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Tribute to Adamowicz - The Significance of Concept Art in Video Games

Adam McCarthy

Concept art is crucial to video game production. By creating an idea that determines how a game should visually feel, a concept artist produces what becomes the center of all art in a video game.


Adam Adamowicz, a concept artist who worked with Bethesda Softworks on Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, passed away last month as a result of complications from lung cancer. Aside from his work with Bethesda, Adamowicz worked on Nightcaster: Defeat the Darkness with Microsoft and Nightcaster II: Equinox and Goblin Commander: Unleash the Horde from Jaleco Entertainment. With the passing of Adamowicz, fans of the Fallout and Elder Scrolls series may see some new changes in the art style, due to the fact that no two artists draw in the same way.




This Fallout 3 concept art was drawn by Adam Adamowicz


The process of creating concept art is critical to game development. Without a good image to base their work on, graphic designers would rarely, if ever, be on the same page. This type of preliminary art allows a single artist to come up with a general image that shows what the style of a given game should be, and, if it immediately doesn“t work out, not much is lost. The artist can simply come up with another idea and draw it into life. Since the initial “concept†stage is so simple and comparatively quick, it can be repeated until something appropriate is created.



This concept art set the general tone of development on Metroid: Other M


Let's imagine a project without concept art for a moment. The design team is (ideally) hard at work, creating 3D models, textures, maps, and everything else. At some point the team realizes that nobody is on the same page, all their designs seem to contrast with some part of the other members' work.


Now the developers are in a no-win situation. They've wasted a lot of time working on these pieces of the game that now cannot be used together, because if they are used, the game will be criticized and receive low review scores because its art is all over the place. However, if the time had been taken before the design process to create a set of general, hand-drawn images that convey the main styles and themes of the game, this problem would have been avoided. In looking at this sample, the importance of concept art is clear- it ensures that designers working independently on different parts of a game know which direction they should be going in with the art.


Aside from its clear and significant value in the game development and graphic design processes, concept art also holds some weight as a marketing tool. In fact, many collector's editions and pre-order bonuses for new games contain concept art booklets.


For example, the Collector's Edition of Final Fantasy XIII-2 includes a special booklet containing the hand-drawn early stages of some of its main characters. Many collectors and fans gladly pay extra to see what a game looked like early on, or just to have a neat new book they can show off to friends. The same idea applies to pre-order bonuses in that a game distributor such as GameStop, Best Buy, or Amazon may secure rights to offer one of these booklets as an incentive to pre-purchase the game from their franchise. When used in this manner, these incentives—while usually detested by the gaming community—will net developers and distributors with quite a pretty penny.




This picture shows the concept art booklet included with the Collector's Edition of Final Fantasy XIII-2


A few developers in the past have chosen to include concept art as unlockable bonus content within their games. One such example is EA's Mirror's Edge. In that game, a player unlocks extra content upon completing certain objectives, much like built-in achievements. These objectives range from simply beating the game, to collecting all the runner bags, to getting a fast time in the numerous time trials and speed run levels.


While it may not be quite as obvious, this is also a marketing decision. Gamers who like to unlock everything in a given game will end up playing the game for a longer period of time to ensure that they have done exactly that. The inclusion of concept art as unlockable content provides an incentive to gamers to continue playing the game. As the gamer spends more and more time playing the title they may find themselves more and more intrigued by it, and more willing to purchase a sequel or perhaps some DLC. Again, this approach boils down to using concept art, something critical to the design process, as a powerful tool to get more money out of players.




Mirror's Edge offers concept art as unlockable content


The loss of Adamowicz is a tragic thing, and something that will unfortunately probably not be taken as seriously as it deserves to be. Anyone who has ever played Fallout 3, Skyrim, the Nightcaster series, or Goblin Commander has been impacted by the work of Adamowicz. Furthermore, as seen here, the importance of concept art in general in any game is not to be understated. While it is a very basic form of video game art, it is one of the most indispensable tools in the industry and is useful in a variety of ways not limited to the graphic design process.


“All of the designs evolve through contributions from the whole team. I feel like it“s my job to instigate the process with a cool drawing that inspires everyone else here into making something really cool.â€


-Adam Adamowicz

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