Game Design Theory Level 3 – Customization and Creative Design Techniques

Section 1: Elements and Principles of Visual Design

In this first two sections of Level 3 of the Game Design Theory Curriculum we will discuss concepts that apply in general to all design and specifically to our main subject – enemy, boss and level design. The core concepts of visual design and the elements and themes used to demonstrate these concepts are essential to creating a vibrant experience that is pleasing to the player’s senses. The visual design is usually what players would refer to as “the graphics” of a game, but it’s not simply about the quality or resolution of the images themselves.


Creating visuals for video games is an art form unto itself. The contribution of visuals to a game is, in many ways, as essential as mechanics and programming. The instantaneous mental effect of imagery in a game has an incredible amount of influence on a player’s perception of a game regardless of how well the game plays. Poor visuals in a game can ruin its popularity, while terrific visuals can make a mechanically boring game a hit. Professional artists are masters of seeing the art within the art and will often break down visual design into two very broad categories: Elements and Principles.


The visual design of a game is more than just the pictures and colors but how things are arranged, presented, layered, animated and much more. Let’s dig in and see how we can use proven techniques to enhance “the graphics” in our games.

Elements of Visual Design


We can broadly think of the elements of visual design as the building blocks of art. They are the elements every piece of art will incorporate. The first five pages of this section will focus on the elements of visual design and then we will move on to principles of visual design which use and combine the elements in interesting ways to create an effect on the player. 






Value is an extremely important and a sometimes confusing element of visual design for non-artists. Value describes a range of gray between perfect white and perfect black.

White on this scale is given a value of zero and black is given a value of 10. The 1 to 9 values are all shades of gray ranging from light to dark gray. Art professionals can usually identify the exact value of any gray by using this scale.


value 2


Why is Value important? Value is how the eye separates one detail in an image from another. Without value images have no distinction and even color is worthless and washed out. One trick artists do to evaluate value is to remove all color from an image (remember video game artists use a digital art medium) and examine the image purely in “gray-scale”. This allows them to see the true value of a piece.