Character Concept: A ‘Make it or Break it’ in Game Design

Character concept art significantly contributes to the entire game development process. Specifically, it depicts a game hero in detail, outlining their features in such a way that everybody can understand and feel their nature. Two people can read the same hero description and imagine different pictures—concept art is about creating a single approach toward the character so that the players equally understand it.

Every great game starts with a phenomenal lead character concept. Video game concept art contributes to the aesthetic nature of the game, helping to retain players and keep them engaged in the gameplay.

Character concept art significantly contributes to the entire game development process. Specifically, it depicts a game hero in detail, conveying their features in a way that anyone can understand and relate to. It’s about creating a single approach toward the character to ensure all players are on the same page.

In this blog post, we will define character concept art, discuss the stages of creation, and provide tips for developing worthy art.

What Is Character Concept Art?

Character concept art brings an idea to life on the screen. Concept artists are often responsible for the entire look and style of a game. Following the producer’s brief, art designers develop sketches that lead to the whole vision of the character that will be used by game developers and 3D artists.

In other words, concept artists and character designers must tap into a deep creative space in order to convey traits, quirks, mannerisms and background stories of a game character.

David Cage, French game designer, concept artist, and plot writer, shares his vision in a TED Talk: “You may remember the moments while reading a novel when you were willing to change the narration or the character. Character concept art gives the possibility to create ever-changing characters with the possibility to modify their clothes, armor, and even change the narration.” As an experienced concept artist, David emphasizes that lively memorable character concepts turn the player into a storyteller, giving them a feeling of involvement, commitment, and a desire to play again.

Concept Art Empire blog, a platform of helpful tips for concept artists, states that character concept art is about:

  • Constructing the entire character design from scratch in accordance with the game creator’s view;
  • Briefing the character image and discussion of its concept in detail;
  • Understanding there’s no “right way” to create the character; many artists begin with an outline of the character’s physical and emotional traits; and
  • Creating many views of the character as reference materials.

Of course, you can collaborate separately with the character designers and concept artists, then bring their vision to the game developers, but it can be more efficient to initially outsource the whole game development process to one company.

Innovecs, as a game development outsourcing company, follows the guidelines mentioned above, and applies advanced tech, unique art, and professional team expertise to actualize your character concept vision for further game development. Our expert game development team is ready to collaborate on every stage of game design, including character concept design and video game concept art development for a top title release.

To dive deeper into the basic creative process of character concept creation, even when outsourcing the process, we recommend the book Creating Stylized Characters. In this book you’ll learn that character concept art is about “the processes of character research, thumbnailing, shape and facial expressions, picking the color scheme, and finalizing the character”. These things should all be in line with the overall game style.

Character Model Sheet

To design a really engaging character, the artist should consider that a good concept not only depicts the desired character in detail, but it also heavily contributes to game monetization. Concept artists must design the characters aesthetic, personality, style, distinctive features, and detailed history in order to draw players into their world.

Character Concept Art Creation: Stages and Examples

In 2021, more than 11k titles were released on Steam, a video game digital distribution service. You can imagine how many character concepts were developed and introduced on the market, either successfully or not.

games released on steam

You are probably familiar with some stunning examples of character concept art from video games, like Darth Vader from “Star Wars” or Steve from “Minecraft”. However, to develop and release a game you need a deeper understanding of the criteria for iconic character concept design.

You may wonder what sets apart a main character that can make a game profitable? An iconic character can convert your game into a high-revenue project. A well-developed lead character is not just a beautiful piece of art, it’s a memorable concept that players come back to again and again and want to be involved with through many mediums.

For example, most people know who Super Mario is even if they haven’t played “Super Mario Bros.” Picturing this character as a key example, we can follow the formula for a complex character concept art process:

  1. History depicts a character’s good and bad traits, bringing to life every detail of its past and present, profession, and activities.
  2. Silhouette sketch delivers information about the hero at a glance.
  3. It has color and composition harmony.
  4. Accents: tiny features are essential because they build up a detailed character’s perception and make the hero more realistic to the player.
  5. Emotional impact: character concept should address the players’ feelings and reveal a certain epoch, surrounding, and narrative story.

Each of the points described is essential for memorable character creation. And while bringing your game concepts to life, Innovecs is continuously sticking to character concept design basics to perform really catchy artwork.

Video Game Character Concept Art

We’ve already mentioned that there are no strict rules of video game character concept design. However, it’s helpful before completing a GDD (Game Design Document) to bear in mind some basic tips for better character design:

  • Keep the image clean (no extra weapons or unnecessary outfits).
  • Scaling and proper proportions are important (e.g., the head shouldn’t be smaller than the torso).
  • Make sure all the character’s features function and work—the fewer inoperable parts used in game narration, the better.
  • Match colors with the overall game style and mood.
  • Unusual shapes are helpful to make the hero extraordinary and memorable.

Experienced concept artists explain that your character art should be depicted in such a way that your client can perceive, feel, and understand the details of the character without additional words.

Posture, silhouette, clothing, color scheme, and accents should contribute to the whole character image and align with the game’s style. It may be easier to demonstrate these things using 3D characters, although, 3D art pieces demand more team collaboration and specialized expertise.

3D Character Concept Art

3D character production is based on three factors:

  • The artist’s skill level
  • Substantial communication capacity to deliver the character in accordance with the game producer’s vision
  • Number of professional tools to render the image

The process of creating a 3D character concept involves communication between 3D modelers, animators, and concept artists throughout the character design process. They decide collaboratively on every feature from the style choice (photo-realistic, semi-realistic, or stylish to cartoons) to depicting the hero’s behavior and character via colors, accents, and even silhouette.

3D character modeling follows the same stages as other types of character design:

  • Character concept design
  • Blocking
  • Sculpting
  • Retopology to enable the figure’s movements
  • Unwrapping and baking
  • Texturing
  • Rigging and skinning

Sculpting example

After the basic steps described above, animation follows. In this stage, the hero’s character and style of movement is created.

Concept Art: Essential Tips for Building a Character Worth Knowing

Designing a character concept in game dev is part and parcel of the whole game creation process, adding value to the game. Success very much depends on whether the players connect with the character and enjoy the game narration. It can influence both game monetization and the number of downloads. Beloved characters prompt gamers to continue playing, make in-game purchases to upgrade the character, and feel like storytellers while modifying the hero’s look.

Professionals identify the following essentials for character concept design:

  • Expertise in visual arts;
  • The more art creation tools there are in a portfolio the better (e.g., not just common “must-have” programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop but such basics as Mari and ZBrush, bringing together 3D modeling and painting like Poser Pro for creating realistic 3D characters); and
  • Awareness of the design process stages, from telling and communicating the backstory to drawing, iterations, and adding complexities to the character.

The styles of character concept design are always changing, so it’s important for the experts you are working with to be able to blend old techniques and key art principles with modern ones. For example, Minecraft designers revolutionized old, pixelated graphics by converting them into a 3D format. Expertise and professional experience are important, but also, a deep understanding of human behavior and an ability to create across all styles and genres.

Why Concept Art Is Important in Video Game Development

Whether it is Pixar or Disney-style animated heroes or Minecraft-inspired 3D characters, everything starts with drawing, detailing, background storytelling, and numerous iterations of character concept design. This is where skillful drawing meets digitized character movements via a variety of art styles and professional tools.

Both 2D and 3D modeling follow the same stages of creation when it comes to a character’s visual image (posture and outfits, accessories, and silhouette): generating ideas, unwrapping and baking, then animation.

At every stage of the character concept design in video game development, we run into a need for both hard and soft skills of the concept artists. They must apply professional knowledge alongside their ability to listen, communicate, imagine, and collaborate.

When you are in need of memorable characters depicted in a stylish manner, let us in on the details of your vision, and our expert team will leverage their expertise to create the game concept of your dream.

If you need assistance in building a product from scratch or supporting the existing one, drop us a line to discuss details, and we will reply within 24 hours.