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Feature: How Technical Artists Bridge The Code, Art Divide

In this intriguing technical article, originally published in Game Developer magazine, Volition's Jason Hayes discusses how the Saints Row franchise developer integrates the technical artist into its development pipeline.
The industry is starting to learn the merits of a specific role for a technical artist on the team to help bridge the gap between artists and programmers. While different companies have different ideas of what a technical artist's responsibilities are, Volition's Jason Hayes offers an in-depth example of why the role is indispensible. Near the end of Saint's Row's development, he says, the game was suffering serious frame rate problems -- primarily because the game was in development long before the appropriate hardware was available, and it was Volition's first go at the genre. Hayes explains, as part of a new Gamasutra feature, how the technical artist role helped in this situation: "One of the many causes for the frame rate problems was our liberal use of per-pixel dynamic lighting. Since we were running low on time, many people on the programming side felt that it would be best to turn off the dynamic lighting at night and fake it with effects. On the art side, there was a desire to keep it because the lighting gave the night scenes a much better sense of believability and richness. All things being equal, programming would have won that fight because it's better to ship a game with stable frame rate than not. Because of my knowledge of the engine and its capabilities and limitations, I proposed that we develop a hybrid solution to the problem. Dynamic lights would remain on at certain distances around the player, while further out, effects gave the impression of a much more well lighted city without paying the GPU and CPU costs associated with the dynamic lighting." As a result, this alongside other optimization fixed the nighttime frame rate issue while retaining the artists' desired richness, thanks to the diplomacy of the technical artist. Scenarios like these are not uncommon, either; read the full Gamasutra feature for more from Hayes' experience on how the technical artist can integrate with other aspects of the development team.

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