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May 25, 2022
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How to Make a Game Graphics More Dramatic? Take Pixel Games as Example

by Yongcheng Liu on 05/06/22 12:18:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

"Dramatic" in its interpretation refers to the visual appearance of the psychology of the characters in a hypothetical situation. In a broader sense, it is a general category in aesthetics, in which the inner activities of the characters (thoughts, feelings, will, and other psychological factors) are visually manifested through external actions, lines, expressions, etc., and directly appeal to the audience's senses.

If this word is used to describe an article, it generally refers to the plot taking a significant turning due to the dramatic conflict of the story, but when used to describe a game, it is often misunderstood as merely adopting some dramatic scenes or plot in the game, but in fact, a creator always tries to depict what he feels deeply. "Deep into reality, deep into life", more precisely, it is the author's real visual feeling that determines what he creates.

Pixel games are a very ancient game genre, and as a special type of art itself, it emphasizes a style with clear outlines, bright colors, and an unrestrained style. The creators tend to think more about graphic design when making pixel games than making complex 3D graphics, how to show the best effect on a limited space. In a sense, these works release people from the confinement of normal vision and give them a whole new visual experience. They create a large number of works full of dramatic tension and dreamy poetry, coalescing their life experience and rich imagination.

So let's talk about how to better create dramatic scenes in pixel games.

1. Juxtaposition and surreal scene

Juxtaposition is one of the most common structural methods in painting and photography. This method is found in frescoes, religious paintings, modern surrealist paintings, and Pop art paintings. The artists interweave related or conflicting images, either randomly or according to a logical connection, to create a dramatic feeling. The method of the juxtaposition of images is to generate strong dramatic tension by using images with different meanings stacked together potentially or directly.

Due to the limitations of the perspective, pixel games can only present limited information, less than 3d games, for example, when your perspective is fixed in a top-down parallel place, you can only change the camera by moving left and right, what you can see will be very limited. Generally speaking, there will be many stacked or suspended items or images in the background, which are usually in associated or conflicting relationships with others, through the juxtaposition allows you to associate one with the other, causing a dramatic effect. You can also think of these juxtaposed images as props that improve the scene or suggest the plot in a play.

                             The cyberpunk style adventure game Tales of the Neon Sea

It's a cyberpunk-style game where the artists juxtapose a lot of images in the background in order to fill the screen with information and express its main theme. The juxtaposition of high-tech facilities, neon lights, and technological garbage everywhere, together with paper ads plastered all over the walls, is not organized logically thus somehow confusing, but it all makes the picture bizarre and interesting. The juxtaposition of images creates a contrast between high-tech in a mess, suggesting that the game takes advanced technology as its background, and indicates a certain degree of social upheaval or collapse of social order. The juxtaposition of strong dystopia images and pessimistic colors, postmodern cities, and obvious class differences, brings out the sense of drama on the screen.

2. Scattered perspectives and the dramatic tension of the composition itself

Changing the normal perspective and using alternative perspectives and increasing the dramatic tension of the composition itself are also common methods used by artists to achieve a dramatic feeling in their paintings. Scattered perspective is a common approach in ancient Chinese long painting. This perspective to express frees the artist's vision and allows them to put more content into the scroll. By using "scattered perspective", the artist can slowly open the long scroll, and present the great landscape to the viewer little by little.

                                    Painting: Along the River During the Qingming Festival

In pixel games, it is common to present information to the player in a way similar to a "scattered perspective". Initially. Because pixel painting and games have great limitations in their perspective, the artists or developers, based on the uniqueness of pixel lines, invented a top-down parallel perspective without vanishing points. It does not only make it easier for the player to move the camera while playing but also allows the artists to enrich the content on the screen, thus the theme is more focused. To a certain extent, this inclusive composition breaks the momentary nature of the screen and gives the work a full dramatic effect.

                                                                     Eastward

 

Eastward uses a scattered perspective to show a highly decorative screen with complex composition, in which precisely shaped characters and objects are rearranged. With vivid and rich colors, it wonderfully represents the scenes of the underground towns, where almost all the art details are useful. Whether the night of the City or the twilight in the castle, it will enchant you. In some of the later chapters, grand spectacles are shaped with pure lines.

 

3. light, shadow, and colors

Light and shadow are very important for shaping objects, and an object without light and shadow will lose its three-dimensionality. In other words, in addition to outlining the object, light and shadow also have a great shaping role in creating scenes, and very often can directly set down a tone for the picture, whether it is depressing or cheerful, whether bright or gloomy.

            Return of the Obra Dinn won the Best Narrative of GDCA and the Excellence in Narrative in Independent Games Festival,

 

Different lighting, such as top light, side light, and bottom light, will create various atmospheric effects, and different cut light arrangements play a huge role in revealing the character's heart and suggesting the development of the plot. This screenshot looks like it contains grayscale, but it is actually a 1-bit color game in uncompromisingly complete black and white, with the portrayal of objects relying entirely on his own light and shadow. The light here also creates a strong and weak rhythm of the picture, thus playing a role in leading the player's eyes, like a chaser light on a stage.

                                                                  DISTRAINT

 

The use of dark color background here seems to swallow the whole picture, while it can also enhance the horror and thus highlight the dramatic conflict in the foreground. Deep fuchsia in the foreground also enhances the sense of horror.

There are exceptions, of course, for realistic pixels, the light and shadows are very detailed, but for less realistic or minimalist style arts, the light and shadow are less important or even ignored to better express the unique style.

                                                                   BleakSword

 

Color is the most direct and vivid factor on the screen, as the main language to shape the scene, it can convey different information with distinctive visual characteristics, and its importance on the game screen is self-evident.

The color tone makes up the player's first impression of the main tone of the screen, whether it is light-hearted, cheerful, sad, or refreshing, it can all be shown through colors. Such a color tone to create the atmosphere ensures the full expression of emotion and creates an infectious perfect effect. Secondly, colors that attract the player's attention are definitely vivid, and simple and reduce the sense of complexity. Using similar colors to associate complex objects with each other, is also a principle method of pixel arts. So a seemingly complex pixel art screen cam actually uses only a few colors.

                              Stardew Valley & Super brothers: Sword & Sworcery EP

 

When put together, it will be very obvious that the former uses bright colors, making the atmosphere more relaxing; the latter one with low color saturation, and much darker colors, so the atmosphere is more depressing and gloomy. From the tone alone, we can easily speculate that the former may be a casual game with a simple plot, the latter is more like an adventure game focused on stories.

 

4. exaggeration

When you try to create a dramatic scene, you are like an experienced stage director setting up your scene, your script, and your characters. By portraying vivid characters and typical events, you can put on a good show on the screen. Often the classic images themselves already give drama to the work, and some symbolic metaphors will enrich the expression of the work and add depth to it.

In pixel arts and games, pixel characters are usually designed with exaggeration or distortion to highlight the character's characteristics, using lines and shapes, not just light or shadow. The things of nature like wood, rock, or the ground are not important, because they are basically simple and random shapes. So basically the shape design will focus on buildings, characters, and other objects with high requirements for the shape.

 

                                                                     Eastward

Each character in the Eastward is so true to life, and in the game, they will have their own story. The art style also looks very Disney-style; in terms of the facial design, the old boatman has his nose and beard as a facial character, which proportion is more exaggerated. This distortion of the body structure is very widely used in pixel arts and games.

Pixel games are characterized by rarely spending a lot of time and energy to portray a character detail by detail, often a character is converted to 40 x 40 pixel size, but such a minimal graph can clearly show the characteristics.

The main character in Tales of the Neon Sea is very simply but characteristically portrayed, which is the classic loner and outsider who lives on the periphery of the society. His detective appearance, as well as human body modification, suggests a future pervaded by a dystopian atmosphere. And it can be said that the typical character is an essential presence for a sense of drama.

                                                         Tales of the Neon Sea

5. Summary

With the development of technology, the field of digital arts has also undergone many changes, and pixel art and games are no longer limited to the traditional style.

More importantly, when we play these games, it is not difficult to realize that many of the creations come from their own lives, and although their ways of creating dramatic feelings may be different, they have all observed life deeply with their own unique perspectives and created works with a unique sense.

If game artists condense their memories of real life, visual experience, and imagination of the spiritual world into the scenes worthy of players’ appreciation, then those with logical paradoxes and formal strangeness might be the most attractive expressions. Such a dramatic image, even if only stays for a moment, sometimes gives the player a more immersive experience and impact than realistic 3D scenes.

 


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