Thursday 23 December 2010

The endless possibilities of art styles

Last Wednesday I did a five-minute presentation at Ignite Amsterdam 4. Since I care a lot about the point I was making there, I have created an online version of it. Enjoy!

If you yourself are experimenting with unique styles, then please post a link below, since I would love to see them! ^-^

Ow, by the way, while sitting behind my computer I heard/hurt rumours that today is Christmas, so:

(Awesome image by Elsje Bakker)


  1. Brilliant post!

  2. Marries van de Hoef26 December 2010 at 11:48

    The game Love also uses such an interesting and distinct art style. Here's the link, if you haven't already heard from it:

  3. Yeah, I know Love, it definitely has an awesome style! Exactly the kind of thing I am talking about! :)

  4. Great article! Posted on the frontpage.

  5. Thanks! That got my blog a whole lotta viewers, I hope some of them were inspired to maybe try more weird, out-there styles! :)

  6. You might wanna look at games like Doom and Duke Nukem 3d. Switch on MouseAim and try looking up and down, the engine creates the illusion of perspective by shifting the horizon up and down. However, all vertical lines stay completely parallel, making the illusion obvious the more extremely you look up and down. It sounds like what you're trying to do!

    If you ever manage to separate shape and colour/texture, let me know! That would greatly improve the possibility for painterly styles in games. The concept art for Guild Wars 2 looks incredibly vivid and energetic, but once it's all rendered out in 3D I think it loses all of it's shape and energy and becomes a sea of blurry color and bloom.

  7. Here, I found a video demonstrating this in the Build Engine. You can see it at around 4:44

  8. Build Engine, that may have been the first time I actually understood a level editor! I had seen the Doom editor before, but I was too scared of how complex it looked... ;)

    The ideas mentioned in the blogpost are actually already fully functional in my notebook, I just need to time to sit down and implement them and more cool art to show the techniques with. :)

  9. Great post!

    About the choice of styles, I believe there are in fact only three real options there; realism, cartoony and abstract. And everything else is in some way a mix of these three options.

    Still, I believe the reason why we stay away so much from the abstract stuff is because we were bound to that for way too long... At first all games were abstract (pixels..or worse..text adventures) and when later on 3D became popular we once again were forced to go abstract; think of quake & starfox for example. So I guess therefore people consciously or subconsciously steer away from the abstract stuff.

    And then there are the companies who don't like risks and do like to conform with what's popular (realism &cartoony stuff). My peers (and even colleagues) at Playlogic always tried to steer me away from the abstract elements in the style of Fairytale Fights. I really had to put up a serious fight to get that through... and I can imagine that the same happens at the majority of the bigger companies. It's just not easy to be different, although I strongly belief that it's also the key to success...

    But who knows, maybe we get so fed up with all the realistic & cartoony stuff that we will go totally abstract again..?

  10. "the reason why we stay away so much from the abstract stuff is because we were bound to that for way too long..."
    That is a very interesting thought, I never looked at it that way! I think the original abstract syles were also very limited in what abstract things they could do, so in that sense today is a good moment to go back to abstract and see what else is there. Something like Proun could not have been done 10 or 20 years ago (at least not to the same extend).

    "I believe there are in fact only three real options there; realism, cartoony and abstract."
    Do I smell some Scott McCloud here? ;) I think your right about this division into three directions, but the fun is of course that they span an enormous space of possibilities. Even when going fully cartoony or fully abstract, there is still an infinite amount of styles to be found there.

    "But who knows, maybe we get so fed up with all the realistic & cartoony stuff that we will go totally abstract again..?"
    When that happens, I'll be happy to write a blogpost saying we should try cartoony and realistic more... ;)

  11. //yep, I agree, before we had to work with limited abstract styles and now we do way more...and we should.

    //Haha, you got me there, it was indeed Scott Mcloud who first opened my eyes to the idea of limited styles.

    // and a last thought that came to mind:

    Good games seem to have a strong balance between their gameplay and visual style. For example realistic shooter games have realistic graphics (COD) and more arcade (unrealistic) shooters have more cartoony graphics (TF2, UT).

    Now as a result it doesn't feel strange that you can jump really far in Unreal Tournament; but if you would apply the same jump distance in Call of Duty, it would really feel out of place. - so the graphics support the gameplay in that way.

    If we turn that logic around then you could say that if a game would look really abstract, you would expect the gameplay be equally abstract in it's logic and goals right?... to keep the balance. Tetris makes sense in this way I think.

    But I believe it's really hard to come up with understandable-abstract gameplay( that a contradiction in itself?). And maybe there are just to few good abstract gameplay ideas to work with. Because there's a good chance that when you make the gameplay too abstract, people probably don't know what to do anymore and will quickly lose interest in your game.(That's what happened to 'Nobynoby boy' I think).

    So that might also be an explanation for why we don't see so much abstract styled games; because it's hard to find matching abstract gameplay...

    or maybe we just haven't tried hard enough to find something good :]

    (Oh, but Proun works pretty well from what I can see in the trailers. The calm & transparent gameplay seems to mirror the very clean visual style// that's nice! :] )

  12. I agree that many games are not suitable for purely abstract styles, but there is also a big middle ground. For example, the image by Dufy in my post is not abstract, but is also very far from what current games do.

    Also, what I find really interesting is to work the other way around once in a while. Why not start the design of a shooter with jazzy music (the Grim Fandango soundtrack!) and then try to come up with shooter gameplay that fits that. I think that would be a really interesting experiment. (Not something a big company would do, but I don't expect much in these things from big companies anyway.)

    By the way, Proun is not calm. The newest trailer is just slow motion, the real thing is blazingly fast. :P

  13. Well, you have some interesting thoughts on the subject Joost :] Maybe we should continue this line of thought in real life one day :]

    In the meanwhile I'll try the beta-proun see how fast it really is :]

  14. Just try to get a good time on Impossible speed, then. :P

  15. A good insight! I think alternative styles are not so explored because mainstream devs are under pressure from publishers to stick with proven formulae, because modern games are huge investments so they can't put anyone off. On the other hand, the rising indie scene has a lot of ex-mainstream devs who have gone solo, so they still have that kind of impression made on them - maybe they find it difficult to adapt from that?

    I sometimes code in my free time and one of my current projects is a text-based RPG. Or rather, it's displayed as text - not status line style. That's not really a "style" in itself but the way it works I found causes one to think about player interpretation. I have to ask myself, how will people see this? Will they see a vibrant fantasy world in ASCII on a black background? How can I convey x through a text character? I find that interesting too, like I do with style. :)

  16. Ascii styles are always interesting, do you remember that Youtube on April 1st had a joke that all videos were shown as Ascii art? Really cool that was!

    I don't think I ever saw a complete game like that, though, interesting idea! Since it's all text, wouldn't it be interesting to add information in what words are used for a character's art? Like a really heroic character all made up of the word lonely, that makes for a really interesting change in how a player would interpretate his actions and words. :)

  17. One of the games I am making in my spare time is done entirely in grayscale, with retro style graphics. This came about because I wanted to make a game styled as if it were on the original Game Boy, but I later changed it to just a darker styled NES type game. I'm not entirely sure how unique it is, though.

  18. Ah, cool! Looks like a pretty oldschool hardcore platformer, nice! I can't remember the name, but wasn't there a really hardcore platformer released recently that also did a Gameboy style?

  19. Thanks! It's actually very easy by hardcore standards. This game is nearing the end of development, but I hope to make a sequel that is far more fun and more advanced technically. If you want a tough one, look at Techno: The Gamma Project by TechnoSuperguy. That's way harder than anything I've made. Anyway, the recent GameBoy style hardcore platformer you're thinking of may be 1-Bit Ninja for the iPhone (yes, I stole the name 8-Bit Agent from that).

    PS: I'm a massive fan of Proun (my leaderboard name is MrPerson). It is tied with Sonic Generations for my favorite graphics in a PC game. The end credits of Sonic Generations are about 7 minutes long, containing hundreds of people from several companies. And it tied with a game developed by one person. In terms of manpower to results ratio, Proun kicks Sonic Generations down, off a cliff, and into the water where its computer short circuits and explodes. But they're both great games. Sonic even seems to vaguely resemble Proun in one of its stages ( and be the exact opposite in another (

    Anyway, amazing game, well written blog. Massive kudos.