Serbia’s Thriving Game Art Scene

Vladimir Kuzevski,
Character Artist, 3Lateral
An edited version of this article was published in our inaugural annual report. Here we share it in its entirety

“Stop playing video games, you are wasting your time!” These words are always echoing in my head every time I see some kid or an esport team win a major competition, or a game studio announces the success of their game – be it a financial success, player count, or, to me the most interesting, a new technical achievement. That’s also what I thought when 3Lateral, once a small studio creating digital humans for the gaming industry, joined one of the biggest game development companies in the world – Epic Games.

Being a part of a generation that basically grew up playing video games, the notion that playing them is a waste of time is making less sense with each passing day. The time that I, and many of my colleagues, spent playing video games, some of us still doing it, is what inspired us to start our careers in the game development industry.

A little bit about game art

Creating game art isn’t just about creating pretty environments or jaw-dropping sci-fi creatures, okay some part of it is, but in a lot of cases it can be something like working on how many stripes there will be in a health bar, what color, what shape, etc. Game art involves a wide spectrum of sub-disciplines that together combine in a pipeline in order to create games. Game artists are responsible for basically everything you see, hear, and do in a video game. Concept art, animation, sound design, environment art, technical art, VFX, UI design, game design, character art, etc. These are all different disciplines on their own, and each plays an important role in creating art for video games. Each of these disciplines consists of more additional knowledge – for example being a character artist in 3Lateral means understanding the anatomy of a human face. To conclude, a wide variety of knowledge and expertise that game artists nourish is responsible for the overall quality of a video game.

In order to create a successful AAA game, it often takes combining the expertise of several art studios in order to create a game that will blow away the gamers. Take into consideration that games are realized in 2, 3, or 4 years after they have passed the artistic part of the pipeline, so all studios have to think about the advanced artistic approaches which will keep up the pace with the future trends.

I am personally fascinated with what video games are today! They are becoming more and more intertwined with more traditional disciplines, spanning all the way to medicine and health care even. The most recent and one of the best examples of this can be identified in the Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice video game. This game gives all the players a chance to see what are people with mental illness going through, by skillfully utilizing binaural audio recording, while keeping the storytelling on a high level and including some nice fighting mechanics. Art & Science actually introduced those new and inspiring perspectives to video games.

Hellblade has gone on to become a critically acclaimed work of art

The Current Game Art scene in Serbia

Worldwide, the video game development industry is growing rapidly and with constant rising interest among the wider audience, it’s becoming clear that this industry has a bright future. Since this has become the new trend in the world it’s starting to make its way to Serbia as well. In Serbia, there are a few companies that are industry-leading in their respective fields. Nordeus hand in hand with 3Lateral is putting Serbia forward to become recognized as the country that is expanding the frontiers of the gaming industry. Therefore Game Development is becoming recognized as the most lucrative branch of the country’s future development. One important consequence of this fact is the recent arrival of Epic Games, as well as Ubisoft, which present game development industry leaders globally. I am sure more will follow!

What are Our Strengths

The number of people who are working in game development in Serbia is rising each day, and a lot of them are starting their careers in the industry. That can be concluded by observing the number of people that are coming to the local conferences (CGA, GameUp, Games.con, Reboot, etc.). Having an education in specific areas of game development available to passionate gamers is the base of our success. The next step is to build an ecosystem of competitive game development studios to allow students or self-taught artists to demonstrate their potential.

Working in game development can sometimes feel like you are part of some small, exclusive community, which leads to great cooperation between the studios. One good example is the cooperation between Nordeus, Bunker VFX studio and 3Lateral, in creating the cinematic trailer for “Heroic – Magic Duel”, a video game from Nordeus. This is, as far as I know, one of the first cinematic trailers for a game, made entirely in Serbia. Not so long ago we saw Mad Head Games, release a cinematic trailer for their first RPG, Pagan Online, which they made in collaboration with Bunker VFX studio. One of the biggest cooperations between studios in Serbia is the work on the “Awakening” project, a short cinematic trailer that was created for the promotion of the CGA conference. Studios like these bring the community together, and empower new ideas and set the new standards for groundbreaking projects.

Nourishing Individual Talent

One small but significant part of the game development community are the artists, and they do not necessarily need to be affiliated with any studio in Serbia, while they can still be engaged on a wide range of projects for the game industry. The work that they do is astonishing, and one of the main values is their willingness to share knowledge with the rest of the community through presentations at conferences, online courses, social media groups. Or if you have a 14-year-old talented self-taught artist who won the contest for the creative IT content, we as a gaming community have an obligation to be the wind in the wings to these kids and to motivate them to keep up with the amazing work. It is important to have a “vice versa support”, to communicate and to empower the community spirit.

The Importance of Being at Events

The best way of bringing the community together is to hold annual conferences and regular meetups. We have a few of those here in Serbia. Computer Graphics and Art conference for example, where everyone can get an update about the gaming industry and hear something new during amazing lectures held at the event. GameUp is a great conference to share experience and knowledge through workshops.

SGA meetups are probably my favorite, these are small meetups that happen throughout the year. I’ve personally had the opportunity to hear firsthand experiences of how one of the most successful games was developed, from a small project to one of the most popular games in the world.

What About Education?

While the game art scene in Serbia is in good condition, there are still a lot of obstacles to overcome in order to have a healthy thriving industry. While Serbia, thanks to few collectives and individual efforts, is on the worldwide map of gaming industries, it takes a lot more effort to make it bigger, therefore more visible on the map.

One of the ongoing efforts should be to introduce game-specific programs in the educational process. In higher education, few programs that focus on game art only have been introduced a few years back, and few programs that offer game art education partially via game art courses. These efforts are a great way to enrich the game art communities with fresh talents and ideas, they will continue to do so and hopefully intensify in the coming years.

3Lateral joined the Horizon project as a “technology and art partner on character creation”

Companies and Open Days

Companies should be open to promote their work in order to bring it closer to students and kids directly. A good example are “Open days”, events or series of events organized by companies where they open their doors to everyone and share a glimpse into their work. At these events companies can offer a lot to attendees, showing a typical working day, presenting specific technologies or projects, organizing workshops – with a general goal to motivate kids with positive examples showing that they do not have to go abroad in order to be successful artists or to be involved in world-changing projects.

Recognizing Game Dev as an Official Profession

I think a lot of people in the gaming industry feel the same. Recognizing game development as an official profession is becoming more and more crucial for further growth of the industry. And by the further systematization of game development professions, we can guideline and increase the specific expertise of each individual.

The game development industry is one of the most creative and fun industries someone can work in, but also one that requires a lot of commitment and passion. Some could argue that creating video games is like playing one of the most fulfilling games you can play. So are video games really a waste of time?