Michael Mindes(DrMayhem)United States
When I started Tasty Minstrel Games, I figured that you just hire somebody to handle the artwork and they take care of it. Talk about naive. There is one important rule that you must live by when contracting for artwork:
Only hire artists that are serious gamers themselves!
Duh, of course. There are plenty to choose from, and they need to have a deep understanding of useful symbols, common methodology, and gamer standards.
Artwork is Artwork, or is it?
If you are not an artist yourself or have not worked closely with artists before, then you might think like I did that anybody you hire will do a great job with creating images, laying things out, creating symbols, and branding the whole project. Not so! It is rare that any one artist will be able to handle all of these aspects to a premier level.
If you want your artwork to compare to the top publishers, then you will need to hire the rare master of all traits, or you need to hire each person for their specialty. Now, lets get into it:
This is the person that is in charge of creating the artwork that everybody looks at. The mountain scenes, the hotties with notoriously large tracks of land, and the fierce creatures. This is the art that people ooh and ahh over. Here is a secret I have learned...
Artists that excel in this area are the most common. The reason is simple, every artist begins in their youth with scribbling crayons. They move on to drawing and painting, and perfect those skills.
Also, while some art is clearly bad and some is clearly good, the area of illustration is highly subjective. I personally like crisp and detailed images which are high in contrast. I also like purposefully avoided detail, much like the blocky images often associated with WWII. I also like the work of impressionists, but I think that would not work well for most games...
The bottom line here is that if your games is image heavy like Eminent Domain, then you will want a consistent style. This is achieved by having a handful of artists create the majority of this artwork.
The Graphic Designer
Next on the scale of rarity comes the graphic designer. A good graphic designer will understand the science and psychology behind layout, proportions, symbols, and typography. A great graphic designer is the difference in having a game with difficult symbology and a game that flows instinctively.
51st State is a great example of graphic design that almost made it for me. The game had much going for it, I love the theme, the illustration is fantastic, the game play is interesting. The problem is that I mad difficulty understanding it. I found myself trying to interpret the symbols instead of thinking about the game!
I don't know about you, but I play games for the interesting decisions, not for my interest in deciphering artificial symbolic languages! There were too many symbols that had too similar meanings which looked too much alike. On top of that, the rules failed to explain the differences very well.
With more intuitive graphic design that game might have been fantastic.
Unlike with illustration, quality graphic design is quantitatively measurable. There is a science to the legibility of typography, if your rules are hard to read and process, then don't get too hopeful on the success of the game. Dark on light is easier to read than light on dark.
Their is a science to how much information you can fit on a page and have it look right. There is a science to what draws attention and how to make sure things are seen.
To me it seems like magic. However, these magicians know what they are doing.
The rarest of all is The Brander! If a great graphic designer seems like a magician, then The Brander is a level 20 wizard (old school D&D where you maxed out at level 20). This person is likely able to create fantastic illustrations and will certainly be great at graphic design.
On top of this, they are probably very skilled in the area of computer assisted art creation. AKA, they are Photoshop ninjas. The reason for this is simple, they can test multiple permutations of layout, color, typography, and visual effects quickly. Searching for the most effective combination thereof.
I could go on and on about the importance of a brander. Instead, I would just like you to think about the Nike Swoosh. That swoosh has allowed for shoe and sports equipment empire.
It is elegant. It is simple. It is instantly recognizable. The visual nature conveys the benefit of buying the shoes. You don't buy Nike shoes because you need basketball shoes. You buy Nike because you want to be faster and more athletic. HELLO SWOOSH!
Today, we can look at the swoosh and say, wow, they is a great and obvious brand image. Unskilled artists can easily draw that! However it took one of the rarest and most skilled artists on the planet to create it.
Be aware of the different types of artists that exist. Hire specialists in each area for large projects or hire a master of all to handle everything. Just be careful of how everything comes together. You don't want to have a beautiful looking game that people don't understand because the text is illegible and the symbology confusing.