The art of Total eSports Action Manager (Mighty Serious game 2019)
** This mega post for the week is a 24 minute read! **
I was the main 2D and UI artist on this project for a long while and had lots of guidance, feedback and UI design mock ups to work from, thanks to the wonderful & understanding lead game designer and writer of the game, Timothy Best! Without him and his comprehensive hard work and patience, I wouldn’t have gotten this far with the initial UI art and mock up iterations!
Please note that a lot has changed since I worked on the UI and the current UI screens have evolved by the Mighty development team! I do not claim credit for all of the UI art and design work!
Kudos to Ryan Keable for the VFX, animation touches and amazing 3D art. And Scott/cronobreak for the early UI mock ups, kind support and encouragement when I suddenly found myself in charge for the art style and look for the characters of this project.
Generally it has been a challenging project for me
Full of personal lessons, lots of working out the art style and assets with vector art. My first time doing some of the art direction [mainly the characters and some of the UI] for a team project. And it had to be done with vector art, which is something I struggle with, don’t enjoy and out of my comfort zone. Learning experience for me and I did it anyway!
I’ll ramble more about this during this post :’)
I believe he has a name but I don’t know or remember! ;D
In this art post about TEAM:
- eSports shirt & logo designs
- The art style & process for developing the player portraits
- Some of the 105 portraits I made for the game (some portrait spoilers for people intending to play the game)
- Leonie learning UI art
- Final thoughts & lessons learned from the project
- Question about art direction
eSports shirt & logo designs
hand drawn eSports T-shirt designs
I worked and explored this comprehensively as I am super not confident, nor do I particularly enjoy graphic design. So I pushed myself to do the best I can, as a design problem to be solved! That made it more interesting! Noticed a lot of similar colours used in eSports team branding :0
More eSports T-shirt designs
Most didn’t make the cut because this was all experimentation and concept art. But I found the fun in exploring it! (:
Some of the final eSports T-Shirt designs
These are ones I got design briefs for. More Australian vibes with these team brand designs!
Final eSports Logo designs
They got made after the T-shirt designs were done! Scribbly, loose vector art! Some are random designs that I mashed together and others were based from briefs. I’m not too experienced or interested in graphic design but I made it interesting for me by not being perfect with it and played with the designs.
puzzle design problem to be solved!! [I can’t help but think of Professor Layton quotes ;P ] I’m glad I’m not accountable for real corporate branding materials or it will stress me out to no end. Hey, please understand that these logos are not made under a comprehensive design process! ;D
The art style & process for developing 105 vector portraits
The eSports player portraits were actually the first thing for this project I worked on. It felt incredibly daunting when I didn’t really enjoy and felt super slow with vector art and UI art plus I had to actually figure out an art style that will function in the game and will work for the target audience.
I was not confident, out of my comfort zone and was super anxious & stressed about it. I wasn’t completely sure what I was doing. All this means I was graciously allowed the time for a lot of growing pains and learning! Super grateful that time was set aside for me to get the hang of things. Consequently I put a lot of pressure on myself to prove I can get better at vector, UI and game art. I knew I had to get it done somehow.
And undoubtedly, all of this was super time consuming along with many frustrating obstacles :’) But I completely embraced and understood that this is part of the creative process. I treated it all as a learning experience and problem to solve so I didn’t complain – I had work to do!
Started dedicating time to this project from June and more from July 2018.
I think it was over a month and a half of work during August and September with a [whoopsit’stoomuch] days of overtime. It was my sneaky decision, responsibility and fault!! Mighty didn’t know! It was to my detriment as I poured myself into the project.
If you remember me talking about needing a break in late 2018, it was because I crunched and burnt out heavily on this. My life revolved around getting the art to work with minimal compromises and didn’t leave much personal time for myself. I worked from home a lot [due to public transport works that’s still ongoing on/off now] and fell into working within my own cave, struggling to make art that I’m happy with using vector art. And I’m usually not happy with my vector art attempts.
Serious, tunnel vision, intense work mode.
The team said things were good enough and I was kindly supported when I showed my initial attempts. I was just super stubborn and I wasn’t satisfied with “good enough”. I wanted to do the best I could with these art standards I had, especially since I was doing something I haven’t done before. Especially when it came to characters and portraits – I am very nitpicky! I guess my standards are higher than what’s expected of me :’)
I wanted to see how far I can push it and how far I can execute the portraits before scaling it down and limit myself to an art style that both was reasonably good and fulfills the game’s needs. Generally I test possibilities that are wide in scope so I can eliminate things and eventually reach a solution/concept that is well considered and useful to my production art phase.
Being comprehensive made me care and strive to do something I’m proud of, even with my weaknesses in vector art. Whether I’m passionate about a project or not, doing my best towards quality work is important to me. As usual, it was important for me to explore concepts, iterations, tests and variations cheaply and establish the best solution for the project before making time consuming vector art illustrations for the game. I wouldn’t want to redo 100+ portraits from scratch just because the art style wasn’t working. We can’t afford that in terms of time, resources and my own emotional well-being – no thank you!
So I’m super grateful I was allowed time and some freedom to explore and work out the art style the way I wanted! A lot of experimenting, problem solving, learning and frustration. The creative process always hungers for more time – something one needs to manage as intensity and resources fluctuates.
Stressing I don’t support crunching at all and I got carried away.
I should know better since it’s not the first time I burnt out, trying to push myself to make something work. I either turn on and am dedicated to something for the day or I don’t. I do get carried away and I am learning to be better at self care, communicating about it and boundaries. Since I do it anyway, in the future I’m going to try embracing my long work hours, arranging longer breaks/a day off and see how that goes.
I’m not saying how I approach things is the right or healthy way. I’m figuring things out as always. I’m simply reflecting on my journey with this project and perhaps it’s interesting for somebody (:
Looking back it caused me a lot of anxiety, sense of lack, much stress, actual bald spots on my head [thankfully now they’ve mostly grown back after 8 months and I have seen the doctor], isolation, tension, soreness, perfectionism, feeling not good enough and frustration more than necessary. I definitely burnt myself out and it’s probably going to take this year or more to heal from it and develop further clarity and confidence with my career.
My gritty tunnel vision was so focused on trying to make this project interesting and meaningful to me by doing the best I can on the art. I was already in a rut with my own personal projects so I busied, distracted and poured myself into tackling all these challenges instead.
A lot of mixed feelings as you can tell from my thoughts – I don’t want to burn out again and wreck my health if I can help it. I was afraid of losing all of my hair when I first discovered those bald spots. Full of shame and disappointment in myself too – how did I let it get this bad?
I even dreamed about losing half of my head of hair twice in recent months too – being more mindful about my performance anxiety is a work in progress.
I’m not super proud of my work [as my nitpicky self can’t help wanting to improve the portraits] but I did my best for the project and am feeling okay with the progress I’ve made. Ultimately I’ve learned to do a new art style in vector art!
Art style and design exploration
I spent quite a while doing studies, concepting and figuring out what art style we should go with. I looked at a lot of games that used 2D character assets during dialogue and noted that gradients should be avoided for most cases due to technical limitations.
Initially we were going to go with a randomised portrait system where all facial features were randomly generated. We didn’t do it in the end as it was too ambitious to implement. Had to throw out a lot of the experimentation did since it’s not working – hey it’s all part of the game development journey!
But at the time I went deep into the time consuming rabbit hole of looking at facial features, skin tones, colours, hair styles, face shapes and ways they can be applied comprehensively together and swapped out upon the same templates. I’m not showing the concepts here as they’re either studies, art style exploration or really rough explorations for designs. They’re not pretty or cohesive!
I did 50, 40, 30 variations of each facial feature. I explored and did a lot of sketches. I also spent a lot of time and did initial art templates and portrait passes in Photoshop but the files were too large with its many layers and not feasible for in-game and other flexible uses. I deleted the photoshop art files because there’s no need for them anymore and they took too much space :’)
I could not avoid using vector art/Illustrator after all. Whelp it’s fine – at least I tried making Photoshop an option! :’) Time to pull up my sleeves!
Initial vector art portrait test/template
It took a while to reach this vector art piece as I was struggling with how I was going to set up each illustration and how to swap features out with loads of layers. I was also trying to make my raster art tests, work as vector art ;P
This was supposed to be the template and first vector art iteration where randomised facial features would be applied upon. I wasn’t too happy with it but the team was happy with it and it was good enough. (:
I think at some point they realised that I needed reassurance on what’s working or I’ll go into a loop of finding small things I need to improve on :’D It’s usually the final 10% of refining that take up most of the time. Generally I have much to work on when it comes to self confidence and putting myself out there. Then again, I’d rather focus at the project at hand and refine it further when it’s working ;P
Face shape variations
Because I’d want things to be different and not always of the same face shape! I did go overboard and spent lots of time on this because I had fun exploring as many options as I could with face shape [shown here], brows, eyes, noses, mouths, body types, skin tones and hair styles. Different faces!
It then reached a point where we can’t do randomised faces anymore because it was too much to implement into the game and to make the art assets work well together. Whelp, got to throw out the work that’s not working! I was relieved because making randomised faces still look good feels terribly time consuming and hard to execute well.
Now I needed to repurpose my art assets and tests! And to settle down on an art style, apply that consistently and create at least 100 individual eSports player portraits instead.
And then create T-shirt art assets of varying body sizes and designs that fit them too! All this done around a month and a half! O_O;
Challenge accepted :’)
As I mentioned earlier, I burnt out on it because I was super stubborn in following my own process and making art to the best of my own ability.
Aye. Witness the art style iterations below.
Art style Pass 1b
Where I wanted to make it look better but I wasn’t sure what I was doing nor what I wanted. I just knew I didn’t like it yet.
Art style Passes 2 to 4
Where I was figuring out an art style I can consistently apply to all subsequent portraits. How much levels of detail to include and exclude, how to make it less flat and how to do everything better. :”)
I kept pushing it and experimenting to see how far I could take it. And then I went back and forth to tone it down.
Art style Passes 5 and 6
When I finally reached pass 5, I was sufficiently happy and okay with it. I felt that I did the best I could with this art style. I didn’t feel as slow and annoyed with my vector art process for this style. I did it!! Yay! :’)
Unfortunately the typical eSports player looks serious and edgy in photoshoots so accordingly to kind feedback I changed the posture, eyes and facial expression for pass 6. No big “female gaze” pupils especially! My personal art style preference had to go away ;D
I had to change subsequent templates to use the new posture, eyes and layer set up too. Super time consuming keeping track of all the features and composing my own different faces as I had many notes and groupings for all the portrait pieces.
Personal note: throughout the whole project I was feeling weird, in disbelief and ashamed about seeing my art in-game on testbots but the team were kindly encouraging and gave feedback so that it worked better for the project. Most of the art style nitpicking and harshness was from me. I was floundering with vector art after all. :’)
Final art style pass 7
Huzzah! Eventually got here with an established art style.
Our first eSports player portrait – the art style base to work from. The team was already happy with the new pose, expression and eyes and this time I was okay with this art style too! :’)
From here, I was to apply this art style and execute at least 100 portraits.
Some of the 105 portraits I made for the game (some portrait spoilers):
Above are eSports player Portraits I designed and made and colour coded UI art to hold them.
Portraits all done & self care lessons
Overall I sketched out 200 portraits to be comprehensive and for the fun of it ;D Then I did a total of 105 final illustrations.
Some of the above are mild spoiler players for the game so I’ll leave the context vague. You can see the rest of them in the game if you’re interested. They were all done before the deadline! Yay! :’)
I’m not happy with how some of them turned out and how their facial feature combinations don’t work well with each other. There just wasn’t enough time for me to refine each one individually. Unfortunately I physically and mentally burnt myself out on these portraits. It didn’t help with my pre-existing, long running personal creative rut either.
All this made me sought out health professionals late last year so I can learn how to do better and manage my work performance anxiety. I can’t afford their services anymore now but I’ll try my best being mindful about it and take care of myself on my own. It’s been hard, especially in light of my previous progress update post with managing burnout.
Thank you so much to the team! Once they realised what I was doing towards the end, they pulled me back from getting too isolated and made sure I wasn’t crunching and being such an anxious perfectionist :’) <3
It was a tough, exhausting journey.
I hate vector art a bit less once again, yay! ;D
The positive silver lining is that I am happy with my progress and how much I’ve learned with vector art. I’m still super slow, deliberate and comprehensive using vector art to illustrate characters and establish a portrait template though. Every line, detail, colour and shape have been painstakingly nitpicked to oblivion and because of this, it’s probably too measured, bland and clean.
Vector art is incredible, clean, flexible and scalable – it’s just the process of ongoing nitpicking I don’t enjoy so much. I can’t just draw and illustrate like I usually would – I have to be more slower, patient and deliberate. When I saw everything as a puzzle where the pieces are the facial features variations I’ve made, it made things easier and manageable for me to put portraits together.
But I’m hesitant to make vector art unless I *really* have to for work. I don’t want to do it for personal art as I’m more of an artist than a graphic designer. ;P
Definitely not a portrait of somebody ;D I did two other portraits but I’ll let people figure them out through the game or said people can reveal them if they want to ;P
The Shoutcasters [Mighty Tweet]
Leonie learning UI art
After the portraits, I had to tackle and learn UI art and create art passes with Tim’s mockups.
Not shown here is that I did a lot of the UI icons, 2D vector art attempts at the training room and did a lot of UI screen mock ups. I struggled heaps with the training room back when it was still a 2D thing. Ryan created a wonderful and flashy 3D training room and tournament arena instead!
Some UI elements and mock ups made it into the game as Tim adjusted them as the game evolved. Lots of discussions and iterations between us!
I’m just not showing them here as judging from the screenshots, the final in-game versions are quite different since I left the project and the game evolved.
I have also accepted that my brain hurts whenever it came to attempting UI/UX design and was super grateful I was able to collaborate and work with Tim’s designs and art mock ups instead and do art passes over them where needed. He’s super great.
Generally I found UI art was something that needs to be done rather than something I enjoy or feel good at doing. I don’t feel that I’m that experienced either so this project definitely forced me to learn, make game art way out of my comfort zone and get it done whether I’m proud of the quality of my work or not. I guess I did okay and the best I could! :’)
Let’s just say I don’t want to do UI art anymore because I don’t feel like I’m reaching the standards (I’ve been rejected with UI art tests/attempts for at least one other project) and don’t feel competent at it. I’m very much discouraged and not keen on working on UI in the first place ;D
Skill Charge Cycle Banners
Art pass I did over Tim’s initial banner designs; I’m pretty happy how the art turned out! 😀 They didn’t end up in the game though as they’ve simplified and made the UI better. The ones I made were probably not easy to implement/read.
Player status emojis
I’m pretty happy with these emojis I made with Illustrator! I wasn’t sure if I could figure out something I liked. I’m not sure if these are in the game though but I want to show this progress off here. 😀
Final thoughts & lessons learned from the project
Ultimately the huge lesson for me is that depending on the project, good enough IS good enough. Show my progress so far because the needs of the game will keep changing rather than losing too much progress during development.
Stop working overtime and using up my personal time if I can help it! Need to manage my own anxiety and perfectionism [yes I’ve been told and reminded].
This was the first project where working like a freelancer, isolated on tackling a task and then getting feedback and doing iterations afterwards did not suffice. It’s been my approach to figure it out on my own for so long.
I guess it’s because:
- I’m the main 2D artist this time around,
- it’s my first Mighty project where I got to direct the art style for and some of the UI art design
- felt a lot of responsibility and pressure to handle and problem solve many things even when I don’t understand everything,
- but the project was evolving and the team needs to be in the loop with my progress and struggles. It’s a tricky balance between growing pains and getting help & updated. I tend to figure it out on my own when I know it’s up to me to do the job.
- I am not confident in my vector and UI art skills and both are out of my comfort zone. Anxieties aside and whether I was professional level at it or not, I had to make it work and do my job!
- generally am not great at speaking up in group meetings because it overwhelms me but I’ve gotten better as the project went along and I got my head around things better. Questions needed to be asked so I can continue my work ;P
- the fact that I’m developing a new art style I haven’t done before and more realistic than what I usually do. I felt I needed a lot of experimentation before I felt confident in applying anything as an established art style. I was grateful our first understanding producer scheduled time for me to develop, test and explore things in the beginning.
- I’m used to problem solving on my own until I’m really stuck and in need of feedback, following from my previous experiences
- how I’m not keen on just “getting it done” for a lot of the project as I wanted to follow my own process, learn, struggle and make quality work as best I can. Consequently to my own detriment because I wanted as much time needed to solve things. Eventually I toned down my workload after working out the challenges and was able to get things done as needed for the latter part of the project. I had to let go refining and nitpicking the art because I was already out of time and burnt out.
- and how I’m not just a helper artist for this project.
Consequently I’ve learned a lot in the face of many “out of my comfort zone” challenges and self pressure. I wasn’t sure if I could do it but I had to make it work somehow, regardless of how unhappy I was with the result and obstacles along the way. I get stubborn and I get serious!!
Towards the end we came across art exporting issues and after failing to export things several times on my own, getting help from the incredible art boss solved the problem! Turns out some pieces were too detailed to export! There were also some positioning issues too but the kind development team saved me from editing all 105 portraits again. :’) Deeply appreciated all the team’s help. Finally I managed to finish all my eSports game portraits, most UI art mock ups & assorted art assets before leaving, thanks to the support of the wonderful Mighty team.
Generally we focused on getting it done, managing the scope and making the game work. The amazing team finished the game months after I was gone and released it during April 😀
Taking quiet breaks!
I was super grateful to Mighty during late last year – I was able to take a quiet break and power nap as part of my lunch breaks to regain some stamina and continue intense work in an open office <3 It really helped me manage my low, introvert energy levels better.
In the future, I need to make sure I have almost always solitary work time while ensuring I keep communicating my progress with the team! To be able to focus and not feel isolated from the team. Both are important to me!
Managing perfectionism and performance anxiety when it comes working on team projects
This is something I’ll keep in mind in future projects for the sake of my well-being, the team and the project. It’s super difficult to not feel the anxiety and tension from wanting to do my best work and worrying about not giving enough value to my team and project. I definitely have a lot of self confidence to build in years to come.
Hey just because I don’t have too much resources and time to do things comprehensively on team projects, doesn’t mean I need to use up almost all of my personal time and burn myself out to do it. Perhaps I take things personally, deliberately, thoughtfully, stubbornly, sensitively, reservedly and I care too much.
This is also similar with my Character Design talks, my Speaker portraits or all the things I really want to problem solve – I keep burning/exhausting myself out by getting carried away too far. I’m never 100% sure if it’ll work so I do all I can. I tend to give and dedicate my time, energy and my everything so I really need to establish expectations, protect and set my boundaries better. And take breaks. Or allow myself to work long hours and arrange for longer time off away to compensate to see if that’s more of my rhythm.
I definitely do find it difficult to balance whenever I’m in tunnel vision mode so I will welcome tough love and reminders too…I forget and get carried away ;’)
If I want to indulge on my perfectionism and creativity, I hope to afford and invest as much time, freedom, experiments and resources as I want on my own personal projects and learning instead.
How do you overcome, manage and juggle with the struggles and creative experimentation when developing art style for a team project?
I completely understand that it’s all about making compromises and making sure the minimum requirements for the project are fulfilled when it comes to limited resources and budget. Those are a given. Business is business and you got to professionally deliver what you’ve promised!
Question is how does one know when to keep pushing for quality and when to stop?
At what point does one know it’s “good enough”? 90% is what I’ve read. I feel like I need team members or a trusted friend to tell me to relax and tell me what they expect of me with the project and art quality sometimes. Otherwise my standards are super high, I fall deep into things and push myself too far. Or I keep working within my own comfort zone and tempo, provided I have a realistic timeline to work by.
Super interested to learn how other people manage it and their experiences! Let me know in the comments! I’ll read them when able.
So it’s not just me alone, reflecting and introspecting over here. :’)
Digressing! Thanks for reading!
This project was the last project I worked on while I was still at Mighty Games. As a team we did our best and made it happen!
Thank you so much Mighty Serious/Mighty! (:
And thank you for reading this super long post! <3
This took months and a lot of critical self reflection to write! Feedback and/or support of all kinds are appreciated.
Note I don’t have it in me to do many more long posts like these – it’ll be mostly shorter rambles and art posts from here. It’s not often that I do big projects after all :’)
People seemed super supportive and encouraging from my previous post – thank you so much! I was anticipating that most people will move on or respond with apathy so I was grateful I had any responses and likes at all across my posts! Thank you and to the handful of lurkers too! <3
Had to turn down another potential gig recently. This time it’s because I don’t feel that I’m an experienced good painter (at least not yet) so I’ve just been managing and not letting my gloominess and anxieties bog me down too much. Not being where you hope to be gets discouraging at times :’)