Video Game Level Concept Art Outsource

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Level concept art for games

Level design concept art or environment concept is needed for every game, except for board games and overstylized puzzles. Level design and style defines what the player will feel, expect and meet in the level. In the best case, the art and narrative design will support the story and make the players like the game even more.

tree in field concept art

Many good games fail not because of poor level design, but because of poor level art. Players are bored to discover a dungeon with skeletons, an alien spaceship or Manhattan island once again. And not only players are bored: artists and level designers may burn out and work bad just because the level concepts are non-inspiring. In this case the game may not get to the release phase.

In this article we will explain why level design concept art is vital even for the small projects, how to draw good concept art and what to do if you don’t have a concept artist.

Why does game developers need level concept art

Basically, the concept art is a creative sketch of an object, character or location. Concept art may be a drawing on a napkin or a digital painting — it doesn’t matter. It is creativity that matters. Concept art must evoke and express some feelings, intrigue the viewers and make them want to see more of it. This kind of art either shows something never seen before, like steampunk spaceships, or well-known objects in strange combinations, like egyptian pyramids floating in air upside down.

environment concept art

Game developers need concept art for following reasons:

  • to set a specific mood within a location;
  • to tell a story with instruments of visual narration;
  • to get the best artstyle for the levels;
  • to impress the player and make him interested in playing the game further;
  • to build complex levels faster.

Because of these reasons the players will like the game more. They mostly choose games because of visual style, setting and level design. If the environment looks catchy and interesting, the players will buy the game regardless of gameplay. For example, Doom series attracted players with apocalyptic Earth and literal Hell, Halo — with ringworld, Cyberpunk 2077 — with retro futuristic city.

ringworld game art

What happens when game developers doesn’t use concept art

We may think that concept artists are only providing cool characters and environment concept art to surprise the players with visuals. Besides that, the concept artist provides level designer, scriptwriter and regular artists with inspiration and sketches.

Concept sketches are way more valuable than you can think. Imagine an architect building a house without drawing or blueprint. No matter how good the architect is, he can’t keep in mind all the details of the house for several months of building without changing those details unintentionaly.

game development concept art

If the level designer will try to build a level out of his head without a sketch, he would work like this:

  1. build a simple main route.
  2. add a sideway for attentive players.
  3. add a point of interest.
  4. come up with a detail good for gameplay.
  5. realize that the detail conflicts with the already built level.
  6. change the main route to contain the detail.
  7. go to step #2.

As a result, the work will take too much time. In the worst case, the finished level will look complicated, logical, but boring to play.

Concept level design art in Doom

While developing Doom (1993) id studio hired actual architect to make levels. He did a professional job: used actual military base blueprints as references, added WC and dining room, made the hallways straight and easy to use. But game testers said that those levels were dull: there was nothing to look at, no reference points and no joy in exploration. So id studio made new levels from scratch using concept art from outsource artists.

level design concept

Concept artist gave id great ideas: remove ceiling so the players could see the Phobos red sky, add pools with harmful acid, place hi-tech blinking lights everywhere and much more. Also he created level concept art by using one great trick: he drew the man-built things with muted gray and green patterns, and made all demon-related things with bright and vivid colors. That concept became one of iconic features of Doom.

doom concept level art

In conclusion, without level or environmental concept art the development will result in:

  • spending a lot of time for one level;
  • making a level with generic gameplay and visuals;
  • losing money because the players aren’t interested in the game.

How to deal with it and make the levels better? To hire a concept artist or to outsource level concept art.

What is game concept art outsource

Game art outsourcing does not differ from drawing art in house. You tell the artist about your game, specify what kind of art you need and wait for the first results. If you want to hire us to draw concept art of game locations, you’ll need to fill the brief:

  • explain your game: genre, setting, game universe, similar settings and references;
  • fill the list of graphical assets needed;
  • state the resolution and size of concept art, if you want to promote the game with it;
  • select level of details you want to see;
  • select file type: PSD, PNG or something else.

Also, you may consider to fill a Concept Art Style Guide. This document will help us to see the game just like you do. Style Guide explains color palette, textures and objects stylization, and the brief history of the game world.

art style brief example

Art Style Guide is needed when there are several artists working on a game. For example, one artist is drawing the starting location concept art, and other is working on open world concept art. If there is no style guide, their results may differ in colors and stylization.

What you need to write in Art Style Guide:

  • colors, contrast and variety of color palette for whole game or one location;
  • prefered architectural style: Retrofuturism, Gothic, Deconstructivism, “Imagine anthill in space!” or any other style;
  • mood of exact location or whole game.

For example, the art style for Bloodborne concept art was stated as “Gothic town after zombie apocalypse. Tall buildings, narrow streets, pointy edges everywhere”.

How to get better level concept art with outsource

To get a better art you need to do a good brief. Don’t be afraid of specifying what exactly you want to see, setting restrictions and giving straight references. This approach has following benefits:

“I need an abandoned fantasy castle. It must feel like the last habitants disappeared 30-50 ago — gone without a trace, everything in castle left untouched. The player is the first person to walk inside after the castle was abandoned”.

abandoned castle concept art

In this case, the artist will know that you want to see no trash lying on floors, no destroyed furniture and no torches and candles somebody has lit five minutes ago. Maybe, the castle is enchanted and the food on tables is fresh. Maybe, there were no witchcraft involved, and the food is rotten. Anyway, to tell a story with the environment and create good concepts we need to know a whole story.

“I want a spaceship interior without a single computer, screen, blinking LEDs and keyboards”. 

steampunk spaceship art

This task looks impossible, but have you ever seen a WW2 era submarine? It is operated with valves and levers with no single computer. We can take the submarine interior as a reference and draw a cool level concept of steampunk spaceship.

“I like this painting. Can you draw concept art of a village, forest and desert with such style?” 

level concept art

Yes, we can. But still, we need a story to know what objects we need to place there.

There’s one trick with concept artists you may not know: they need guidelines, restrictions and references. Without them the artist will draw what they like: armed skeletons, space marines or fluffy kittens. With restrictions they will actually think about solving the task and come up with an original idea.

If you ever saw a good and catchy concept art — it surely was based on detailed brief.

What level concept art you may need for your game

Every game that isn’t happening in an abstract void has an environment. That environment may change in different parts: every new level must feel like something new even without “It has 3 enemies and 2 traps more than the previous level!”. To achieve this game developers must use visual narration and tell the story using unique objects and stills.

In concept art the word “object” means anything unique: a monument, a specific tree, a building or even an architecture style. Objects must be catchy and contrast with the environment so the players will remember it and associate it with location or level. For example, in The Witcher 3 there is the Hanged Man’s Tree, a place where both Nilfgaard and Temerian deserters were executed. In Bloodborne every location is a separate object — the players know them for specific lightning, architecture and colors.

If your game will have big levels or an open world, you’ll need concept art for every level or location type. If the levels are relatively small and don’t really connect to each other like in open world games, you may need concepts for separate rooms or areas. Your level designer may use the original findings (objects) for the story-important sites, and extrapolate the concept’s style for the rest of the level. God of War 4, Uncharted series and Tomb Raider use this approach to make entertaining levels and to tell the story.

Conclusions

Level concept art is important, if you want the players to remember your game. The best artist, modellers and level designers will produce highly polished, but generic levels and environment. We aren’t mocking them — they are good at expanding ideas, but not inventing them.

environment concept art

Level concept designers are those who generate original ideas and make gamers interested in exploring the game world. Level concept portrays location’s style and story-related objects. Final level may have different structure, but the same looks and feels as concept art. And feelings are everything: people play games to get new emotions. They won’t like generic interiors they can spot in real life. They want something strange, unnatural, unimaginable. Concept artists are those who can catch a fever vision and place it in a PSD file.

If you are from a small studio, we are 90% sure that you don’t have a concept artist. But we have. You can outsource any game concept art with Kreonit: make level concept arts for a whole game, for a specific location or just a cool art to use in marketing. 

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