Art books offer a hidden peek behind the curtain into the work of industry professionals at AAA game studios around the world. These books are wonderful investments for aspiring artists who want to study the pros and learn from their work.
I’ve written posts on more specific art books for Square-Enix games, but this post is meant for all aspiring artists looking for concept art inspiration. I’ve curated what I believe are the 20 best art books for modern video game concept art.
These books are perfect for aspiring concept artists who want to study the work of professionals. But they’re also great for video game enthusiasts and indie developers/writers who want to catch a glimpse into the artistic side of game design.
The Art of Naughty Dog
Naughty Dog has brought the world incredible game series like Crash Bandicoot, Uncharted, and Jak & Daxter. Their history dates back to 1987 and shows just how much an independent game studio can grow in a few short decades.
The Art of Naughty Dog takes a look at this company’s history in gaming that spans almost thirty years. You get lots of concept art plus essays & interviews with staff members.
It’s a hardcover book with only 184 pages, but each page is packed with rare artefacts and behind-the-scenes info. This is a must own book for anyone interested in the gaming industry. Naughty Dog is still a big player in the modern gaming landscape and this book gives you an inside look into this iconic figure.
The Art of Blizzard Entertainment
Another enormous company is Blizzard Entertainment, the creators of the expansive series World of Warcraft. This game has become an icon unto itself and it’s certainly one of the most respected MMO’s on the market.
The Art of Blizzard goes beyond just Warcraft into their other series like Diablo and StarCraft. This book is just shy of 400 pages full of rare production art, concept art, interviews and other cool resources.
Each major piece of artwork includes some commentary from Blizzard artists talking about how they create their worlds. This is vital information for anyone looking to get into concept art. Blizzard is a prime example of brilliant game design. Studying their artwork and advice will undeniably improve your own work.
This hardcover compendium has 180 pages of beautiful BioShock concept art. The worlds in this game are known for their dazzling creativity and steampunk atmosphere.
You’ll get hundreds of concept art samples including characters, worlds, buildings, vehicles, weapons… you name it.
There isn’t as much written content as I thought. The intro to the book was written by the game’s creative director Ken Levine. He shares some interesting thoughts on the game, but beyond that it’s mostly a standard artbook. Perfect for the many BioShock fans out there.
The Art of Fallout 4
Bethesda Games put together this hardcover artbook of Fallout 4 with production art for one of the most ambitious games in the company’s history. Fallout 4 was a huge success and this art book is the perfect companion piece.
You’ll find dozens of never before seen artwork that was only released for this book. It’s 360+ pages long and shows just how much work went into the game.
Beautiful concept art includes weapons, characters, environments, and rough sketches of all these creative assets. It’s the perfect art book for fans of the Fallout series or anyone who enjoys the design of unique RPG/adventure games.
Halo: The Art of Building Worlds
The beloved video game series Halo spans well over a decade of video game history. This has led to some groundbreaking gameplay and artwork for the series.
Halo: The Art of Building Worlds offers a look back on the past 10 years with rare production artwork and insider interviews. This single 190-page book collects rare artwork from all the games into one big collector’s item.
You get a peek at the rare worlds behind each Halo game with commentary from artists. Environment designers will especially enjoy this book for its attention to detail and high level of exquisite artwork.
But this comes with even more than just concept art. You get reprints of book covers, comic book pages, marketing materials, and other related production artwork. It’s the ultimate Halo compendium and a perfect item for the bookshelf of any gaming fan or aspiring concept artist.
The Art of The Mass Effect Universe
Science fiction comes to life in Mass Effect with multiple games now published in a growing series of titles. The Art of The Mass Effect Universe offers a sneak peek at concept art from all the biggest Mass Effect games from BioWare.
You get a peek at rare concept art for characters, environments, weapons, creatures, vehicles, and other smaller tidbits of the production pipeline.
This spans the typical length of an artbook with 184 pages. Not super long but definitely long enough to be worth the price.
Mass Effect may not offer concept art that appeals to everyone, but it offers a unique glimpse at current video game concept art techniques.
Final Fantasy Artbooks
I couldn’t leave Final Fantasy out from this list. But I also have a tough time selecting one art book to choose. There are literally dozens of FF artbooks that focus on single games in the series. If you’re interested in one single Final Fantasy title then do a search to see what’s out there.
I’m a big fan of FF9 so I’ve got a copy of the Ultimania book and the Art of Final Fantasy IX. Both of these books offer unique concept art from the series with varying levels of finely-rendered artwork.
You can find copies of Final Fantasy artbooks for every single game in the franchise.
Dedicated fans who want artwork from all the games may prefer the 25th anniversary artbooks. These come in three volumes which cover all the main series games from FFI-FFXIV.
These were published before the release of FF XV so there’s no say when artwork for future games will be published. But Square-Enix is great about releasing ultimanias and those always come with color prints of incredible concept artwork.
The Art of Deus Ex Universe
Deus Ex is a video game series growing in popularity each year. It’s a first-person shooter with overtones of anarchy, power structures, and transhumanism.
The Art of Deus Ex Universe paints these games in a whole new color with a look at rare production art. This is the ultimate collection of artwork from every single Deus Ex video game in the series.
Each section of the book comes with a bit of commentary from the team talking about their creative process.
You get lots of artwork but also interviews and tips for creating brilliant game worlds.
The Art of Destiny
From the creators of Halo comes an online-only FPS game called Destiny. It has slowly grown over the past few years and The Art of Destiny offers a beautiful look behind-the-scenes at the game’s design.
Creative directors work to build a consistent world with believable characters and scenery, and this is certainly true of this creative team. The Art of Destiny takes a look at the entire solar system and shows how much can be done in a game world with a creative mindset.
Destiny relies on a heap of inspiration from science fiction to classic fantasy and postmodern artistic ideas. The concept art in this book shows how much effort was put into the concept creation. Vibrant visuals cover every sheet of this 216-page art book.
Even gamers who don’t like Destiny could appreciate the art in this book. There’s a lot of inspiration to draw from and Bungie’s artists are happy to share their tips along the way.
The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia
One of Nintendo’s longest running video game series finally got its own artbook. But Hyrule Historia is much more than just a Zelda artbook.
It’s actually a full historic archive of Zelda from the very first game up to modern times.
This title was first released in Japan and with enough pressure from western audiences it was eventually translated into English. You get to learn about rare historic information behind the creation of each Zelda title.
Naturally there is a good amount of concept art & illustration work to accompany the info. But with 280 pages this book crams in a whole lot more than just artwork. It’s a must own title for any true Zelda fan.
MM25: Mega Man Complete Works
Mega Man is another popular video game series dating back to the late 80s. This was developed by Capcom and still runs as an exceptionally popular franchise to this day.
Megaman Complete Works is a beastly 25th anniversary artbook totaling over 400 pages worth of interviews and artwork. This covers every game from the first Mega Man to the newest title Mega Man X(newest when the book was published).
The book includes rare concept art, rough sketches, storyboards, wall pin-ups, and tons of interviews.
Other Mega Man books were released prior to this with scattered artwork from different games. But MM25 The Complete Works brings all this artwork together into one big book which is perfect for Mega Man fans everywhere.
Valkyria Chronicles: Design Archive
One of the newest Sega RPGs is Valkyria Chronicles. This first came out in 2008 to a very receptive audience. The game’s success led to multiple follow-ups with a fourth game on the way.
Valkyria Chronicles: Design Archive is a collection of rare concept art straight from Sega’s design archives. This tactical RPG offers a metric ton of rare concept art packed into this 400-page compilation.
You get everything including character art, environments, weapons, vehicles, creatures, costumes, and anything else you could imagine. Valkyria Chronicles follows the traditional Japanese RPG style so the artwork follows the common artistic vision found in Japanese gaming.
I would say this book is well worth adding to your collection if you’re an aspiring concept artist. The book is freakin’ huge and it costs about the same as every other game art book.
The Art of Castlevania – Lords of Shadow
Back in 1986 the very first Castlevania game was released. Since then it has grown into a tremendously large series with over 30 different titles.
In this art book you get artwork from the entire Lords of Shadow video game. It covers characters and environments along with all the other minor stuff. The artwork is simply incredible and it can be appreciated by artists who don’t even know about Castlevania.
Art of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
Everyone should recognize the growing popularity of Assassin’s Creed. This video game series first premiered in 2007 and has since released close to a dozen titles.
This artbook focuses on one of the newest titles Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. It spans the typical length of 192 pages of artwork from the Industrial revolution era in London. The artists poured their hearts into this title and you can tell by the quality of work in these pages.
Environments in this book are exceptionally beautiful with detailed artwork for interiors and exteriors. It’s a brilliant adventure game and the artwork is perfect for studying and comparing to your own skillset.
A rare treasure in the world of gaming is Okami. This title follows Japanese folklore with some creative ideas towards gameplay and storytelling.
Okami Official Complete Works is an art book published by Capcom with rare Okami concept art. The book totals 280+ pages of beautiful game art from environments to characters and props found in the game world.
You get a behind-the-scenes peek at how this entire world was created. The game has a very unique art style so there’s something to be said about studying this concept art. It may not directly apply to your own work, but Okami can offer perspective from the creative standpoint of a popular AAA title.
But I would only recommend this book to fans of the Okami series. The gameplay is not traditional and the artwork is mostly relevant to folks who want to learn more about the game.
Shiro Amano: The Artwork of Kingdom Hearts
Kingdom Hearts rapidly grew into one of Square-Enix’s most profitable ventures. Who would’ve guessed that one part Square-Enix, one part Disney, and a dash of Final Fantasy would produce such a lucrative game?
The Artwork of Kingdom Hearts is a tome of Shiro Amano’s work on the KH series. You get illustrations from all the major games with some light commentary. However this is not all concept art so it may not be the best choice for game artists.
This fairly large book combines all the rare production art into one big tome of concept art inspiration. One reviewer complains about the book’s lack of hardcover design, but admits that all the artwork inside is great.
I haven’t read any serious complaints about either of these books so they’re both well worth the purchase if you’re into Kingdom Hearts/Square-Enix concept art.
In 184 pages you get to look over characters, weapons, creatures, and environments from the Dragon Age series. Every piece of art is labeled and categorized for easier browsing.
Mythical legends and fantasy overtones heavily influence this game series. It’s not a traditional RPG but it does have a solid mix of RPG, adventure, and fantasy influences. I highly recommend this if you’re interested in game art.
The World of Professor Layton
I could not give enough praise to The World of Professor Layton. This art book has absolutely everything you would want to see from the Professor Layton video game production pipeline.
You get concept art for all the characters, worlds, and in-game puzzles. You’ll find rough sketches and illustrations from scenes in the game. There’s also a handful of storyboards roughing out the animation cycle.
Characters have their own bios with sketches and concept art for each person. All of this artwork is paired with exclusive interviews and commentary from the game’s creative team.
Even if you’ve never played Professor Layton before, this art book can still have value for aspiring concept artists. By studying art and interviews from a popular game series you’ll pick up habits you can use in your own process.
Art of Fire Emblem: Awakening
The very first Fire Emblem game was released in 1990 and since then the series has spawned over 12 different titles. Fire Emblem: Awakening one of the newer games with many of the same tactical RPG gameplay mechanics.
The Art of Fire Emblem: Awakening spans 320 pages of beautiful concept art from the game. This includes illustrations of worlds and characters, along with storyboards and rough sketches made during the creative process.
You get a peek at concept art featuring vehicles, weapons, props, costumes, and the entire script written for the game. This is notably a brilliant collector’s item for die-hard fans of the Fire Emblem series.
But it can also prove incredibly valuable to new aspiring game artists looking for inspiration. Fire Emblem Awakening is not that old so the artistic styles are quite relevant to modern game design.
Bravely Default & Bravely Second
Last(but not least) we come to Bravely Default. This popular Square-Enix RPG was first released around the dawn of 2010. It quickly grew an audience leading to the Bravely Default Art Works artbook.
It’s a Japanese exclusive so all the content is in Japanese. But the artwork is incredible and well worth the cost. You get to see a real AAA studio’s concept art from a brilliant RPG game series. Bravely Default’s artbook has environments, characters, props, weapons, and creatures from the game.
With this much success it was natural for Square-Enix to release a sequel to the game. This came in the form of Bravely Second which also got its own beautiful artbook.
It should be noted that the Japanese version of the Bravely Second art book is a better purchase than the westernized version. It appears Square-Enix censored the western version for unknown reasons. This has fans pretty upset, but there’s always an option to buy the Japanese version instead.
Either way these two artbooks will give you stellar examples of professional RPG video game concept art.
No matter what type of video game you’re interested in from puzzles to adventures or RPGs, there’s something for everyone in this list.
Be sure to check out any titles that catch your interest and pick up copies that you wanna add to your collection. Artists can learn a lot by studying the works of others.
Analyze your favorite pieces and be willing to try master studies by re-painting your favorite concept art from scratch. You’ll learn a lot in the process and will get better at critiquing your own work.