Tell Your Artist What You Want – Making Good Art Specs

Posted on Posted in Dev Diary

Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & Byways.

Just here for Highways & Byways updates? Click here – it will take you right to the updates at the bottom of the page.

 


 

Great art is one of the most critical parts of a board game. As game developers, we have only a handful of tools at our disposal to help teach players what a game is about and how to play it. We have only a handful of tools that help us say “this game might be for you” and “I think you should buy it.” Art is the most powerful marketing tool for board games and one of the most powerful tools for communicating game information.

 

Art from my first game, War Co.

 

Art is also one of the only tools handled by someone other than the game developer. A lot of the artists I know who work on board games are freelancers and not actual members of the development team. To help you find a freelance artist for your game, I’ve got an article coming up in the near future. In the mean time, I’d like to talk about making specifications for your artist to use. In keeping with the Dev Diary tradition, I’ll be sharing an example from Highways & Byways development.

When creating an Art Specification Document, it’s a good idea to follow this outline:

  • Art Needs
  • Aesthetic Guidelines
  • Functional Design
  • Accessibility Concerns
  • Technical Notes
  • Workflow & Schedule
  • Individual Design Specs

 

Each section will provide your artist with different information that they need to do their job well. Please note that there is no industry standard for how you communicate with artists. This is simply an approach I find effective. Sending this document along with the latest prototype of your game gives artists a ton of information to work with.

I’ll go ahead and break down each section in more detail. Each section has a snippet from the Highways & Byways draft specs (which are subject to change).

 

Art Needs: This is a list of everything that you need created for your game. Boards, boxes, cards, rules, components, and so on. Anything that you need made should be listed here in specific quantities and sizes.

1 Game Board (25″ x 20″)

1 Box (12.75″ x 10.25″ x 3″)

101 Card Designs, Poker Size (2.5″ x 3.5″)

72 Byway Card Designs

64 Green Byway Cards

8 Yellow Byway Cards

24 Event Card Designs

1 Construction Card Design Template (for 10 Cards)

4 Card Back Designs

 

Aesthetic Guidelines: This will give your artist a sense of the broad themes and styles. In short, summarize the art style and provide examples.

The overarching theme of Highways & Byways is “wanderlust.” This is done by creating a game based on scenic road travel within the United States…

The board will essentially be a road map of the United States. The rule book will resemble an atlas. The Byway Cards will resemble postcards in aesthetic (but not size). The Vehicle Cards will resemble car advertisements. Event Cards will be somewhat more abstract but still travel-themed. Construction Cards will use imagery associated with highway construction such as traffic cones.

 

Functional Design: In this section, you describe how each bit of artwork will be used in the game. That helps your artist use their discretion when making art that actually serves its purpose.

Box has to be perfect – use the “Instagram rule” (clear object in focus, high contrast, lots of detail). This will be used to get people to click on the box when they see it on Kickstarter / Amazon. It will also be what attracts people to buy it in the store.

The game board needs to elegantly display a lot of information – roads should not overlap. Byways should be clearly separate from highways. Byways will mimic their real life shapes, and highways will be straight lines. Everything needs to be readable and clear. Remember that people will be placing pawns or car pieces on spaces. State names should be clearly visible, but unobtrusive. Board will need a subtle longitude/latitude grid.

Byway Cards and Event Cards will be the pretty ones. Construction Cards will be more functional. Byway Cards will need to have small maps on them to show where the roads are located. Event Cards will need to have maps when relevant to showing affected states.

Accessibility Concerns: Pay special attention to the physical, cognitive, and socioeconomic needs of your players when you’re designing art. As a general rule of thumb, you want everything to be visible, clear, and inoffensive. Accessibility is a loaded topic, so you can read more about it here, here, and here.

Be sure to account for colorblindness when making art. When creating designs, make sure text is as large as possible. When designing the board, make sure relevant information is easy to find and track.

Technical Notes: Printing is extremely technical. Artists don’t necessarily know how to create art that prints well, especially if they’re digital artists. I strongly suggest you read about offset printing before asking an artist to do work for you. Technical notes exist to make sure that what looks good on the screen also looks good on paper.

Workflow & Schedule: This will give the artist a rough idea of when different parts of the project will need to be done.

  • Initial Conversation
    • Consultation on Overall Aesthetic & Theme
    • Discussion of Cost and Payment Plan
    • Discussion of Rights and Royalties
    • Contract
  • Phase I
    • Create templates for all the cards in the game
    • Create a draft version of the board
  • Phase II
    • Bring board art to near completion
    • Bring all card art to near completion
  • Phase III
    • Draft box art
    • Draft rule book

Individual Design Specs: It is in this section that you would describe briefly how each piece of art should look. I actually don’t have any examples yet. I still want to get some more play testing done before I start writing these.

Once you’re done writing all this, you’re in good shape. Having your needs clearly documented helps artists out a ton. It will help prospective artists make sure they are interested in your project, it will make contract writing easier, and it will serve as a guide for your artist or artists once the art process actually begins.

Communication is key. You are telling your artist what to tell players. Make sure you give this a lot of thought.

 


 

Key Takeaways for Game Devs

  • Art is the most powerful marketing tool for board games and one of the most powerful tools for communicating game information.
  • Communicating clearly with your artist is critical.
  • When working with artists, I create a document called Art Design Specifications. I send that to the artist with a copy of my latest prototype.
  • Here is the outline I use for Art Design Specifications:
    • Art Needs
    • Aesthetic Guidelines
    • Functional Design
    • Accessibility Concerns
    • Technical Notes
    • Workflow & Schedule
    • Individual Design Specs

Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

  • I was on vacation from May 19 to May 26. It was a long road trip. I did it to get away from responsibility for a while, but I came back with a lot of new material for the game.
  • Tweaked some game rules to improve balance.
  • Prepared version State Route 11 for testing.
  • Play tested State Route 11. Results are inconclusive. More testing is needed.
  • Drafted art specifications for the game.
  • Drafted physical specifications for the game.
  • I’m currently working on finding an artist. I want to get my game a little further along before actually starting the art process, though.
  • Working on some process improvements that should free up time and bring in money. They include:
    • Cancelling the Roadgeek Blog on the Highways & Byways site (which never made a lot of sense to begin with).
    • Switching all social media automation to the same platform (Buffer).
    • Advertising tests.
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