Why are we so obsessed with making game art more and more realistic? Is it really the only path worth pursuing? Why?
say it all stems from an inferiority complex from our childhood! It
originates from games' originating in technologies with very limited
capabilities of visualization. For the first several decades, computer
and video games had to settle for a cartoony and very unrealistic look,
no matter what desires of the artists behind them.
I remember the first major breakthrough in realistic games visuals, which came back in 1986.
Rambo: First Blood 2
published by Ocean, had the most incredible looking loading screen.
Even the mainstream was amazed. You'd never seen anything like it! Why,
the look practically rivaled that of the original movie poster! You
could actually make out the actor's face, muscle striations and what
make of weapon he was holding. All of which was accomplished with some
10 different colors used over 320 x 200 pixels.
Left Rambo: First Blood 2 cover art; Right: Rambo: First Blood 2 title screen.
if you remembered the original reference and concept, it was quite
laughable. And once inside the game, the ”realism” was quickly ruined:
to very few possible colors, the artists had to make do with garish
combinations of green, purple, pink, black, and white. The best of the
artists of that day strove to conjure up more believable colors by
using color theory; placing a color next to another color that would
draw out particular qualities from the original, and thus make it seem
different from when placed next to a third color. Apparently the only
way to tone down the fluorescent green into something somewhat
believable in a nature setting was to put it next to the magenta or
kind of upbringing, with enforced limitations is bound to create a
complex of sorts. We, as games artists, generally strive to reach as
high a degree of realism as possible, before even contemplating any
other artistic styles. Likewise, generally speaking, the game consumer
will associate a realistic art style with cutting edge quality, and the
stylized (for example cartoony) look with a product, which is either
out of date or aimed at minors.
Please tell me, what is cartoony game art really?
am going to demonstrate to you why the often-used term "cartoony" (in
connection with game art) is very limiting, and why we need a more
precise framework of terms to describe what we see, play, and make.
To use the term "cartoony"
for these graphics is very limiting. This is a huge category where
anything non-realistic is lumped into. It consists of several very
distinct subcategories, which often have nothing in common, apart from
not being realistic in nature.
What is the difference?
light there would be no color, no visual forms, no nothing. How light
reacts with our world, and how we choose to describe that is the core
of it all.
Light describes an object's shape, texture, color and other surface properties such as reflectiveness and translucency.
The difference is in how we use light to describe our world.
cartoony games graphics is all about what methods we use to describe
light's interactions with the game world and its (the light's)
So how do we go about that then? We need some tools...
Enter Scott McCloud's Picture Plane from the excellent book Understanding Comics – recommended by Will Wright himself. According to Scott McCloud ANY visuals can be contained in this triangle.
Here is a triangular space held between 3 vertices: Reality, abstraction and iconic.
So let's try it on for size with a select few games from the cartoony range:
||19. Half Life 2: Lost Coast
||12.Gregory Horror Show
|4. The Sims
||13. Grabbed by the Ghoulies
||22. Mojib Ribbon
|5. Megaman X7
||23. Auto Modellista
|6. Worms 3D
||24. Beyond Good and Evil
||16. Geometry Wars 2
|8. Spellforce – The Order of Dawn
||17. Gotcha Force
||26. Animal Crossing
|9. Maximo vs. The Army of Zin
||17. Vib Ribbon
The three vertices are represented with Half Life 2: Lost Coast for near photorealism, Jeff Minter's Unity for almost complete abstraction, and Zork
for the ultimate in iconic simplification, which is the written
language according to Scott McCloud. However good the picture plane is
at giving us a quick and rough estimate of an aesthetic style relative
to other styles, it is of limited use when you want to look at what
exactly makes a style look the way it does.
the cartoony, or non-photorealistic styles take up the majority of the
matrix, they still comprise of several distinct categories, which have
nothing to do with each other. Furthermore Scott McCloud's Picture
Plane does little to explain the role of light and its properties in
the game world. So we need to find something else...
In his excellent book Digital Texturing & Painting, Owen Demers tries to lock down artistic output into 6 categories of varying sizes:
- Realistic – imitates the real world as a photograph does
- Hyper-Real – deeper than reality; expresses the world like a microscope does
- Stylized – a consistent personal interpretative journey
- Simplified – only communicates the most important elements
- Graphic – a stark, bold style void of shadows and details
- Fantastic – diverging from reality and boldly going to any otherworldly place the imagination can take you
of the categories like "Stylized" are incredibly roomy, whereas
"Hyper-Real" is incredibly narrow. Both hyper-real and graphic are
graduations of other categories, respectively realistic and simplified.
We this is closer to the practicing artist's point of view, I still
want to break down the individual components of a certain look or
style, so we can recreate exactly the style we want, easier and more
not satisfied, I went through buckets of visuals, dissecting and
describing them as I went along. Patterns and trends emerged, and it
seems to me that all the images, from Tetris and Rez to Auto Modellista and Gregory Horror Show, share the same basic visual make up.
- Increased contrast
- Increased saturation
- Fewer and distortedly large details
- Decreased levels of dirt, detritus and patina
In addition to that, they may or may not have a series of added characteristics.
- Fewer colors in graduations and ranges
- Abstract patterns or shapes used to illustrate normal objects
- Objects or color fields are traced with dark lines
- Shapes and internal proportions are violently distorted