Like...for miles in every direction, all I can see are pitchforks, and here I am standing alone on a small hill thinking to myself "Holy shit. That's the Spiderweb software guy. I've played every single one of his games, EVERY SINGLE ONE, and loved all of them."
The graphics in the games are exactly as good as they need to be to make wonderful story-driven RPGs.
While the style may not be modern, the gameplay and stories tend to be quite good. I would also argue that a game that looks great doesn't necessarily imply that the game is any good. Battlefront 2 is a great looking game that is ultimately a soulless, lootbox filled shitshow with painfully bland gameplay.
Anyone saying that he needs to hire an art director have completely missed the point of his article: his business can only support his family. He has also been able to maintain this business for 20 years, which is a lot more than can be said about any other indies.
Ultimately, this is a style that Jeff likes, and it makes him money. If people don't like it, then they can go play something else. He still has his fan base that keeps him afloat.
I think there's no point in making their games looking any different than they do (because it's part of their brand, now) but the correct response to a question of why they don't make a "better" looking game is that they don't care. Or, maybe, it's a taste issue. Flailing your hands about how people totally did not appreciate you going through the trouble of making the graphics isometric or hiring underpaid artists is not the way to go. It's maybe "honest" but it's IMO at best a misunderstanding of and at worst a severe lack of respect for art direction and visual design.
All too often I think people are happy to throw their hands in the air and presume that indie success is just ‘impossible’. This article, for me, added some much-needed nuance to the discussion.
Spiderweb tends to focus on different aspects of game making that are admittedly a lot less visual, but are arguably no less artistic. This is a wildly hyperbolic analogy, but it seems to me that suggesting that Jeff Vogel doesn't care much about art because his games are weak on the visuals is a bit like suggesting that Led Zeppelin didn't care so much about art because their shows didn't offer the same visual spectacle as a GWAR performance.
No, he plainly states it is a cost issue. He can't afford to hire the people who could create truly "good" art for his games.
You can actually see some decent concept art and character design in their current games but they're drowned out by a stubborn refusal to actually change the overall balance of detail, suffocating those decent artworks in a sea of blurry/noisy backgrounds. It's a colossal waste, really, only explainable by a stubborn refusal to "learn art", which I can respect by itself, but the post comes off as utter denial of that even happening.
It's okay to dismiss art direction and make that some kind of design philosophy, it works for their games. But blaming it on everything but dismissal feels wrong.
People keep posting in the thread that games with "bad art" still look good with "good art direction" but art direction also costs money, which he still doesn't have.
It's an extra risk he doesn't want to his lifestyle that has worked for him for 25 years.
Sounds like "people who care" are people that have spent a lot of money on art and need to respond to this post to justify it. Or are artists themselves and need to prove their worth.
- (Screenshot of Ultima V) - "This is what looks normal to me"
- "Queen's Wish has a very retro square-tile top-down view, reminiscent of old Ultima games, old Pokemon games..."
- (Screenshot of Baba is You) - "If a game that looks like this can be a hit, maybe there can be room for me?"
- (Screenshot of Atari Adventure) - "If you don't like it, maybe the problem is you."
Apart from maybe(!) Atari Adventure, all of those games look far better than Queen's Wish. Even Ultima V shades one side of its walls, something none of his games have accomplished based on these screenshots.
It's an insulting strawman to say that the people criticizing his art would also reject these other games with simple art. It's also insulting to the artists who worked on those games, producing better results in a similar budget. Maybe the insult is unintentional, because he genuinely can't tell the difference himself. But if that's the case, he should just admit that, rather than hiding behind his choice to use a top-down perspective.
It's the hundreds of tiny details like this, that make for great design and good art, regardless of how retro the medium is. That's what this guy seems to be utterly blind to, and it really rubs against people who DO like to spend the effort and time on such tiny details to get the design just right ... only for this guy to call it "looks good enough for me" and then imitate it badly.
Just stick to the business explanation, because there's nothing wrong with running a business on shitty art.
1) If you look at Avernum 3 and Queen's Wish, the characters you are supposed to control don't "stick out" visually. I must have looked at the Avernum picture half a dozen times and actually missed the 3 other characters in the picture other than the cloak and the dragon. That's a huge mistake in visual design--and that is the fault of the designer not the artist. QW has similar issues in that the character design isn't very distinctive: without those horrible colored circles you can't tell friend from foe. And the visual design of the characters makes distinguishing classes difficult. Again, that's designer failure--not art failure.
2) If you look at QW, there are 4 different levels of art. The bottom icons are gorgeous and would fit in a AAA game. The portraits look like potato cam from 1999. The characters look like bad pseudo 2.5D from 1993. And the background sprites look like they are from "My First RPG Maker". You can choose any of those, be consistent, and people won't feel too bad. Look at Exile and Avernum--they have a consistent art level across everything and don't strike me as ugly. What you cannot do is mix and match the levels--that's very jarring and people will complain.
I feel like "exactly as good as they need to be" would actually be quite a bit simpler and, through lack of clutter, easier to use. See, for example, the Caves of Qud art style - https://i.imgur.com/Tul3mn3.png - which is substantially less visually complex than any of the Spiderweb Software games but, IMO, much easier to interpret.
"Exactly as good as they need to be" means "graphics and interface are of a sufficient quality to not significantly hamper interaction with the game, but just barely."
For example, a chess board drawn freestyle in crayon with a bunch of black and white poker chips that have "pawn", "knight", etc written on them in sharpie is "exactly as good as it needs to be," but it sure as heck isn't the same thing as an elegantly minimalist chess board.
I've actually been tempted to buy Avadon the black fortress a few times. It keeps showing up on steam(after reading this I had to double check, for some reason I had a feeling it was one of his games), again i find the graphics to be appealing. I'm just not sure if i want to invest the time into an RPG right now.
It seems like an easy solution would be to allow the tiles in the game to be editable and let people make new ones if they're unhappy with the ones that ship with the game.
The problem I have with it is that it all looks really generic -- like default "RPG Maker" tiles or stock art. The old-school Exile art was simple, but it was unique and had its own distinctive style.
I don't think it'll run on a modern Linux system without a lot of hacking, though.
I remember seeing a first person shooter after years of ignoring games, and being really impressed by the advances in graphics, but in seconds, I could see it was still a world made of indestructible cardboard, which was very disappointing. I suppose things have improved somewhat, depending on genre, but anyway, the issue is that people are easily distracted by graphics, not that they detract from anything per se.
The guy's been getting criticisms for 25 years. I think he's justified in writing a single blog post in defense of his art style. If you don't like it, you don't have to read it.
Also, 'art style' is a stretch.
Finally, yes, if I don't like it, I don't have to read it. Yet, I did, and I'm free to express my dissatisfaction and disagreement with the article's message: if you don't like it, you don't have to read it.
It means it's not unprompted. It's a reply.
I think he's justified in writing a blog post about his business decision and should have kept it at that.
But defending this as an "art style" is like making really shitty cheap knockoff "vintage style" furniture and claiming part of the reason is because you love the artistic style of historic wood working. No you do it for the money, and people who actually like vintage historic wood work might get annoyed that you are pushing your work as the same.
Uh, no, he freely concedes his games are ugly. The title of the article is "Why All of Our Games Look Like Crap".
And the graphism are good enough imo.
Other games look beautiful, yes, but they also somehow always end up getting kind of boring several hours in.
You're making the mistake of thinking that a game that looks good must use more resources. That doesn't make sense.
If one took the exact same resources and gave them a more consistent art style, keeping the same file sizes or even lowering them, the games could look just fine and yet still fine on a low-end machine.
Better looking graphics or art != larger file sizes.
But to the GP, you should go play his games! Try "Avernum: Escape from the Pit", his remake of his remake of his original game (he's got a system down pat). It's the best game he's made, IMO, and the iPad version is really good if you've got one lying around. PC/Mac version is good too, of course, but I found the touch interface really nice and a refreshing way to play a game I'd already exhaustively completed twice, so I'd hope it'd meet more modern sensibilities pretty well.
Art just isn't critical to making amazing games... some old BBS games like Tradewars 2002 will always be among my favorites, and their ASCII images barely qualified as art.
AdoM is a fantastic roguelike created by Thomas Biskup, which originally had you as an '@' battling other ascii characters. Later he wanted a nicer interface and went for this kind of pixely tiles, and to be honest, I don't like it (edit: I just checked again, and the art looks far better than I remember. I still prefer the ascii version, though). If you go for bad art, just go all the way, and make it look consistent.
By the way, Baba is You, referenced at the end, is an absolutely brilliant game, and while the art looks cheap like a toddler drew it, it's all animated; they have three versions of every sprite and keep rotating them. That crappy animation arguably makes it look even cheaper, but it also brings the game more alive, and it's certainly more expensive. Most importantly, though: it's a striking and consistent look.
In the end, though: Jeff had been successfully making games he loves for 25 years. Whatever he's doing is clearly working.
The high-contrast simple design also facilitates the gameplay. There's no visual noise, so it's very easy to 'read' the levels and focus on the solutions.
With that said, I think the art is also deceptively good. I don't think I could replicate it quite as well (from memory) even having played the game a fair bit, and I certainly don't think a toddler (or lesser hyperbole) could capture the charm of some of the sprites.
Ever since punk, and possibly longer, recorded music has a growing number of niches where lack of polish is a feature, not a bug. Liking stuff that others find unlikable makes the consumer feel special. All kinds of guitar noise, the absolute undanceability of IDM, cheesy pop music from an country far away. They all have their qualities, but if you infer from some people enthusiastically defying the superficial shortcomings of those styles that their redeeming qualities must be exceptionally high, you are missing the entire niche identity appeal mechanism: they are liked, in a large part, for being disliked by most others, nothing more. Try to move closer to mainstream (here: add better graphics) and you might alienate your acquired taste connoisseurs long before you start appealing to others.
Actually it looks like an artist carefully imitating a child like style instead of saying "good enough". It's fine, good even. It looks simple, but it clearly actually is everything it needs to be.
The Ultima V and Baba is You examples are excellent counter-points because they show how great games with simple styles can look.
Did you miss the part where adding an employee would double his required budget for the game? Which means he needs at least double the sales? Which means more risk? And there's no guarantee he'll hit that even if the graphics look better?
He spells out that he's working with freelancers, who often flake out for (understandable) various reasons.
If I had made that many games over 3 decades I would have at least learned how to talk to freelance artists in a way that would get better over time. It seems Jeff has put no effort into it, or gave up too early because he's protected his choices with rationalizations.
Just investing some of his own time reading up on the fundamentals of art, visual language, perception, color theory, could vastly improve his judgement. I try to build games for fun and learning, and I consciously avoid anything that goes beyond my (non-existing) knowledge about creating 'professional' game art. In my case I resort to abstract graphics or introduce very strict voluntary contraints (like: only 8x8 sprites), ie: similar to what games like Baba is You or boxboxboy are doing. If I were to ever shoot for a game that required 'professional game art' I would definitely invest time to get better at it before even considering to start the project.
It's a bit like the programming side of things. Don't try to build your own engine for your game if you barely know any programming, for example.
I don't think he ever came out and said this directly, but he dances around it throughout the article: As a very small indie developer, that's a huge risk to take. He could end up alienating his current fan base, while at the same time failing to satisfy the tastes of others.
Don't underestimate the risk of changing your style, particularly when it's a defining part of the experience. You will lose at least some customers. It may be worth it, but it's a significant risk.
And then at some point they had a moderate mainstream success, and that got them thinking that maybe they could grow into a much bigger game company, and so they started pushing hard at trying to grow. That was the point where me and a lot of other fairly loyal Telltale fans stopped buying their games. The effort they put into other things meant that they were no longer putting as much care into the things that earned them their original fan base. And, at the same time, they found out that breaking into the mainstream market is a lot harder than it looks.
And now there's no more Telltale Games.
So you're a dilettante? That's fine. So am I. But I don't wonder about my future if my game doesn't sell (or doesn't even ship). He does.
Perhaps you should consider being a little more generous in your thinking.
so basically you aren't selling your games? Are you even posting them on itch.io? Your constraint set is WILDLY different
Yeah, but you have not.
Maybe Jeff having a single minded focus – maybe even bordering ignorance – is a huge part of the reason why he, in fact, has done it and keeps on going after 3 decades.
Considering different choices, could he be more successful? He probably could, but considering the immense improbability of the level of success he enjoyed over a couple of decades in this particular profession (indie game maker), it seems far more likely that any big change could have made it all crash and burn somewhere along the way a long time ago.
The thing about Jeff is that he very much accepts "good enough". Could he make more or do better? Maybe. But that entails risk. Why bring on risk when you're already doing what you love doing and living off it? To make more money? Jeff's not motivated by money except insofar as it's necessary. He just wants to do what he loves and enjoy his life and family, and the "good enough" pace he's set delivers on that.
His art does nothing for me, either, but I do admire his willingness to settle for "good enough" in order to focus on what really matters to him.
> It seems Jeff has put no effort into it
From the article: "I have had games where I worked very hard to improve the graphics, spending a lot of time and money"
> he'd have enough sense to direct art himself in some way
He does direct art himself in some way: "That is why all of my games have a more generic fantasy style. I have to work with a lot of different artists. It's the nature of the business. Thus I have to write games in a way that the artists can be replaced. The generic style this requires is not ideal, but it is necessary."
The definition of armchair criticism, if I ever show one.
From someone with no experience on that front whatsoever, and who doesn't even get the financial constraints clearly spelt in the article...
Besides which, it feels like you're missing the larger point that he really doesn't care what other people like, which he can afford to do because he's making a comfortable living. I think it's great that he's making a living doing things that he enjoys without having to add stress by adding extra layers of complexity in the process - which would help how? More money? He clearly feels that he doesn't need more.
While I agree with your assessment, his argument from experience seems to be that none of that will affect his sales, so why bother. I'm sure he knows more about that than I do.
Maybe art just isn’t where his talent lies.
I actually wonder if he couldn’t make 2x or more by investing in the art. His previous efforts went from terrible to merely bad. It would be interesting to see what could happen if he crossed the threshold into acceptable.
Then again, I don’t know the total market size for this genre. Maybe even fantastic looking games don’t make enough to support two full timers?
His art direction just doesn’t match the tastes of a large number of folks. Neither did H.R. Geiger’s. Nothing wrong with that.
But it has, that's what many people are commenting on. His last two games looked much better than his current game. It could just be the luck of the draw with regards to which artists showed up rather than a conscious choice, but his new game clearly has a different look than his previous game.
I imagine it's the same case here. There may be some passive knowledge gained over the years but not enough to be a competent art director compared to if he even spent 6 months dedicating himself to learning.
It might simply be that he isn't particularly interested in learning it. If he isn't motivated by being an art director, then it would very likely lead to burnout.
I played the demo of one of his games on a bondi blue iMac back in the early 2000's. The graphics then looked ok. But it's 2019 and new titles don't look better.
I've wondered before who the userbase is for these; is it just fans from back in the day when game development was a smaller thing and the competition didn't have great artists either? Because I can't see getting into them as a new player.
Being able to sell 2x by having a more consistent and up to date art style honestly sounds low to me. Even as someone who's played my share of RPGs, had a Mac back in the day, and know that Spiderweb Software exists, that's the main thing holding me back from checking it out seriously.
But if he's getting by with what he's doing and spending more to try and reach a broader market is a risk he doesn't want to take, that's his call.
Being that they don't have budget for a new position, they just have to train someone to get better at art directing.
You're missing the point: the author is happy with the games and the success they've brought to him and his family, and he doesn't "need" random tips from anonymous message-board posters, most of whom have shipped precisely zero games.
Sure, it's fair to disagree, but it's also very easy to disagree when giving the suggestions does not put at risk a business that has sustained his family for a quarter century in a business where very few even large game studios have survived that long.
How does that mean he needs to double the sale? That's not how any of this works unless he wasn't making a profit before.
Assuming his budget was $50k, and he made $250k in sales. Now if he increases budget to $100k, he sure as hell doesn't need $500k in sales to justify the decision, in fact as long as his sale goes beyond $300k, or a 20% increase, then it pays for the increased budget.
Then say that instead of "Jeff needs an art director", which literally means that Jeff needs an art director. Which means another employee. It doesn't mean "Jeff needs to be an art director". Which he is, but results in the current situation where his games have the art they have, people complain, he writes an article explaining, and people like you criticize him for reasonable justification for why things are the way things are.
When you care about art, you usually got some sense of aesthetics and feel more likely unable to bring yourself to ship anything that looks simply bad to yourself.
When you don't got the eyes to see bad art as what it is, you also won't see it as a problem that really needs fixing so you care less about it than is good for you.
You have to strike a balance there. Games are visual independend of the style. Yes you play them – but before you even decide to pick a game up, you see screenshots, trailers or game-play-videos. If that doesn't look interesting, you can have the most interesing gameplay in the universe and it wouldn't sell.
A bit like in films, where the best script can be destroyed by bad acting or the best acting can be destroyed by bad scripts as a passionate creator you have to realize that this is a serious issue.
Amateur filmmakers might figure out directing techniques to get top notch acting out of people who never stood in front of a camera before or they might search very patiently till somebody crosses their way who is a natural talent.
The thing is to precisely know your limitations and do the best you can do within them, sometimes even by not copying the best, but by finding glorious short cuts that sometimes create whole new genres.
... then you will also be very bad at hiring a good art director. You could easily end up hiring somebody who is really bad and you wouldn't know.
Even with all the money that Microsoft had in the 90'ies, they couldn't make Windows look good.
I don't think his liking his games art is a reason not to comment with my take on his blog post about it though.
Then again, the older I get, the more I think the same should apply to developers. You should never lock knowledge inside one person's head, but the idea that you can take over a project without its original creators doing a years long hand off is naive, and leads to all the expected pathologies.
I remember a new $250k CTO saying he was amazed our code didn't have abandoned parts nobody wanted to touch ... this is how professionals are supposed to work, not something they discover "late" in their career.
You're saying this like this was one of his design goals from the very beginning when he started 25 years ago. No, it's become a requirement because of how unreliable freelancers can be and how difficult it is to find a replacement that is able or willing to stick to the previous style. Thus generic fantasy stuff has become his solution to this issue that is unavoidable, regardless of whether people agree with him or not.
I mean the guy seems incapable of comprehending style if this is what he's putting out 25 years in.
I see all this criticism here and I don't see any real solutions that would, on a realistic, concrete level, help him in any way improve his business.
It looks worse than his previous games, so he's gotten worse with time.
It's actually really common. Most games take years to make and in my experience at least it's very unusual to ship with the same team that started. Art is also the side of things that most readily gets outsourced, either through bought and modified assets or through freelancers and outsourcing companies. Maintaining consistency is something that has to be managed.
If he also cares about art more, then the other thing he cares about, namely; his one family, are denied that time.
Everything costs something.
People are very visual and your game can be amazing in terms of story or programming, but you also need to sell them visually. That doesn't mean every game has to go for amazing graphics, but it must make sense and look interesting. E.g. nethack looks more interesting without generic sprite package, till somebody developes one with a consistent style.
It takes years to get good at this, unless you did it since you were born. You pay good artists exactly for these years.
The thing people need to realize is that in compound arts like games, films, theatre every part is important. You can do a film with poor lighting if every other aspect is great and there is a reason why the poor lighting adds to the film as a whole. But you can't make films for 25 years and decide sound isn't all that important – unless you want to look like a complete amateur.
Visuals are an important part of games and independent of the style (photo realism, toon, purely ascii, ...) a game is much more interesting to pick up and play when you feel somebody actually cared about what they put in front of your eyeballs.
If you see a trailer of a film, filmed on a shaky phone with bad light and indistinguishable dialoge, you might decide to never watch it, even if it would've been the most interesting and moving story of all times. But that would've been the fault of the film maker, because they failed to convince you why you need to watch this film despite the technical flaws.
That means you need to see the thing as a whole, only then you can decide which role each part ought to play.
Given that he's making a living with his current strategy, and has been for twenty-five years, he is by definition not an amateur, let alone a complete one.
Indeed, the amateur is more likely the person who insists on making every aspect match their aesthetic ideal. They are not giving thought to what could make them profitable, instead focusing on building something that is precisely what they want.
He got good at other things he cared more about it.
Maybe he should hang out on HackerNews more, so he can be an expert on everything.
Jeff doesn't needs to be an expert in everything, he needs to see what doesn't work and fix it, let others fix it or decide this is as good as it gets.
He just wrote a very long article explaining just that.
Don't get me wrong, good art doesn't necessarily need a lot of money or resources. It needs the right eyes that know when it works and when it doesn't. He seems to aknowledge he doesn't have them and explains why he can't hire someone, all perfectly fine. But also sad, because if he could he clearly would.
Having spent at least as much money, out of pocket, on a game that never shipped as JV spends to ship something consistent that feeds his family, I can assure you that this is not the case. Art is far-and-away the most expensive part of any game that wants mass market appeal. It just is. It doesn't matter if you're using a bunch of freelancers from countries that lost all their vowels along the way, it's still expensive.
The solution, then, is to build a long-tail audience that'll buy your stuff because it scratches that itch, even if it doesn't to people who are just window shopping. You know--what JV has done.
What I meant however is that depending on the genre you might find solutions that you can do yourself far easier with equally good (or better) results. You could work with one-color abstract shapes and give them a good feel by using the right deformation and stick some eyes on them. Minimal styles can work in your favour at times etc. Filmmakers also use similar ideas – can't afford to show thing A? Let the protagonist tell us about it in a internal monologue and use it to your advantage. That kind of stuff.
This approach obviously won't work for every game or genre, depending on the scope, but I didn't say it would.
"Depending on the genre"--JV makes Ultima-alikes. So by this theorycrafting he should stop making the games that make him money because people like me will buy all of them so he can go make different games that might be more amenable to cheaper art and not have a built-in customer base that is highly consistent and predictable?
JV makes his games the way he does because people like me already follow him and will buy them. His entire business model is built on not taking risks. What is the obsession around here with disregarding that?
For you it was specifically about that one guy whose games you like as they are and I didn't mean to critizise them. The relativizations uttered by me like "depending on the genre" or "necessarily" were meant to act as hints, that I was talking in a more general sense here. Maybe what he wrote is great advice for other devs who create ultima-alikes, I can't really judge that.
The guy is doing well, relative to his own aims and objectives, and has found a way to work within his limitations to hit a sweet spot that allows him to support his family in a happy life and provide games enjoyed by a loyal fanbase.
What do we discover from HN? He's a lazy bugger that hasn't put any real effort in to respond to his customer's complaints and has failed to learn key lessons regarding his own business (that he has successfully run for twenty-five years).
Sometimes this place is completely ridiculous.
The only thing that bugs me however is when they try to come up with excuses why their works don't live up to the standard of other artists judge themselves by. Jeff listed some quite compelling arguments for his decision, most of them economical, but it still feels like an excuse of somebody who knows they could do better, which is kinda sad.
You don't have to always strive to be among the world elite at everything. Often, mediocrity in some areas of life (professional or otherwise) is a perfectly valid choice that will lead to greater happiness in the end.
So you got me 180° wrong – if his motives were purely economical, I'd completely understand his arguments. But because it is not purely economical I see this as a vague sign that he might not value the time he put into it himself enough, which is never a good thing in the long term.
Or you try and hop on the unicorn train and start looking for external funding - which will invariably start trying to run your business for you, in ways which you may not want.
The big money is in the latter, but not everyone wants to deal with the proto-corporate bullshit that goes with it.
Occasionally you can find niches - usually B2B, because high-worth bootstrap B2C is very hard - which bring in enough to allow solid growth without huge upfront spending on people and offices.
But they're very rare. And apart from the odd flash-in-the-pan one offs, small games are not usually one of those niches.
JV isn't trying to be a runaway success, he's trying to not be a failure. I don't quite get why that's so hard for folks here to parse.
Hard to disagree with that. I have a few from Humble bundles and can't even use them in prototypes. They're just a grab bag of junk.
Maybe for slightly better placeholder art for a game before they are ready to invest in an art upgrade?
That's Voegl's point 3. There, he admits he probably could develop a more impressive-looking single game, but doing so would make him dependent on the freelancer responsible for the art style (risky) or on paying much more for other art to match the style (expensive).
Key here is "teams". It's really hard for one person to bring all of those skills to the table.
And at least choose a decent font (looking at the first screenshot on the blog post)
He does address this in the article: Hiring more people means he directly needs to make more sales, which (I also know from experience) is very difficult to do. Hiring dead weight like an "art director" probably means hiring even more people to carry out the directions of the art director, since they're unlikely to be a can-do person themselves.
The article can be summed into two points:
1) I'm not a good art director
2) Having better art is on my "won't do" list
Nah. I mean, I want Jeff to have a good art director because I find the visuals distracting and a bit unpleasant part of games I otherwise might enjoy, but it's pretty clear he doesn't need one.
I have an indie game myself (Skyturns on G Play) and if you are not an artist, making good art is simply really hard. Someone says ”this menu is ugly”, and the cognitive load of making it meet their expectations is massive.
I even have graphically skilled people critiquing my game, paying them, but then coming back with more ugly menus. A real skilled professional art director is hard to find, recruit and motivate.
On a small scale its a ton of freedom to just let your game be somewhat ugly and just focus on what you yourself is great at.
For all the 1000 opinions I’ve heard about my games menus, not one of these people have produced something better. That 1001st person who actually knows drawing, colors and UX is the professional art director, which is possible to find, but the energy required to find him/her and pay is also something that can go somewhere else!
And if you are not a programmer, making a good game is really hard.
But you can learn. If you are willing to put in the effort to develop your own sense of the aesthetic, even a small amount of time can result in huge improvements.
You don't need an "art director" and neither does this guy.
If you think your menus are ugly, find some menus that you don't think are ugly and ask yourself what it is about them that makes them not ugly. When you can answer that question with certainty and apply the answer to your own menus, that's a first step towards improvement.
PS: I spent 10 minutes on your game. It's fun.
Happy to hear you tried and liked the game! Lots of things in the pipeline
Here we have a developer effectively looking to pay below market rates for artists, and then unsurprisingly not finding many good artists willing to do that long term. Not a judgment on my part, just saying that he's looking to keep the art budget to an absolute minimum.
Instead if it was an artist defending his choice to make relatively simple games because he just can't find good developers willing to work for cheap for long enough to complete a project.
The line that stood out me in this context:
I can't stress this enough: Finding talented, reliable, reasonably priced freelancers is HARD. Cherish them when you find them.
If the context of the discussion was about developers instead of artists, how would HackerNews feel about someone lamenting the fact that they can't get any "affordable" developers to work on their projects?
Also, as an aside:
The key problem here is that, when most people say, "Your art looks bad," what they mean is, "I want art that is good." They mean, "I want AAA-quality art." And I can't make that. Not even close.
That seems like a pretty big strawman to me. There is a large grey area between "crap" and "AAA-quality".
I'm not sure the reaction would be all that negative, to be honest.
The problem to me isn't when someone says "we want cheap work and we understand it will not be particularly high-quality," but when they say "we want top-quality work but we're not willing to pay for it."
Voegl's expectations here are honest -- refreshingly so. He's openly paying for artists, but he's paying for art to a budget rather than budgeting to art.
> There is a large grey area between "crap" and "AAA-quality".
I think Voegl addresses that in the middle of the "1." section -- he has had games with "improved" art, but the improved art did not increase sales enough to justify the expense. If an epsilon improvement in art did not improve profits, then it suggests he's near a local optimum.
I think that's the most robust critical takeaway from this Hacker News thread. Vogel feels as if marginal spending on art assets is unprofitable, but if a root problem is instead artistic consistency then more expensive art is not necessarily (much) more effective art.
That said, this also doesn't negate Vogel's business point, that it's always worth examining what's "good enough" to optimize return. Suppose Vogel doesn't have and can't easily develop a good artistic eye for consistency; it's still probably not worth it to hire someone else to do it for him.
If you have an artist with decent technical skills, enough time, and an excellent art director, you can still achieve great results. Eventually that Artist will learn and become better in what they independently produce.
Plus, the art is visible through a camera, and with post-processing and FX - which are easily controlled or influenced by that same art director. Just tweaking colour, camera angle, and FOV can produce incredibly unique results.
I had a very small budget, and no team, and was able to produce something regarded as reasonably good-looking in 3D for Frontline Zed:
Vogel just isn't willing to put in time and money into visuals because it's probably a combination of it 1. not being a priority for him and 2. lacking the skill for visual design (not necessarily implementing it, but just having an eye for it) which is probably also due to the point #1
And to me, I read it as he expects more towards the latter than the former. "Talented, reliable" implies an expectation of a specific level of quality beyond "cheap work, not particularly high-quality".
I don't have such a high reading of "talented," since others in this thread generally complain that Vogel has a poor eye for quality, and Vogel in this blog post notes he's looking for a basic 'good enough'.
I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, in particular since he understands that not having a reliable cadre of artists is his problem and not that of primadonna artists. The stereotypical out-of-touch manager who asks for "top-quality work on a shoestring budget" also externalizes the blame for failure.
That is: I think many people are responding to this blog post as if it had read "our games look like crap, but that's because we can't find good artists," rather than "... and that's fine by me, we're getting what we want to pay for."
He wants the talent, but he finds talented artists to demand an unreasonable amount of money. To me it's him that comes off as unreasonable.
I think it would be one thing for the author to dig in his heels and make janky looking games because he truly likes them that way, but it sounds from his tone that he'd rather blame external factors for what on some level he knows is his own mediocrity.
Every game you listed, every one, has spends at least one FTE or FTE equivalent, either in sweat equity or in cold hard cash, on their art. (And at least in the case of Steamworld, more than one!) JV's games literally don't make enough money to pay that person. What the heck do you expect him to do?
You're only mentioning the successes, what about all the Steam failures? Your post ignores that, unlike most of those relatively-very-expensive indie games that come out, go "plunk", and their developers go back to a real job, JV has successfully kept doing this for twenty-five years. He's had stinkers and still survived. The machine keeps cranking because of a relentless focus on cost control and making the game that somebody like me wants, even if it means that somebody like you adjusts your pince-nez and waxes on about his "mediocrity".
>his audience values that particular kind of game way more than it does art
Isn't that ridiculously self-selecting? If he's always been making ugly games, then it follows that his current customer base will be limited to people who don't care as much about visuals. This will always be true, regardless of what genre games you're making.
It absolutely does not mean that he wouldn't expand his audience by making good-looking games. In fact, if what he said is true and most of his current customers don't care about looks, it's more likely an indicator that the subpar visuals are indeed costing him customers.
I honestly have a hard time grasping that this even passes as an argument. It's like someone who sells shit sandwiches saying their customers don't mind the shit taste.
I assume that you have read the article and read how JV has tried spending more money to update his graphics in an effort to expand his customer base, to little effect. And since I assume you must understand that one can evaluate marginal returns based on cost outlay, I would think that this line of thinking should make sense, even if you disagree with it.
I've said it elsewhere in this thread but I'll say it again: the goal when running a small business is not to take over the world. The goal is to not fail. Expending scarce resources on bets with a ROI ratio under one is not a good way to avoid failure.
I'm sceptical of this for 2 reasons
1. It assumes cause and effect are linear, which I doubt. People are put off because the games look bad. Making a game that looks better, but still bad, doesn't solve this issue. In order for Jeff to be able to properly evaluate the ROI of making his games look not-bad, he would need to have made a not-bad looking game. This is arguably not the case.
2. It's clear from the article that Jeff doesn't really understand what makes a game looks good. As a result, if he's spending extra resources on making the game look better, they're likely not well spent. The money would need to go into foundational efforts like consistent color palettes to make it visually pleasing, consistent lighting so everything feels like it's part of the same world, proper shading so everything looks grounded, making sure everything looks to scale, balancing out the level of detail between pieces to make sure the right things stand out, etc etc. In the article, he stated that he thinks good art = AAA level, so I'm guessing Jeff just paid artists to add more details to faces and monsters - which really isn't going to solve anything.
> the goal when running a small business is not to take over the world. The goal is to not fail. Expending scarce resources on bets with a ROI ratio under one is not a good way to avoid failure.
I can completely respect this decision. He's trying to run a certain kind of business and that imposes a certain set of constraints.
The irony though is that Jeff is the one who's not respecting those constraints.
It's entirely possible to spend little on art and still have a good looking game. Just pick a simple art style that can be executed fast. Alternatively, if you want to have a good looking game in your personally preferred style - that also happens to be more expensive to produce - that's also entirely possible. It will just cost you more.
Both options are fine.
But Jeff is spending little on art and at the same time asking artists to make highly detailed artworks. There's just no chance of that working out well. The poor results are not imposed by his business constraints, but rather from his failing to respect them.
Vogel should peek over the fence at the adjacent roguelike community and do what they've done: custom tileset support. He's clearly not that invested in his games as aesthetic experiences, and that's his prerogative, but in the year 2019 it's actually not that uncommon for game communities to scratch their own itch in that regard when allowed.
I built a couple full-tileset mods for Blades of Exile back in the day. You can do it with the new Avernum engine too. Of course, he could definitely make it easier.
Now I'm feeling nostalgic. Wonder if I could get BoE running again.
(Are you...the Djur? ;) )
(Guilty as charged, I'm afraid! Been a long time.)
What do you mean by this?
I miss Realmz¹, and until today didn't realize that the developer of Realmz was also the publisher of the Exile series. But I still can't figure out what "the Exile III version of the Realmz" graphics is referring to.
¹My ringtone is actually the Realmz outdoor theme.
New Exile graphics:
Here's the OG splash screen: http://macintoshgarden.org/games/exile-escape-from-the-pit
And here's the update: http://macintoshgarden.org/sites/macintoshgarden.org/files/s...
There are two sides to this: Can you make better games for cheap? Sure you can, many people have. But the second question is: How large a proportion of those who try that would be able to keep churning out profitable games for 25 years?
Or even produce a single profitable game?
There's nothing mediocre about managing to pump out profitable games for 25 years - very, very few people manage to do that successfully. His games may well be mediocre, or at least look mediocre, but in terms of success he's doing far better than most just by still being there.
I don't doubt the guy is successful, but he doesn't really bring up a convincing argument for his position. He could be potentially be MORE successful if he invested a little more in visual aspects of his games. Reading an article about why it isn't a priority for him isn't that interesting to me.
Covered in the article (and previous blog posts, I think): I have had games where I worked very hard to improve the graphics, spending a lot of time and money, and they really did look better! But when I released those games, the vast majority of people who had said, "Your games look bad." STILL said, "Your games look bad."
Sounds like someone who worked at all the wrong things to "improve" because they don't listen to feedback.
Not sure I can agree with that. Undertale had lo-fi art, but there was a lot of care put into it.
Among other things, there are much higher expectations on graphics and it's a lot harder to make 3D world and assets than it was to make 2D sprites. Cheap games are also facing a fierce competition from a truckload of other cheap games and previous AAA titles. There are more games than people can play and why buy Game 2019 when Game 2015 is just as good and 75% off.
Then he talked about great stories.
Definitely not mediocre.
So, the take away is story can sell to fans of story and game play.
That is not wrong. It has, does, and I suspect, will continue to.
That's an interesting way to look at this article. It seems that many solo entrepreneurs have a hard time evaluating the skills of those outside their own domain.
It feels arrogant to criticize someone profitably running their own company for 25 years, but I wonder if he would be better served by hiring a design/UX firm for a day or two to get some guidance on achieving a consistent look while still spending less money.
There are plenty of entrepreneurs here that hire all kinds of people, and always try to find good bang for the buck. Isn't that normal? I personally have hired artists, developers, marketers, lawyers, managers, you name it... I don't see why I would deal with any profession any different.
> That seems like a pretty big strawman to me. There is a large grey area between "crap" and "AAA-quality".
And even then, you can have low-budget (like what Vogel is doing) with good-looking art, as in good art direction, which he has already done.
I'm one of the players that's on the margin between his graphically "good" games, e.g. the Avernum remakes, which use a vaguely consistent colour palette and are comfortable to play, and his graphically awful games, e.g. the first Geneforge, which has an eye-stabbingly bright green border around the game area that's brighter and higher contrast than the actual content, making playing the game fatiguing and uncomfortable.
Jeff's games don't need 3D art or a big budget or even a totally consistent style, they just need a tiny amount of good UX taste and a few hours of photoshop to mess with HSV. Thankfully, the more recent titles do have better UX.
I guess it's the same case here. The art isn't as if the entire art pipeline was MS Paint so most people who don't mind graphics may at worst just put up with it for the gameplay they expect from Vogels games.
The question he seems to be answering is “why don’t you try and grow your company”, with his answer being “because I’m happy with the way it is”.
Let me add that, in my opinion, there are more chances of a successful game if you're a competent artist with poor coding skills than the opposite. In fact, lots of solo projects succeed because the author is an artist that happens to be a half decent programmer.
I expect they're also less busy, and more stylised.
Looking at the Queen’s Wish's screenshot, it doesn't look lower resolution than Dungeons of Dredmor, just worse, the backgrounds are way too busy, the colors are inconsistent, too subdued so their kind-of meld into one another making things less legible, the lighting is odd, the level of details seems to vary from one sprite to another,…
Instead of learning enough about game art over 25 years to direct some consistency across artists for his games, he rationalizes it as an explicit business choice.
I think he's missing an opportunity to learn more about art himself. After making so many games for so long you think there would be some learning/mastery of low-res art. Seems like Jeff is taking the easier route of "that's my style."
No where in the article does Jeff talk about any effort he's put in to learn about palettes, lighting, or generic styles that can be emulated. He only talks about swapping out artists.
Then swapping out artists will be easier and the game will look more consistent.
The guide also needs to include lighting, which he has diddly-squat of.
You can choose what palette to use by pressing a combination of buttons on most start screens.
See this example of Super Mario Land: http://i.imgur.com/HupBY.png
I play a lot of games with low resolution, cheap or crude graphics and that never bothers me, but I find inconsistent art really difficult to ignore to the point where I probably wouldn’t play this game.
Keeping art generic, boring and inconsistent to swap out artists is akin to using a lowest common denominator language and framework so you can swap out programmers. Maybe it makes business sense, but it leads to uninspired boring results.
I’m sorry at how negative this comment turned out, so if the author reads it I hope he takes it constructively and considers how to improve the consistency of the art.
EDIT: I don't think the art looks terrible, but it could be improved a lot with relatively minor changes (consistent shadows would be a great start).
The 90s game style saw more powerful chips and higher color depths as a chance to do realistic art and skeuomorphic interfaces. I'm sure they looked good to people then, but the reason they look so dated now is that realism as a design goal is better accomplished with modern graphics technologies than anything they had available then. Anything that still looks "good" does so because it was able to carve out a stylistic niche that didn't depend on having a more realistic interface as the end goal.
Pixel art games look timeless (to me) precisely because their limitations meant that designers had to find a style that worked for the particular game. To be sure, there are 80s games with bad art, but I think on the whole the older art was better (and is now more iconic) because the limitations pushed creativity.
I still love to play low-res games (including new ones like VVVVVV), but most of them are in an older art style than John's games, which (if I'm being honest) look (visually) kind of crappy to me.
 The poor font rendering in most 90s games doesn't help matters either.
On the contrary: It will take all your life :)
People will always get upset about graphics, and will always have their own "suggestions" on how to make your art not terrible. If you listen to one person, you might just alienate every other player that doesn't like that person's style.