Board game development is a very individual process. Every single developer has different methods for creating their games. This article is the fifteenth of a 19-part suite on board game design and development.
Commissioning art can be one of the most daunting parts of the game development process. I’ve written about How to Find an Artist for Your Board Game, but this time, I thought you’d like hearing from an actual artist! That’s why I’ve brought in James Masino. He is the artist who created everything for my own games, War Co. and Highways & Byways. You may also know him from Polyversal as well.
This guide comes in five parts:
- Who is James?
- What general information do artists need?
- What technical information do artists need?
- What if something goes wrong?
- Parting Advice
Below is a transcript of our conversation over Discord DMs. It has been lightly edited for clarity and flow.
Who is James?
Brandon: Thank you very much for agreeing to help me out with this post!
Brandon: Tell me a little about yourself and your projects.
James: I’m James Masino. I am a Freelance Illustrator and a student of Animation at the Savannah College of Art and Design. I’m also a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps. Even with those priorities, my projects have a tendency to be all over the spectrum. I’ve produced a few short films with students in SCAD’s Film and Television program, and am also studying programming and UI design in hopes of broadening the scope of media I have access to.
James: I’m also a cat parent to two wonderful kitties.
What general information do artists need?
Brandon: What kind of information does a game developer need to provide in order for you to create art?
James: Preferably as much as possible! I like knowing as much as I can about a project and the specific content I’m working on. The more I understand, the more likely I’m going to nail the feeling the game developer is looking for. Part of my task as a freelance artist is deciphering what the client is imagining. Clients are not all created equal. Some know exactly what they are looking for and have a great idea of how to communicate it. Others know what they want, and have no idea how to communicate it. Some are completely unsure of what they’re looking for – this is my favorite even though it’s the hardest, because it provides a lot of creative freedom for me to go out and try a very radical idea early on.
Brandon: A lot of the time you find yourself playing by ear. For example, we did a lot of rapid prototyping for the Highways & Byways board on our own project together.
What technical information do artists need?
Brandon: Now technical information…that’s probably a different story. What kinds of technical information do you need to do your work? What’s the best way to get all that information across?
James: Technical information is always outlined upfront right in my contract, so it’s the first thing that I talk about with my clients. That way these requirements are always something I can refer to because they never change. Technical requirements are some of the most important figures that I need to make sure the final images can be used in the eventual print media or other final product.
James: The best way to actually communicate it? A list is ideal, because there’s nothing more clear.
Brandon: For clarity’s sake, it sounds like we’re talking about size of images and their intended use.
James: Absolutely, though my contract doesn’t list every setting. A lot of the time I provide entire flattened Photoshop files to the client anyway, so they can adjust between multiple formats if they’re testing what they’d like to use in the final print.
Brandon: That’s always smart because sometimes finding what somebody wants is guesswork. That, of course, raises another question…
What if something goes wrong?
Brandon: When your work does not match up with what the game developer is expecting, technically or functionally, what is the best way to move forward?
James: I’ve only have had that happen two or three times, believe it or not! And it usually had to do with adjustments for technical requirements that the client didn’t know they needed to have, or it was a suggestion from feedback they received. Like everything here, communication is key to working through what’s not working, and ultimately accomplishing the goal by working together back and forth.
Brandon: I recall actually having to spring a pretty big change on you at the last minute with War Co. as we had to convert to CMYK colors from RGB for printing. Thankfully, that got rolled into some general cleanup you were already doing.
Brandon: The point here remains: good communication makes a big difference. Most things can be fixed by talking about them.
Brandon: If you had to give one piece of advice to game developers looking to hire artists, what would it be?
James: My advice to game developers looking to hire artists: seek solid work, but look for genuine individuals that you can build a working relationship with. They might still be students and they might be in industries you wouldn’t expect. Trying to find people to crunch out work for real cheap is going to make your product sloppy and ultimately uninspired. Respect an artist like a team member, contract or not, and they’ll go above and beyond for you because they will respect you and the success of the project. You might end up meeting an artist you can rely on for numerous projects down the road!
Brandon: Sage advice. Thank you very much for sharing all this, I look forward to posting it online!
Creating specs for a board game artist is very important, but it is not something that can be prepared for systematically like many of the things we discuss on this blog. The key to having good artwork made is to set clear guidelines at the beginning by discussing the overall project vision and technical requirements. Beyond that, though, the rest of the process will depend on how well you and your artist (or team of artists) communicate.
Communicate often. Communicate clearly. Ask questions. When all else fails, stick to rapid prototyping until you find a rhythm that works for everyone. This is how James and I work, and it has led to some pretty incredible results.
Got any questions about commissioning art? Feel free to ask below 🙂