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Where to start, where to start, where to start

 

Let me first begin by introducing myself. I'm currently a female high school student, and this is my first post on this site. I have always loved video games, and would like to start learning the skills that would allow me to pursue a job in game design when I'm older. I'm a complete newbie however (a late bloomer, so to speak). I am literally the most computer illiterate, ignorant person you could ever meet when it comes to game design. The only attributes I have are a love of video games and a proficient skill in painting (I've been painting oil and acrylic landscapes seriously for about 3 years now, although I've been involved in art my whole life, and selling for about 1; I believe my artwork has reached a professional level, although I have little experience when it comes to drawing/painting people. This is the only real skill I have as of now). Anyways, I have some questions for anyone willing to answer them. I apologize beforehand if they seem naïve

 

1) What's the difference between 3D animation and graphic design? Are they the same thing?

 

2) What is the process for making art in video games? Can you give me some general steps about how one goes from point A (concept) to point B (physical product)

 

3) Where can I learn how to make art for video games? Where do I start? (I have no idea). What should I tackle first?

 

4) What are the similarities between physical painting and computer artwork?

 

4) What is the difference between programming and coding? (in regards to game design). How hard is it for someone with zero programming/coding experience to learn this? How can I start learning how to program/code, and what should I tackle first?

 

5) How do programmers/coders and artists work together? Where do their jobs intersect?

 

As you can see, I really have no idea about how games are made. This is my impression so far (which I'm guessing is incorrect); an artist builds a 3D model in the computer, then animates it, then paints over it. Finally, the programmer takes that 3D image, creature, or location and does "something" with it that eventually turns out as a video game (I know, lame description). If anyone could offer me some nuggets of wisdom, maybe a road map as to where I can start, I would be very grateful. I feel like there are just so many components to game design, and I have no idea where to start. It's as if video game design, unlike other skills, doesn't have just one starting point, but a dozen different ones (all of which intermingle and intersect at one point or another). Any suggestions on free programs or tutorials to help me learn would be great too

 

Thank you!

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You should try to narrow down what it is you want to do. This may involve trying a little bit of everything to see what sticks. From the sound of it you have an art background, but I wouldn't let that limit you this early in the game.

 

There is a difference between game programming (coding), game design, and game art.

 

Programming, or coding, is actually implementing the logic of the game in a computer. This usually means using a programming or scripting language (like C++ or Java) to make everything work. Coding a game involves a lot of different types of tasks, from writing the 3D engine and computer graphics, to allowing the game to load and read files. Programming would say something like: "when the player is close to the door, and has a blue key, and then presses the A button, make the door open".

 

Game design can mean different things, but usually it involves the high-level overview of the game, or the rules of the game, the general idea of it. So a game designer may create the levels, or at least explain the theme of the level, the style of the characters or enemies, how the game should work. Game designers could also be artists, but I don't think this is always the case. Their job is mostly to describe exactly how a game should be, so the artists and programmers can implement it.

 

Game artists can do different things, depending on if they are 2D artists or 3D modellers. Most games will require an amount of concept art to help solidify the theme of the game. So a 2D concept artist could create the look of the characters, pictures of different levels, and things like that. Then an art director could guide or approve the work that is good, and then hand this over to a 3D artist. The 3D artist would then create a model, which would later be textured by a texture artist. If it is a character model, then it would have to be rigged (basically adding bones to the model) and someone else could animate it.

 

Physical painting and creating art on a computer is really not all that different. They are just different tools, just like you can draw with a pen, or paint with a brush. If you want to do computer art you should probably get yourself a Wacom tablet. It's going to be a lot easier than using a mouse. The Wacom Bamboo can be bought starting at $70. You will want one if you are trying to create art on the computer. Sometimes it is easier to do a rough sketch on paper, scan it in, and then trace over and color it on the computer. Eventually you should be able to do everything on the computer, but it might help at first.

 

If you want to learn programming, there are a lot of resources out there. If you want to jump head-first into game programming, try downloading the free version of Unity and messing around. You can do a lot of things with this engine for making 3D games. Although I would recommend getting a handle on how coding works first. You can try playing around with some scripting languages first (these will be easier than full-on programming languages like C++ or C#). Python is not a bad place to start:

http://www.learnpython.org/

 

You may also want to buy a book on getting into the game industry. It will show you what different positions are available (more than just programming and art) and also what type of skills studios will want from potential hires. 

 

Anyway, good luck. Hope you find what you're looking for.

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1) Graphic design is a somewhat overly broad term, like "artist". Generally though a graphic designer is someone that takes someone elses idea and visualizes it.

 

2) A Programmer's guide to making art for your game.  It should get you started, at least in terms of your options.

 

3) Learn to make art.  Then switch to video games.

 

4) Colour theory and similar concepts apply to both mediums.  You can use a stylus/tablet to make the process feel very similar.  In digitial terms this is often referred to as "natural media".  For the most part though, when it comes to gaming, they are separate skills.

 

4 um b) Programming and coding are the same thing, although I suppose you could look at "coding" as being more specific, in that coding is the code writing portion of programming.

 

5) Depends on the team size.  Small teams, the coders and artists are often the same people.  On a large team, there are people that manage these interactions.  Generally its through a design document that establishes the standards for how art assets are to be delivered.

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Something that might be worth looking into is the specifics that artists have to look into depending on the game engine.

Artists often have to work within considerable constraints (limited palettes for pixel art, specific 3D filetypes or map design with culling and portal rendering).

 

Some artists write the shaders for example. Texture artists create things like normal maps, bump maps or dirt maps.

Depending on where you see your role you might want to take a look at some 3D software like Blender or 3D Studio Max.

Blender might be nice because it is relatively easy to follow Blender development which gives a lot of insight into how programming and art come together.

Posts like this are pretty informative: http://mango.blender.org/artwork/shading-tests-dirtmaps/

You can also take a look at their feature lists (and the feature lists of 3D engines) and look deeper into the topics that come up during the research.

 

I fear that you will find that it makes a lot of sense to specialize more than you probably want to.

If you still want to get into programming / coding after researching some more you can try a very basic program that uses art assets which you create (starting from basic OpenGL or DirectX tutorials ... if you use something more sophisticated like Unity there will be a lot going on under the hood that you don't understand).

That should give you a pretty good idea of how those things play together.

 

The developer journals are also something you might want to look at from time to time.

Edited by DareDeveloper

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I'm a programmer and have very little I can tell you about art (sadly few people are good at both, but it's not impossible). GameDev.net is mostly frequented by programmers, but I know of this forum that's mostly used by game artists, which might be of use to you:

 

http://forums.cgsociety.org/

 

Also, when people tell you about the way things are done, remember it's not the always way they *have* to be done. A new approach or style is often a good thing and something new-comers to the industry might be able to offer :)

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I have always loved video games, and would like to start learning the skills that would allow me to pursue a job in game design when I'm older.

 

Based on your post, "game design" could mean a few things.

 

It could mean the job of game designer. These are the people who write the rules and mechanics of the games. It is a position many people aspire to, and generally requires several years of game industry experience. Designers are generally artists, programmers, and testers who have demonstrated an ability to come up with fun game mechanics. It is easy to see who would make good game designers: they get into the guts of the rules. They play games like D&D, Magic, and complex board games, and while they are playing they get into passionate arguments about nuance in the rules.

 

You might also mean more of an art director role. These are the people who determine the look and feel of a game. It is one thing to say a game should look "gritty" or "cute" or "all butterflies and rainbows", or "guts and gore", or whatever.  The art director turns that vague general description into something concrete. They also work with artists on what needs to change to meet the artistic style of the game.

 

 

 

I am literally the most computer illiterate, ignorant person you could ever meet when it comes to game design. The only attributes I have are a love of video games and a proficient skill in painting (I've been painting oil and acrylic landscapes seriously for about 3 years now, although I've been involved in art my whole life, and selling for about 1; I believe my artwork has reached a professional level, although I have little experience when it comes to drawing/painting people.

 

 

Art is probably a good path for you. The other major paths into game development are programming and QA, but as you are computer illiterate those would likely be a bad fit.

 

 

 

2) What is the process for making art in video games? Can you give me some general steps about how one goes from point A (concept) to point B (physical product)

 

During design of the game, the art director works with concept artists to come up with how things should feel. A quick search can show the types of drawings made at this phase. Generally the concept artists will spend just a few minutes on each sketch and generate several hundred generic concepts. Some of those will be refined into drawings taking a few hours to complete. Then a small number of those will be turned into nice images that help express the concepts of the game.  These concepts define the look of the world.

 

As specific objects are designed, the game designer and art director may have concept artists come up with concepts of specific items they want in the game. Simply stating that you want a futuristic tank or a cuddly kitten is not enough. Artists may come up with fifty different tank designs. Or for the kitten they will need concepts of the kittens quirks and animation styles.

 

 

Everything in the game needs to be created. There is much more than the main characters. There are trees, rocks, bushes, fences, cows, chickens, sheds, outhouses, homes, office buildings, cars, trucks, tanks, guns, grenades, crates, barrels, mailboxes, desks, chairs, lamps, wells, signposts, and on and on and on. Even the small games on smart phones and web pages can require many gigabytes of source material.  My current game's art assets folder comes in at just over 200 GB.

 

When the game is implemented, it will either be done as a 3D game or a 2D game.

 

In a 3D game, each object is given a 3D model and texture. Generally the game designer will provide some images and a description of what they want.

 

Models are made out of one or more 3D meshes and one or more textures that lay on the mesh. Many models also include animation rigs, also called bones or joints or skeletons, that enable movement. 

 

When the models are nearing completion, the modeler will work with animators to ensure all the moving parts are modeled good enough for the animator to implement their designs.  The animators work with programmers and designers to develop a list of animations that are required. Animators position objects relative to each other and use their art program (usually Maya) to generate animation curves to move things over time. 

 

Yet another art area in 3D games are particles and effects. There is little difference between a severed limb's blood splatter and cute magical sparkles, apart from the art being used in the particle. 

 

For 2D assets, each object is drawn with pixel art.

 

UI screens are generally 2D pixel art. The artists draw buttons and windows and widgets. Some games require thousands of little images, one image to represent each game object.

 

Games that are rendered in 2D need to have all the game assets drawn. Some objects only need one or two images that will be flipped and rotated as needed. Player characters may need thousands of images drawn as they walk, run, sit, and do other activities.

 

In both cases, the artists create the art, and the programmers do their magic to get it in game.

 

All of the art is reviewed by the art director for aesthetics and style.

 

Then QA starts finding bugs in the artwork. Models and animations and pixel art will all need adjustments as bugs are found.

 

 

 

3) Where can I learn how to make art for video games? Where do I start? (I have no idea). What should I tackle first?

 

It looks like you are currently focused on physical art.  That is useful because you can understand the concepts of art.  Unfortunately it doesn't get the artwork into the computer.

 

There is only one company to use when it comes to digital art tablets: Wacom.

 

You need to get comfortable with Wacom tablets. They aren't very expensive, you can get a Wacom Bamboo (a small entry level pen and tablet) new for under $50 if you shop around, or used on ebay for around $25. Professionals will end up with a larger Wacom Intuos that can cost several hundred dollars depending on how large the pad is. 

 

For art software you absolutely must get comfortable with Photoshop, no matter what other tools you use.

 

If you intend to do any 3D work you also must get comfortable with Maya. 

 

Learning to draw digitally is very different from acrylics.

 

 

 

4) What are the similarities between physical painting and computer artwork?

You still need an eye for what looks good, and you need dexterity.  Art theory still applies.

 

 

Apart from that, the tools and technologies are radically different. Instead of applying pigment to a surface you click a button and then apply varying amounts of pressure to a stylus on a tablet that is a meter away from the image. 

 

 

4) What is the difference between programming and coding? (in regards to game design). How hard is it for someone with zero programming/coding experience to learn this? How can I start learning how to program/code, and what should I tackle first?

 

Why on earth would you want to be a programmer when you described yourself as having no interest in it? Most game artists can look at a screen and say "Yup, it looks like computer code."

 

 

5) How do programmers/coders and artists work together? Where do their jobs intersect?

 

Programmers create a toolchain that gets the art into the game. This is one intersection point. The programmers work with artists to figure out where the assets go, and provide tools that let the artists figure out things like game-friendly texture names, game-friendly slotting position names, geometry states, and other data that doesn't fit directly inside the images. A UI tool might let the artist define what a button is. It might let the artist pick file names for the images of each button state. A 2D animation tool might let the artist specify the size and stride of images on a sprite sheet. 

 

Another area of intersection is determining how animations chain together. This is generally driven by the design of the game and of the objects. Animators need to specify where the loops are. They also need to tag certain animation frames with events so the programmers know when to run certain code.  For example if you have an animation of a character turning on a radio there will need to be an animation event on the frame where the button is pressed, so the programmer knows to turn on the music at that point.

 

There are a few other intersection points. They go to some of the same meetings discussing the designs and reviewing the results. They share the lunchroom and bathrooms and other common areas. 

 

I'd say that on most of the my projects over the years, the artists and programmers actually sit down and work on the same things for perhaps an average of twenty minutes per day. They generally work on very different tasks.

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Wow!!!! So many amazing answers (I can't even believe it!)

Thank you so much everyone. I'm so grateful for anyone who took the time to give such detailed responses. This is just amazing; I already feel like I'm starting to get a picture of where I should begin, and what my path should be

Thanks again!

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Btw. conceptart.org is another huge community with many artists / illustrators that work in the game industry.
You can probably get some input there as well.

.

I'll make sure to check it out

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