Expanding on this question, what information do I need to communicate my artistic goals for a game to a professional artist?

Assuming I'm an indie programmer. and I've found or hired an artist to for my game, how to I go about setting a template or a brief for the look and feel of my game?


Communicating your artistic goals is often not the problem. If you show him or her several examples of the sort of style you mean, along with some commentary on what you like (or don't like) about them, a good artist will usually be able to get the rough idea of what you want, and talk through the details with you.

Usually the problem is communicating the technical goals. These include polygon or vertex limits, texture sizes, the use of texture maps for specular/diffuse/bump/normal/etc (ie. which of these you support), different types of asset budget (eg. for the whole download, for a given level, for any one visible scene, for one model), the way your GUI is skinned, how 2D animations should be packaged (sheets or files), cursor/HUD/sprite sizes, the scale of the models (often 1 unit = 1 metre, but not always), the rotation of the models (which axis is 'forward'?), what the typical lighting will be like, etc.

The more of these you can fix or automate with tooling, the better. But as an indie programmer, your resources will be limited, so instead you will most likely have to resort to clear and unambiguous communication.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Great answer. This has been an issue on prototype project - eg "what do you mean you need it as PNG, not TGA?" \$\endgroup\$ – Justicle Aug 21 '10 at 23:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ I had some severe issues with this myself, no matter how much I explained, some artists plainly don't understood... One was particularly annoying, I told him: "Don't USE IK or CONTROLLERS!" and he used them... and the animator animated that, only to me get the files and reject because the engine won't load it. He was really upset with me, because I "don't explained", and I explained again, and he still did it wrong, only later I would realize that I had to say: "use bones, those ones here in this menu, not the other ones in that menu in your 3D application..." \$\endgroup\$ – speeder Aug 22 '10 at 0:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Good answer. A good artist will probably have a general concept about certain things, but we rarely know exactly how things work in the engine and you might need to lay it out pretty specifically. Remember we don't have the same background, so something that's obvious to you wouldn't necessarily occur to us, so more detail is better. Remember to always let an artist know if you need an asset to do multiple things! Ie, a character portrait that will be in game at 300 px, but that you also want to use at a marketing image at 2500 px. \$\endgroup\$ – daestwen Oct 17 '10 at 4:45

If you have an idea of what your game should look like, put together a style sheet which will show the artist where you're coming from. Take a look at the style sheet in this post about Velociraptor Safari and put something together that reflects the way you want your game designed.

The artist should then get a good feel for what you want and will combine elements that work together or tell you what they don't like.

Stock photography sites and Google image search can provide a lot of material to add to your sheet.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Better answer than I could write. I'll just add that another option is to work with the artist you've found/hired to define the visual style together. They probably have more artistic training and skills than you do, and you should be able to trust them to come up with the right look, even if it's something a little different from what's in your mind's eye right now. \$\endgroup\$ – Ian Schreiber Aug 19 '10 at 22:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 to both reply and comment; just to add my own input: it's rare that anyone "gets" the visual style straight off the bat. Reference images go a long way to providing the initial data to your artist, but iteration can help get even closer to your vision. \$\endgroup\$ – jpaver Aug 20 '10 at 0:50

Seeing as you've found your artist, hopefully it's because they gave you a sample of their work which you wanted to see in your game. Take this sample and tell them what types of work you liked, why and how you want them to develop their artwork around this.

Even stick figures in the "right" positions will work wonders, especially if you work with humanoid models you want him/her to draw. Don't be afraid to reject artwork, but don't be too picky, remember they might have a better eye than you toward art. However, if you find yourself rejecting them often (like every submission) and it's not simply minor changes, you may not have chosen the right artist or art style you like.

Be prepared to pay out the wazoo, unless your artist graciously accepted a percentage of profits deal.


I was witness to one situation where 2 entrepreneurs with a load of cash and 0 game design skills wanted to clone a popular game on the NDS and make it for the iPhone. Unfortunately for my friends that got involved as the programmers/artists the two guys kept only one thing consistent, and that was changing up the gameplay style/art look every other week.

It seemed like they went out and bought every iPhone game they could, sat around playing it while my friends did programming then phoned in just to tell them that they want a game like this - and the look like this. It took ages for the art to get done because there were so many changes.

I feel sorry for my friends - but I don't think they will get into a crazy scheme like that again.


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