Concept Art and Video Game Development

Blockbuster video games have to start from somewhere, and more often than not, they start with concept art. Before major games hit the market and make their way into your library, most video games start with just a simple illustration.

Blockbuster video games have to start from somewhere, and more often than not, they start with concept art. Before major games hit the market and make their way into your library, most video games start with just a simple illustration.

What exactly is concept art? Here, we hope to give you a clear understanding of what it means as well as what it does.

A concept is defined as an abstract idea or a general notion, and concept art embodies that. Typically used to convey a vague idea, concept art is the visualization of something that doesn’t exist yet, and is used in media at the initial start of a project in order to develop its look and feel. As important to the development of games as it is, it’s surprising to how often it is overlooked.

When it comes to developing games, there are just so many things to focus on. The game mechanics, coding, story line, audio; that concept art might be forgotten in the long run.

As one of the first steps in game development, the concept art is vital. Once an illustration has been “Okay-ed” by the project manager, the sketch will then be fully visualized as a proper illustration or, in the case with many video game concept art these days, be rendered in 3D. Whatever concept art chosen by game designers will be used as a visual guide on the games look and feel.

Sometimes, the concept art will be used throughout the development of the game and into production, while other times the concept might be scrapped for a better one. In fact, don’t be surprised when what is used in the final product turns out to be incredibly different from the initial concept.


For example, in the sketches here, some of the concept art of Sonic the Hedgehog is entirely unrecognizable, while others look noticeably similar. With concept artists going through multiple alternate designs before settling on the Sonic the Hedgehog you see now.

With the designs done, you’ll have built something of a guideline for the duration of the project.

Most designers find it easier to work by taking inspiration from concept art, as it gives them some idea on what sort of games they’re making. If early concept art had the setting of the game in a deserted town, chances are the setting will continue to be in a town later on in the game, even if it doesn’t end up looking exactly like the concept art. In fact, it’s actually quite rare for the final project to as it did in the concept art.


As for the concept artist themselves, it should be said that some concept artists will only involve themselves in the initial design process, offering a few ideas and sketches before moving on. And others will stay on for the rest of the project to see their design modeled in 3D themselves, staying for the games development throughout the entire production phase.


How Developers Should Utilize Concept Art

The appearance of “leaked” images or officially released art of upcoming games can always be counted on to spontaneously find their way onto the internet. Dedicated fans go crazy over potential character designs and the briefest of walk cycles, so if you’re looking to hype up an upcoming game, pre-releasing some potential content could be a great way to do it.


Putting out some concept art to generate buzz and create some awareness for your new game is a good idea but be careful going about it, as leaking unconfirmed concept art can also be quite the risky move.

This may be due to the widespread misconception consumers have about what exactly concept art is, as well as the easy confusion between concept art and promo art. While we would have hopefully cleared up what concept art is by now, here we hope to explain promo art.

The biggest difference between concept art and promo art is: concept art isn’t the final visualization and is often just a sketch, while promo art is fully rendered and well-drawn illustrations based on the finalized visualization, usually created with the intent to promote the game.

In fact, concept art could go through countless stages before hitting its final form, and many ideas will end up scrapped and never seeing the light of day. Ideas and themes may change completely from its initial concept art, entire characters deleted and weapons redone, that leaked images might give fans the wrong impression of your game.

Promo art is completely different. Created usually around the time a game is to be released, the promo art will feature concrete character designs or settings, and give fans an idea on the themes of the game aside from how it’ll look.


Types of Concept Art

Most concept artists have specialties and it’s rare to find one that can do every type of concept art there is, so keep the limitations of your concept artists in mind when directing them. There are three primary areas of concept art: character design, prop design, and landscape design. These can be further broken down into things like weapons, buildings, terrain, costumes, and so on.


Character Design

When it comes to character design, it’s a good idea to list down the character’s personality traits, attributes, background, and even what you want them to look like. This gives the concept artists some understanding on what you’re looking for and helps them in creating the aesthetic of a character that will suit the characterization you’re going for.

Many concept artists specialize in character design, and it could be considered one of the biggest forms of concept art. Character design also includes the visualization of costumes, helpful to indicate the time and location of your game, as well as the designs of non-human enemies and humanoid enemies alike.


Props Design

This area includes things like weapons, vehicles, and even furniture pieces. For weapons design, this can immediately convey how your character fights, such as if they carry a holster, people will automatically assume “gun”. Even background pieces like furniture can give an idea about how your character lives, the when and the where. Various props can give information in unexpected ways and really help to set the mood of the game.

Usually, prop designers will use the influence of our normal pieces of furniture as a base for their designs and put a thematic spin on it to fit them into your expectations.


Landscape design

From things like cityscapes to the sunset hitting the horizon, landscape or environmental concept artists are tasked with designing how these locations will look and feel. A setting sun could set a somber mood or the flash of strobe lights in a bustling city could indicate restlessness. These concept artists will envision the setting of your game, oftentimes creating whole worlds that don’t exist into a visual presentation that suits what you need. While the concept artists is tasked with designing the landscape, it wouldn’t be remiss to give your opinions and expectations, as well as to give the artist some freedom in illustrations.  

If you have a mood or feeling that you want to implement in your game, it’s up to the concept artists to convey it through their work. Concept art is invaluable, especially for developers, as it gives them the direction for the mood and visuals of them game. While the visual development team will be the ones developing the rest of the game, you can’t go wrong with starting out with some concept art.


This post was written by Jes Ngo from iPrice group.


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