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Retro styles & immersion (axcho )

Retro styles & immersion (axcho )
« on: January 26, 2010, 10:15:34 am »

Immersion to me has little to do with visuals. Realistic graphics do not guarantee immersion. Are picture books more immersive than novels? Players of Roguelikes say that the ASCII graphics are more immersive than an equivalent graphical version would be. Perhaps Scott McCloud could tell you something about why that is.

For me the pixel style is a way to sustain a consistent level of graphical abstraction that is very versatile when it comes to combining handcrafted and procedural artwork. It is much less susceptible to veering off into the uncanny valley than, say, polygonal 3D. To my generation, pixel art is not retro. The retro games from my childhood were low-poly 3D creations of the N64 era. To me, polygonal 3D is retro, and frankly unappealing when compared to the elegance of good 2D pixel art. Perhaps I just prefer squares to triangles. To each their own. Wink
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Re: Retro styles & immersion (axcho )
« Reply #1 on: January 26, 2010, 10:26:29 am »

I guess "immersiveness" is the wrong word for what I meant. I mean, even books can be highly immersive. I guess I was referring to the more unique capacity of interactive graphics to simulate touch. I always try to create something that embraces the player. Books never embrace me. But I guess this is only about degrees of imagination. Not about hard oppositions.

So in the end, it's probably just a difference in taste. I think low-poly 3D can be great! Smiley But I don't think it should be revived in any sort of nostalgic way. I think we should learn to understand why Tomb Raider 1 looks and feels better than all its sequels. Not to imitate its graphic style but to find an equivalent in contemporary technology that has the same effect, or even improves on it.

And the uncanny valley shouldn't be dismissed so quickly. It's a very interesting area to explore!
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Re: Retro styles & immersion (axcho )
« Reply #2 on: January 26, 2010, 08:37:48 pm »

Perhaps "kinesthetic" or "tactile" would be more what you had in mind? I think I see what you mean. Kinesthetic feel is very important to me in games, and I find it easiest to achieve that with 2D physics and a vector art style, as opposed to pixel art or polygonal 3D. However it seems that you are referring to something a bit different, though maybe related. Experiences that "embrace" you. I will think about that.

I think we should learn to understand why Tomb Raider 1 looks and feels better than all its sequels. Not to imitate its graphic style but to find an equivalent in contemporary technology that has the same effect, or even improves on it.

I agree, similarly for pixel art. The old retro games of the NES era do not appeal to me visually. I have no nostalgia for them. But I like pixels, and I like doing interesting things with them, like combining chunky pixels with realistic materials:



Good point about the uncanny valley, too. It is a powerful effect that need not be shied away from. I'll think about that more. Smiley
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Re: Retro styles & immersion (axcho )
« Reply #3 on: January 26, 2010, 10:38:08 pm »

Concerning big pixels, I'm also a bit worried about this:

Quote from: Emily Short
The graphics are the retro-pixellated stuff that has become obligatory for certain kinds of Art Game these days.

This is from a recent article on Gamasutra. And you know Miss Short is right. In the very short time that people have been claiming to make art through games, most productions have had a similar visual style: simple, flat pixel graphics. Not as retro as some indie platformers but still.

I don't want "notgames" to be equated with "art games" because then it becomes too easy to reject what we are trying to do. The idea of "notgames" is much bigger, much more ambitions. We don't want to make it easy for the industry to dismiss us.
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Re: Retro styles & immersion (axcho )
« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2010, 07:44:32 am »

Yes, I saw that. And yes, she is right.

And I'm using pixels for much the same reasons that so many other indies are using pixels. Because it's a lot easier on the game engine, the art pipeline, and the artist (or lack thereof). If I have only four weeks to make something, it will probably require that I use pixels.

I can see your concern about notgames being equated with art games.

Given that, what alternative art styles would you suggest? And how would these art styles be implemented?

Perhaps we could use this thread to discuss the possibilities...

I will begin.

Here are the non-pixel styles available to me, currently:

Simple stick-figure vector with bitmap effects:


Slightly more complex procedural vector art:


Hand-drawn digital painting: (I suck at this)


Hand-drawn formline art: (very time-consuming)


Photographs: (hard to use interactively)

So, which will it be? What do you want to see?
« Last Edit: January 27, 2010, 07:54:53 am by axcho »
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Re: Retro styles & immersion (axcho )
« Reply #5 on: January 27, 2010, 09:38:28 am »

I'm not going to choose an art style for you. But I don't think time concerns should be your only motivation (or excuse) for choosing one. I think you should choose an art style that is appropriate for the content that you're working with. Or adapt your content to the style you're comfortable with. A graphic style is not just a layer you put on top of things. It is an essential part of the work. We should use it to help express the things we're trying to get across.

Graphic styles are not neutral. Stick figures say that all humans are the same, or that your story is symbolic. Vector art expresses clarity, either rest or scientific neutrality. Hand drawings express a certain carelessness or focus the attention on the person of the painter (their unique hand). And photographs imply that what you are presenting is real, perhaps even documentary.

Since you're comfortable with pixel graphics, maybe you should tune your story so it fits. Maybe the story takes place in the past, or inside of a computer or on an old technological device. Maybe the characters in your game are squares and they join together to make shapes.

I guess our logic concerning time management is upside down at Tale of Tales: we would cut into the programming complexity in order to have more time for the graphics and the sound. But the two are not separate. Sometimes a little bit of programming can compensate for a serious lack in the presentation and vice versa. It's often a matter of choosing the best way to represent something (for instance, the easiest way to represent rain is playing a sound loop; it sure beats programming the visual effect of rain drops falling in puddles! Wink ).
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Re: Retro styles & immersion (axcho )
« Reply #6 on: January 27, 2010, 08:20:32 pm »

I think you should choose an art style that is appropriate for the content that you're working with. Or adapt your content to the style you're comfortable with. A graphic style is not just a layer you put on top of things. It is an essential part of the work. We should use it to help express the things we're trying to get across.

I agree. And in the past, this is how I would approach the choice of art style. For something new like these notgames, pixel art seemed to me like it would be the most versatile, a common choice for art games, as you indicate. But I will make an effort to create something distinct and different from art games, and pick an art style that is appropriately different.

I do really like the variety of styles seen in the Flight comics anthologies, for example here and here. I'll take a look through those and see if I can draw any connections between the message or theme of each comic and its visual style.

Since you're comfortable with pixel graphics, maybe you should tune your story so it fits. Maybe the story takes place in the past, or inside of a computer or on an old technological device. Maybe the characters in your game are squares and they join together to make shapes.

Thanks for the suggestion. I may do something like this, depending on which idea I go with. I could see it making sense for an old technological device. Or who knows, maybe I'll end up making something with a focus on the natural world, using sketchy digital art and pieces of photographs...
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Re: Retro styles & immersion (axcho )
« Reply #7 on: January 27, 2010, 09:08:03 pm »

Been looking around a bit more.

Here's an interesting article on Lost Garden, which you would probably hate, since it is written from a gameplay-centric, pro-retro viewpoint: The Neo-Retro Art Style: Savior of the game industry? I can see how it might not be applicable to the notgames movement, but it's good to know why.

And another article by the same guy, about pixel art and how it's weird that it's now retro-fashionable and that people still use it, so you might like the article this time: Lessons from the Land of Pixel Art. But the discussion in the comments is perhaps more interesting here.

Like this comment, by CosMind:
Quote
Psychochild and dave both hit on some very important points - the iconography and language of a visual art. as they both mentioned, pixel art is very strong in both of these areas. in relation, pixel art is also super powerful when it comes to expressing character emotion. just the sublest of tweaks to a pixels existence/color/position in something like a characters eyes creates a profound change in its attitude. i haven't really seen such powerful conveyance of emotion in 3d character art, yet. with a focus on photo-matching visuals, emotion becomes more subtle (like real life). the viewer must look harder to read a character's expression. in most cases (unfortunately), devers don't seem to be even striving to convey this emotion, but even when they do i've yet to see it measure up to the emotion that some masterful pixelled characters have transferred to me as i watch them animate/pose. no, i'm not holding on to the past. i love great art period - 2d, 3d, whatever. i just really haven't seen 3d art that has been able to achieve some of the things that pixel art has and still does (this holds true vica-versa, of course).

And an article, by Psychochild, in response to the one above: The programmer talks about art. In particular, this quote:
Quote
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, 2D art is more iconic. While there's something to be said for lush, detailed 3D graphics, it is very specific. Any good artist knows that the more iconic art can involve the viewer more. I have to supply a bit of the personality to that "mess of pixels" on the screen representing the hero. Whereas the modern games all have very distinct characters that you control, because they have to be very detailed to fit in with the rest of the game.

These quotes do a better job of explaining why I like pixel art. But obviously sharing quotes is not going to make my game look any less like an art game. We'll see. I might end up using pixels or I might not.

As for inspiration, I found another style that could be interesting to explore, though it might be too sterile and game-y. It's a sort of pseudo-3D effect with layered 2D shapes, something that I could probably do even with Flash. You can read about it at the end of this blog post: Some random artwork



Here it's used for very abstract and symbolic graphics, but maybe the approach could be used for more representational art as well. Even photographs? Tongue

And another inspiration source, at Cambrian Games. The art there is procedural, sort of a combination of vector and non-pixelated bitmap manipulations. I could do that.











Reminds me of the artificial life stuff that I was interested in before I started making games. Maybe I could incorporate some of that as well...
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Re: Retro styles & immersion (axcho )
« Reply #8 on: January 28, 2010, 12:02:19 am »

The Cambrian stuff is very pretty. If you're into these kinds of generative graphics, maybe you should have a look around the Processing scene too.

The problem with "iconic graphics" is that they tend to be more suitable for funny stories than serious ones. Pixelated characters tend to look funny to me. Probably because, historically, they've been used mostly in somewhat comical contexts.

Ironically, this morning, Auriea and I had an idea for a 2D, almost abstract piece for the contest. Not sure if it's going to stick. We'll see.
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Re: Retro styles & immersion (axcho )
« Reply #9 on: January 28, 2010, 07:49:55 am »

I'll get my imagination working on some Cambrian-esque graphics then! Thanks for forcing my brain open on this issue... Tongue
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Re: Retro styles & immersion (axcho )
« Reply #10 on: January 29, 2010, 10:44:59 am »

There's a very, very old word for pixel art: mosaic.

I've recently formed the opinion that pixel art enchants so many people because it's essentially a mosaic.  I'm sure there are books that go into great detail about why a mosaic is so appealing.

Another option for art style is rotoscoping.  That's what I've been experimenting with a lot with lately.  Just trace over an image in Illustrator.  I personally want to explore pixel-art-like aesthetics using vector graphics, so I've been leaving the vectors aliased.  I would love to make 3d pixel art someday.

The reason why pixel art is often used for art games is because the games are experiments.  That means they have cheaper production values, and because aesthetic quality is so important, as you say, pixel art gives the most bang for its buck.  The highest quality for the least effort.
« Last Edit: January 29, 2010, 10:50:25 am by God at play »
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Re: Retro styles & immersion (axcho )
« Reply #11 on: January 31, 2010, 02:43:19 am »

There's a very, very old word for pixel art: mosaic.

I've recently formed the opinion that pixel art enchants so many people because it's essentially a mosaic.  I'm sure there are books that go into great detail about why a mosaic is so appealing.

Yes, yes! Cheesy I had almost forgotten about that point. Pixel art isn't new. Mosaic isn't new. Mosaic doesn't have to be retro. Maybe I should see if I can find some books about why mosaics are appealing, I think they'd be fun to read... Wink

Another option for art style is rotoscoping.  That's what I've been experimenting with a lot with lately.  Just trace over an image in Illustrator.  I personally want to explore pixel-art-like aesthetics using vector graphics, so I've been leaving the vectors aliased.  I would love to make 3d pixel art someday.

Yeah, and I forgot about rotoscoping. I know IvoryDrive has done some nice stuff with that in games like Five Differences.

And 3D pixel art - like MineCraft maps! Smiley

My artist brontosaurus is not only good at 2D pixel art, he's also made some really cool 3D MineCraft worlds out of variously textured cubes. Seeing the spaces he created in MineCraft is what convinced me of his skill in level design.

The reason why pixel art is often used for art games is because the games are experiments.  That means they have cheaper production values, and because aesthetic quality is so important, as you say, pixel art gives the most bang for its buck.  The highest quality for the least effort.

Definitely. Which is why you see it so much in art games.

I can understand Michael's insistence on differentiating the notgames movement visually here, but it is important to recognize that for many indies, pixel art is the path of least resistance and the choice to avoid it is not a decision to be taken lightly (nor mixed up with anyone's personal distaste for the style).
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Re: Retro styles & immersion (axcho )
« Reply #12 on: January 31, 2010, 09:52:45 am »

I understand the practical reasons. And it makes a lot of sense for indies to choose pixel art, especially for those to whom making games is just a hobby next to a day job (which doesn't leave them much time). But I see an enormous potential in interactive aesthetics that few are exploring. There so much that can be done with this technology, aesthetically. And the people with any sort of artistic inclination are dabbling with little squares. To me, it feels like such a waste! Without any sort of alternatives, the risk exists that realtime 3D will settle in pseudo-photographic aesthteics. And then there will simply be two styles: 2D mosaics for poor artists, 3D pseudo-photography for rich commercial companies. And that would be an enormous loss for the medium!

I'm not saying that everyone should be experimenting with realtime 3D graphics. But a few more talented developers wouldn't hurt.
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Re: Retro styles & immersion (axcho )
« Reply #13 on: January 31, 2010, 06:46:24 pm »

I think that's a good attitude.  It's understandable to stick with pixel art, but there's a lot more we can do.

I've been slowly starting to gather material for a talk that explores the philosophy of modern artists and applies it to games.  I think there's a lot of room to explore different art directions, and even apply those directly to games (or notgames of course).

Impressionism, Post-impressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Dada, Bauhaus, Expressionism, etc.  There's a lot of potential here.

Assuming I can find a concept artist to help me with my Bridge game, I'll be starting with Impressionism. Smiley
Re: Retro styles & immersion (axcho )
« Reply #14 on: January 31, 2010, 11:52:03 pm »

Impressionism, Post-impressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Dada, Bauhaus, Expressionism, etc.

Come on! Leave the old corpses alone! Wink
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