I am a sucker for gaming art books so I thought it’d be an idea to summarise some useful information I have gathered on the subject into one post. This is coming from the perspective of a fan here, apologies to any art/gaming students/professionals who disagree with my ramblings. Also note that while there shouldn’t be any spoilers in this post, I would advise against getting any of these books or visiting any links without finishing the respective game first.
Books of note
Half Life 2: Raising the Bar
The daddy of all art books. This is a fascinating look into the art behind Half Life 2, including concept art, rendering and discussions about the process from start to finish. This includes interesting sidebars on creating characters that can express emotion, bits they had to cut (interestingly some of it has reappeared in HL2: Episodes 2 and 3) and the propaganda of the Combine.
It is a hardback (the picture under the paper sleeve is the same as the cover minus the text), hefty tome at 288 pages and sadly as far as I can find, almost no longer in print. Amazon has second hand listings for it ranging in the hundreds of pounds and eBay is not much better. It does look like it’s in stock on the Prima Games website, though I have no experience with ordering from them.
The Art of Mass Effect
This is another hard cover book, this time without any paper sleeve. At 175 pages it contains a lot less information that would fall into the ‘interesting tid-bits and insights’ category but has plenty of concept art. This is definitely ‘just’ an art book: there are no renders or wireframes and the book lacks a ‘making of’ structure, instead it is split up into the different components of the game: Heroes and Villains, Life-Forms, Transport, A Galaxy of Details and Alien Worlds. Don’t let this read as negative, I especially enjoyed the art work on the races, which capture the ‘mood’ of each race, the beautiful and smart Asari, the intellectual Salarians and the stern Turians. This is definitely one book where you would just flick through the pictures, rather than sit down and read.
The book is available in most of the major book/gaming establishments for around £15. I bought mine from Game for about £18 when I spotted it in the shops bundled with the walk-through (it’s still advertised as part of that bundle if you are looking for it), as I was waiting on Amazon who had a seven week lead time on getting a copy at the time.
Useful links: Prima Games page.
Assassin’s Creed Limited Edition Art Book
This art book is similar in structure to Raising the Bar, in that it covers everything from pre-production through to release, including concept art, renders and interviews with the art and development teams. Assassin’s Creed is a beautiful game and this is reflected in the art work. The commentary provides an interesting insight into the process of ‘theming’ the game, including the balance between creating something realistic and something that is fun to watch and play. If you ever loaded up Assassin’s Creed and stopped to go ‘wow’ when riding into a city on horseback, this book is for you. It is 157 pages long, hardback with a paper sleeve. The blue ‘genetic’ cover is the paper sleeve, the white assassin’s knife cover is the hardback cover.
A couple of points to note. A new art book seems to have recently surfaced which is of a different size to the one I describe. It is also £40. I have no idea if this is the same as the one I have, but the one I have can be picked up from the high street for less than half that price including the strategy guide, so avoid the expensive one until someone works out what is in it. Also, the blurb for the one I bought mentions a ‘high quality lithograph’- I have yet to find this!
Useful links: Prima Games page.
Gears of War: Destroyed Beauty
Destroyed Beauty is a short art book that was bundled with the collectors edition of Gears of War. It contains a lot of stunning concept art and a few renders along with a foreword describing the artistic goals of the game. While apparently not available outside of the collector’s edition of the game, a smaller version of the book with different pages was released to the press before the game was released and can be found in the link below. Higher resolution artwork can be found in the section below describing CGsociety.org.
Useful links: ‘Pre-release’ version of Destroyed Beauty.
The Art of Guild Wars
The collector’s edition of each of the three main games that make up Guild Wars came bundled with an art book. These are definitely ‘flick through’ books with limited text but plenty of pictures. There are some interesting bits of information you can pick out of the art, for example the original ‘asian-oriental’ style they went for and then ditched for Guild Wars Propechies, which became the art style of Guild Wars Factions.
Again sadly this is not available separately outside of extortionate eBay auctions, however there is a huge amount of artwork released by the artists on ConceptArt.org and a few pieces on the Guild Wars website.
Edge Presents The Art of Videogames
I’ve added this to the list to point out one book to avoid. This ‘collector edition’ is a paperback special edition of Edge magazine and is 258 pages long. Don’t be fooled though, there is next to no blurb or commentary with the pictures and at a guess 95% of the pictures themselves are those you could find by putting ‘(game name) art’ in Google Images. A hastily put together book with few interesting pictures which luckily is now out of print. Resist the urge to splurge silly amounts of money on it when the odd copy pops up for sale.
Useful links: Edge page.
Websites of note
Bioshock: Breaking the Mold
This art book is available free in PDF form on the Bioshock website. According to the website blurb it was released by the Bioshock team as they couldn’t get it into the collector’s edition of the game- to an extent this shows. The book has an interesting foreword (or so I am told, I have yet to complete Bioshock so I haven’t read it) and a short blurb before the start of each chapter, but is on the whole a ‘copy-paste’ dump of artwork. Still, free is free and it’s worth a quick look.
It is available in two flavours, high-res and low-res and is 78 pages long. Note on my ageing Pentium 4 system it does take a noticeable amount of time to render each page (perhaps a second or two) on the high-res version.
Useful links: Cult of Rapture page containing the PDFs.
Mass Effect Art Book
This brief (17 pages) art booklet is available in PDF format to those who own Mass Effect. It is very, very similar to the art book that was bundled with the Mass Effect collector’s edition (same cover, size and style but different pictures) and simply contains a set of concept art, with no blurb or text to speak of. Again, free is free so go for it, if you own the game of course. One thing I have found with this one is that though a lot of the art work overlaps, or has been trimmed at the corners, the pages still have their layers intact so that if you want to use one of them as a wallpaper or for something similar, you can simply copy-paste the images.
Useful links: Bioware page (registration required).
FLAREgamer: The Art of Assassin’s Creed
This web page describes a launch party art book that was given out to attendees and includes several pieces of artwork from the book. While every piece there is in the art book you can buy (see above) what makes this page worthy of inclusion is that the pictures posted there are huge enough to be used as wallpapers or even perhaps for printing.
Useful links: FLAREgamer web page.
Some notable videogame artists have portfolios here including Raphael Lacoste (Assassin’s Creed) and John Wallin Liberto (Gears of War). The site itself is also a wealth of beautiful artwork, whether related to games themselves or not.
Useful links: CGsociety.org homepage.
ConceptArt.org has a number of fantastic images from artists who have worked on some beautiful games. You should be able to spot a lot of these familiar images from the top bar of the website. These include Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights (I love Bioware’s artwork for their D&D games), Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines and Metroid. The forum also contains a wealth of pictures for your browsing pleasure.
Useful links: ConceptArt.org homepage.
Any I’ve missed?
I’ll update the post with anything else as I find it, but let me know in the comments if you have anything interesting to share.