Aesthetics 101: Three steps to make your game look fabulous
Often, when we make a game, we put a lot of effort into making it really fun first, just so we can invest into graphics later. That’s generally a good idea, as it prevents you from wasting time into making something beautiful and UNfun (right, Blizzard?), but sometimes, when you get to the part of making it pretty, it ends up looking like THIS:
Totally not what you expected, right?
How about this scenario then: You’re all alone. You have no graphical artists to back you up, and no means of paying for one. Also, you have no skill whatsoever into graphical arts in general. Looks dreadful, but there are still a few ways you, as a programmer, can work to add a bit of flair into your upcoming game.
1. Add (fake) detail
Let’s take a look at good old Minecraft. Look at that grass sprite. Man, that
is one neat patch of grass. Look at it closely, what do you see?
Huh. I swear I did not see that stuff there before. Now take a look at the world around you, do you see any noise? Well, not exactly. What you see is the texture of every physical object around you, all the little details that make your life more interesting than my previous display of solid color goodness.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Actually applying real detail to your textures goes a long way into making a game look absolutely gorgeous (just look at all that new stuff coming out on HD at the PS3. That’s beautiful), but sometimes all you need is a bit of random noise to make your graphics softer on the player’s eyes, and BAM, you get something like the following:
Also, if it suits your game, you could just draw a big, semi-transparent rectangle over all your screen and just move/jitter it every other frame, to achieve the effect of film grain. It looks really good where a darker atmosphere is desired.
2. Everyone loves particles
This one goes without saying, a bit of small stuff flashing around on the screen and your game gets a lot of the pizzazz and fun it is due (pizzas and FUNdue, anyone? Okay, that was horrible). There’s already so much about this all around the internet, so just hit your local game development forum for some better advice on the matter than what I could ever hope to be able to give.
Barely noticeable, but see the trailing white dots? Better when you see them moving.
3. Draw the player’s attention to where it matters
This can be done in several matters, but the one I personally like the most is through a vignette effect. Or, in my own game’s example, an eyeglass/tunnel vision effect. The idea behind those is to soften the colors/black out the borders, so the player focuses in the middle of the screen. Basically, by doing this, you make your game less plain and also less constrained by the window borders. The players end up feeling like there is more to the world you just created, but it’s just that they can’t see it all at once. Again, these effects should be applied when appropriate, and games with a darker mood/less lighting should be the most benefitted by them.
Better now, right?
For now that’s it, I hope you didn’t feel disappointed that these were such basic ideas. As I feel more confident, I’ll start posting more advanced stuff.
P.S.: Click the images for better resolution. (Images not clickable if you’re seeing this through your dashboard, I guess)
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