Weekly Content Blog #5: Budgeting the Art Costs of an RPG Pt. 1

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

Hey everybody, I’m Tim Wendorf, the lead artist and art director for Shadows of Adam. I first joined the project by happenstance when Tyler (composer for Shadows of Adam) and I were both looking for an obscure, unpublished project I had made. Miraculously, we both posted in some forums we hadn’t frequented in nearly a decade on the same day and at close to the same time. After catching up with him, I learned that he was working on an indie RPG. The scale and scope of the project was really small, and though I was busy at the time, I committed to helping out with some art assets to get the project going. In this series I will document my involvement in the project, and explain how the aesthetics have scaled from a no-budget game without a name to the full-fledged AAA indie title it has become.

The Beginning

Originally my involvement in the project was meant to be a one time deal where I’d provide a few tile sets, establish a style, and maybe create a few other assets throughout the project’s life. The project did not have an experienced artist and had no funds to hire one. I had to create a look and feel that could easily be replicated by an amateur artist. RPGs require an ENOURMOUS amount of artwork, and if you’re not thinking about that from the get-go, it is very easy to find that your project goals have become either unattainable or unsustainable. This is true in all costs of a project, but it is especially true when it comes to the art costs of an RPG. Below is a before and after shot from my initial involvement in the project. The goal was to reasonably improve the art while still maintaining the overall aesthetic of the original concept. In all it only took me a few hours to get to this spot.

before/after world map

First Update to the World Map and Character Sprites

Courting of the Courtyard

In addition to the world map, I wanted to help establish the look of the locations and battle system in the game. Enter the courtyard; which served both as an intro to the game and the first dungeon. The game was so early in development at this point that there really wasn’t much art for me to go off of. I created the courtyard tile set with the same sort of mindfulness I went into the world map with. Simplicity and consistency were top priorities. Below are shots of the courtyard tile set and battle system in action. Again, it only took me a few hours to reach the state of each screen. Note that the battle background makes use of the same tile set. Dedicating time to unique battle backgrounds was simply not in the budget at this time.

Boss Courtyard

 

While working on the courtyard I became a lot more involved in the game design side of the project. I helped figure out dungeon and battle system mechanics, did the mapping, and worked on finessing what story was there. By the time I finished my work on the courtyard I was fully involved in the project, and it looked like I would be for the foreseeable future.

Adam and Beyond

Upon being fully committed to the project, I still had some reservations regarding that commitment. For one, our art budget strictly correlated to the amount of hours I was willing to put into the project. For two, if I was going to be involved to this extent,  I wanted to produce a product that I could take pride in when all was said and done. Adam is the first town in the game, and where you end up directly after the intro. My goals in creating Adam were to maintain the established style of the world map and courtyard while building a more professional standard for any future maps. I reworked the palette a bit, took more care in sprite work, and chose assets that would lend themselves well to future areas. This is what I came up with.

Adam Misty Woods 3

 

The second shot is from a completely separate area called Misty Woods, but you can clearly see that it is using the same tile set while having a much different feel. I had spent maybe 20 art hours on the project at this point. Which includes some not pictured enemy sprites as well as a building interior tile set. We had a little under 40 minutes of game play at this junction. Our final product goal was a game that lasted 8-12 hours. At minimum, my commitment to this project looked like it would take at least 250 man hours to finish all of the necessary art assets. No small task considering I contract full-time and have maybe 5-10 hours to commit each week. On top of that, my new dedication to the project really inspired the rest of the team members, and they were consuming the content I generated as quick as it came. In order to keep the fervor of the project alive we sought to contract out some tile set work in order to free me up for other content creation.

Outsourcing comes with its own slew of problems, and my next update will outline some of those issues and explain how outsourcing shaped Shadows of Adam. If you made it this far, thanks for reading, and stay tuned for part 2!

Budgeting the Art Costs of an RPG Pt. 2