Although i left this blog a little late i feel that i have benefited by the lecture that Mitch Small gave us the other day on concepting, so hear it goes.
Concepting isn't just important to the fundamental stages of game design, it is an integral part of every design process at every stage of completion. It helps artist work in a particular style and helps the final assets of a game be more similar in design to each other, by given them examples of design, architecture and color. From producing hundreds of prep sketches for every character, object, color pallet, scene and vehicle; this helps the design team pick through hundreds of designs and find interesting aspects in only a short amount of time. Ultimately saving the company money and you a lot of precious time and a lot of feelings that would otherwise be shattered. For instance, if you had spent a lot of time polishing just one drawing that wasn't picked for the final game. Mitch made it perfectly clear that becoming attached to your work wasn't a options, as ultimately the design team would probably just disregard it. Spending a long time producing a spectacular painting that wasn't what they wanted was a waste, so producing pages of silhouettes first and refining these as they picked designs they liked is a much more efficient way of working. This will ultimately save time, money and positively effect your pay packet.
Once a few ideas have been thought of, and critiqued, they can be refined so that more detailed iterations are produced in numerous different designs. This level of escalation is important in producing workable material for games and what ever other project you may be working on. By producing visual material, you are producing reference which every other member of the company can use.
Every design process is a type of concepting, it involves thinking of an idea and producing iterations of this in till a final idea and process has been produced. Often it is important not to think of your idea, just focus on the outline and shapes that composes your ideas. This free form expression benefits your work as it encourages you to produce work you wouldn't necessarily think of. Even if your doodling ideas, there should still be a purpose behind this, it should benefit you towards your project.
To concept effectively, you need to be shit hot at organisation. We've already established that concepting isn't just pretty pictures, it's not even producing an endless stream of thumbnails. It requires a wealth of information and reference, which also requires a very effective file system. Imagine trying to find a picture file that wasn't named and lost in a sea of other files. It would be pretty impossible to quickly produce work, which would intern slow the entire project down and you would get fired and die..maybe..probably not. In essence concepting is planning and planning are organised tasks that will help you concept. With the right information and planning, you know your constraints and what you need to do by when. Get it?
In conclusion, concepting isn't just the fancy images you see in Imagine FX, in fact its about 1% of it, concepting is designing world constraints and reference material, that the rest of your company can work with to produce a brilliant game that ties in together. If it requires 60 5 minutes drawings of a character to get them right wouldn't it be better than a 2 hour painting that isn't at all what the producers want, and is effectively a very expensive waste of time.