Game environment art design and outsourcing

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Environmental design for games

Game environment design is about making the game look good and relevant to the story. It includes non-interactive and interactive objects, textures, sounds, visual effects, animations and little conversations between NPCs. It’s all about to make the player believe in the game world and the story that is being played in front of the player’s eyes.

game environment example

The requirements for game environmental design are the following: the game world must be done in consistent [visual style]. It’s different from typical [game level design]. While level design tries to make levels interesting to play and explore, game environment development must create a world which will be interesting to look at.

We, Kreonit game art outsourcing company, try to make our best with creating an astonishing game environment by developing unique visual style, concepts and art.

What is the world building in environmental design

The key part of environmental design is to build a complete game world. For example, in Call of Duty or Battlefield series the game world is a battlefield: ruined building, bullet holes everywhere, explosions, barbed wire, etc. In sword&magic RPGs the game world is about castles, monsters, stingy merchants, dumb kings and scary villains. And in games with unique setting the game world may be unique too: underwater city in Bioshock series, hand-made levels in Little Big Adventure, cartoonish castles in Spyro and so on.

battlefield level design

So the first step of doing environmental design is to explain the game world with concept art. To make a cool concept we usually take something trivial and usual, like a typical Middle Ages or far future world with spaceships and aliens. Sounds boring, isn’t it? Now the magic starts: we add one impossible event that will affect the world’s story and imagine what will happen in the next 100 years.

For example, Mass Effect world would be a generic Star Wars clone, if there won’t be Reapers, non-organical life like gets and literal Apocalypse coming. The Witcher world would be a typical fantasy game, if the magical creatures and magic itself wouldn’t be explained with Conjunction of the Spheres.

Let’s say, the main character is working on an iceboat near the Antarctica. BAM, the iceboat is frozen, the team has turned into ice zombies, and the main villain is some forgotten ancient god. Now we have environmental ideas: giant boat covered in ice, things telling about the last hours of the crew members and those crew members trying to eat the main character.

frozen ship environmennt

Or let’s take Ancient Egypt with brass weapons and pyramids. Suddenly, time traveler came to Egypt: in desert camo and with M16. He taught Egyptians how to cast iron and make primitive firearms, how to make steam engines and waterwheels. Now the Egyptians are the most developed civilization, and they are trying to conquer the Roman Empire.

ancient egypt concept art

So, to make a unique setting you need to take something boring and add an impossible event to it. Now you’ll have a completely new world to develop the story and characters.

Game environment concept art

When we have the story and know what kind of environment we should portray, we can follow with [concept art creation]. For example, we have our icebreaker of death setting. The main character will follow this path: from the rocky shore of Antarctica to the deck, then he explores internal decks, engine room, some containers, crew cabins, captain’s bridge, deck again and Antarctica itself to fight the elder penguin god.

Now we need to find references to create some concepts: photos of abandoned ships, icebreaker insides, frozen shores, icebergs and so on. Any photo can give our artists ideas of cool environmental feature to use in the game.

environmental design reference

By its definition the concept art can’t be generic and boring. It must portray some landmarks or story-important places that must catch the player’s eyes or tell the story just with visuals.

One of the cinematography rules says: “Show, don’t tell”. This also works with game environment design. If the ship has been frozen to its keel, artists must show it only with visuals. If there was a fight between ice zombie and a boatswain, it must be shown with broken furniture and two dead bodies in the boatswain cabin.

narrative environment reference

So, if the game story has some plot twists, the artists must find out how to highlight them with environment features like unique objects, textures or sound.

There are situations, where the client wants from us to make the game environment concept out from his references. It’s OK: our artist’s vision may differ from what the client wants.

Creating game environment in 3D

When the concepts are done, level designers work with them to create the level’s blueprints. At this moment the levels exist in a form of gray boxes with no textures and objects. That’s because the game developers should make a gameplay part first, and think about beauty second.

When the blueprints are ready and the artists know where to place all the objects, it’s time to create the models and fill the game environment. The artists use two types of models: common and specific.

Common models are used to fill the void and level areas where the player can’t go. It may be houses, cliffs and trees, walls in dungeon, etc. This common models are vital for game design, because they define the level map and set the gameplay challenges. Also, the artist can change those models at any time and the level won’t lose its value. Who will notice, if the Rock_1 will be replaced with the Rock_2 of similar shape and size?

common environment models

Specific models refer to local story that happened in current level. It may be unique 3D models, sprites or lightning effects. For example, if the environmental artist has to show that someone has been killed in the room, he can just add bloodstains on the floor and walls. The specific objects are valuable for the game narrative rather than for gameplay.

Also, specific objects or areas may serve as the landmarks. They are helpful for the open-world games and games with backtracking, so the player won’t get lost in big locations. That’s why specific objects must be unique and really stand out of the background made by common objects.

specific environment models

To go further, specific object doesn’t have to be just one 3D model or a texture. It may be a whole room, a small location or an entrance to said location. Let’s take Dark Souls 1 as an example. The new player may not know where to go from the Firelink Shrine, because there are three open ways: down to the skeletons, up to the city and deep down to the ghosts. But the player will easily remember, that he has to pass an abandoned shrine in his way to the Catacombs filled with skeletons. And in order to get to the City he has to climb stairs. So the environmental design with those unique passages to other areas helps the player to navigate through the game.

The connection between game environment and level design

For sure, the environmental design depends on level design. You can’t just stick LED-lamps in the dwarf dungeons. Also, a typical room has to be bigger, than its real life reference, so the players won’t be placed in too narrow area with no ability to move freely.

In most cases, the game environment is the richest in places the player can see but can’t touch or interact. Take Dark Souls, Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, God of War or other third person games in which the player can go only where level designer allowed. They always have the most beautiful surroundings, because the environmental designers are sure that they won’t be obliged to set up that beauty for gameplay.

god of war environment design

The environment the player can interact with must have clear visible purpose and ways of interaction. The player can destroy a wooden box, but can’t do a thing to a small boulder — it’s a law. He can open the door but can’t break through the fence — it’s a game environment law too. And we, as environmental and level designers, can use this well-known laws to entertain the player.

For example, there is a trick to show the player that there is a hidden passage to some area. We need to make this area clearly visible from a specific spot and place there an obviously interactive or valuable object. As a result, the player will understand that the shown area ins’t just a decoy, but he can somehow get there and get something useful.

interesting gam environment

The second trick is to help the player with environmental design. If you need the player to follow specific route in the open world — set the hints in the environment. For example, in The Witcher 3 there are many places with clearly visible tracks, broken branches and sometimes blood. The developers were sure that the player will notice them and follow the tracks. In your game you can use blood trails and other textures, lightning effects, sounds, pointers and any other object to show the right way.

Game environment design for 2D games

2D games have environment too! Gladly, the player can’t look at the level details from any angle he wants, so it simplifies our task. The goals of 2D game environment outsourcing are simple: to make the surroundings interesting, to tell a local story and to highlight the interactive elements on a bland background.

Usually, the most difficult part with 2D is to find the right colors for the gameplay objects and decorations. There are many tricks to make reckognizable 2D environment. For example, to add an outline to every interactive object, to animate it, to make it brighter or darker than the environment, etc.

2d environmenta design

2D environment is unique because of background. 3D has skyboxes, but the player rarely stares into the sky. 3D may have gorgeous view, but the player will look in the other direction. But in 2D the player will always see the background and foreground you want to show him, so we usually use it to tell something about the game world.

Game environment outsourcing

Tired of making your own concept art or out of ideas? Use the [game art outsourcing]! We’ll help you to make concepts, to pick the best options, to model the game environment, texture it and place things where they should belong.

Game art outsourcing is the best option for small game developing companies or even for big ones, if they have little time to finish the development. Kreonit game outsourcing studio will help you to save time and money, and also will provide you with quality art the player will love to look.

If you are interested with it — fill the brief below. Tell us about your game and what art you need. We’ll ask for some documentation and start working.

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