Introduction

Let’s face it, as a recent graduate in the video game industry, you’re probably not going to land your first job at a big studio. The good news though, is that there are a lot of independant studios created every year that might not have the resources to employ industry veterans, but have a lot to offer new professionals.
Why should you entertain such an idea? Well, the teams tend to be smaller and are often composed of passionate people. You also get more creative freedom and you might even have to give your input in aspects of the game outside of art/design. The key to this though, is your own initiative, as other members of the team won’t always be there to tell you what to do, and how to do it.
In this post I’ll touch on my experience being the only artist on a team working on its first game as an independent studio. Who knows, it might convince some of you to take the jump and put yourself out there. We always need good artists to make good games.

How to Work Solo

My boss is a programmer. Sure he took a few art classes back in school, but his knowledge of the process, and programs we use nowadays is... limited (sorry Dim). So if you find yourself in a similar boat - it’ll be your job to assess the needs of the game, and come up with a plan of action. The programmers most likely won’t need your assets until later in production and will create prototypes with a technique called level blockout or grayboxing. It’s a technique used by programmers to simplify levels and focus on gameplay itself. It’s ugly, but it gets the job done.

Design

While they’re off grayboxing, you should be doing design passes and researching the overall look of the game. I personally use Milanote (an online mood board tool) to quickly take notes and keep track of images that I might find interesting. It’s also easy to share this board with other members of the team and show them what you have in mind. Here is an example of how we divide the different sections for our game Deeper Worlds.

Building the assets

When it comes time to start working on assets, talk to the programmers first and see what you need to prioritize. The final gameplay might require a dragon boss, but doing things like floor tiles, doors and other interactable elements of the game will probably be needed first.. Also, if you have a short production timeline, you could always buy preset packs of 3D elements (Unity Asset Store, Sketchfab, TurboSquid and CGTrader all offer those services).

Final Tips

  • Communication is key to avoid redoing work or delaying the production.
  • Take initiative! Don’t ask you team members for help whenever something is wrong. Google is your friend!
  • Make sure to have a clear naming convention for your files, so the other members of your team can find your assets easily.

Closing

Making the jump into the video game industry is exciting, and also scary. I often feel like I might not be good enough for this job; but then I remind myself that nobody knows everything from the get go. The veterans we look up to have years of experience, and we really shouldn’t compare ourselves to them. Luckily though, a huge part of our job is learning, and we’re lucky to have all sorts of tutorials available to us on the web. Take advantage of them!
Thanks for reading my first blog post! In a future post, I’ll talk about how you can make yourself seen by recruiters, and what you can do to be more ready for when that time comes (spoiler alert: GameJams are an excellent way to get started, look into that!).