This is going to be a long post. If you just want the summary: BattleCrypt is going in a new artistic direction. Hence the concept above (not actual in-game art). Tile size is doubling and the game will not be pixel art. I’m exploring some type of hand-painted style. Along the way I’ll be refining my skill as an artist until it satisfies the elusive perfectionist in my mind. If you want the details, read on…
I have been really struggling with BattleCrypt motivation and art direction. Our artist got super busy (he has a family and also is finishing up two other games) and hasn’t been able to contribute to the project for almost two months. Recent posts showing new progress with his work were actually based on stuff he committed in early February. I think it’s safe to assume that his responsibilities will make it difficult to be the primary artist on the project, although he is still excited to contribute where he can. That puts the onus back on me to lead the creative direction of the project.
If you follow the progress, you’ve probably noticed a theme of dissatisfaction with my artistic direction on the project. In general, working on art has been a roller coaster experience. What I want is both simple and complex. When I see BattleCrypt art, I want it to look like a game I’d want to buy and play on Steam. But when I create tiles, UI and characters…they just aren’t the quality I’m looking for.
Sean’s work was definitely up to that level but I am not skilled enough at his style to continue that and he can’t be our main art lead. So, if I lead the creative direction I have to find a style that both satisfies my driving need for the look, but also balances that with something I actually have the capability to produce.
Multiple times I have felt like I was making good progress only to realize that I could nail the style in one area (tiles) but not another (character design or UI).
Finally, I had a Eureka moment.
I suck at art. This is why that’s interesting.
When I was a little kid (somewhere between 7 and 9) I experienced the wonder of the Nintendo Entertainment System at a friend’s house. My family either couldn’t afford one or it was not a priority but I was immediately obsessed with the magic. I had experienced Atari and cabinet games before but nothing like the amazing magic of Mario eating mushrooms and kicking shells. I’d spend hours drawing levels and inventing video games on paper. I’d cut the characters out separately and act out how the games would play.
I was good at drawing and my family and friends often complimented my skill at art. I continued to draw a lot but we also got a family computer and I was obsessed with how it worked. I wanted to make my art come alive with the magic thing called “code” that was inside of the computer. I learned how to hack files to change how programs worked. By eighth grade, I was writing Basic, doing lots of things in DOS and trying to make sense of C++. I was going to be a computer programmer and make amazing games.
Two things happened. First, my eighth-grade teacher unintentionally crushed a big part of my dreams. I created a Basic program to solve the Pythagorean theorem for extra credit (yes, I was that kid) and was ecstatic. When I talked to her about my plans to be a computer programmer she cautioned me about the level of math required by the engineering fields. While I excelled at logic (and motivation), I was miserable at math. I struggled to grasp simple concepts and I think she felt sorry for me. The way she looked at me, I knew she thought I couldn’t do it. Second, I was further crushed by the difficulty of C++ and lack of mentors. Nobody I knew programmed computers and I struggled to get the multi-disk installation of Borland C++ to even install, let alone compile something (the Internet didn’t really exist, youngsters).
Through high-school I focused on art but continued to hack and modify games and explore programming concepts. I decided to major in graphic design because it mixed my two favorite things: art and technology. In college, I loved all of the technical aspects of design. I dove into Flash programming to create interactive websites (gag!). My workflows were faster and more efficient than most peers because I mastered the technology and graduated tied for best portfolio. But I was the weakest at drawing, painting and all other traditional art media.
The irony is, I never worked as a graphic designer. I ended up doing whatever it took to pay off those student loans and excelled at various careers by applying technology in ways that nobody else was. I moved from programming to make my job more efficient to directly programming as a career. I became a technical lead, then an architect. I lead technology aspects of multi-million dollar projects. And then started my own software company.
And now, here I am the lead artist on my own pet project. Finally possessing the means to do what 9 year old me wanted so badly – to make my art come alive in the interactive medium of video games. But when I created BattleCrypt art, it wasn’t amazing. It wasn’t even good. I got frustrated, depressed, angry and defeated in an unproductive cycle.
Until I realized that I utterly suck at art. This realization should have depressed me. My wife and friends were quick to argue when I announced this fact, thinking it self-pity or frustration (both plentiful in this project). But they were wrong.
I DO suck at art but it’s so empowering!
Because I have the raw skill, I can be good. I was once. I just didn’t practice. I wasn’t willing to take time and to fail at things because I was “already great” at it!
So. The picture at the top of this post? New BattleCrypt direction. This game will not be pixel art, it’ll be higher-definition, hand-painted art. I will do “artsy” things that I thought were a waste of time before. Concept art. Mockups. Exploring color palettes and design styles. It’s time to fail at some things. It’s time to commit to practice, and not expect bread without grinding the wheat. And it’s time to enjoy what kid-me set in motion. That’s how I got here, I’m going to have fun.