We just shipped our latest game, Wild Party Bingo! This time, I was product owner, and the art director was the talented Chris Turner. Working on a casual game is very different than core games in a number of ways, especially with regards to the visuals. In casual games, the User Interface is very closely tied to the art content. In fact, with the exception of the background images, almost all the 'art' is part of the UI. This required very close interaction with the entire team and a process that would ensure clean communications between disciplines.
We start with the wireframes, which is a term borrowed from web-design. We use Balsamiq www.balsamiq.com , which i recommend. This phase is to block out every screen, every pop-up and every button. We wire them up and are able to work-out the whole scope of the product with no artwork yet. With balsamiq, you are able to 'play' the app ,and check that the flow of menus/screens works. It lets us workout layout, functionality and scope rather quickly. Since the wireframes are stored in the cloud, we can collaborate with remote team members easily. Once the wireframes are complete and approved, we can start doing the actual art content that will go into the game. We use Adobe Cloud, and for this project, since everything was 2D, we did everything with Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash.
For the Art Direction, we wanted a visual style that was casual and appealing but also unique. This mostly translated into the logo, the character design and the backgrounds. Since our core demographic is more female than male, we also wanted to avoid any stereotypical sexualized imagery. We settled on a small cast of characters; a young couple, an older 'guru' type male and a monkey sidekick. With these characters we are able to hit a broader range of emotions than if we settled on a single character, or went without characters entirely. The choice to add characters was really driven by a desire to introduce a light story element and theme the product with personality and emotional engagement.
Our biggest challenge with the visuals was performance on mobile. At Asylum Labs we are all about pushing limits and some of the early builds just had too much 'juicyness' happening. We love our effects and can never get enough, but Flash on older mobiles caused us to have to remove some of the bigger effects (although we kept them for desktop web/Facebook).
The game is free, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on the product! Feel free to check it out!