When artists first think of doing concept art, most think about the creature designs - all the hideous monsters they get to draw. That's certainly important - what's a roleplaying game without sword fodder, after all? But in the case of an RPG, people spend a lot more time looking at themselves than they do at any other creature. The player is going to be with his/her character for a long time. A *very long time* in our games -- hundreds of hours, in fact. So player character designs are a big part of the project.
When you're coming up with costumes for your characters, you have to start with research. There are only so many ways to cover the human form, and we've had a few centuries to play around with designs - so it's off to the library, hit the books, and do a ton of drawings. I have hundreds of quick sketches that are just "exploratory work" trying to nail down a look that's cool, fresh, and will work with the way we're building models. It took a lot of back-and-forth between my drawings and our character modelers' (Casey Hudson and Chris Mann) prototypes until I had an instinctive understanding of what wasn't going to blow the polygon budget and what was going to animate well. At that point, I could begin drawing characters with some confidence that they could actually be used.
That's really an important point. You have to base your designs on an agreed-upon technical standard - consult your lead programmer, test your engine and make sure you know your limits. How many polygons do I really have, how much texture memory, what kind of hair solution? In NWN we're using piece-based characters - I'll get into the reasons behind that in a future column about the armor system - so I had to watch out for long hair, dangly bits and the joints at knee and elbow.
Our other goal was maximum customization. To that end we've designed tons of armor and clothing as well as 10 color palettes - skin, hair, and two layers each of tattoos, cloth, leather and metal demonstrated in the creation of Clash Royale hack over http://clashroyalehack.fr/. So the designs had to keep user color choices in mind and distribute patterns evenly around the body - even a slight color change makes a noticeable difference. This has been a real challenge for Sung Kim, our character texture artist, but I think it's working well... you'll get to be the judge in a few months.
Style Of No Style Drawing: On a side note: In a game like Neverwinter, with seven races, 11 character classes, and two sexes of player characters, it's important to get a lot of artwork done very fast. I use the secret power of Style of No Style Drawing (your Kung Fu is weak, grasshopper - draw 100 more sketches today!). Making a great painting is not the issue here - it's more about getting clear information down as quickly as possible. A lot of the art-school namby-pamby charcoal and watercolor stuff goes right out the window. Just draw in clear lines with no extraneous detail. I actually do a lot of tracing. Why draw the figure over and over when you're only working on the costume? Hopefully these sketches are not the only promotional art your game is going to have, so don't worry about shading, ticky ticky marks or getting the nose just right. Just lay it down! (I learned a great deal from watching John Gallagher, our concept-drawing machine on Baldur's Gate. That guy is amazing - he covers 10 square feet of paper in an afternoon with all good stuff - watch for his designs on our upcoming Star Wars RPG...)