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How to Design Better Video Game Environment Art

The Silent Hill universe has been hailed as one of the greatest horror games to have successfully induced fear and dread across generations, praise we can easily attribute to the game’s storyline, monsters, and — arguably its strongest suit — game environment design.

In Silent Hill, expert game artists amp up the terror with foggy yet familiar places, blood-stained walls, and dilapidated buildings. And it’s only gotten better after every installment.

If your company aims to produce a video game of this caliber, whatever the genre may be, we can agree a crucial priority for you now is making sure you get your game environment design down to a T. 

So how do other game studios manage to churn out successful horror game titles? What tools do they use? And more importantly, how can you replicate the same level of quality for your video game? 

In this article, we give you actionable steps to reach the game environment quality your video game rightfully deserves.

What is Game Environment Design?

When we say game environment, we’re talking about the element of game art that deals with the setting or location in which the video game takes place. This could mean differently among the various video game art styles

But for the purposes of this article, we will stick with game environment designs found in stylistic and realistic video games.

Why Game Environment Art is Important

In the process of conceptualizing a video game, game designers often deliberate on three principal points:

  • Game mechanics
  • Gameplay
  • Player experience

Together, these elements form one of the fundamental parts of video game development, which is game design. Game designer Robert Zubek in his book Elements of Game Design emphasizes how the relativity of player experience plays a huge role in game design

So to him, keeping the audience in mind and orchestrating the type of experience game developers want players to have are the main objectives. And it can’t be denied that an essential factor in producing that desired experience is a video game’s environment art.

Game environment design creates a specific atmosphere, setting the tone for both the character and the player. Your video game is likely to become a bust without you giving this part of game art and game design much thought.

This is where our article steps in to help. Here, we share with you information instrumental to designing your video game’s environment, as well as advice from our experienced 3D artists on building a game world your players will enjoy.

These are five simple steps to design better video game environment art starting today.

Image credits to Canva

Know the workflow of designing your game environment art. 

Similar to the different techniques employed in modeling 3D characters, game environment design requires artists to get acquainted with its workflow. We asked our artists how they design game environment art for our clients, and they broke the process down as follows:

  • Detailed blocking: To plot out the environment’s layout, digital artists start with this process. In detailed blocking, artists determine the relationship of objects among one another in the game environment, where they’re placed, how far they are from other objects, and which objects are next to each other. Here, the basic appearance of the environment is made.
  • Hi-res sculpting: While detailed blocking — a low-poly method — is necessary, hi-res sculpting isn’t. Instead, hi-res sculpting becomes a necessity only for unique assets with unique texture maps.
  • Texturing & lighting: And lastly, texturing and lighting establish the ambiance and mood of a game environment and refines its overall look. It’s an essential part of game environment creation, needed not only for aesthetic purposes but also for gameplay.

Of course, there’s more to game environment design than this, but these steps are the most fundamental. So if you want to learn more about how NarraSoft works and what our artists’ workflow looks like, don’t hesitate to message us using our chat box or contact form!

Pay attention to detail.

Aside from having clear artistic direction, achieving a uniform and balanced appearance among the elements in your video game environment is something you should also bear in mind. The same goes for video game objects populating the scene.

According to game environment artist Martin Teichmann during a panel discussion with Gnomon, consistency applies to resolution as much as it does to textures. “You don’t want a high-resolution wall with low-resolution plaster on top of it,” he said.

In addition to the discussion, digital artist Helder Pinto stressed the importance of balancing details in your game environment. “It’s very easy for environments to become noisy; for there to be colors and details all over the place,” he said. “You want fine details to be ‘pocketed’ in small areas around the level, leaving gameplay areas clean.”

Populate your game environment design with the right amount of objects.

That said, in some AAA games, a game environment needs to have as many objects as possible to make it look like a realistic setting. Let’s say at one point in the game, the character’s thrown into a very busy part of the city.

Cities could sometimes be places of chaos, congestion of cars and landfills of trash crowding the scene. So in this case, populating your game environment with a lot of objects will be more grounding for players.

The determining factor for how much an artist must populate a game environment is the effect they want to achieve. If it has to be noisy, then make it noisy. But this has to be done intentionally, not without order. Artists with an eye for creativity will know how to do just that.

Familiarize yourself with the best set of tools.

Professional game artists are not only expected to learn the best techniques for designing environment art. They are also expected to learn the best tools in the business.

So, what are these tools and what do they do? Here are some of the best design software a 3D game environment artist must know:

  • ZBrush: A 3D sculpting tool capable of etching extra fine details during the high-poly modeling stage of game environment art design. 
  • Autodesk Maya: Another sculpting tool best known for creating realistic game assets.
  • Substance Painter & Substance Designer: These are texturing tools we use and apply to our 3D models.

However, if you don’t have the time to study all or any of these tools, we recommend a different solution for you.

Partner with digital artists to design your game environment.

If you’re racing against time trying to build your video game, or if you simply want a way to develop it efficiently, it’s in your business’s best interest to invest in artistic talent. Hiring environment artists can help you steer clear of roadblocks in the creative side of your video game development.

There are two ways you can integrate digital artists into your team. Either you hire in-house, or you outsource work to a company with experience. While ideal for some companies, the former might not be ideal for others, especially if you’re pressed for time and short on resources.

However, outsourcing game environment artists reduces costs for your game company in terms of payroll, tools, and operations. For a detailed look into the benefits of game development outsourcing, check out our blog!

Image credits to Canva

In Summary

A game environment is the setting or location in which the video game takes place. It’s important for designers and artists to give this part of game development much thought as it sets the tone and dictates the ambiance of the game.

NarraSoft’s tips to get high quality video game environment art are the following:

  • Know the workflow of designing game environments
  • Pay close attention to detail
  • Populate your game environment with the right amount of objects
  • Familiarize yourself with the best set of tools
  • Partner with professional 3D artists

With our 3D digital artists’ skills and experience, we were able to design other game companies’ game art masterfully. We can do the same for you.

Let us be your endgame, and contact us at sales@narrasoft.com or send a message on our chat box or contact form. We’re excited to start working with you.