How to Make 2D Game Art?

There is one wild misconception about 2D game art that has been around for ages. According to it, the process of making two-dimensional art is as simple and easy as a pie. Let us embark on a journey and debunk this myth with facts and real examples from our own work experience.

What does it take to make good 2D game art?

This question might seem simple on the surface – you just draw it using software or physical painting tools – but that's far from reality. Game art is a sophisticated field where functional and creative approaches unite and form marvelous visual masterpieces. It is safe to say that modern 3D and 2D game art is no different from traditional fine art. With one caveat, of course – only if the final product is eye-pleasing and original. No one loves bland copies of existing pieces. This is why you need a firm approach and tested techniques to produce excellent visual content. Today’s blog entry will explain how 2D game art is done, along with some peculiarities of the process.

Where it all begins

First of all, we must point out that the process of drawing 2D game art is multistaged and multilayered. It involves tons of planning, strategizing, discussing, and theorizing. Please don't get the wrong idea that 2D game art is the king and everything revolves around it. No, it all starts with basic game design questions and defining crucial points of the future project.
Way before going to your digital drawing board and assigning early concept tasks, you need to figure out which style the game will use. Will it be casual and cartoonish or more realistic and down-to-earth? Will it have pixel art graphics or maybe flat art or monochromatic? On top of that, you can throw in some cool visual concepts to make the game art look like it is a comic book or anime.
While deciding on the questions above, you need to keep in mind three key points:
  • Audience's perception;
  • Game's lore;
  • The genre of the project;
It happens so that each art style in 2D games has its audience with specific demands and expectations. So, the first question you need to ask yourself before starting a game project should be – "What kind of audience I'm aiming at? What do they expect from my game?" The answer to this question lies within the gameplay.

A quick gaming audience breakdown by age groups (Source: ESA)
The lore of the game also brings a variety of rules to obey. For example, if you're building a realistic action project in the medieval setting, you cannot fit in any magic that contradicts the lore. As for the genre, it has its own requirements and guidelines for the game's implementation. Because you cannot compare a racing game with a platformer in terms of game mechanics, right? After all these things are set and done, it is time to talk about the working force.

The need for art lead

It is the most important person in the design department after the art director. Art leaders oversee and adjust all creative processes, keep the artists updated, focused, and motivated. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that they serve as a gluing component or skeleton on projects. On top of that, art leaders also hold direct contact with the client to make sure that everything goes as planned.
An experienced art lead knows how to talk with game designers, approach art directors, communicate with producers and persuade clients to choose the most effective solution in any given circumstances.

What is the job of 2D artists?

Many factors have a massive impact on the game's success on the market. Some of them are out of your direct control, but some are pretty much controllable from the start. If the game looks good and appealing to the eye, it has a higher chance to be bought and played. And here is where 2D game art comes into the spotlight. Unique character designs, original props, mind-blowing landscapes – all of these and much more come from the creative minds of 2D game artists to catch the players’ eye.
The main difference between 2D creators and traditional artists is their focus – video games. 2D game artists visualize how certain objects will look in a particular setting and style, develop sketches that fit the intended game concept, and turn them into 2D and 3D computer graphics. There are many specializations of 2D artists, so let's briefly talk about some of the most important categories.

Concept art

Before designing a hero, a location, or any particular object in-game, you need to decide how it will look in general. Although concept artists create basic visualization of props, 2D character design, worlds, vehicles, clothes, and other objects, they don't participate in the finalization of the designs. Nevertheless, their vision helps with forming the look of the game to come.

Concept art is all about speed and simplicity – there is no time for detailed drawings with tons of details. Every concept artist tries to convey the described idea in the shortest time possible. Imagining forms and designs in your head after reading a few lines of text is one thing, but bringing those shapes to life is a completely different story. Even raw sketches work well as concepts because they can be finished later by other artists.
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2D characters design

Every game has some kind of hero, to begin with. It could be a realistic humanoid, alien, or another lifeform, but in some cases, an object or simple geometric figure is enough. The latter is often used in various games that utilize the geometric art style. No matter who your character is, they still must have unique visual features. This is where 2D character designers let their fantasy run wild and create mesmerizing humans, animals, robots, mutants, and all kinds of fantasy creatures. They take what was written by the scriptwriters in plain text and turn it into original characters. This also includes drawing clothes and other personal stuff that corresponds to the character's occupation and game setting.
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2D environment design

Creating complex, beautiful and varied locations or levels is not an easy task. That is why multiple teams usually work on environments and landscapes. It is essential to distinguish level designers from environment artists. The latter build visually appealing worlds, create world assets, adjust lighting, and ensure the game's story and lore match the world in which the action takes place.
Each 2D environment design should feel unique. To achieve this, you must think not solely about the composition of elements but also consider artistic expressiveness when building levels. Pay attention to the accents, details of the world, its locations, and history.

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Game icons and items

Even the smallest visual elements have an impact on the game perception. You may have fantastic visual effects and the coolest scenery, but it can be ruined in a millisecond by a clumsy user interface with weird icons and uninformative item representation. The good game never distracts players with unnecessary menus, explanations, and tips – everything must be intuitive.
UI artists know how control buttons and game icons should look in order to be useful and noticeable without messing up the game flow. They also have a perfect understanding of players' emotions awakened by different colors and various art styles within each chosen setting. Such seemingly small pieces of visual content matter a lot and enhance the gaming experience.
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As you see, the process of creating 2D game art is a meticulous task that must be done by professionals under the supervision of experienced managers. Extensive knowledge of modern art styles and game design lays the foundation on which the future project will be built. 2D artists today draw in-game illustrations and assets and make promo materials; therefore, it is impossible to overestimate their significance.
We understand that building your own art department can be troublesome and costly, especially if you need a big team for a project. However, with the complex creation process, decent results can be obtained only with a reliable partner that specializes in 2D game art. That can be Argentics.io!
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