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A general debate on Retro / Pixel / Voxel / Blocky Horror Show games


Hello Goaty ♥
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Its probably not even a worthwhile thread  ( when is anything i do anything but! )

 

I will play PC Engine Gameboy and Snes games... all day long because thats representative of the hardware.

But I am generally not a fan of "modern" games that are purposely made to look Retro.

 

I still think Minecraft was created to teach about gameplay over graphics.  @b00dles has already corrected me on this today ;)

But why do programmers decide to go with the retro look? Money/Cost?   General Feel?   or something else.

 

I picked on Super Meat Boy and Celeste earlier.  Two games that generally look retro.   But i'm sure are very good. 

 

Whereas i can play something like Ori and its sequel all day long.  Now those i suppose could easily have been released looking like Celeste.

But what guided the choice to make it absolutely fucking beautiful?  rather than a goddamn blocky horror show?  ( i'm copyrighting that )

 

The Touryst game for example - I can just about go with that.  Its great.  But why the decision to fall into the retro territory again?

 

 

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:lol:

 

Fuck it, it's Sunday and church was boringly short on the communion wine;

 

My point was more that Minecraft was blocky because it's basically lego and the blocky graphics made it possible for them to make a bigger world for players to build in etc. 

 

A lot of other games are pixel art for the retro feel but I think we've generally moved past that, retro is probably too old school for the majority of the market, even us olds. 

 

Personally, I would much rather an open world game that looked a bit shit but allowed you to go into all buildings, move / pick up all items and it all be about systems rather than it looking realistic but there is still a huge push for photo realism for reasons I don't really understand. 

 

Psychonauts 2 as a recent example I find much more cohesive because it's all very stylised so therefore it doesn't matter if it "doesn't make sense" in regards to geography or physics. I get a lot more annoyed with god of war (to use your own example @Hello Goaty ♥ ) or ghost of tsushima when the game forces me to go one particular way but in what is ostensibly meant to be a realistic environment. If you've given me a player character that can leap about and climb all sorts of stuff, if I then can't climb a tree trunk because that's not where I'm meant to go, that's a lot worse for the verisimilitude than pixels.

 

I realise this maybe isn't related to your point but as I started with; fuck it :D

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You start this debate and then skedaddle off to for work ‽ for shame, good sir!

 

What about voxels then?

 

I really enjoyed valheim with my mate during lockdown and am eagerly awaiting the next update for it but generally it looks a bit plop. However it's all procedurally generated so it's unique to my 'world ' and wouldn't be possible with current tech if it wasn't made with voxels (and therefore look a bit poo).

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I think the answer varies from developer to developer, game to game. Some will feel that "retro" look will fit the tone of their game better, for some it's cost, others it's skill.

 

There are some that want the challenge of working within set boundaries, there's someone on Twitter who's trying to make Bloodborne but with the limit that it would have to be using the capabilities of the original PlayStation

 

 

 

 

 

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It's photography vs painting. Pixel art is its own thing. Sometimes developers are trying to evoke a previous era, but that's hardly unique in art. Sometimes it will be a cost thing but that's also fine, games just wouldn't get made otherwise. 

 

Generally I have no preference, there's good and bad across all styles. I dislike when things are too busy though, and it's easier to go over the top in a 2d game if you are pushing lots of effects. 

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I'm no digital artist, but I kind of assumed that pixel art was rather laborious to create - I remember messing with sprite editors and things like SEUCK on the C64, colouring in individual pixels for individual frames of animation... it would take a while. And so I thought that even though pixel art would be less "complex", it would still require a fair degree of effort... and maybe there's value in meticulous pixel environments that people find appealing. (That being said, I don't know what kind of software's out there these days, so it may be a bit of a smoother process. :D )

 

We should get @squirtle in here as he had some pixel characters in Shudder. :) 

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Yeah, it's definitely not a cheap process — particularly as you scale up in resolution, quality and/or scale. Like, a (very) roughly equivalent in budget game to Celeste is Hollow Knight; and that game's use of cel-style animation produces a pretty sumptuous looking game. But personally, despite loving Hollow Knight and the way it looks, I do ultimately find Celeste a more aesthetically-pleasing game; it's all subjective, innit!

 

What pixel art does offer is much broader scalability; there's a pretty hard limit to how cheaply hand-drawn animation* can be done, whereas the floor's the limit as far as pixel art is concerned. It gets expensive quickly, but if you want to throw something together quickly — a prototype, a demo — and/or if you aren't/don't have access to a qualified animator/3D modeller/illustrator,** there's far fewer barriers to entry for pixel art.

 

* or emulated hand-drawn animation, generally achieved through 3D models

** not to say that those are mutually-exclusive with being a pixel artist, of course.

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25 minutes ago, Qazimod said:

We should get @squirtle in here as he had some pixel characters in Shudder. :) 

I always wanted it to be 2D pixel art. Myself and Josh spoke about what we wanted them to look like and he went away and did them. We then came up with rough ship designs and he did them too. My initial designs were just pac-man style until we decided on the Sci fi retro style we opted for. He also did some other concepts which were more caterpillar like as well, but we both agreed on the final choice. 

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2 hours ago, Qazimod said:

I'm no digital artist, but I kind of assumed that pixel art was rather laborious to create - I remember messing with sprite editors and things like SEUCK on the C64, colouring in individual pixels for individual frames of animation... it would take a while. And so I thought that even though pixel art would be less "complex", it would still require a fair degree of effort... and maybe there's value in meticulous pixel environments that people find appealing. (That being said, I don't know what kind of software's out there these days, so it may be a bit of a smoother process. :D )

 

We should get @squirtle in here as he had some pixel characters in Shudder. :) 

 

It's still laborious and takes ages, especially animation, there are a few nice programs to ease the pain tho like Pyxel Edit or Aseprite.

Answering the overall question from someone who does pixel and voxel art full time, I could mock and art design a game pretty easily on my own in pixels or voxels, something like Ori would take way longer and I'd end up wanting someone to paint all the backgrounds when making the actual game. With pixels and voxels I could probably do all the art for a small indie game so it would be cheaper in the long run, things can get complicated pretty quickly tho. 

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6 hours ago, Hello Goaty ♥ said:

I still think Minecraft was created to teach about gameplay over graphics.  @b00dles has already corrected me on this today ;)

But why do programmers decide to go with the retro look? Money/Cost?   General Feel?   or something else.


 

Minecraft looks the way it does cause that’s what Infiniminer looked like.

 

As a game coder I can safely say it’s not our decision except on a really small team.

 

Honestly for the longest time graphics decisions like this were largely decided by the hardware or what publishers/platform holders decided was popular - see the start of the PlayStation’s life where Sony had made a fantastic 2D machine and decided no one could make 2D games, cause 3D was where it was.  And tbh a large part was driven by what people would buy, over the years we’ve all seen great games get overlooked because of what they look like.

 

I think in the last 10 to 15 years people have become more accepting of games with a wider variety of looks.

 

Much of the decisions to use “retro” looks seem to have originally come from nostalgia but it’s become more it’s own thing again, rather than just a callback.

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I must admit my heart sinks when I see a new game and it's got that faux Nes look about it. I'm a huge fan of retro games, and if done properly then pixel graphics can look stunning. Unfortunately the vast majority of new games using this style look like absolute horsepiss and would have been laughed off of the Snes for looking primitive. 

 

I understand that sometimes it's a budget choice and that it can be easier for games made by a small team etc, but it really irks me at times that I have (allegedly) the most powerful console on the market, yet what, feels like every second new release looks graphically like a sub Mega Drive standard title. If the gameplay is strong enough then I can overlook this, but more than often it's not. I really don't understand why developers don't aim for top end Snes/Neo Geo styling instead of the overly retro looking done to death 8 bit look. 

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While there's some stinkers out there I don't think modern pixel art is primitive at all. Animation is on the whole way better than the 16 bit era - partly down to no memory limits and partly down to animation know how and techniques being 30 years on. Use of colour, sense of scale (helped by wide-screen displays) and the amount of incidental spot animations and details you can do on modern hardware all really sing.

 

One of the reasons you don't see much of the highly detailed 16 bit era style any more is it doesn't work as well on modern displays.

 

Gradient heavy visuals like Contra 3 or heavily textured background work like Super Castlevania 4 or the cave sections in Chronotrigger - on a CRT TV where the colours would blend, they looked fantastic - but that same shading where you can see every chunky pixel? It can look messy and unfocused, all that detail reads differently. Similarly VGA DOS or AGA enhanced Amiga games used to blow me away with all those colours just a few years on from Spectrum and Beeb games, but now they look terrible, gradients everywhere, no hard edges because everything is aliased to within an inch of its life just because they could.

 

Megadrive games with their more restricted palette hold up better with an unfiltered, chunky pixel treatment to my eyes. Also I like high contrast, expressionist use of colour, so games that use the NES palette well always get my attention. Those orange and blue wall tiles in Castlevania mean more to me then the muddy, overworked attempts at realism of Super Castlevania 4. (Dracula X and SOTN era Castlevania though remains beautiful!).

 

If you want an example of a game which balances fine detail, modern pixelart techniques and a 16 bit feel look at Huntdown. One of the best looking pixel art games ever. Also one of the best 2D action games ever.

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Pixel (or voxel) art is a style, it's not necessarily trying to 'look retro'.

 

I've never quite understood the gushing praise for Ori (other than it's obviously got the full weight of MS's marketing behind it). It's art style is utterly generic, the kind of thing you'd find on any Russian or Korean art outsourcing studio's site. The writing doesn't even bother to come up with 'in universe' names for anything, it feels utterly committee designed. And the (art?) director has waded in with terrible takes about other (better) studio's games. I get a real Rise of the Robots style-over-substance vibe from the whole thing.

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10 hours ago, Skull Commander said:

I understand that sometimes it's a budget choice and that it can be easier for games made by a small team etc, but it really irks me at times that I have (allegedly) the most powerful console on the market, yet what, feels like every second new release looks graphically like a sub Mega Drive standard title. If the gameplay is strong enough then I can overlook this, but more than often it's not.

 

I kinda hate the "powerful console" argument.  I feel that having a console that's open to all kinds of games experiences instead of just those that push the graphical envelope is a net positive for everyone. As noted by many above, the styles chosen by teams may be for all kinds of reasons from budget, to aesthetic preference, to a desire to evoke an era, but it's important to note that if those games were to be dismissed because they don't challenge the hardware, then they don't get made at all, and that would be a loss.

 

On the technological side, I think it's worth noting that because of the way modern graphics hardware works, a modern day NES-style platformer, a Neo-Geo pixel-art masterpiece and something like Cuphead all tax the hardware at about the same level. Older systems were about pushing pixels and using a limited degree of hardware assistance for managing sprites, backgrounds, etc. Now, it's all geared towards polygons, so your 2D game is just a couple of triangle polys to form a square, on which an image texture is displayed. Whether that texture consists of a low-resolution Mega Man, an intricately detailed Marco or a hand-drawn Cuphead becomes irrelevant.

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I think pixel art these days is a stylistic choice for the most part. As a consumer, I'm drawn to old and new pixel art games. I just like the look of it and I appreciate the effort that goes into making it. I don't really use Twitter much these days but my feed was always full of pixel artists work, and not all of it was videogame related. One of the things I like best about it is how your brain processes the image and fills in extra details. I also love how when you zoom in too far on a pixel image, it looks like total ass, but when you zoom back out and it looks fantastic again. 

 

Ultimately, it's just artistic choice isn't it? Like making art in real life where you can use pens, pencils, oils, watercolours, spray paint etc.

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I don't think it's either for tech or style. And also ... a little for both! 

 

From a developer side, it has more to do with time and resources. It's just time better time spent making something simple look cool, rather than struggle to get something more detailed even finished. 

 

It's difficult enough to make something as it is, now whack the quality up to modern levels and you'd need hundreds of people to make all the content for it even for a simple game. When tech doubles, art detail quadruples, and the tools don't quite keep up. You need to throw people at it or be clever.

 

A good example is just making a model of a table. A nice, realistic wooden table with wood grain and a bit of detail. You could use a stock one, but it might not fit in with the art style. it's hard enough to pick one in a shop for your house. You can build one yourself, but that'll take time away from doing something cool. You could hire someone new to make stuff like that but it's pricey. You could outsource it a bit cheaper, but that's a pain in the arse and you'd end up needing to manage it and have someone tweak it. 

 

Fucking hell, making games and tables are hard. 

 

 

A lot of devs go into this with their eyes wide open style wise. I'm sure they want to make something look like a stupid sexy AAA, but even they have tech limitations and art direction. I've had big budget games where you had to hunt the outsourced stupidly detailed model killing performance (it was a tiny birds nest), or improve the performance of displaying something as "simple" as text so something else can have that extra umpff, or upscale a game to a next gen quadrupling all the art on just twice the hardware. 

 

... indies don't have time for that shite. They're busy making a game. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The technology is a good point. A lot of "retro" games would melt the original hardware they are aping - bust the sprite limits, bust the palette restrictions, bust the number of background layers or sound channels and a hundred other things. Even where it is theoretically possible, it's only because it has access to an amount of memory that would have cost more than your car at the time.

 

So then it becomes a sort of exercise in creating games you imagined when you were younger but weren't actually possible. 

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1 hour ago, Made of Ghosts said:

I never played Cuphead - is there something in the story or themes that connects with and/or “justifies” the art style? Or did they just do it because it’s pretty? (Which it certainly is)


wuh?

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