On pixel art

By now you’ve probably heard the big news of the day, that John Smedley has officially announced his new company and his new game, Hero’s Song (with Inon Zur! and Patrick Rothfuss!). Also there’s a Kickstarter because there always must be a Kickstarter when a major MMO creator/developer goes indie.

Generally, I’m liking what I’m seeing here. It’s a rogue-like OARPG with “hardcore” elements like a pseudo-permadeath system (really just a heavy death penalty from what I’m reading) and friendly fire. There’s the option to play solo, host a server, or jump on a sort-of MMOish server with hundreds of others. And it’s a 2D title made with pixel art.

That last bit is of interest to me because I’ve been a long-time fan of pixel art, stretching back to the SNES and extending forward to today. Mobile games have an irrepressible infatuation with pixel art, so much so that there’s sort of a running joke that you can make a poop game done with pixel art and have it sell well.

But for me, I don’t care about the popularity so much as style. I *hated* when the N64 and PlayStation jumped to 3D graphics, because I felt like they traded in these lush, detailed, and “solid” sprites for ungainly and unpersonable polygon chunks. 3D’s gotten a lot better, but I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for a game that utilizes expressive, bold, and colorful pixel art.

It’s a good approach for a game on a budget, too. I would assume it’s a LOT easier to make and program, lending a title a certain timeless quality to its art. It’s cool to see how younger people have taken a shine to pixel art (including how Minecraft strangely co-opted it for the 3D space).

Personally, I can get lost in those little pixels, especially in the details. And I like how not every pixel art game looks identical; there’s a wide variety of styles that can be done within the medium.

Anyway, more pixel art games — especially MMOs, please!

7 thoughts on “On pixel art

  1. I have no affection, nostalgic or otherwise, for this particular art style. The opposite, really. Counter to what Patrick Rothfuss is claiming, I find eensy teensy little pixel figures the very opposite of immersive. Distracting, confusing, plain hard to see. Give me a world I can see like the view from my window, not one that looks like a diorama in a real estate agent’s office.

  2. I’m siding with Bhagpuss on this one. IMO, pixel art is just a way to cheap out on the graphics budget by spinning it as an artistic choice and making a shameless play to nostalgia. It’s a brilliant triumph of PR spin — I’ll give it that.

    But generally pixel art is a really good way to guarantee I will never play your game.

  3. My attitude on “pixel art” is similar to Bhagpuss and Tyler. There are a few webcomics which use it to their advantage, there are indeed a few games with “retro” gaming concepts where this style fits perfectly, but generally speaking it’s not an advantage per se. It only tries to milk nostalgia while at the same time saving on the graphics budget. In some cases pixel art has it’s draw for me but I dislike the hype around it. It’s like trying to sell you rock hard 10 year old bread and advertising it as “extra crunchy”.

    On the other hand, the reason why i’ll never drop money on that game is a very different one. Mr. “all gamers are idiots and need to be insulted on a regular basis” Smed is on the helm and my money will never go that way. The times when SOE held a market niché which nobody else is able to fill are long gone, but Smed still behaves like he is gods gift to gaming and we all should be thankful when he bothers himself so much to insult us.

    There are way too many competent game developers and gaming companies out there who treat their customers with respect and deserve the money. I rather spend 20 bucks on a good game made by somebody with manners, then just 5 bucks on an excellent game made by somebody like Smed.

  4. See, I don’t look at pixel art as only milking nostalgia. I think it’s a style in its own right that has strong appeal even today to gamers who aren’t connecting it with 16-bit games of yore. It can be downright gorgeous and detailed, as blocky or not as the artist decides.

  5. I didn’t write that it is -only- that. There are occasions where it is perfectly fine.

    I can easily point out games where the style and design fit perfectly. I fully approve of that.

    There are many examples out there where a developer did pixel art to reduce his work effort on his first projects, and when they turned into success went for more sophisticated graphics. Some of them even are remakes of the same game, now with “better” graphics. I also fully understand and support this approach, it would be a shame if a good game died just because the development team or even solo developer overstretched on the graphics and never managed to complete it.

    But unfortunately it’s also very easy to point at an increasing number of games which bring nothing really new to the table, only being “pixel art” of existing games, which actually makes them cheap knock-offs.

    The second option, small and unknown developer, perhaps a solo run, definitely is not true for what we’re talking about here, though. So it’s either the first or the latest, and with Smed there, I think it’s almost certainly the latest.

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