What Is Game Art and Design: Key Differences

A lot of people think that art in game design is the most difficult part of video game development. In some ways, they’re right. The game artists should do a lot of things to create an unforgettable and outstanding title that will appeal to the audience.

what is game art and design

Developing video games is a very challenging process that requires a wide range of disciplines from programming language knowledge to graphic art skills. But today we’ll focus only on the topic’s visual part and discover game art and design.

Elements of Game Art

How many details of the game you have never paid attention to before? We can easily answer this question: hundreds.

Whether it’s 2D or 3D game art, there are too many things to work with. If visual artists stop working on them one day, the game world will never be the same.

Game Character Design

Almost always character design is the most significant part of the game. It may be quite hard to start working on the character’s appearance from the beginning so game artists start with gathering ideas. After creating concept art, artists fill videogame characters with soul relying on their personality and role in the game.

Cartoon rabbit character in various poses with colorful game icons showcasing app design, creating a game app icon

Game character design also involves preparing characters for animation. At this stage, visual artists are responsible for creating a skeleton or rig that allows for realistic movement. This is why 2D animation outsourcing services are so popular among game companies.

Game Environment Design

Even if characters are extremely important for the game, the overall aesthetic of the project will be dull without the game environment design.

It has the almost magical ability to evoke a specific mood or atmosphere that perfectly complements the game’s narrative.

It’s about everything, even small details. From level design to applying textures, environment design for games enhances visual aesthetics a lot. Professional environment design can even make the game hyperrealistic and boost players’ attention to the maximum. Sounds impressive, right?

Game Animation

Nowadays, we can’t imagine any kind of game without quality professional animation.
Every year, a lot of game companies feel a desire to be the best in hyperrealistic animation.
But with a huge variety of tools and programs such as Blender or 3Ds Max, it is almost impossible.

As you know, game animation is divided into 2D animation and 3D animation art styles. The process of their development may be quite similar but in general, it’s very different.

animation art in game design

For instance, 2D animation may consist of 4 steps: drawing each frame individually to create fluid motion, composing multiple frames into a single image for efficient rendering, automatically generating frames between keyframes to create smooth transitions, and applying skeletal structures to 2D characters for more efficient animation. 

In return, 3D animation outsourcing companies have even more stuff to do. It happens because of the huge popularity of 3D animation, its three-dimensional features, and many more details to pay attention to. 

Graphic Style and Techniques Difference

When there is talk about graphic styles and techniques, a lot of visual artists want to share their tips with the audience. Our team with a helpful game art style guide is not an exception.
We want to share some small advice from it with you. 

As we already mentioned before, everything starts with sketching and thumbnails. Creating quick sketches and small-scale drawings is a perfect decision to explore ideas. After that, a lot of visual artists use software to paint detailed concept art.

Last but not least advice from our team is to create mood boards. Compiling visual references helps establish the desired style and atmosphere of the game.

Let’s talk about 3D modeling in detail a little bit. There are some types of it: polygonal, NURBS, and UV-mapping modeling.

Polygonal modeling is used for creating 3D models using polygons or polygon meshes.
NURBS (or Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines) modeling is the best decision for smooth surfaces.
And UV mapping is for applying 2D textures to 3D models.

3D games art and design

Principles of Game Design

Whether we’re talking about game art or design, the main principle of them stays the same: game art and design should be player-centered.

Designing with the player in mind, striking a balance between challenging the player, and providing a sense of accomplishment, avoiding frustration or boredom – all of these are small but very significant details for a good game.

Level Design

  • Pacing and Progression

Video game level design usually consists of a sequence of challenges and rewards. Allow the player to figure out how to survive at the end of the level. 

  • World-Building

Fantastic level design is about designing a UI and environment design for games. There are a lot of outstanding game user interface design examples that changed the game for the better and led the project to success. 

  • Interactive Systems

The overall goal of level design is to generate interactive scenarios inside the game environment. For instance, allowing for unexpected experiences based on player choices adds replayability.

Level Design by video game art designer

Game Artist and Designer Collaborative Processes

As the development of a video game is a very difficult process, 2D and 3D artists and modelers collaborate closely throughout all stages.

It involves constant communication and iterative cycles to ensure an engaging final product. But of course, there are much more differences between visual artists and designers.

Let’s dive into a battle of game art vs game design!

Conceptualization

The game artists create concept art to visualize characters, environments, and key visual elements.

In return, designers define gameplay mechanics, objectives, and overall game structure.

Prototyping

Artists generate assets for basic prototypes, helping to visualize the game’s look and feel.

Designers implement basic game mechanics to test and iterate on the core gameplay experience.

Iterative Development

Visual artists continuously refine and create assets based on design iterations, adapting to changes in the game’s visual direction.

In return, designers iterate on gameplay mechanics, adjusting based on visual feedback and asset integration.

Polishing and Finalization

Artists finalize and polish visual assets, ensuring they meet the quality standards set during pre-production.

Designers fine-tune gameplay elements, making final adjustments for balance and player experience.

Cross-functional Teams Responsibilities

Both game artists and designers are very important. Another question is that their tasks are completely different. However, without the job of artists, the job of designers will be useless. It works the other way around too.

So, concept artists create initial visual concepts. Then, 3D modelers and animators develop characters, environments, and animations. After 3D artists, texture artists take up the work. They apply textures to 3D models.

In return, game designers define gameplay mechanics, objectives, and overall game structure. Level designers create and optimize game levels. Systems designers work on overarching game systems and mechanics. We shouldn’t forget about UI/UX designers too. They collaborate on designing user interfaces for optimal player experience.

But you may ask: “Then how do artists and designers communicate with each other without any problems?

And we’ll answer you: the key is regular and open communication. This is the only way to ensure alignment in the creative vision, and establish a shared understanding of the game’s theme, style, and intended player experience. But of course, being adaptable to changes and updates is also very important.

Career in game design drawing

Iterative Game Design Role

Game design prototyping is very important both for the game art and design. Game developers need to rapidly create basic versions of the game to test core mechanics and visuals.

Usually, the process is to create a barebones version of the game with essential gameplay elements. What is also necessary to remember is to focus on functionality over aesthetics during this phase.

The next stage after prototyping is to gather feedback from playtesting, analyzing both gameplay and visual elements. Game developers can reach it by conducting playtesting sessions with a diverse group of players. It will help a lot with collecting feedback on various aspects, including game mechanics, controls, graphics, and overall user experience.

Sometimes, playtesting sessions aren’t a good choice. In this case, surveys, interviews, or observations to gather qualitative and quantitative data are the best decision.

Whether you know or don’t know how to make outstanding game art as a programmer, you should remember that any game exists without iterative refining. After collecting feedback, it’s time to work on game design and art assets and improve specific moments.

Sometimes it’s about finetuning game mechanics, and addressing issues raised during playtesting.
From time to time, about enhancing art assets, graphics, and visual elements to improve the overall aesthetic appeal. In the end, as a result, the game reaches a satisfactory level of quality and player satisfaction.

Realistic 3D animated young man in a subway station, pixar styled character animations

Tools and Technologies and Skills

Working on game art and design requires a lot of tools and technologies because it’s not only about how to make concept art for video games or develop unforgettable animation.

Game artists and designers should know everything from graphic design software to animation and rigging.
Adobe Photoshop, Unity game engine, and Maya aren’t even half of the necessary instruments visual artists should work with. So, let’s dive into the technical part of the art in game design. 

Game Art Creation Software

If your heart isn’t into creativity, maybe it’s time to try the development part of the question.

But before that, do you know what 3D modeling software is used for video games?

Knowledge of Adobe Photoshop or Blender isn’t enough for professional game art and design. We decided to split the topic into blocks and observe every significant detail of the game art creation software.

Graphic Design Software

This is time to talk about Adobe Creative Cloud (which includes Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe After Effects).

If you want to be professional in 2D game assets, character designs, concept art, and animations, you should know everything about these tools. Another versatile tool for vector-based design and illustration is CorelDRAW.

Open Source Software

You don’t know how to code? It’s totally okay!

Open-source free 2D game engine software GDevelop lets you make game elements like sprites, text objects, video objects, and custom forms. Object behavior can be controlled using various technologies, such as the physics engine, which allows things to behave realistically. 

3D Modeling and Animation

First of all, Autodesk Maya and Blender are the most popular instruments for 3D modeling, animation, and rendering in game development.

But it’s not the only useful instrument. If you’re specializing in sculpting detailed 3D models, especially characters and creatures, then also think about using ZBrush.
However, specialists in 3D character modeling services use many other tools. 

Of course, this is a partial list of software that can be used to create games. This is only the tip of the iceberg, and it is one of the most popular and reasonably priced programs for beginning developers.

Pixar art style 2D programmers in front of a big screen and robots best beginner programming language for games

Game Engines for Game Design

Gaming creation entails several distinct fields, and hence many different software programs.

There are video game engines such as Unreal Engine and Unity, as well as 3D design software such as 3ds Max, Blender, and ZBrush – and much more! Most software developers keep lists of system requirements for these various applications, but those lists usually just include the bare minimum of what hardware is required to execute the software.

AI Technologies in Game Art and Design

No one can imagine our modern reality without AI. This is the reason why it is so important to integrate various AI technologies in game art and design. 

Let’s start with GANs (Generative Adversarial Networks). GANs are employed for generating realistic and diverse visual assets, such as characters, environments, and textures. They enable the creation of unique and high-quality content by training the network on existing game assets and producing new, non-repetitive elements.

There is also procedural content generation (PCG). AI-driven procedural content generation is utilized to create game levels, environments, and landscapes dynamically. It allows for the generation of vast and varied game worlds, reducing the need for manual design and speeding up development.

Let’s not forget about AI-driven animation and motion planning. AI algorithms are employed for character animation and motion planning, making movements more realistic and responsive to in-game situations. Also, enhanced animations improve the overall aesthetic of the game and gameplay experience, making characters and objects interact more intelligently with their environment.

Game Art and Design in Different Genres

Match-3

From the technical aspect of Match-3 game art and design, graphics are crafted with vibrant colors and clear symbols for easy recognition.

The user interface is intuitively structured, allowing for a seamless player experience. Technical elements, such as power-ups and cascading effects, are implemented to enhance gameplay dynamics.

Thematic variations are achieved through flexible coding, enabling the integration of diverse backgrounds and challenges.

Dynamic Gameplay in Best Match-3 Games Android

City Builders

In such games, art and design seamlessly construct a virtual urban landscape.

Graphics are coded with a big attention to detail in buildings, infrastructure, and landscapes. Technical elements include adaptive AI systems for realistic citizen behavior and traffic flow.

Also, the technical prowess extends to scalable structures, ensuring seamless performance as cities evolve.

different buildings in a city builder simulator similar to SimCity 4 building styles

RTS Strategy

From strategic map design to responsive interfaces, RTS strategy games marry technical precision with outstanding visuals, delivering an engaging gaming experience.

For real-time strategy games, game art and design mainly focus on battlefields.

Technical elements include pathfinding algorithms for unit movement and AI systems that dictate intelligent enemy responses.

Classic Fighter Aircraft in RTS Games Best RTS Games of All Time

Survival

In the technical realm of survival games, visual elements are full of danger and opportunity at the same time.

User interfaces are designed for resource management and crafting, ensuring players navigate the harsh landscapes without any problems.

Technical elements include dynamic AI for realistic wildlife behavior and adaptive weather systems that influence gameplay. Crafting mechanics and inventory systems are also finely tuned for player engagement.

Close-up of a soldier in advanced tactical gear, with a visor and mask, set against a chaotic background of fallen victims and urban destruction

Platformers

Landscape of platformers filled with jumps and challenges. Visual artists bring to life vibrant characters and environments with fluid animations and responsive controls.

User interfaces are crafted for simplicity, providing a clean display of essential information.

Technical elements include precise collision detection for accurate jumping and obstacle interaction. Also, level design here is very important. It incorporates thoughtful placement of platforms and obstacles.

Detailed illustration of a 2D platformer game environment, different platformer design elements and assets

Tower Defense

Tower defense games showcase a harmony between coded strategic depth and visually engaging elements.

Graphics are coded to visually communicate diverse terrains, enemy units, and defensive structures. User interfaces are designed for intuitive tower placement and resource management.

The technical backbone extends to efficient pathfinding, ensuring enemy units navigate the battlefield realistically.

Tower defense kit 3D Models in Cartoon Roblox Style, king character, treasure, Low Poly 3D Art

RPG

RPGs showcase a fusion of intricate coding and unforgettable visual style that boost players’ gaming experience to the maximum.

Graphics bring diverse landscapes, characters, and creatures to life, enabling visual storytelling. User interfaces are designed for seamless navigation, displaying character stats, inventories, and quest information.

Technical elements include scripted dialogues, branching narratives, and character customization systems.

Fantasy RPG game art, diverse characters and mythical creatures, 3D RPG Game Art

Impact of Game Art and Design on Player Engagement

As we already mentioned before, without game art and design gaming world would be very boring, and players’ engagement would be as low as ever before. But how exactly does art in game design impact to gaming experience and success of a game? Let’s find out!

Firstly, striking visuals create a memorable first impression, drawing players into the game world. It’s easy to understand that engaging and well-crafted art immerses players, enhancing their emotional connection to the game.
Character design also plays a big role. If it’s bright and memorable, it fosters player identification, encouraging a deeper connection with the game’s protagonists.

Detailed environments and atmospheric design contribute to the establishment of an awesome game world. It especially works for platformers so game developers need to be especially careful while following platformer-level design tips.

Well-designed UI also enhances the player experience by providing clear information and easy navigation. And of course, the seamless integration of UI elements preserves immersion by minimizing distractions.

Conclusion for game art and design information

Game Design Vs Game Art: Key Difference

Game design vs game art, concept art vs character design… People will argue forever about what is more difficult to work with but we’re ready to deal with all these arguments: both of these game development fields are very significant and complicated.

  • Game design focuses on the mechanics, systems, and rules that govern gameplay, while game art centers around creating visual assets and aesthetics.

  • Game design determines how the game plays and what the player experiences, while game art contributes to how the game looks and feels.

  • Game designers often work on gameplay mechanics, balancing, and player experience, while game artists are responsible for creating assets and bringing the game world to life.

 But…

Both game designers and game artists collaborate closely throughout the development process to ensure that the gameplay and visual elements align cohesively.

3D animation art studio with a robot character working on animation software, new 3d animation style feels lagy

Case Studies in Game Art and Design Excellence

From fantasy landscapes to complex concept art, our game designers and visual artists are qualified specialists who know their job. Due to them, we have a huge portfolio of excellent works. Some of them we want to share with you now.

Let’s start with our outstanding designs. We’re proud of our 2D and 3D characters. Among them are a lot of fantasy characters such as Bard or Wise Owl with awesome game design. Or monster character designs such as Female Necromancer or Spider Monster with mysterious elements. But our favorite game design project is Spell Arena: Battle Royale.

Animated characters in a dynamic brawl stars battle setting, a testament to the studio's proficiency in action game VFX

For some people, Spell Arena may remind them of Clash Royale-styled games but with its distinctive tapestry of gameplay elements, Spell Arena is completely different. It combines the strategic intricacies of deck building, the excitement of a battle royale, and the fast-paced action of a MOBA.

But our game art keeps pace with game design. Our artwork for video games has always been outstanding, so now we can create everything from video game art designs to complex projects for various types of games and platforms. With our experience and creativity, we’ve brought to life a lot of amazing projects. Among them are illustrations and character images for the game Storm Wars.

collectible 2d card game combining battles with strategy

They are creepy but pretty :)

We’d been working on various daemons, imp-like creatures often merged with fire elements. Our professional artists created more than 100 unforgettable bright cards. We can truly say they were like a local breakthrough for our clients.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION

A game artist is a creative professional responsible for designing and producing visual elements that impact the aesthetic of a video game. Game artists bring the game world to life and enhance the player’s experience through their artistic contributions. 

What game artists can do? Let’s discover. There are a lot of types of game artists:

  • Concept artists create initial visual concepts, illustrations, and designs to guide the overall visual direction of the game. 

  • Character artists design and model characters, including their appearance, clothing, and accessories.

  • Environment artists design and create the landscapes, architecture, and overall environments in which the game takes place.

  • Animators develop animations for characters, objects, and visual effects, making the game world dynamic and engaging.

  • UI/UX artists design the user interface (UI) elements and ensure an intuitive user experience (UX) for players.

  • Texture artists create textures and surface details that are applied to 3D models.

  • Effects artists design and implement visual effects, such as explosions, fire, or magical elements.

  • Technical artists collaborate with both artists and programmers to ensure that artistic elements integrate seamlessly into the game engine.

 

What about the main game artists’ skills? They should have proficiency in traditional and digital drawing techniques to create concept art and visual designs, proficiency in using 3D modeling software to create characters, objects, and environments, be familiar with game engines like Unity or Unreal Engine to understand how artistic elements integrate into the game environment, and more.

A game designer is a professional responsible for conceptualizing, creating, and shaping the rules, mechanics, and overall design of a video game. Game designers play a pivotal role in defining the interactive and narrative elements of the game. 

What game designers should know?

  • Game Concept

Developing the initial idea or concept for a game, including its theme, genre, and core gameplay elements.

  • Gameplay Mechanics

Designing the rules and systems that govern how players interact with the game.

  • Structuring Levels

Planning and designing the layout and structure of game levels or environments.

  • Storytelling

Crafting the narrative, dialogues, and overall story arc of the game.

  • User Flow

Ensuring a smooth and engaging user experience, from the introduction to the conclusion of the game.

  • Game Prototypes

Developing early versions of the game to test and iterate on core mechanics.

  • Cross-Functional Collaboration

Working closely with other members of the game development team, including artists, programmers, and sound designers.

 

And it’s not even half of their job!

There are numerous 2D and 3D art careers available in video game artistry and design. You can work as a graphic artist or as a manager of computer and information systems. Graphic design could be an alternative career path. Working on programs, and applications, or repairing poor code in games allows you to put your coding skills to good use.

If you think you’re much better in one specific field of game and design, you can work as a visual artist or designer in a Blender game design studio or any other studio that works with instruments or fields you’re interested in.

Membership in numerous video game and design associations is also available. Joining an association or organization might help you network with other professionals in your sector and develop useful connections. 

Game designers are primarily responsible for the creation of the gameplay mechanics and the overall vision of the game. This includes developing the game’s rules, story, characters, objectives, and user experience. Because of that, it’s difficult to say the specific hourly rate. Everything depends on experience, expertise, etc.

On average, rates can range from $50 to $150 per hour or more for highly experienced designers. But of course, senior designers with a track record of successful games may command higher rates. Rates can vary significantly based on the designer’s location due to the cost of living and the local market conditions.

The complexity of the game (e.g., a simple mobile game vs. a high-end PC game) also affects the designer’s workload and thus their rates. One more thing to mention: freelancers might charge higher hourly rates but don’t incur long-term employment costs.

The range can be similar to game designers, from about $50 to $150 per hour or higher for top talent. Highly skilled artists or those specialized in a sought-after style (e.g., 3D modeling) may command higher rates.

The complexity of the art (e.g., 2D sprites vs. 3D models with high-resolution textures) also influences the cost. Like designers, artists’ rates vary based on their location. 

The main difference between game art and design is that design work might be more intensive in the early stages of development, while artwork can be more evenly spread throughout the project. Typically, a larger portion of the budget is allocated to game art, especially for visually intensive games. Also, art teams are often larger than design teams, which can affect total cost more significantly than individual rates.