A story came up in my Twitter feed several times, linking to a very comprehensive blog post where an artist at Dinofarm talks about the team’s decision to no longer produce games using the pixel art style. The post goes into huge detail about pixel art vs ‘HD’ art, why pixel art can be better, but ultimately why it is a lost battle. It’s clearly not a decision made lightly, but one that should make the team more productive and obviously lead to some new art style.
I hope it’s clear from this image that I love pixel art. Auro was a love letter to the amazing stuff Nintendo, Capcom, Konami, and SNK produced in the 90s. That art was probably the primary reason I got into this field in the first place. It’s a beautiful form, and some of my favorite pixel artwork is being made today.
Blake Reynolds goes clearly feels that their latest game, Auro is a beautiful use of pixel art (check out the featured image at the top), but that it’s a lot of work, and although he still personally loves the art style, hand-drawn animation produces smoother results that scale better across different screen sizes.
Some devices blur Auro. Some devices stretch it. Some devices letterbox it. No matter how hard I worked to make the art in Auro as good as I could, there’s no way a given person should be expected to see past all those roadblocks. Making Auro with higher-resolution art would have made it more resistant to constantly-changing sizes and aspect ratios of various devices.
I grew up in the 80s. All we had was pixel art. On the Atari 2600, it was barely even that, and you had to pretend hard that what was on screen correlated to what you saw on the box art. For my generation, games like Street Fighter II, Sonic The Hedgehog and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past shaped our view that games could be beautiful, that games could be art, at the very least in the visual sense.
One of my favourite games on iOS (and now, Android) is Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery, a masterpiece of pixel art. Pretty much every screen could be hung on a wall in a gallery and it drove the story, forcing the player to fill in the blanks with their imagination, making the game world richer. But it is true that, like any fashion, pixel art is getting overused in games. There are so many other art styles that make great looking games.
Ultimately, it’s hard to argue against what Blake is saying, because Dinofarm’s decision is just that: their decision. Is there more to say with the pixel-art style? Of course! Others will continue to work with it, explore it and use it, for better or worse. But hopefully, other artists will read Blake’s post and learn from it, to make the most of the medium and give gamers the best experience they can.
What do you think about pixel-art as a visual style? Have you got some examples you love or hate?