20 January 2012

Developer-Diary: Star Exodus, Part 2

So you want to design a game, board-game, card-game, RPG, anything with physical components like a rulebook or something like that, really. And you can't draw for crap. What do you do? In this little essay from my developer-diary of Star Exodus I'll get to working around this particular problem.

Graphics give a game flavor, fleshen out the theme. Now, there are people out there who can draw well and I'm even friends with some of them but there are several problems with getting them on board with something like my board-game. First of all, most amateur-artists who are good are also very self-critical. Sure they will put all sorts of crap on their DeviantArt page but tell them it's for being published and they will work and work and correct and brush up on a tiny bit of artwork forever. If you want sixty different equipment-cards for your game illustrated, this is not an option, even if they do have the time to work that much on something that isn't even their project for free.

So I must do my artwork myself. Crude artworks have for a long time been a staple for self-published products. Just look at early DnD... Luckily, we live in the 21st century and have more technical tools to help with that. The tools used in this description are all free software.

Now the method I'm about to describe won't work equally well for all types of artwork. Beyond stylized stick-figures, it's not really good for creating anything organic, such as animals, monsters or people. If you want to, say, illustrated a game set in a medieval setting with this, you'll have to content yourself with villages or cities looked at from high above or swords and bags of grain seen from up close but you will lack people, cattle, faces. I'm not pretending that what I'm doing is much more than what the crew of early DnD did. I just say that it's easy to do and the results are quite okay-looking.

So, first of all, as those who have read the previous entry in this series know, this is a space-themed game. So The things that need to be drawn for the artwork are the following components: The game board, a very important component which needs a space-like background with nice-looking cosmic phenomena implying grand adventure and fields for the play-pieces to move on. Planet-tokens, the aforementioned GameCrafter offers printing out stickers that can be stuck to wooden chips – it needs a graphic of a planet that is distinct-looking and recognizable. Event-cards – I had decided early on to make space-ship-scenery for these but scrapped the idea as it was too much work and would be obscured by the text on the card anyways so this is an easy one. Equipment-cards – a lot of spaceship-components needed to be drawn for this one. The game cover – I decided to go for an explosion in the center, half a dozen different-looking space-ships flying away from it towards the observer surrounding it and then the title of the game written across it all.

So, how do you make spaceship-parts and entire spaceships as graphics when you can't draw? You render them. I got myself Google SketchUp, which is an incredibly easy tool for making 3D-graphics. Basically you drag boxes and draw lines until you have what you want. It doesn't need a lot of practice (the graphics for Office Fleets were done within about two hours). Once you have made a graphic you like – it may take a while at first but you'll get faster, you can export it as a 2D-image from any angle you like. Make sure you export it into a loss-free compressed format such as PNG - you don't want to have compression artifacts messing up your picture later. Be it a laser cannon, a battle cruiser or, in a different setting, a sword or a serene medieval village protected by a castle, you now have a graphic that looks like something from a late 1990s video game.

Now with Office Fleets, that is basically, where I stopped. But with Star Exodus, something that is supposed to get printed out and actually paid for, this just doesn't cut it yet. Also, the graphics resulting from a Google SketchUp 2D-export are anything but flawless. But you can get around that with a good image-editor. A lot of people will have Photoshop but I don't so I have Gimp, which you can get for free. Now every graphic I have made for the game, planets and parts of the game-board drawn in MS Paint, Starships and their components rendered in SketchUp, I run through a light blur-filter first. This makes the graphics look less edgy and smooths out any irregularities or errors that may have come up somewhere in the creation-process. Then, as this is going to be a board-game and I want it to look nice, I run it through another filter, which Gimp calls oil-painting. And look like hand-painted in oil-colors it does.

Then you put together your graphics with Paint or Gimp or however you like and you're done. Voilá – semi-professional looking artwork on your game. Below are some graphics that are going to end up in the final version of my board-game, just so you can see what kind of results an amateur can expect with this method of creating artwork. I'm sure you can actually do much better if you know what you're doing with the programs involved.

Mentioned software is, of course, © of their respective owners. The graphics are © by myself.

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