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Creating a Unique 2D Art Project

Tartarus by Toby Allen
Often times, the hardest part of creating a 2D art project is the beginning. What to make, where to start, and of course, how to be different: these are all the important questions that any project starts with.

Finding Inspiration

The first, and perhaps most important, step in creating a 2D art project is to figure out what you want it to look like. It is almost impossible to create a fully fleshed out idea from nothing. Consider some of your favorite games and their styles. Many games feature stunning 2D art design, but all of them have an inspiration. Most professional artists borrow from inspirations, and some even make a career outsourcing that process.

At the simplest level, taking inspiration for your 2D art project can be as simple as having a look at your favorite games and getting some 2D design ideas from them. Even if you don’t have an art degree, knowing what you like is easy enough. To start, take three of your favorite 2D design projects, and have a look at them. Let’s say you choose the following three:

Hades


Although an isometric game in its gameplay, Hades presents all kinds of beautiful 2D art design examples, with lots of color and a consistent style. Supergiant’s style uses highlights and lowlights extremely well in the above picture, ensuring that the player’s gaze is stuck between Hades’ menacing gaze, and his fiery wreath.
Image taken from a Gamecritics article

Blasphemous


The more pixelated style of Blasphemous might make an inexperienced player think its art is simple, but that would be far from the truth. The 2D art design of Blasphemous follows a strict source of influence, Christian imagery, and combines it with a gory style. The images are often grotesque, and you can feel free to find more for yourself. The above image is perhaps the most mundane of any out there coming out of the game’s beautiful art.
Image taken from an 80.lv article

Darkest Dungeon


Famous for its oppressive difficulty, Darkest Dungeon’s 2D design ideas stem from a connection between gameplay and art. The dreary, hopeless and haunting art style of the game connects directly to the game itself, which relishes in defeating the player. The nihilistic influences speak loudly in the look, style and game design of Darkest Dungeon.

These are just three of many potential inspirations. It’s important to pick art that doesn’t just look nice to you, but art which gets your creative mind thinking about how you could add your own unique touch to it.

Using Inspiration

Now that you’ve picked out three inspirations, the next step is to figure out how to draw inspiration for your own 2D art project from these sources. Consider what it is that you like about your chosen images. Maybe it’s the palette, maybe the style, maybe the lighting or even just the way it makes you feel.

Take some notes on what aspects from each of your chosen inspirations that you love, and create a list. Something like this maybe:
Based on this short but sweet list, all kinds of things are possible. A 2D art drawing using the colors and designs of Hades, with the Christian imagery of Blasphemous along with the nihilistic and dark style of Darkest Dungeon could be something truly unique, and this is only one combination. Whether such a combination could maintain any sense of cohesion is another question though. That will depend on the artist and their ability, more than anything else.

The types of 2D art out there are immense. Finding your own niche with your 2D art project, whether it’s for a video game or not, is tough, especially if you have little or no experience with 2D art, or art at all.

One of the most important notes for any aspiring artist is to remember that consistency is far more important than anything else. Understanding what unifies your work will keep you on track to keeping an impactful and beautiful 2D art design. Consider the previously mentioned theoretical art style. What could possibly tie it all together?

Keeping it Consistent

Sometimes, the hardest part about designing a 2D art project is making sure each piece of art is similar enough to the others that they feel like they’re from the same creative space. Even though Hades, Blasphemous and Darkest Dungeon are beautiful, their styles certainly do not fit together without some major changes. The glory of the Greek Gods in Hades has no place in Darkest Dungeon, and the Christian imagery of Blasphemous would be misplaced in a game like Hades.

Underlining some of your main unifying principles is important. Before actually sitting down and creating a 2D art drawing, take a second to consider, and write down what will unify all of them. You might choose to have a set of symbols, like “Greek mythology” or “medieval heraldry” among a myriad of others. You may have an emotion you want to evoke with each piece like “sorrow” or “peace” depending on the purpose of your art. These unifying aspects help keep your art consistent.

Looking at Art in the World

Image taken from pinterest
Sometimes, a spark for some beautiful video game art can come from reimagining art from the real world. Deciding on a style from an art style that exists outside of games can be just as, if not even more valid, than the art styles of other games. Of the above examples, Hades does this is a vague sense. While Supergiant’s design is unique and very much their own, the art for Hades and its design is heavily inspired by Greek art. This isn’t surprising considering the game’s subject matter.

Another game like Blasphemous uses a retro style with Christian motifs and symbols. One of the easiest ways to create something unique for your 2D design projects is to take a pre-existing art style, and apply a single change to its underlying design. Blasphemous does this phenomenally, by using Christian art for its 2D art drawing style, but simply taking out the realism focus of renaissance Christian art, and replacing it with pixelated graphics, and adding a touch of gore for style.

This is not to say the team at Blasphemous did not put in ample effort to create what they did, but rather to say that they knew exactly how to evoke their inspiration’s feeling without appearing to be the same. You too, can apply this design technique.

If your game features a backdrop in a pre-established culture or world, using that reference is a perfect start for your 2D design projects.

Connecting Art to Gameplay

One of the most satisfying things in a game is when the visuals match the gameplay. This can be something very abstract, but a game like Darkest Dungeon shows this very well.
Image taken from a rock paper shotgun article
In Darkest Dungeon, when a character loses their mind, the colors and look of the art reflects that. Even someone entirely unfamiliar with art can see how the color and look evoke fear and loathing. This art comes out due to gameplay, and even just showing an image of it here does not do justice to how beautifully interwoven these art pieces are with gameplay.

The art of Darkest Dungeon evokes these negative emotions because the player has made mistakes that have caused a character to lose their mind. The player’s failure is the character’s failure, and they are unified. In the same sense, a skilled player will be rewarded with beautiful critical attacks and triumphant bright colors when they do well. The idea of visuals matching gameplay goes as far back as the game over screens and victory screens of older games.

At a simpler level, good art can connect to a game in something as simple as good feedback. In Blasphemous, hitting enemies with the massive sword feels good and sends them flying. Enemies that die have bloody deaths that reflect the gruesome nature of the game. Giving the player proper feedback for their actions is huge in creating powerful 2D art design that keeps players going.

Working in a Team of Designers

Ultimately, an art designer’s job is to make art. The more closely the game design team and the art design team work, the more unified both designs will come out. Whether you’re the art designer of the game designer in your particular project, communication is key. Ensure that you know what both parties are looking for, and you’ll have a much better project.

If you’re the art designer, ask the game designer what each gameplay section is hoping to do, and keep that in mind as you create your work. If a game’s overall atmosphere is dark, remember to keep that feeling in mind throughout the entire design. Artists who work alone often tell themselves what the design of their work will be, but when working in a team, the design choices are a team effort between the artists and game designers.

If you’re the game designer, don’t leave your art team in the dark. Explain to them what you want the game to resemble and what themes you have in mind. Even if you don’t know a thing about 2D design projects, mention the emotions you want the game to evoke, or even just point out a few games you want yours to look like. With ample communication, art design and game design should be beautifully linked.

Ever Consider Outsourcing?

While it can be hard to find the right people to work for you, or hard to find the right people to work for, sometimes the best option can be to outsource. By handing over the work to a professional company, your 2D design projects will be safely in the hands of hard-working and skilled artists. Communication in this scenario is important too, and keeping an open line of communication with the outsourcing company will be important too, but they’ll be able to handle all your needs. Check out https://www.argentics.io/2d-game-art-outsourcing if you want to let professionals handle your game.

You should have everything you need to create the art you want now. The best way to learn is to get started!
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