Weekly Content Blog #19: Budgeting the Art Costs of an RPG Pt. 3

This is the final part of a three part series.
Part 1: Budgeting the Art Costs of an RPG Pt. 1
Part 2: Budgeting the Art Costs of an RPG Pt. 2

Welcome to the last article in this series on budgeting the art costs of an RPG, which to be fair, should have been ‘Budgeting the Pixel Art Costs of an RPG’–  but I digress. In this piece I will be fittingly talking about what it means for us  to “finalize” the art in Shadows of Adam, and what can be expected in regards to the overall art costs for various RPGs built out of pixels. You’ll find that game scope and resolution play a major factor in determining cost.

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Wrapping Up Early

If you’ll recall, we were about 3/4 of the way through all of our tile needs when our tile artist, cyangmou, took a temporary hiatus. Turns out he was working hard getting a trailer ready for his own game, Tower 57 (subscribe here and here for updates). A month before its official Kickstarter launch, cyangmou graciously stepped in for Something Classic to put in his final time on the tile sets.

It’d be fair to say that we had lofty goals for each environment in Shadows of Adam. Each place was designed with specific functions and mechanics in mind, and a lot of that carries over to the aesthetics of an area out of necessity. Our original intentions were to have over the top mechanics for each area. The kind that require a lot of unique art and showy animations to keep the mechanic novel, engaging, and enjoyable. Turns out that can be really time-consuming to create. Throughout the design of each area we’ve had to make cuts to the scope of what we wanted to portray visually. There has always been a soft cap on how much time should be spent on a single tile set. So when a tile set was reaching that cap we’d often have to make choices between finishing the base tiles with animation, designing and animating a core game play element, or creating a major set piece to make sure the tile set was memorable. The choices weren’t always easy, but all were necessities in order to keep the costs within our original budget plans. Cash can be a good incentive when it comes to making tough choices about what to cut.

In the final stretch of our tile budget we had a limited amount of time to finish up all outstanding tile sets. At minimum this was two major dungeons, the world map, and polish tweaks to a few unfinished assets and environments. In addition to that we had goals for one or two more tile sets, and the editing and expansion of a few other pre-existing sets. All of which we cut in order to make sure that we could fully polish the minimum requirements instead. Cyangmou handled our needs like a champ, often working with me to make sure all of our priorities were being hit, and offering suggestions on what to focus on. His value throughout the project cannot be overstated, and at the end of the run I am happy to say we are 100% tile set complete with no regrets.

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Breathing Life

With all of the tile sets done for our game, once all of the mechanics are in place, the game can be fully developed with placeholder graphics. Art no longer being a blocker means we can start exploring what our finished game actually looks like. In a big budget game this would mostly be determined in pre-production. As an indie game you’re always in pre-production, pre-production doesn’t end until you can concretely state every aspect and direction of your game. This is exactly what we’re locking down right now.

Tile sets make up a major part of Shadows of Adam’s aesthetic, but it’s still our job to breathe life into them through the rest of the art. There are character sprites, portraits, enemies, battle backgrounds, visual effects, lighting systems, and various animations that all go into creating an immersive RPG world. Which is not to mention the all important UI. In order to finish our game everything I just mentioned needs to have a set standard, and our final assets need to meet exactly that standard. Fortunately development has been strictly focused on a small sampling of all these requirements. Any time our style evolved, that sampling evolved with it, but we did not create new assets. As an example we’ve been working on this game for two years, and we only have 15 monsters designed. A third of which have been untouched quite literally for years. We still need to design about 50 monsters for our game, but a lot of cost will be saved by getting them fully polished on the first pass.

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Counting Costs

Speaking of cost, we’re at a point in our project where it’s clear what the total art cost is going to be. Using our outsourcing costs and my own time converted to a dollar amount our art budget falls in the $15,000-20,000 range. Which may be a little surprising to some considering that Shadows of Adam is a game whose scope is reasonable. We’ll have about 12-18 hours of legitimate game play over 5 major dungeons. But the truth of the matter is that making an RPG is extremely costly in terms of the art resources needed to generate hours of game play. In our case it costs about $1000 to make 1 hour of game play. And this is a low resolution game with a highly-polished, but easy to make style of art. If your game is high resolution, has a hard to replicate aesthetic, or time intensive animation, the costs go up exponentially— 8bit RPG $200/hr of gameplay, 16bit $1000/hr, HD $10,000/hr. These are just indie costs for relatively small teams, a full fledged game studio would incur far greater costs than that. When you decide to tackle the art for an indie RPG know that you are going to either be paying for it out of pocket or in blood, sweat, and tears. Even a modest game like our own will have taken over 500 man-hours to create all of the art for. If you’re a one-man/woman-show doing everything on your own, the project could realistically take over 2000 of your own hours.

And on that note all of this talk of hours and working has me exhausted. I hope you learned a bit from me in this series, or at the very least got some insights into how we work at Something Classic. Next time it’s my turn to write I hope that you’ll have a demo of our game in your hands.