Artists Seeking Writers - Do They Exist?

edited February 2010 in Story Games
Recently my curiosity was piqued by a thread in which the suggestion was made of an artist commissioning a game designer / writer to create a game for their images. Now, as a designer who can never quite afford decent art, I have to say I'm curious about the possibilities of such a business model. The main problem, as I see it, is the lack of artists who would be interested in such a scheme. Making good art is a lot of work, and I can see why many people would prefer the guaranteed (though often low) payment option to making an entire book and then trying to sell it at a profit. And from a writer's perspective, I know how little most RPG projects pay. And few artists are interested in profit-sharing arrangements, with very, very good reason.

But I can't help but wonder, what if it was the artist who was in charge?

In other words, the artist draws the pictures he or she wants to represent a world of her creation, then the writer turns that vision into a compelling world with a suitable games mechanic behind it to drive that vision. Could such a model work? I have no idea. Furthermore I have no knowledge of precedents that might prove or disprove the viability of such an action from an Indie gaming perspective.

So what are other people's thoughts on the subject? ARE there any artists out there who'd like to make an RPG of their work? What would make such a deal viable in your eyes? Feel free to ramble and digress!

N.B. I'm not (at present) proposing such a deal myself, just interested in discussing the practical ramifications.

-Ash

Comments

  • I have actually seen this happen before, although not for RPGs. Take a look for a book called Robota. It is a bunch of art by the guy that did the concept work for the Phantom Menace, and he hired Orson Scott Card to write the story. Interestingly little story, with some great art.

    But, no never in a RPG.
  • It's an interesting twist.

    I've been contemplating advertising my services as an artist to a writer with the aim of creating an illustrated game collaboratively, but I never considered calling the shots and actually employing someone (I need to get back to illustration; Fine Art is dandy, just I get mental cramps when I don't use my pencil enough).

    Although, to be fair, you could pick up passable fair-to-good amateur writers and artists for free with enough of a pitch.
  • Posted By: PotemkinAlthough, to be fair, you could pick up passable fair-to-good amateur writers and artists for free with enough of a pitch.
    Heh, feel free to tell me where ;)

    -Ash
  • I'm sure there's a big disconnect in communication between writers and artists. There are tons of both out there looking for collaboration, but seemingly not finding it. I looked on the forge a while back because I was considering offering art for free (for me it's a hobby, I already have a job), but there were already so many people on the board advertising for cheap or free. I've offered my amateur art talents to a number of people on this board and there's not been much interest. Now maybe that's my skill level that doesn't intrest, which is fine, but maybe it's some other communicative thing that is blocking.

    We need like eHarmony or something for amateur artists/writers/designers/whatever who are willing to work very cheap or free as a hobby endeavor.

    I like this idea, though. Maybe I'll put together 10 themed pictures and see if anyone wants to design around that.
  • To comment on Erik's angle, my experience is that aside from price, the degree of creative collaboration an artist is able to bring to the table is a major element in choosing who to work with. This is a combination of commitment, communication, analytical ability (an important bit - you can be excellent at drawing, but this does not matter if you can't pick apart influences and follow abstract instruction) and creative leadership/following. The right combination of these elements determines how culture industry teams work together. Technical skill is not nearly the most important determinant, I'd rank any of the above elements as important, if not more so. Price is often more important, not because I can't afford to pay (although if I'm shooting for profitability in the project, this is an issue), but because various payment models and amounts have cultural implications that the team might not be comfortable with.

    On a theoretical level there is no reason why the initiator and leader of a game production process couldn't be the artist. I imagine that in that sort of set-up the artist would provide the aesthetic gloss that's usually determined by the game designer and transmitted at least initially (before the game is illustrated) in writing; instead we'd see the artist making long portfolios of concept imagery coupled with abstracted game design goals which the designer consultant would then support with appropriate game text. As I speculated in the other thread, probably we don't see this in the real world simply because artists have other, more prestigious and rewarding types of projects to take their leadership to. I could imagine that if I was a hotshot artist, I'd likely start an amazing webcomic or go into gallery art instead of doing roleplaying game products. It's not that art can't achieve much in roleplaying, but it's also true that I'd have to invent the form anew to reliably bring my art into focus in the game. Why go to this trouble to make a product that is, ultimately, about facilitating verbal art?
  • I've seen artists, even you I think, Erik, on the Forge and I've looked at their stuff pretty frequently.

    Part of it is that I am the perpetual designer, and I don't have anything that's quite ready for illustration yet. I see artists whose style I like for a project, but I wouldn't have enough to actually go forward with commissioning art. Another, bigger part is the style. I've got a pie-in-the-sky artist I'd love to commission for one of my projects, because his style of art is perfect for the aesthetic feel I want for the illustrations. He does work for Heavy Metal, which means that he's WAY out of my league, though. Others, I may like their art, but it doesn't feel right for any of my projects. Price is a pretty big determiner for me, as well. Unlike Eero, I don't have a budget. I'm just a guy with a family and an obsession... err, hobby. I've been dismayed by price probings I've made toward people who work specifically with the indie market, who know that designer's art budgets aren't that large. (Also: Almost no one posts a price scheme on their portfolio website, which means you have to ask, which means you have to initiate that relationship when you're just window shopping)

    To address the OP more fully, though...

    A designer can design a game and write it, then seek an artist, because he can tell the artist "draw this scene." An artist cannot, I think, do the same sort of thing. He's gonna have a specific idea of what the game should do to express his art, so he's going to have to work closely with the designer to make sure the game expresses the art, AND that it's fun to play. It's going to require a much higher investment on the artists part, in almost every case.

    One example that almost fits, though.. Mouse Guard. Sure, it wasn't just an artist seeking an RPG book to put his pictures in, because he had setting and story already. He also worked with an established designer using a house system. But it's probably the best example of an artist seeking a designer you're going to find. The game belongs to the artist, not to the designer. If you look at the Burning Store, Mouse Guard's not even available.

    Also, a tiny thing that artists could do to encourage interest (mine at least) is to have links to their portfolios in their profiles, signatures, etc. Yes, I'm looking at you, Erik. I may recall your name in a vague way from the Forge, but I don't recall if I've seen your portfolio. You DO have a name that'd look good on a by-line though... "Art by Erik BATTLE"
  • I know this is only tangently related but...

    There was a contest on rpg.net called "Mech an RPG" a while back where a gent gave the art for a game into the public domain and had a contest to write a game based on the art. http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=181181
  • Eero, great points. I guess why an artist would go to the trouble is the same reason a writer or a designer would. I know RPGs are not very profitable, but I think most of us do it for the love of it.

    Lance, very good point about encouraging interest. We can probably all learn how to market ourselves better.

    Interesting topic.
  • I think the problem lies in human interest.
    A designer is interested in rpgs. An artist might be interested in rpgs. The chance of an artist being interested in publishing an rpg, are slim.

    Now if we're talking about an artist approaching a designer and together doing a game and split the profits, that's more doable and I'm doing it right now.
  • Artists looking for writers is common among the comic scene, especially among indie comics (in this part of the world anyway).
  • Posted By: vulpinoidArtists looking for writers is common among the comic scene, especially among indie comics (in this part of the world anyway).
    Can you point to some examples, I mean, is there a web forum they go to or...?

    I think comics in general do this quite a bit. I mean, Marvel already had Spiderman drawn and even scripted for 20 years before they came out with the RPG.
  • I'd like to second JDCorley's request there, not because I'm looking to write comics necessarily, but because I have other matters I'd like to discuss with an Indie comic team. Mind you, ya never know, might find the next Mouse Guard while you're looking eh? And comics, even lesser-known ones, are fertile ground for role-playing games.

    -Ash
  • Posted By: DestriarchPosted By: PotemkinAlthough, to be fair, you could pick up passable fair-to-good amateur writers and artists for free with enough of a pitch.
    Heh, feel free to tell me where ;)

    -Ash

    Myself, for one. Admittedly I'd have to put together my portfolio first, and you'd have to accept my evaluation of my own work as passable-fair.
  • Posted By: PotemkinMyself, for one. Admittedly I'd have to put together my portfolio first, and you'd have to accept my evaluation of my own work as passable-fair.
    Well if you do stick some work online, throw a link in the thread. Somebody's sure to be interested.
    Same goes for any other artists who want to share their work, whether they like the idea of collaboration or not.

    -Ash
  • edited February 2010
    You know, as an artist/quasi-game designer I have to say that I find this whole conversation a little baffling. Why are we focusing on the segmentation between artists and designers? Isn't the whole point of the indie movement the democratization of game design? If an artist wants a game to match some art that they have done, why not write the game themselves? Why do we assume that artists are by default not game designers?

    I will hold myself up as a modest example of an artist who has made forays into game design. But there are also people like Vincent Baker and Joshua Newman who have serious game designer cred and are also artists.

    I can accept that there are artists out there who aren't terribly interested in game design as a process. That's cool. But instead of hiring a writer as an employee (which is very problematic as most artists don't really get paid well for their art so they don't have a lot of money kicking around for creative projects), why not find a designer willing to be a co-author and enter into a profit-sharing agreement. But writing is very much like art in that most of the time you get what you pay for. There aren't many people who are masters of their craft who are willing to give away their work for free. So I think if an artist is passionate about translating their art into an RPG, it makes much more sense to find a designer who is equally excited about that art and willing to work with the artist to "make it go", as it were.

    EDIT: Bad punctuation
  • Posted By: wundergeekYou know, as an artist/quasi-game designer I have to say that I find this whole conversation a little baffling. Why are we focusing on the segmentation between artists and designers? Isn't the whole point of the indie movement the democratization of game design? If an artist wants a game to match some art that they have done, why not write the game themselves? Why do we assume that artists are by default not game designers?
    I don't think anyone's making that assumption, to be fair. There's no reason why an artist and a game designer can't be the same person at all. It's just that when they *aren't* the same person, it always seems to be the writer who hires (or otherwise proselytises) the artist. I can't think of many (or indeed any) situations where it's gone the other way around.

    It's not the pay arrangements that interest me, so much as where the inspiration comes from for the RPG.

    -Ash
  • edited February 2010
    As a writer I've had great fun letting artists inspire me, both as a novelist and as a gamesmith. It has been beneficial for my writing, to the degree that I tend to look for a suitable artist(s) whenever I begin thinking about a new project; a man or woman with the right qualities to make a collaboration fun and constructive.

    What I consider:
    - technical quality
    - originality of ideas
    - interesting characters

    - personal enthusiasm
    - communication and ability to deliver

    I am not looking for artists at this moment, so please don't ask. ;-)
  • Talking to Paul Czege about illustrating games a long time ago, I made the flip suggestion of reversing roles, and having artists commission game designers to create storytelling rules to adorn their wonderful artworks.

    Paul spun that into the idea of an illustrator coming up with a few pieces that might be illustrations for a cool (but nonexistent) game, and then doing a little Game-Chef-like design challenge for games for which those illustrations would be appropriate -- with the rule being that everybody who submits a game has the right to use those illustrations in their game, and the winner gets some more illustrations for free. Something like that. It'd be cool.

    He's bugged me about doing that every so often but I have been too lame and creatively dessicated to do so. But maybe somebody else would like to? :)
  • I remember the 'Artists First' Game Chef challenge, it was one of my favourite 'extra rules' of recent years. I'd certainly be interested in doing it again.

    -Ash
  • I did a bunch of photography a few months back for Ben Lehman. We had an arrangement similar to Artists First: I took pictures of whatever I wanted, and he would then write a game using and inspired by them. It was a really fun and interesting exercise, and one I'd be interested in trying again.
  • Somewhat related, Bully Pulpit Games was approached by MGM/UA to write a roleplaying game as a promotional tie-in to the film Valkyrie. It didn't end up happening but it sure was an exciting ride.
  • Posted By: JDCorley

    Can you point to some examples, I mean, is there a web forum they go to or...?
    When I was in the indie comics scene around here, it was far more visceral than that. Back in the pre-WWW days it was literally a case of hanging out at one of the three local comic book shops (often migrating between the three of them), on a Thursday night or a Saturday morning. Those who were looking to start new projects would bring in a folder of their stuff, or a couple of photocopies to leave in-store. Anyone who was looking at the other side of a project would ask, and eventually a connection would be made.
    I think comics in general do this quite a bit. I mean, Marvel already had Spiderman drawn and even scripted for 20 years before they came out with the RPG.
    Marvel comics in particular do this a lot more than you obviously realise.

    Within the comics industry there is a technique called "Drawing Comics the Marvel Way".

    Traditionally a comic was written as a text document, sometimes describing scenes and dialogue, other times going into panel by panel detail with specific instructions for posing, lighting and other minutiae. A bit like a film or movie script. The artist would then come in and take the text, visually render it according to the instructions given, thenhand it back to the writer to see if it matched the writers creative vision.

    I think it was in the 60's when Marvel decided to put the artist first, notably with guys like Stan Lee.

    The artist would draw out the story they wanted, leaving room for dialogue bubbles and text blocks. They might hastily scrawl some notes about the kind of things that might be said (or described in text) at a certain point. The illustration was given to a writer would would refine a story from the images, or provide a bit more context for what was happening in the images.

    There are still many comic artists who split the world into "those who work the Marvel way", and "those who work traditionally".
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