber that looked like this:

enter image description here

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Totally true. Nobody is born a programmer or an artist. You become one by programming or making art respectively. Sure, it won't rival the pros, but even the pros didn't rival the pros from day one. –  Kylotan Jan 7 '12 at 17:19
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I wanted to do graphics intensive games (RPGs) so I dropped programming for a while to do drawing, painting and 3d modelling. It's seriously NOT easy, after 4+ years self-practice, my programming has languished and my art link is still not there yet. On the upside, I discovered I love art as much as programming. :) I encourage everyone to just try it for the sake of discovering something new about yourself. You just might find a new passion. –  Cardin Jan 8 '12 at 2:51
    
@Cardin Your pictures are really good! Case in point! –  bobobobo Jan 8 '12 at 16:07
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@bobobobo thank you :D I would like to add that if art seems too intimidating, one can also try 3D modelling first. It's methodical nature might appeal more to programmers. :P –  Cardin Jan 10 '12 at 5:40
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It depends on what kind of game developer career you are seeking. Most titles created in the modern game industry are made by huge teams where a programmer doesn't ever have to draw a single pixel.

Though if you're more into developing your own indie game, you could assume the "one man army" role, in which you'll have to deal with graphics and sound creation. Take a look at my own title, for instance: http://goo.gl/hs5wt

Programming was the easy part, while generating synthezised sound effects and drawing pixel art consumed most of my time. Thanks God for public domain music which in this case perfectly suited the whole groove of the thing.

If you grew up in the 80's when you could actually see pixels on the screen (and then never being able to ever ignore them later) it could just grow naturally on you, but if that's not the case, I'd recommend reading a bit on pixel art creation. Of course you can always digitalize some paper drawing and just do the finishing later.

Anyway, creating games has always been a multidisciplinary craft. You'll need a good depth of programming skills (but not 'too much', or you'll end being unable to create the simplest game, because you'll be over-worried about abstractions, just like a good grammatician can't write a single book), good understanding of math, geometry, physics and also a good deal of artistic skills, like drawing, sound creation, level design, story telling, etc.

Ultimately, you must fall in love with your creation. You need a good deal of motivation and a genuine desire to make your game see the light. You must become the #1 fan of your own game, because if you don't like playing it at all, who else will?

With all that in mind, I really hope you overcome your obstacles and have a great time creating your own game. It's an incredibly fun and rewarding experience once it's up and running. :)

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You can always replace your sounds and art later on. In my opinion the important thing is the game itself.

It can be an excellent 3D shooting game even if the walls are all brown and the characters are cubic block people.

It can be a wonderful sandbox world and look like Minecraft.

The sound effects are easy to make. Just record yourself making the sounds with your mouth. I've played some really fun tower defense games where it's quite obvious the shooting sound is a guy going, "Pew! Pew!" into a microphone. :-)

The really important thing is to finish the game. It doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't have to have every feature you planned out. But once you finish a limited version of the game, no matter how many features it's missing and no matter how crap the art and sound is, then you have a basis for making changes and improvements, and you have something to show clients or potential employers as a code demonstration.

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I'm currently working on a network site called GDCore for people is your situation. It is designed to help coders, musicians, and artists exchange the scripts, sprite sheets, background music, etc. needed to make a awesome game. We haven't gone public yet, but you can check us out at http://www.gdcore.com. It should be something similar to the Unity Asset Store, but more broad in content type, with more free assets.

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I'm a solo, hobbyist game developer, and although it tools many weeks, I did manage to publicly release a handful of 2D mobile games. Like you, I am a programmer and not an artist.

First off, I agree with the comments by others that Unity3D is a great way to go. The only thing I have against this is you're stuck with the splash-screen unless you go for the Pro version, and the Android/iPhone plug-ins aren't (normally) free (I'm unclear from your question whether you want to target mobile or desktop?).

If it's important to you to actually complete a project, as a solo non-artist, and you decide against Unity3D (or some other similar game engine), I suspect you'll find it more manageable if you go - at least initially - for 2D. The volume of assets and the complexity/size/effort of the programming will be much less.

Finally a quick tip - I found it much easier to model objects in 3D and then render them - with appropriate shading - into 2D sprites, rather than try and hand-draw 2D artwork. Blender is a fantastic, free 3D modelling tool. I can't recommend it enough.

Even when I kept things really simple (and 2D), I found it took far longer to complete my first game than I imagined. This was down to the sheer number of aspects that had to be tackled - game design, playability (e.g. input controls), programming, artwork, marketing material, animation, sales pitches, level design, level editors, you name it.

Good luck - you can do it. I think game development is one of the most multi-disciplined projects. I love it!

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I wouldn't worry about art so much at your current state. The first game I ever managed to get to a satisfactory level of completion, I did completely without an artist and it was before I started college.

In my view, you have four good options depending on your level of game programming:

  1. You can find a good game programming book that has a project which includes all of the art and you can get a feel of if you like the work involved in game programming
  2. You can find a game engine that lets you write mods on using their artwork
  3. Use Unity3d or Torque Game Engine, look those up, both have asset stores with some free art
  4. You can take my route which I think is the best :) You can start programming a game and write the main functionality of the engine. Use extremely ugly art for it, like blocks or stick figure sprites. Then once you have a working engine, post it up on GameDev.net's help wanted forums. I got my first two artists this way. They liked the gameplay of my flight sim even though the plane was made up of 4 blocks and the terrain was painted in a terrain editor.
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I agree with the previous comment. Programming a very simple game engine will take you somewhere between 200-1000 man-hours minimum. Low poly 3D models will take 2-days to a month (full time work) each, depending on the quality required. For my game I used a top-down view and deliberatly crappy hand-drawn 2D sprites so that I only have to draw one view of each monster etc (1 hour each). I'm making my own 3D engine (it's taken about 300 hours of programming so far) but a better shortcut would be to use an existing engine for 3D (e.g. Unreal or Quake III) or a 2D game maker like Yoyo's GameMaker. Avoid free sample sounds/textures/models as these often require loads of post-processing work just to get them to load into your game nicely - better to use a home-made placeholder. http://antongerdelan.net/crongdor/

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"Previous comment" doesn't help here since the post order is jumbled. Names please! :) –  Jonathan Hobbs May 17 '11 at 4:55
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I think it's a great to see actual pretty things happen on the screen in the development process. Small projects often follow graphical artistic / lore concepts from the beginning as a guideline and a it's very strong motivator.

I might be wrong about this but from the perception i get, most indie projects that actually ever see the light of day are either made by single devs who do the whole thing both art and programming (i hate them) or small teams who have someone on the art, but rarely a programmer who hired someone in the end of development to replace the placeholders - even though this method should work in theory.

Try to find a friend, co worker, a girlfriend, wife, whatever, someone who can DRAW. They don't have to know how to work with any software or use a mouse. Tell them you want to make a game and need someone to do the drawing while you do the programming. If not someone you know from your life find some artist online or in forums. Work on an idea together. I actually had the same dilemma as you until i saw some drawings a friend made on his Facebook page, anyway, I posted this question that may seem relevant.

An alternative could be doing a game with some abstract graphics concept thingy that anyone could draw. Like stickman games, but can easily be more than that. Or some abstract 3D in a level that could be created after 2 days of learning from Lynda. It worked for MineCraft :)

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I've had some experience writing my own games, both open source and commercial indie-style. Like you, I encountered problems with assets (images, animations, audio, ...). You have a few options:

  1. Do it yourself
  2. Find someone to volunteer their time for you
  3. Find something that you can legally use for free/for a fee
  4. Pay someone [probably good money] to give you a decent product

Without much money, all these options can be frustrating. You can find artists to volunteer their time, but in my experience they don't like to sit around and wait for you to develop and fix a new game/rendering engine, so here is my advice (I'm assuming you aren't willing to spend any money):

Create some very simple graphics to test with. In one game I created, I made some very simple stick figure graphics that were merely sufficient to indicate what action / state my character was currently in. Later, when the game/rendering engine is compelling, it will hopefully be inspiring and you will have less trouble finding artists willing to help out.

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It wasn't specified if you want to do a game professionally or as a hobby. For a professional game, you need professional graphics. Minecraft is a great counter example, but an exception to the rule. As a programmer making games for a living, I get the graphics from a paid artist and from online websites that sells 3d models, images and sound.

For a hobby, there are free online resources as well as doing your own art. However, if you are anything like me, my art sucks, takes too long to do and I don't like the end result of the game. That means I lose my mojo doing stuff I don't like vs stuff I do like and I am not motivated by my results... which means: I get it from good sources.

Get at least decent looking placeholder for your graphics. Then figure out how to get a better version, if you reach the point when you are ready to release, etc..

Don't force yourself to do stuff that will demotivate you - whatever it is. Motivation is the only thing that will make you finish your game and finishing the game will be the most important thing for you to accomplish. Do not squander motivation on graphics if it is not your thing, but realize that a nice looking UI will motivate you.

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A lot depends on the type of game and corresponding expectations of the players. I minimize the requirement for graphics in my games (at Boardspace.net) by basing the artwork on actual photos of game bits.

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I'm a coder, not an artist. In making games in my free time, I found that sometimes if the gameplay is good enough, the graphics don't matter.

You can make great free sound fx using http://www.bfxr.net/ for example.

My advice to anyone really, is think about a great game idea. Why not use one of the 100s found here http://www.squidi.net/three/index.php ?? Work on the idea a little. Then, see what can be done with the graphics without changing the gameplay.

Here's a great blog post with links to free music composition tools: http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/2012/12/19/automatic-music-composition-tools/

Again, gameplay first :)

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All that is required is motivation and time.

Unless you're limited on time so severely that your life will end before completing the project, you will be able to do anything alone, over time.

Motivation is something that each individual has to figure out themselves. Personalities differ, and so does what works. For me, what works best is to force myself to work a set of hours each day, and if I miss to make up for it on the weekend.

Setting tiny, tiny goals works. Then when you have the game built enough, you get better motivation to finish it because you are so close. The hardest part is beginning.

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protected by Tetrad Jun 19 '13 at 17:22

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