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The ultimate three-way: Game talks console versus browser versus mobile

The ultimate three-way: Game talks console versus browser versus mobile

Like most seven year old boys, Thomas Woode spent his youth drawing pictures of monsters, spaceships, weapons, and mechs.

And when he landed a dream career and became an artist for video games, he assumed that he'd be drawing those sorts of characters and scenarios for a living.

But as he bounced around the world, between studios making games for consoles and mobiles and browsers, and from Jagex to Bigpoint to his current position at Gameloft, he found himself drawing fewer mechs, and more cute dragons, idyllic farmsteads, and ponies. Lots of ponies.

At GDC Europe in Colonge, studio art director Woode shared his learnings of going from doodles of robots to 3D rendered horses, with a list of pros and cons of working in the three main sectors: console, browser, and mobile.

Console yourself

Console artists get to play with the best toys, and are working on the genres and themes that are most fitting to a typical artist's personal tastes: spaceships, monsters, fantasy, and tanks.

But there's a huge reliance on the success of each title. "I've learned this the hard way," said Woode "I've been made redundant twice now."

Plus, those absurd production costs can limit artistic and creative risk taking: "I'm seeing much more interesting art styles coming from small indie studios.

Being an artist on browser-based games certainly has its pros. You often get to work on multiple projects, and enjoy more artistic variation. "Being able to jump between games about dragon breeding and militaristic MOBAs was very interesting," he continued.

There's also a different social dynamic to most offices. There's more of a gender mix than triple A, and the locations are more interesting and creative. He shared a picture of the Mind Candy office, that's filled with greenery, gumball machines, and splashes of colour.

But there are cons, too. Browser-based artist are drawing cartoon cities and the graphical demands of the market audience are lower. "Less is accepted in terms of graphical quality than console," which means artists and the technical team aren't pushed as hard, creatively.

Mobile home

And then there's mobile. It sees technology move at a breakneck speed, and Woode said "the curve of mobile improvement in the last five years has been really exciting." His latest game, Asphalt Overdrive, is "not quite console, but it's close."

And the large audience has attracted lots of different styles, from the hardcore male-orientated military grime of Gameloft's own Modern Combat 5, to the subtle style of Monument Valley, to the saccharine colour-splosion of Candy Crush Saga.

He added, "With the mobile audience being so diverse, there's more variation than other sectors."

But mobile's reliance on market visibility can hinder originality. "It's safer for companies to copy what is on the top ten than try something original," he continued. And the casual nature of device still carries a stigma that can be off putting to hardcore artists, and hardcore users.

Woode acknowledges that these pros, cons, stigma, and preconceptions are set to change. "The target audience is changing, and so is art," he offered.

Production values can always be high, even in mobile and browser, "but we may need to educate the casual audience". He thinks casual gamers accept a mediocre visual approach because they aren't aware of what games can look like.

This is in direct contrast to the animation industry, Woode points out. Disney and Pixar are aiming at a casual market, but films like Frozen and Toy Story 3 employ top-end particle systems, skin shaders, and other tech.

"Viewers expects the best of the best, and they demand this," he said. Woode hopes that casual gamers will soon realise that their games could look much better than they do.

Woode wrapped up his talk by saying that despite all he's said before, about the differences between consoles, browsers, and mobile, artists looking for their next gig should worry less "about the platform and more about the product."

Look at what games a studio is making, rather than what platforms a studio is making games for, he says. "There's great stuff on all devices."


Editor, PocketGamer.co.uk

Forget schools and textbooks: anything Mark knows, he's learnt from games. His eclectic knowledge of rock music comes from Guitar Hero and his in-depth repertoire of skating tricks is thanks to Tony Hawk. Just don't ask him to fix your plumbing.

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