Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 7, 2014
Old-school bitmap art can be pretty dang awesome. Like this, from the incredibly cool arcade-style freeware game Maldita Castilla, by Locomalito Games. Check it out – it’s freeware. Tip the creator with the number of quarters you would have dumped into this game if it had been in an arcade machine:
My kids and I thoroughly loved Towerfall for the Ouya. The new version has the hottest modern gaming hardware pushing 2D pixels like it’s 1992. While IMO the graphics weren’t quite as amazing as Maldita Castilla, they didn’t need to be. They were as good as they needed to be to support the outstanding gameplay. If you think this looks like fun, you’d be right:
Supporting the gameplay is really the key.
One of the problems with more realistic and detailed graphics – every possibility has to be meticulously modeled / animated / rendered. The answer to this, as budgets skyrocket, is to limit the breadth of interactions so that you don’t end up with the combinatorial explosion of necessary assets and variations. For example, you might have a game concept with a cool idea like, “Oh, what if we set a guy on fire, and THEN blow him up with an explosive arrow, and then his exploding, flaming chunks sets everything they touch on fire?”
My inner 14-year-old thinks this is the coolest idea ever. In a game like Towerfall, you’re talking maybe a half-day of coding, and maybe a day or two of art assets and variations. But if you were working on the latest Call of Duty game (one of my favorite punching bags for AAA gameplay, not that they are bad games… I do enjoy them, but they are what they are), you could be talking many hundreds of man-hours going into implementing the same feature. In a simpler game, it could be implemented on a whim. But in a AAA game, it will probably never make it past the brainstorm phase.
The Verge published an article a few days ago about the 8-bit / 16-bit “retro” style of game graphics that are very popular these days with indie games. Entitled “Pixel art games aren’t retro, they’re the future,” it opines that while the graphics that would have been at home on a console twenty years ago might be there in part out of retro sensitivities and (somewhat) easier / cheaper development for indies, those are not the only reason it’s popular. Done well, the art won’t age as attempting to push the “realism” levels will. It invites the player to judge a game by a different criteria than the AAA blockbusters with tens of millions of dollars of budget, and maybe more importantly – it’s an artistic style.
Invoking Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, the stylized form encourages the player to project their own imagination into the less-detailed, less-realistic graphics and animations. This potentially gives it greater power to evoke emotional reactions than the most photorealistic graphics available today. The article makes several arguments and quotes people who know more about this than me, so I’ll let you read it.
But it’s kind of thought provoking.
Especially for people like me who grew up with the “low-res” 8-bit graphics, and dreamed of some day having graphics as detailed and realistic as we have today. I can’t deny that it’s cool, but graphical improvements haven’t taken gaming where I’d hoped it would go. Sorta like how live-action movies based on comics don’t always fulfill on their promises (although they are getting better!).
There’s something to be said for abstraction.
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