A new book looks at how video games characters come to life

A new book describes how video game characters start life on the easels of illustrators and travel to the game console via a small army of models and
texturisers. It’s a fascinating journey, says Sarah Frater

Having been non-existent, and then uncredited, for many years, video game character artists are now kings of the castle. On larger games, they can outnumber the programmers by a ratio of three to one, a reversal of the situation just a few years ago. And instead of filling in where the programmers leave off, they now lead the visual story, with graphic designers, concept artists, 3D modellers and texture artists working together to create full-character personalities – and often many millions of game sales.

The story of video game art, and the rise of the artistic team, is told in a new book by Josh Jenisch. The Los Angeles Times writer has snagged visuals from many top games – Lara Croft, Hellboy and Conan to name just three – and they provide a fascinating narrative of both video game history and the evolution of individual games from artist’s easel to console. As you’d expect, combat, cars and fantasy are common subjects, but so too are humour and characters that have engaging personalities and appealing team spirit.

Team Fortress is a good example. Developer Valve has put the shooter game, described by Jenisch as a ‘multi-player masterpiece’, through several incarnations, with the latest version juxtaposing shoot-em-up gameplay with Normal Rockwell-like visuals.

The game’s characters were conceived by character artist Moby Francke, who worked on paper and gouache before importing the characters into Photoshop. ‘I wanted to approach the character design as traditionally as possible,’ he says. ‘We wanted the game to have a hand-painted look. Once the designs were stamped, Photoshop was used to produce the in-game texture assets.’

The book includes many original illustrations, and documents their journey from 2D concept sketches to 3D models, and on to full video game characters via the texture artists. ‘It’s interesting to see how little the characters changed from initial concept to final in-game form,’ writes Jenisch.

The Art of the Video Game by Josh Jenisch is published by Quirk Book this month, priced £25

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