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8 Must-Know Tips for Game Art Directors from Industry Expert, Minoh Kim

In the 26th episode of our SpeakEasy, our CEO, Ninel Anderson, chats with the amazing Minoh Kim, the Art Director behind hits like League of Legends, Valorant, and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.

Minoh Kim is a well-known art director with a career that spans several top gaming companies and blockbuster titles, including Riot Games and Cryptic Studios.

He has been a big part of the visual development of League of Legends at Riot Games, helping create some of the most iconic characters and settings in the game. Minoh has also worked on Valorant, another major title from Riot Games, where his skills in character design and visual storytelling have been invaluable.

In this talk, Minoh shares invaluable insights on game art direction, team management, and the creative process.

How Teams are Organized Matter

Minoh shared some great insights into how his teams are set up. Each project has small, dedicated teams focused on different areas like visual effects (VFX), environment art, and concept art. These teams work closely together and with outside studios, which helps keep the creativity flowing and allows for lots of experimentation.

“We have resources for each discipline spread across all of game play. And so for each of the projects there are internal folks representing each discipline. So typically we have one or two point people. So, for example, in Arena, there would be one or two VFX artists, one environment artist, and one concept artist.”

Typically, there are key people in each team responsible for different disciplines. For example, in his new Arena project, you might find one or two VFX artists, an environment artist, and a concept artist. This setup allows for flexibility and rapid development. 

Despite being relatively small, these teams are very efficient, constantly working on research and development (R&D) and prototyping.

Why Constraints are Important

Interestingly, Minoh believes that having limits is actually helpful. He thinks that without constraints, nothing would ever get done. A balance between planning and doing is key; too much paperwork can slow things down, while just jumping in and working can lead to more creative results.

Players always want exciting new content, like cool arenas and sequel environments. However, when a team is only given limited resources and multiple projects happening simultaneously, it’s essential to decide where to allocate time and people. 

Minoh pointed out that constraints such as budget and time limitations help focus efforts and make sure projects are completed. Without these constraints, it’s easy to get lost in endless possibilities and never actually finish anything.

“I don't think we could create anything cool if we were not constrained and. I feel like if we were not constrained by anything, we would never ship anything ever.”

Sometimes, You Have to Be Able to Work With Limited Resources

This can be the biggest challenge for many game artists. But in game development, although making great content is a top priority, but sometimes, resources are limited. Minoh talked about the challenge of spreading resources across multiple projects. This leads to having a proper budgeting and planning are necessary to make sure everything gets done on time and to a high standard.

“If we had, you know, unlimited amounts of money and funding and stuff, yeah, it'd be great to make more cool stuff for players.”

Minoh discussed how his teams often have to make tough decisions about where to allocate their efforts. With many initiatives and projects running concurrently, it’s important to prioritize. Sometimes, they have to be resourceful and scrappy, making the most of what they have.

Understanding The Creative Process is Important

“There's always this ratio of where you want to spend your time. Do you want to spend time producing things, or do you want to spend time writing to communicate?”

As a game art director, Minoh understands that coming up with new ideas is a mix of structured planning and organic creativity. Initial sketches and ideas are explored thoroughly, and sometimes the first idea turns out to be the best. 

The ideation phase involves brainstorming and sketching out different ideas to see what resonates. This process can last for weeks or even months, depending on deadlines. Sometimes, the first sketch turns out to be the right direction, but the team still goes through a vetting process to ensure the idea holds up.

Defining the “right” idea isn’t a robotic process. It’s more about whether the essence of the character or setting speaks to the team. There are design briefs and high-level directions, but there’s room for flexibility. If a particular vision is not coming together, the art or narrative direction can shift to find a better fit.

Diversity in Character Design

Minoh’s work on creating Valorant characters shows his commitment to diversity. The characters come from various backgrounds and cultures, reflecting a wide range of accents and aesthetics. This inclusive approach helps players from around the world connect with the game.

From the start, the Valorant team aimed to create a diverse cast of characters. They included people from different cultures, backgrounds, and regions, ensuring that players could see themselves represented in the game. This goal wasn’t just driven by the art team but was a collaborative effort involving production, narrative, and other departments.

The launch roster of Valorant featured characters with varied appearances, accents, and cultural influences. This diversity was not just about visual representation but also included different personality traits and backstories. And through this, Valorant characters became more relatable and engaging for all players.

“We wanted to push the diversity of the cast as well. If you see the entire launch roster of Valorant, it's like, oh, well, we have characters from different backgrounds, different cultures, all sorts of things, different accents, everything.”

Content is King

Minoh believes that having great content is very important. He shared that when they first released Arena, they learned a lot from player feedback. They used this feedback to make improvements and released a small content update. They repeated this process by gathering more feedback, making more adjustments, and releasing a new version of the game.

“There were things that we learned with the first release of Arena. We took player feedback, made some adjustments, and released a small content update in December. We did the same thing, took in additional player feedback, made some adjustments, and then put out a new version,”

Content is what keeps players coming back for more. Fresh content means new challenges, stories, and experiences that keep the game exciting. It also helps build a loyal player base, as players are more likely to stay with a game that constantly offers something new.

“Maybe we could spend more time on developing additional content for players because content is king.”Additionally, great content can attract new players, expanding the game's community. By providing a variety of content, game developers can cater to different player preferences and play styles, making sure that everyone finds something they enjoy. 

Additionally, great content can attract new players, expanding the game's community. By providing a variety of content, game developers can cater to different player preferences and play styles, making sure that everyone finds something they enjoy. 

Attention to Detail in Game Art

For games like Valorant, where characters are seen up close, the level of detail is essential. Minoh talks about adding intricate details to character models, making them look and feel more realistic and engaging.

In first-person shooters like Valorant, players often see characters’ hands and forearms up close. This proximity requires a high level of detail, from the texture of gloves to the tendons on the hands. These details make the characters feel more real and immersive, enhancing the overall gaming experience.

Minoh’s team pays close attention to these details, to make sure that every element looks polished and believable, that it can captures the unique Valorant art style.

“We want to see extra details, you know, on the gloves, you know, you want to see things like the tendons on, you know, on the hands, you know, because it's very close up to the camera.”

There Are Many Different Disciplines That Come Into Play When Building Maps

Understanding how to create game maps involves a detailed and iterative design process. When building maps, there are many different disciplines that come into play, even for smaller modes like arena.

“There are a lot of different disciplines that factor into even like a smaller mode, like Arena.”

For example, UX designers need to redesign the user interface (UI) to fit the new mode. They make sure players can easily find information, like which team they are fighting, their team's health, and what happens if they lose a battle. This helps players understand the game better.

Next, visual designers come in to make everything look good. They create the visual elements like boxes, icons, and frames. This takes a lot of work and time, with many people working on it for months to get it right. 

Engineers also play a big part in making sure all the designs work properly in the game. They implement the designs and make sure everything runs smoothly. Even creating a small icon for a new item involves several steps. Designers think of the idea, and then the visual team draws and finalizes the icon.

Every small part of building a game map requires careful work and teamwork. This ensures that when players play the game, everything looks and works perfectly, making the game enjoyable and easy to understand.

In a Nutshell…

Constraints, collaboration, and understanding the creative process are a blueprint for creating iconic and memorable gaming experiences. For instance, in games like Valorant, art direction plays a big role in defining the visual identity and enhancing player immersion. Game artists work meticulously on character models, making sure they align with the distinctive Valorant art style.

As Minoh’s explained, in first-person shooters such as Call of Duty, especially Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, the level of detail in weapons is essential. Game artists focus on intricate details to make weapons look and feel realistic. This attention to detail is part of the broader art direction that brings the game to life.

Creating engaging game maps, whether for Valorant, Call of Duty, or other games, requires a deep understanding of how to build game maps effectively. This involves not only designing visually appealing environments but also ensuring they improve gameplay. Collaboration among designers, artists, and developers is key to this process.

League of Legends game development shows how art direction, character design, and map creation come together to create a cohesive and engaging experience. By understanding and integrating these elements, game developers can create games that are both visually stunning and highly playable.

Check out the full episode of SpeakEasy #26 on YouTube