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Bridging the Gap Between Art and Code In Games

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the division-of-labor dept.

Games 42

Gamasutra posted an article written by Jason Hayes, a developer for Volition Inc., which is known for its production of the Saint's Row, FreeSpace, and Red Faction series. Hayes discusses the division between graphical artists and coders, who often clash because their aims are so disparate and their areas of expertise do not necessarily overlap. It has caused some companies, such as Volition, to develop an intermediary "technical artist" to find a balance between the two. "Integrating technical artists into a studio frees up the programmers from being solely responsible for the development and maintenance of the game's tools and pipelines. While programmers still have a hand in the design (and sometimes implementation) of those tools and pipelines, the technical artist is the driving force behind them and is looking out for the best interests of both parties."

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If they are fusing disciplines... (2, Funny)

volxdragon (1297215) | more than 5 years ago | (#24680167)

...they should fuse the marketing department with the sales force. Errr, never mind, I'm not sure we would want to see that critter...

Re:If they are fusing disciplines... (1)

religious freak (1005821) | more than 5 years ago | (#24681503)

Whatever it would look like, I'm guessing it would have GINORMOUS tits

Re:If they are fusing disciplines... (1)

Archimagus (978734) | more than 5 years ago | (#24687933)

Something between Lara Croft and Ivy? and yes, I am a 01100111 01100101 01100101 01101011.

Re:If they are fusing disciplines... (1)

dubbreak (623656) | more than 5 years ago | (#24701405)

I misread that as 01100111 01101001 01110010 01101100 at first glance. Thought it was to prevent the OMGGOSD stalking that might occur.

Being a 01100111 01100101 01100101 01101011 is boring. Everyone here is.

Re:If they are fusing disciplines... (3, Funny)

Spatial (1235392) | more than 5 years ago | (#24681759)

I suggest fusing their feet with a block of cement.

Slashdot is now an ocean of piss (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24680213)

Someone on 4chan said so

similarities to Catmull's SIGGRAPH keynote (4, Interesting)

peter303 (12292) | more than 5 years ago | (#24680251)

The head of Disney-Pixar Animation, Ed Catmull, talked [siggraph.org] about the same issues in filmmaking last week. He was concerned with balance between artists, technologists and production staff (schedulers) in maximizing creativity and get movies out.

they are the same now days with unpaid overtime an (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 5 years ago | (#24680273)

they are the same now days with unpaid overtime and no comp time to make up for it.

OH REALLY? (1)

_PimpDaddy7_ (415866) | more than 5 years ago | (#24680301)

"Hayes discusses the division between graphical artists and coders, who often clash because their aims are so disparate and their areas of expertise do not necessarily overlap."

Really?
Have you seen this game [braid-game.com] ?

The clash comes because of EGOs, it's as simple as that.

Re:OH REALLY? (1, Funny)

Yetihehe (971185) | more than 5 years ago | (#24680755)

It's really artists' fault. We programmers are too good to clash over simple problems like theirs.

Re:OH REALLY? (1)

demallien2 (991621) | more than 5 years ago | (#24686241)

Geez, who's the moderator that lacks a sense of humour? I for one chuckled...

Re:OH REALLY? (1)

Yetihehe (971185) | more than 5 years ago | (#24687037)

I think it was someone artistically inclined ;)

Re:OH REALLY? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24683871)

Don't talk about stuff you don't know anything about.

Re:OH REALLY? (1)

Fluffy the attack ki (890645) | more than 5 years ago | (#24686615)

Really, I am not even sure what you are trying to suggest by this vague post. Are you saying that coders and artists should have less ego involved when working with each other? That sounds like what you are trying to say... and it doesn't really conflict with that quote in any big way.

You link to a game with a hand drawn look, and somehow that proves there are no communication issues between developers working on different parts of the game except pride. The assertion seems somewhat of a non sequitur, frankly.

Office Space much? (1)

EveryNickIsTaken (1054794) | more than 5 years ago | (#24680337)

"I take the specs myself because engineers can't talk to people!"

This sounds like a go-nowhere position... A better solution would be the artists being sent off for a class or two in programming so they *understand* when the programmers tell them that they're asking for something unrealistic given the timeframe.

Re:Office Space much? (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 5 years ago | (#24680425)

A programmer should be able to just tell the artist. You need to work together - not fighting!

Re:Office Space much? (1)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 5 years ago | (#24680861)

Surprisingly few people get it even laid out in terms as simply as that. "Its just software." is a running joke because thats how lots of non-technical (and even technical people) think.

Re:Office Space much? (1)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 5 years ago | (#24685597)

A programmer should be able to just tell the artist. You need to work together - not fighting!

Goody goody gosh. Although you come across as a Care Bear there, you've got it damned straight. But sometimes the fight begins, is carried out and ends in a single individual's mind. It's not always PvP. An individual has to believe both sides of the fight are accomplishable within themselves.

In Australia (in the University of Victoria, anyway) the degree for Multimedia Design merges art and software by teaching logical discipline to artists, using modern tools such as Maya and Flash et.al. so that this new medium can contain the incredible pool of talent available to fill it.

There are very creative people around, and very logical people around, and every day I become more convinced that a knowledge and talent at art does not preclude logical thinking, and that logical thinking does not preclude one from having the gift of imagination.

I suppose it all starts with that: Imagination, and passion. You have to permit yourself enough emotional attachment to your dreams to want to make something beautiful, fun, and involving. Then, to realise that there are tools and disciplines that can take you from dream to expression, and a willingness to fight through the angst until you accomplish something. Sometimes the fight means working twice as hard for twice as long, but I know it can be done, I've seen the results and so have you. Make the effort to be brilliant, guys, it's worth it.

Wait, what the heck are they? (1)

the kostya (1277822) | more than 5 years ago | (#24680365)

I actually read the article and it seems to me that the 'technical artists' are just artists put in the engineering department to roughly understand what is going on (according to the article "Most technical artists, by today's standards, come from an artistic background and favor the use of dynamic scripting languages such as MaxScript or Mel.") and act as a mediator between the artists and coders. If that is what they do, it seems inefficient to have them in that capacity and looks to a patch to cover up a bad management strategy.

Re:Wait, what the heck are they? (5, Insightful)

Dutch Gun (899105) | more than 5 years ago | (#24680827)

Technical artists in our company are artists who perform tasks that bridge the gap between what artists and coders normally do. For instance, they create all our materials using a visual shader creation tool that generates shader code from wiring nodes together visually (we have a proprietary tool, but there are a few free ones out there).

This is a complex task that requires a balance between artistic talent and a knowledge of basic shader mechanics. I don't consider it to be a kludge to cover bad engineering. It's an acknowledgment that game developers are doing some pretty damn complex stuff nowadays, and you need a gamut of talented artists to cover a fairly wide range of jobs. The artists absolutely love the flexibility this system gives them, and because they're talking to other artists instead of programmers, the communication is easier. Essentially, this is empowering artists to do what they've always wanted to do. Generally speaking, anytime you can take content creation out of the hands of programmers and put it into the hands of artists and designers, it's a big win for your game (I'm a programmer, incidentally).

I can see the required ranks of technical artists growing in the near future rather than shrinking. When you think about it, just about any artist in the game industry already has to have a pretty substantial technical grasp in order to operate Photoshop, Maya or Max, and whatever other commercial and proprietary tools they need to use on a day-to-day basis. This just takes it a step farther for some individuals with a propensity for solving more complex technical issues.

Re:Wait, what the heck are they? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24702119)

I think this is definitely the way to go. We use the same system at my work and it has finally allowed artists to create shaders where as before the thought of editing hlsl files scared majority of them. There is still a battle over instruction count but that is something that makes development exciting. This gives us programmers much more time to implement game features, with less people, creating a tighter and more maintainable group and I believe ultimately a better game.

Re:Wait, what the heck are they? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24686147)

I've been working as a technical artist in the game industry for awhile now at a few studios with a wide range of Tech Artists, and I can safely say almost no one knows what they are. Tech Artists are generally incorrectly classified artists or programmers, that fill niches that require both an artistic and technical brain. For example, a rendering programmer may be able to say what is good and bad to do, and can use PIX to debug what is killing framerate, but can probably not devise a way to hit your artistic style and the performance goals at the same time. Similarly, an Art Director may know their style, but not how to hit frame. The task of bridging this gap with knowledge, tools, and techniques falls onto Tech Artists.

In my experience you see three major types of Tech Artists, and many blends within those disciplines.

-Rendering Tech Artists who handle efficiency, shaders, and artistic techniques.
-Rigging Tech Artists who are often very technical Animators and focus on character set-up and execution
-Pipeline Tech Artists who identify bottlenecks in Artist workflow and try to smooth them out. Essentially a Tools Programmer strongly beholden to Art, who understands Art mindsets.

In addition to this, Technical Artists as a group generally deeply understand the software packages used to make a game, and know how they interface together in Code, as well as how Content people use them. For example, if something isn't working as expected (Data getting corrupted by plugins, or something) A Tech Artist may be able to go in and hack aroung Maya's DAG for a bit and fix the problem. (Not that that doesn't allude to bigger problems in the plugins, but that is a different story). Then the Technial Artist could advise Artists and Designers how to avoid the problem, and properly relay the information to Programmers to get the root problem fixed, or fix it themselves.

There are a million other things I, and people who share my job title, do on a daily basis that very few other people can do well. I'm not afraid of being without a job, even if the title is a bit nebulous.

Not quite sure on this one... (4, Insightful)

neokushan (932374) | more than 5 years ago | (#24680429)

I can't exactly say I'm extremely experienced, but I do actually work in the games industry and I've never encountered this strange divide between programmers and graphics artists.
Programmers should be given a task to implement and then left to go and do it. They might design a way TO implement that task, but even this isn't ideal and is the kind of thing the development lead should be doing.
The graphics artists, likewise, should be given tasks to accomplish with strict limits (i.e. "I want a big red barn with a slightly curved roof that's no more than 800 triangles") that should be set and maintained by the graphics lead.
Then all that's left is the design of the game itself, which comes down to whoever is the lead designer who is the real middleman between the programmers and the artists.
He's the one that sits down and outlines exactly what it is he wants to achieve, the Programmer lead will tell him what is and isn't possible from a technical level and the graphics artist will tell him just how closely his vision can be matched. There really is no need for this "technical artist" and I can only imagine his role being somewhat counterproductive as the whole game relies on him having a good understanding of technical limitations AND artistry limitations, which is unlikely. He may have a basic understanding of both, or even an advanced understanding of one, but few people can master both fields.
Then again, it can't be any worse than Valve's "lets let everyone have a say and spend months debating which is best" approach and they tend to get good results.

I'm a technical artist (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24681773)

I worked for the Evil Empire (aka EA) for 2 years as a technical artist. There's nothing *new* about this field -- certainly EA went through the hassle of categorizing the discipline into levels one through five.

I wrote many, many scripts in Maya, as well as other scripting languages. Three of the technical artists I worked with had Engineering degrees. NONE of us actually did any "artwork" per se.

Much of a game is art-driven (hell, most of some games) and it's helpful, esp. early on, to have a technical artist help define the feature set for a game and determine how it can be implemented. Artists generally want to do art -- thankfully, there is this niche of [technical] artists who's role it is to allow the artists to do ART and allow programmers to not have to learn something like Max or Maya and focus on the engine.

Re:Not quite sure on this one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24682059)

I want a big red barn with a slightly curved roof that's no more than 800 triangles

And then the artist shows up with a barn where all the faces are inverted, it's modelled in inches instead of meters, the texture is 1000x1000 pixels (1024? why use such a weird number?) and has a skeleton (to move the door, of couse).

_that_ is when a "technical artist" would be of great help.

Re:Not quite sure on this one... (1)

neokushan (932374) | more than 5 years ago | (#24683173)

And that's when the lead artist slaps him for not following the guidelines he's set out. Or the lead developer slaps the lead artist for not telling his artist the guidelines in the first place. And so on.

Re:Not quite sure on this one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24684077)

That's because somebody didn't specify units to begin with, and some software just works in generic units where you have to assume the working dimensions. At least that one should be easy to fix by globally scaling the model by 0.3048 so it's no longer humoungous.

Dunno why the normals would be screwed up. If you get a workflow pipeline established - that shouldn't happen. Perhaps some newb screwed with export or saving preferences that should have been left alone?

The texture map problem is also weird, since most modeling software usually likes powers of 2 image sizes for textures unless you go out of your way to specify something different. Should be fixable in PhotoShop, with some likely repaint work if it gets too fuzzy or shows unwanted seams. Usually the more likely problem is that the texture is saved in the wrong file format for the game engine.

The skeleton can't be too hard to delete from the mesh, unless somebody locked the file. But usually you don't do that with group projects, unless something gets finalized somewhere. If you're short on time, also note that some 3D mesh exchange formats (OBJ, collada) are even text-based and therefore "human parsable". A half-decent programmer should be able to search through and delete the offending parts with a text-editor.

* I doubt I'd have enough programming knowledge to seriously be a technical artist (I don't think dabbling in ActionScript or light web coding counts, does it?), but even I know some things from working with 3D modeling long enough.

* What's even more fun is getting artists and coders to collaborate well on open source projects. Usually you have pieces of code for actions or objects with no models. But the programmers are usually not interested in the models that are out there. Then on the other side there's a big pile of 3D content - but with nothing backing it to implement it such that it'll actually work in the game. And the artists are left unaware of what things are actually needing to be made. (Also worse when the programmers like mailing lists for some strange reason, but the artists prefer forums because email tends to be spammy and/or heavily filtered.) And perhaps 5% of the people in the project have knowledge to do both parts, so the content for the open source project stays limited despite the actual resources available.

Re:Not quite sure on this one... (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 5 years ago | (#24688483)

My uncle Ray said all barns have skeletons. But then again, uncle Ray turned out to be a serial killer and the skeletons he was talking about aren't the same kind as the ones you're talking about. So, point taken.

Re:Not quite sure on this one... (1)

DrakkenWulf1 (906449) | more than 5 years ago | (#24685513)

I am mired in the mush of a project that is in dire need of a technical artist. Why? Because even with a clean 'pipeline' setup, perfect test files - we have had two separate *groups* of artists, and with every single file they send us, they create two additional ways to do the technical parts incorrectly.

Each file creates exactly what we ask for - the animation does exactly what we asked for. But the ways that actually translates to in-game, they do differently every time.

What's worse is that there is no way to actually 'fix' these bad files. We keep having to send them back and have them completely reanimated. All because there is no technical animator in their group who can see the problems early and get them resolved.

Which leaves me, as a programmer who knows enough about Maya to be dangerous, stuck with the job of trying to shoehorn all this junk into what is supposed to be "standard" Collada documents. I am the Lead Programmer, and as such, was able to choose Collada to make it easier for the Artists. And yet - they still can't keep within the simple 'rules' I set.

For background: I've been doing 3d game development since 1995.

Re:Not quite sure on this one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24687541)

This has been going on forever - e.g. sprites that use 17 colours, using black and the other black...

Re:Not quite sure on this one... (1)

dubbreak (623656) | more than 5 years ago | (#24701537)

Do you work in a small or a large company?

My initial guess would be small. The larger the company the more need for intermediary roles. I've worked as a "Business Analyst" which is the biggest BS term ever. One day I could be doing System Analyst work, the next pure business budgeting and scheduling, booking meetings, later I would be tracking down bugs or writing sql for data mining... tonnes of garbage that fell in between or beyond what others with more specific roles could complete due to the size and complexity of the organization.

I hope the gaming industry intermediaries aren't plagued with the lazy b*stards I had to deal with. It seems some of them figured out sine no-one knows their actual role, they can get away with doing nearly nothing (and not knowing anything technically useful).

I am now a programmer ("software developer") in a small company (60 employees). All the roles are straight forward. I write software, there are engineers that do circuits, there are CAD guys that do enclosures, there are EE guys that troubleshoot hardware and do maintenance, sales guys do sales.. etc.

Difficult to come by (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24680517)

They basically want people who can understand both the artistic and technical aspects of the development process and manage/mediate the two sides. They're hard to come by or they wouldn't have this problem. By the way, did I just not read carefully, or was there no mention of sound? A lot of the same problems happen between the sound designers and programmers within game development. It's not just slapping on sound samples, just like it's not just mapping images onto surfaces. For the love of God, won't someone think of the sound designers?!

I dont see the problem (2, Insightful)

Bluebottel (979854) | more than 5 years ago | (#24680595)

Code is art, therefore art is code. There, fix'd it for you.

Re:I dont see the problem (1)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 5 years ago | (#24684089)

I sense a new ThinkGeek shirt in the near future, "I may not know art but I know how to code," anyone?

OT: Freespace 2 (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#24680803)

I actually just happened to install Freespace 2 the other day. The code is open and works great on linux, and for that matter the game data itself is freely redistributable. I highly recommend everyone check it out.

Only one problem I found, the java based FS2 installer seems to grab the 64 bit build of fs2_open. You may have to replace it with a manually downloaded 32 bit fs2_open. Enjoy!

Fairly inevitable IMO (2, Insightful)

iregisteredjustforth (1155123) | more than 5 years ago | (#24681979)

I am an environment artist for a big UK game developer.

In my opinion, the creation of hybrid roles like this is basically inevitable. The depth of knowledge and skill needed for each part of the development process is deepening all the time as technology rolls forward and graphics increase in fidelity. A handfull of people can no longer make big AAA titles between them, not just because of the size and scope of modern games and the amount of content / code that needs to be done, but because of the depth of knowledge required in each role.

In the end, you WANT a game to be made by people that are each specialists in their area. Coder's that write awesome code and artists that make lovely artwork. Increasingly people have less understanding of the other parts of development because they are so heavily invested in their own areas and don't have time for anything else. Hybrid jobs are inevitable because someone needs to understand enough of each field to keep things running smoothly, and keep proper requirements for tools, code and art assets heading in the direction of each part of the team.

This is especially the case if you are making a big game, which requires lots of custom tools and tools support. The knowledge require by each person means those producing the code or artwork itself, almost never have enough understanding of the other side of development to mesh together perfectly, there are too many misunderstandings about requirements and limitations to let people sit in their own camps all day, someone has to go between. Our lead technical artist is one of the most important people on the team.

Re:Fairly inevitable IMO (1)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 5 years ago | (#24685909)

The relationship isn't symmetrical, by the way. Artists know that they can't code. Too many programmers think that they can do art.

Re:Fairly inevitable IMO (1)

macshit (157376) | more than 5 years ago | (#24686067)

Too many programmers think that they can do art.

Too many artists think they can do art too..

Re:Fairly inevitable IMO (1)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 5 years ago | (#24686365)

You're an art director, aren't you?

Re:Fairly inevitable IMO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24702045)

At my work when programmers do "programmer art" they often do it really terrible so it stands out and one of the artists will just go nuts and fix it. Works really well.

Re: (1)

clint999 (1277046) | more than 5 years ago | (#24687265)

I can't exactly say I'm extremely experienced, but I do actually work in the games industry and I've never encountered this strange divide between programmers and graphics artists.Programmers should be given a task to implement and then left to go and do it. They might design a way TO implement that task, but even this isn't ideal and is the kind of thing the development lead should be doing.The graphics artists, likewise, should be given tasks to accomplish with strict limits (i.e. "I want a big red barn with a slightly curved roof that's no more than 800 triangles") that should be set and maintained by the graphics lead.Then all that's left is the design of the game itself, which comes down to whoever is the lead designer who is the real middleman between the programmers and the artists.He's the one that sits down and outlines exactly what it is he wants to achieve, the Programmer lead will tell him what is and isn't possible from a technical level and the graphics artist will tell him just how closely his vision can be matched. There really is no need for this "technical artist" and I can only imagine his role being somewhat counterproductive as the whole game relies on him having a good understanding of technical limitations AND artistry limitations, which is unlikely. He may have a basic understanding of both, or even an advanced understanding of one, but few people can master both fields.Then again, it can't be any worse than Valve's "lets let everyone have a say and spend months debating which is best" approach and they tend to get good results.

similarities to Catmull's SIGGRAPH keynote (1)

clint999 (1277046) | more than 5 years ago | (#24687519)

Code is art, therefore art is code. There, fix'd it for you.

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