Settling with Pixel Art For My Game

Posted by Sean Francis N. Ballais on May 25, 2020 08:05 PM

One of the most important aspects of any game is the graphics. It is the medium in which the game communicates the story, the actions, and the events to the player. Most games typically use a graphical style, as opposed to text style, which old games like Zork use. The game I am currently working on, and is in pre-production, is no exception. A graphical style easily allows anyone to immerse themselves into the game world, and may more easily communicate about the world to the player than text-style games. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. However, a graphical style comes with its own caveats. You can’t slap any art asset into the game. It must fit well with the entire theme of the game. Not only that, but games tend to have a lot of art assets, from static objects to spritesheets. And that amount is a problem for me when it comes to making my game.

My game is a 2D game, and I’m working on it solo. I initially thought of using a cartoon style for the visual aspects of it. Think of River City Girls (except the gameplay portions, since they were in pixel art), Steven Universe, and The Interactive Adventures of Dog Mendonça & Pizzaboy. I love their artstyle, and the original artstyle I envisioned for my game was similar to the three. However, as I said earlier, games have a lot of art assets. I will have to draw the environments, static objects, characters stills, and, perhaps the toughest of all, animations. Since I’m working on the game solo, art is not only my task. I also have to worry about programming, sound, story, and music, among other things. Not only that, I am also not confident in producing high-quality works in the style of the aforementioned peices of art. I believe I can, but I think it will take me longer to produce artworks, and thus, I would be less productive. What do I do?

Three Games Using Pixel Art
Three games using pixel art. From left to right: Hyper Light Drifter, Stardew Valley, and Celeste.

Fortunately, there is another medium I can use to bring my game to life: pixel art. Pixel art is a form of art where pixels are more visible and there are fewer details. Modern games such as Celeste, Stardew Valley, and Hotline Miami (both 1 and 2) use pixel art. There are various reasons to use pixel art. Some games, like Shovel Knight, use it to pay homage to older generation video games and systems such as the Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). Others use pixel art for aesthetic purposes, like Dead Cells. In cases like that of Hyper Light Drifter’s, pixel art was used due to technical reasons. In an interview with Gamasutra’s Kris Ligman, Alex Preston, the development lead for Hyper Light Drifter, found that it was more efficient to work with pixel art because he was the only one working on the art. This is also the very reason why I am settling with pixel art for my game — it is way more productive for me, working on a game solo, to utilize pixel art for the game’s visuals, compared to taking too much time on illustrations. One aspect of the beauty of pixel art, especially from the artist’s perspective, is that artists do not have to put in as much detail in pixel as in other forms of art. The brain tends to fills in the details in pixel art. This means that part of the artist’s work has already been cut out by the brain. This, however, does put a constraint on artists, in that there are only a few pixels to work with; every pixel counts. Artists will have to be creative to ensure that their artworks still properly convey its intended message. Though, that’s just part of the beauty of pixel art.

At the time of writing, I have only started working with pixel art for a few days through Aseprite. It is challenging for me, but perhaps it is too for many others as well. But, working with it has been fun. Pixel art has been the conveyer of fictional worlds and stories for many games. It has enabled many players to enjoy new experiences that could not have been made possible without pixel art. I never expected the start of my indie game development journey to involve pixel art. But, I am glad that it is an option for me to use to bring my game into reality, especially given the circumstances.

References and Additional Readings

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