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[How Do Developers Determine Art Style in Their Games?]

Tahu Bulat 2 Own Games Art Styles
Oct 2017

How Do Developers Determine Art Style in Their Games?

You are a developer, going to make a new game, but don’t have any idea what kind of art style you want to use? Maybe you can consider these factors first before deciding.

In this opportunity, interviewed Namira Chaldea, the Lead Artist from Own Games, developer of Tahu Bulat. What does she think about choosing the right art style in her games? You can read it below.

What is the taxonomy of art style in games?
Borderlands art styles

Borderlands has a distinct art style with cel shading.

Well, this is kind of a hard question, haha, for the classification of art styles, there has not been any official or standardized list that I have known for games. Unlike historical art, games have a more modern approach which is mashups of existing styles that in my opinion is a little bit hard to classify since the line dividing each style is blurry. But in my experience of making games, the styles are usually divided into two very broad group depending on the audience: that is the Western style or the Eastern style.

This is because decisions in making the suitable style are not only limited to the atmosphere of the game or the artist’s preference, we also have to look at the customers’, the people that will buy our game, what do THEY like.

The main reason for splitting into these two regions is mostly because they both have different tastes, though it does not mean that the former contradicts the latter or that they are not similar.

That is why from these two broad groups, they will be divided again into more specific styles. Before talking about the style itself, games are one of the most unusual media that you can see A LOT of art styles. Unlike, for example, animation, which you can see although there are also a lot of experimental styles, they tend to be in the minority.

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art style undertale


If you see the game industry, the styles are more varied even in the same genre. This is because their focus is not only in the art, but also the gameplay mechanism and, for certain cases, story. Thus the artist is able to be more creative on their styles regardless its form. For example, Undertale with a retro style enhances the experience in comparison to if Undertale was a comic book. People who dislike the art would probably drop it from the first chapter.

Now because of this, the styles used are very broad and so, as you can see, are hard to classify. But the closest thing to classification I can think of deriving from the two broad categories is where the style is from.

Art styles for games are mostly referenced from other medias: animations, comics, movies, to traditional media like paintings and sculptures. So I believe that it will be easier to know which style is being used by the name of the media it is from, for example comic book style, retro-game style, to famous artists like Disney-style or Tim Burton style. It is also possible to look at it from the technical side, how the art is rendered. Is it 2D or 3D? isometric or side scroll? flat color or shaded?

In the end, the classification differs from one person to another.

How do developers determine what kind of art style they implement in their game?
Own Games art styles

Agent Dodge from Own Games

Since my experience is mainly in the mobile game industry, I can share the method that we like to use. There are several factors that are intertwined with one another to determine the style:

  • Platform: what platform is your game going to be in? is it on PC? mobile? This will determine what style can or cannot be used. For example, in mobile, it is quite hard to make high poly 3D games, but in PC, it is still viable.
  • Genre: what genre is your game? This can help you determine the scope of the game, how big is the game, to help with the decision.
  • Audience demography: how old is your audience? What gender? This can help in choosing the most suitable style to catch the audience of your game. For example, male gamers tend to like more serious styles than cute and colorful one.
  • Game tone: what is the tone of your game? This element is decided by the developer team or more specifically the project manager of the game. It is usually determined by keywords describing the mood: cute, cheerful, gloomy, dark, mysterious, etc.
  • Designer preference: usually the designer will choose the most suitable style after all the above is determined. They will narrow down to several styles and from those, they will make their own twist to make the style unique.
  • Viability in execution (scope, budget, timeline, team): in my experience, this is one of the most underestimated factors in deciding the style. After you determine a style you like, you still have to test if the style is feasible to be executed or not. The factor that affects this is the budget which translates to development time. For example, if they have a smaller budget, that means they have tighter time, thus, they should make the art quicker and it would be wiser to use a more simple and easier style to execute. The next factor is the strength of our team, how fast and how good can they execute the desired style.
Are there any certain styles that are more difficult than the other? Or styles that need more resources than other?
Own Pet Dragon art style

Own Pet Dragon from Own Games

I believe the difficulty of a style is determined by the skills of each individual on how well they can execute it, so I don’t think there is a style that is more difficult than the other.

However, there are styles that need more resources than other. The simplest example is between 3D and 2D. There are more human resources needed in 3D than 2D: the one who models, the one who rigs and animates, and the one who makes textures. As opposed to 2D, in which artists can make the whole art by themselves.

Although there is also the factor of time and reusability that the 3D has over 2D that balances out the amount of added resources the 3D has. The complexity of a style can also make the style need more resources than others like in a hand-painted 2D style, it needs more resources (in this case, time) than a flat colored 2D style that is much simpler.

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Arya Wibowo
Arya is a gamer dad, boardgame geek, and game industry enthusiast. He loves strategy games and soccer games.
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