informa
/
10 MIN READ
Blogs

How I got all my Game's Art for $100

In this post from my Mouse Dreams dev blog, I show how I used various tricks and resources to fill my indie game with art for around $100.

Since I work on my games as an amateur, I don’t have a budget. I work on the assumption I will probably not make back the money I spend on my games, so I consider all costs carefully.

My upcoming game, Mouse Dreams, has more graphics and animation than anything I have done before, but I have managed this while spending only around $100 on art. While I don’t think my game’s visuals hold up against AAA titles and beautiful indies, I’m proud of what I achieved with such a limited cost.

If you’re interested in how you can do the same on a hobbyist budget, read on…

Picture

Picture


Lightboxing
When I am designing my games, I usually have an idea of the overall style. I collect images from anywhere I can find them and put them all in a folder. These images can be in the vague style I want, depict a certain item, or just be a colour reference. Anything I find that matches my ideas for the game goes in the folder. This folder is helpful at every stage of building the game’s art.

For Mouse Dreams, I searched Google and Bing images with search terms like ‘cartoon mouse’ and ‘living room’.
For a detailed look at the evolution of Mouse Dreams’ art from the first prototype to the final product, see The Making of Mouse Dreams Part 2. Basically, the earlier you start thinking about your game’s style and look, the easier it will be to implement the graphics.

Getting the Art
The art for Mouse Dreams falls under four categories:

  • Purchased/licenced assets
  • Commissioned art
  • Public domain
  • Home-made.

Purchased and Licenced Assets
Mouse Dreams uses a few art assets from the Unity Asset Store and GameDev Market. The benefit of using licenced assets (as opposed to sourcing your own) is the cost and speed – most of the furniture in Mouse Dreams’ rooms is from two Unity Asset Store assets that cost $15 each and were made by the same artist. You could never get an artist to create that much art for that price, and assets are ready made, meaning no waiting time or requesting revisions.

On the flip side, this is a big compromise. You’ll rarely find assets that are a perfect match – either in style or in what images you need. You will have to build your game around the art you can get.

Tips for using licensed art assets:

  • Take your time to browse what’s available – you could find things you didn’t know you were looking for.
  • 3D assets can work for 2D games (the furniture in Mouse Dreams is actually 3D assets converted to 2D sprites).
  • Try to find artists with sets of assets of matching style.
  • Don’t buy art too early – your game’s style may change over time.
  • Look for value for money – many asset packs will have lots of objects in the same style.

Commissioned Art
Even on a tight budget, you might want to commission some art. I try to reserve this to stuff I can’t find good assets for or for things that are particularly important.

I have (so far) used two sources for commissioned art:

  • Reddit (e.g. /r/gamedevclassifieds)
  • Fiverr

Commissioned art is (rightly) far more expensive than pre-made assets, but the upside is that you can get exactly what you want made especially for your game.

Fiverr is cheap, and I got a fully animated game character for a total of about $30. That is insanely cheap, but the quality is great. Here’s my game’s main character, Squeaks:

Picture

Also from Fiverr, I got a pretty cheap icon made (I think it was $15 from memory):

Picture

From an artist on Reddit, I got several one-off pieces of art, including this on/off light switch that plays a big part in the game:

Picture

Picture

For commissioned art via a freelance artist, expect to pay according to how long the art will take to create. I spent about $40 on freelance art. The key was to only buy art when I couldn’t get it elsewhere. I wish I could pay an artist to do everything, but that’s not possible on my budget.

Tips for commissioning art:

  • Communicate effectively – use your lightbox images, keywords, etc. to ensure you and the artist understand each other. Artists can’t read your mind, but they can interpret screenshots and the right descriptions.
  • Set price up front – life’s too short to get mixed up in misunderstandings. Make sure you and the artist agree on the specifics as clearly as possible. Some artists will send you a watermarked version until you pay them, which is fair. Some will include a revision or two into the price. Just make sure any of these terms is agreed up front so you both have a pleasant experience. Don’t assume anything!
  • Don’t rush into paying for art. Wait until your game is near completion, then pay for the art that will give you the most ‘bang for your buck’. 

Public Domain
Public domain is the secret weapon of any game developer on a tight budget. Public domain art is completely free – it is owned by the public, i.e. everyone. There is no limit on what you can do with it.

Whenever I need art, the first place I look is OpenClipart.org. A quick search will throw up tons of free art. You can use this art for anything: placeholders, final game art, a starting point, inspiration, you name it.

In Mouse Dreams, public domain art is the basis for a few things, such as some incidental background objects, decorations, and patterns:

Picture

Picture

Picture

Picture

If you haven’t heard of Kenney, look him up at Kenney.nl. He creates art for game developers and puts it all in the public domain. I have a paid subscription to his asset packs, and I always browse them when I need something for my game.

To get the most out of public domain art, use it as a starting point. Add your own colours, make adjustments, and create something new. Take a look at this house art:

Picture

Picture

Picture

Now look back up the screen to the house between the spiderweb and flower. I’ve created variance by moving the door and windows, using different colours, and creating some basic brick patterns. From a single public domain image I have created 6 houses to serve as the level sets in my game. All I needed was a basic image editing program. No skill required!

Tips for using public domain art:

  • Make sure it is public domain! Sites like OpenClipart have verified collections.
  • Get as much mileage out of the art as possible by re-colouring and modifying as much as possible.
  • Put public domain art in your game early to get a feel for your game’s style, but consider replacing it with better art where appropriate and cost effective.
  • Subscribe to Kenney’s assets at kenney.nl.

Home-made Art
Finally, you can create art yourself. If you’re reading this article there is a fair chance you have no art skills, and I don’t have any either. But with a little bit of work, anyone can at least create a few simple assets here and there.

Each level in Mouse Dreams is a room in a house with a side-on view:

Picture

The bricks you can see around each level are a pattern based on an image search of various brick patterns. I’ve used a simple brick shape (basically a distorted rectangle) and made a few repeating patterns with it. Then, I have created different coloured versions of this pattern to create cheap variety (each house in the game has different coloured bricks).

The wallpaper patterns in the game are created with public domain art, such as the stars above, and coloured to create as much variety as possible.

The yellow lampshade is something I drew myself and is reused throughout the game.

If an object you need requires simple shapes, try doing it yourself. You can look for tutorials on YouTube for various things. Just now, I have been experimenting with creating a logo for my game in Inkscape by following a tutorial for 3D text:

Picture

I might not use that logo, but creating it has at least given me a better idea of what I do want the final logo to look like.

Tips for home-made art:

  • Stick to what you know you can achieve – simple shapes, patterns, etc.
  • Do your art in greyscale, so you can recolour it to get more variety.
  • Combine with public domain art.
  • Search for tutorials for specific needs. You’ll be surprised at how simple some things are.

Modifying and Repurposing Art
Once you have art for your game, possibly from several different sources, you might want to modify it to create a more unified look, or simply to improve it.

I try to reuse art as much as possible. As with the houses I showed earlier, simple modifications with colour and cut-and-paste can get a lot out of what art you have.

Colour
You can adjust colours in a few ways. In Unity, you can tint a sprite or material. The brick walls in Mouse Dreams are created with a single texture used for multiple materials each with a different colour tint. When doing this, it is best to start with a greyscale image, as you can then tint it easily (e.g. you can’t tint a blue sprite to make it red, it would just end up purple).

Think of your game’s palette. Do you want pastel colours? Realistic colours? Try to be consistent. Mouse Dreams’ palette is very bright and cartoony, hence all the primary colours and high saturation.

Any basic image editing program can convert to greyscale or adjust an image’s hue, contrast, etc.
If you can manage some simple image editing – cutting and pasting, colour fill, and so on, you can do quite a lot. I took this public domain image:

Picture

I then cut out the centre fan:

Picture

And created a separate image out of that:

Picture

And in the game, I put the fan sprite on top of the main sprite and rotate just the fan sprite to create a spinning extractor fan.

Stock Decoration
In my game, I have a folder of images that I use for decoration. In the haunted house levels, I have several spider webs that I place randomly throughout to create some visual interest where the screen would otherwise be barren. I created a painting object that consists of a frame and one or more images inside, so I can create lots of variants of the painting in different rooms.

Think Outside the Box
Thinking my game’s levels looked too boxy, I came up with a cool solution to effortlessly improve the game’s look.
Here is a level from the game:
  

Picture

That is very boxy. I couldn’t alter the shape much because the game mechanics rely on straight edges. But I did figure out a cheat that cost nothing and required no art skill. Here is the ‘after’ picture:

Picture

You can see that I filled in some of the corners. This makes the level feel smoother and easier on the eyes. I’m very happy with that small, but effective, improvement.

Repurposing
One of the animations I had for my mouse character was of the mouse walking away from the player, to be used at the end of each level when the mouse enters the mouse hole that is the goal. I ended up re-using this animation in two other places:

  • Mouse flipping a switch
  • Mouse climbing ladders.

That’s three animations for the price of one! Creative thinking can stretch your budget quite a bit.

Conclusion and Links
So that’s how I created all of the art for Mouse Dreams for around $100.

To recap:

  • Start collecting design inspiration early.
  • Combine pre-made assets, commissioned art, public domain, and home-made art.
  • Adjust your art (colour, saturation, etc.) for consistency.
  • Don’t pay for art prematurely.
  • Think creatively to re-use as much as possible.

Links
Here are the sites and resources linked throughout this article along with a few extras:

More Info

This article is taken from my Mouse Dreams dev blog at http://mousedreams.grogansoft.com, and is Part 3 of a series of articles where I try to deconstruct the development process in ways that dig deeper than just discussing my progress.

If you want to keep up with Mouse Dreams and its related dev blog, visit my site and/or follow me on Twitter @grogansoft.

Latest Jobs

IO Interactive

Hybrid (Malmö, Sweden)
3.02.23
Gameplay Director (Project Fantasy)

Arizona State University

Los Angeles, CA, USA
2.27.23
Assistant Professor of XR Technologies

IO Interactive

Hybrid (Copenhagen, Denmark)
3.02.23
Animation Tech Programmer

Purdue University

West Lafayette, IN, USA
3.02.23
Assistant Professor in Game Design and Development
More Jobs   

CONNECT WITH US

Explore the
Advertise with
Follow us

Game Developer Job Board

Game Developer

@gamedevdotcom

Explore the

Game Developer Job Board

Browse open positions across the game industry or recruit new talent for your studio

Browse
Advertise with

Game Developer

Engage game professionals and drive sales using an array of Game Developer media solutions to meet your objectives.

Learn More
Follow us

@gamedevdotcom

Follow us @gamedevdotcom to stay up-to-date with the latest news & insider information about events & more