You have made up your mind. Making a video game has always been your dream and now you have the technical skills to achieve it. You have a great idea to put in practice and you start writing down some ideas, choosing the right frameworks, developing the physics… but the first proof of concept seems absolutely dull. Yes, you have forgotten you need graphic design.
Most programmers have little to no competence in this field, which is completely normal. But it can affect the final quality in indie developments where resources are non-existent, or so limited that the same person ends up taking multiple roles.
If your budget at the beginning of your project is restricted, try some of the following tips:
Assess Whether your Idea Needs Overwhelming Graphic Resources
Video games have been constantly improving their graphics (remember Pong?), until the most recent ones that are as realistic as a movie (Star Wars Battlefront 2, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Battlefield 4, etc). These improvements have gone hand in hand with constant hardware upgrades in PCs and game consoles. However, with the smartphones onset where RAMs and disk space turned to be a constraint, people went back to demanding better gameplay over graphics potential.
For mobile platforms there are a lot of examples of successful games (most of them with more than 10,000,000 installations) that have very simple graphics:
Flow’s idea is as simple as its graphics: you must connect separated dots in a grid making sure the connections do not overwrite one another. This puzzle game does not require complex graphics, but is one of the most popular games for mobile devices. Many logic games, such as this one, only need a bright and original idea to be addictive and work well with 2D plain assets, so the user can focus on the gameplay.
Geometry Dash and the following chapters in the saga not only have triangles, rectangles and squares as the main shapes, but also a very basic interaction with the interface: by touching the screen the main character jumps while it moves on its own. That is enough to create a game that has gained its popularity thanks to its difficulty. If you are planning to develop a platform game, you will find that your players are used to simplicity mostly in mobile platforms where they will prefer a lighter app in order to save disk storage.
Don’t Tap the White Tile
Don’t Tap the White Tile, as surprising it may sound, is about not pressing the white tile while the grid is moving downwards and a particular piece of music is sounding. Almost like a simplified version of the famous Guitar Hero, but with several different game modes. In this game, graphic simplicity is compensated by good sounds samples and diverse game play. Offer your future players other things they can be interested in other than impressive graphic resources and they will surely come back.
In the case of PC games, perfect examples can be:
Minecraft’s creators went a step further by making simple blocks the identity of the whole video game. If your game’s esthetic is simple, but different from the others and easily recognizable you have achieved the most difficult part of game design.
This indie game is freeware and has been constantly improved since its first release in 2002. The main game mode can be tagged as a construction and management simulation, with a text-based engine. Players and reviewers often agree that the lack of a graphic interface can be a barrier at first, but after some time it encourages players to use a lot of their imagination.
Remember, simplicity is normally better. Focus on the main objective: creating original gameplay that players find entertaining. The rest will come later.
Use Free Resources
Maybe you have lower your expectations for your future indie game, but you still find rectangles or anything you can draw in Paint is not good enough. Copyright free images are your friends and there are quite a few web pages that have gathered sprites, tiles, or level backgrounds for you:
If you are developing in Unity 3D and your budget is a bit higher, you can access Unity Asset Store where you can even buy finished video games to use as a base for your own.
Although some creators do not demand it, it is a good practice to quote the designer’s name and webpage. This way you advertise someone’s work so they can do the same for other indie developers.
Become an Indie Graphic Designer
In closed projects there is normally a time and budget restriction to deliver a final product. If your only constraint is money, you can always spend your time on learning the basics about graphic design and illustration. Keep in mind that mastering this skill can take years, but you can decide the point when quality is enough. The obvious advantage of this approach is that your game will contain original sprites as a result of your own effort.
Internet is fraught with designer trainings and certifications. Popular e-learning platforms offer the following for free:
- Computer 3D graphics
- Interactive 3D graphics
- 3D Art and animations in video games (Spanish with English subtitles)
- Illustration training and tutorials
Hire a Designer Only for Specific Aspects
You may think the buttons in the menu are not that important for the success of your game, or at least that it’s something you can design quite easily. However, you would like your main character to look a certain and original way you cannot achieve on your own. There are many designers out there that would love to work with you. If you do not know any designers in your area (it is preferable to work face to face at least the first time), you can try some popular platforms like Fiverr or Gigbucks, where you can ask for a sprite design for only $5. Choose the person who is going to do the design wisely. Members with a cool portfolio are usually a safe bet.
Remember, professional result cannot be achieved without professional people. If you want to invest in a quality game that keeps improving in every version, you will eventually need to hire a graphic designer. Just make sure he does not find out about how your game looked like in the first place or he might go mad.