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Something strange happened to me today. It started with the usual CSS mambo, web development type stuff, research, more research, more development and reading through links via news reader. Then it hit me as I scrolled through a comic artist's blog post. The illustrations are beautiful, intricate and required high levels of skills, imagination and creativity but ... these masterpieces are not functional; they don't work, I can't interact with them at all. There is no clear definition between background and foreground. I couldn't make out the subjects in focus or the purpose of this decision. It's just a mess. A wonderful, flat mess but a mess nevertheless.

And I started to wonder why I was thinking these things. As I wondered out loud to my other self, I realised the reason. Games.

I've been creating graphics to be used in games development for a little over half a decade now and one of the crucial things when doing this is the clear definition of background and foreground illustrations, a purposeful objective for the player to interact with. But it is more than that.

Art in games need to be useful, not just pretty. The player needs to know the boundaries of a level, they need to know what they can interact with and where they can go. A focused item in the foreground suggests to the player that there might be collision or an action when they interact with it. The background is almost always less focused so as to not overcrowd the scene with unimportant information.

This becomes apparent when an artist with no previous experience in games development is involved. Usually, they are graduates of fine arts, graphic design or animation whose outputs do not involve interaction. Oddly enough, the specialized skill of creating functional art for games development is non-existent outside of the games industry. It is from being employed in the games industry that the artists relearn their trade.

One known example:

I have always admired David Hellman's wonderful illustrations at http://www.alessonislearned.com/ which was why I was so excited when I read on his blog that he was being hired to do the art of an upcoming game.

Upon playing the game, I was taken aback; the art just didn't work. His exquisitely detailed style did not translate well into games.

The screenshots were beautiful but in a game, it was just messy and incomprehensible. There was just too much information clambering for attention and this affected my experience negatively so much so, I never did finish that game.