A game artist is an artist who creates art for one or more types of games. Game artists are responsible for all of the aspects of game development that call for visual art. In modern video games, game artists create 2D art, such as, concept art, sprites, textures and environment backdrops; and 3D art, such as, models, animations and level layout.
There are many types of game graphics, and many ways to display them. The most popular ones today though is sprite-based 2D, 2.5D, and mesh-based 3D graphics. All three types benefit heavily from an artistic background, albeit constructing for 3D is much more technical, and rely less on traditional drawing skills. (but no employer would look negatively on such background)
2D sprite based graphics:
2D sprite-based graphics are the simplest – a sprite is simply a sheet at which you draw something on, and then place on a layered grid (higher numbered layers are displayed in front of the others) such as above, wherein the background would be layer 0, cliffs and foliage layer 1, and lastly humanoids and player character layer 2. This is to prevent the sprites from overlapping and creating a conflict over which sprite to display. It also helps to fake a 3d perspective.
2D images can be made in any drawing application. Common programs are Photoshop, Gimp and Krita.
2.5D sprite based graphics:
2.5D is a sprite-based style that tries to fake a 3D environment. This can be seen in for example Age of Empires 2, which in that case is called an isometric artstyle.
Just like the 2D artstyle, the sprite sheets are placed on a layered grid, and in this case the layer is often shifting for movable characters, to make it seem as if the – for example – player character is moving in 3d space. In 2.5D games the layer can be decided for each sheet depending on their y-coordinate. More often than not the sprite with the lowest y-coordinate will be displayed above the competing sprite. This makes it seem as if one sprite is in front of the other one in 3d space.
2.5D is drawn the same way any 2D image would have been (only difference is the type of rules used when drawing). Common programs are Photoshop, Gimp and Krita.
3D mesh-based graphics:
The big bad wolf of game graphics has to be 3D though. A big majority of AAA titles opt for this technique, and it is by far the most technical.
Meshes are usually created in programs such as 3DS Max, Maya or Blender, then unwrapped and textured, then imported into a game engine and given a collision box. After all that it is ready to be used by a level designer.
-Credit goes out to Jeremy Gooch, “Tiny Speck” and “Ensemble Studios” for images used in this post