Graphic Style Analysis – Part III

Part I and part II of the graphic style analysis series explained the major aspects of graphic styles. This third installment should give you a better understanding of the forces behind styles. Visuals are not developed in vacuum. They take shape according to given circumstances. When we understand the affective forces we may find new forms of game visuals more easily.

Hardware-Driven Graphic Styles

Games tried to simulate reality from the very beginning. First games were abstractions of fights in space or Tennis. Better (speak more realistic) graphics need better hardware. This simple rule pushed computer graphics to its current state and will push it beyond.

Modern gaming hardware already has very advanced 3D rendering capabilities. But there is always something better on the horizon. Photo-realism is the major league of graphic styles and just for the big players in the game dev business. It is expensive in cash, time and artistic skill so that small indie game developers can’t compete here. The only exception I know is id Software. It was THE visuals-driving independent game dev studio in the last two decades. I don’t know if it is still in such high regard in these days.

Most independent game developers don’t have the resources for riding the bleeding edge technology wave. Therefore they need to bet on simpler (less hardware demanding) or alternative graphic styles. Simpler styles broaden the target market because Joe Public does not think about graphic cards or drivers. He wants to play, period. Blizzard used the same approach for World of Warcraft. Its graphics are mediocre but do well for most players.

Conclusion: Don’t use photo-realism unless you have an eight-digit bank account. Everything else is fine.

Effort-Driven Graphic Styles

Everything visible in the game makes some effort. That can be sprites, meshes, textures, normal-maps, particle effects, text, animations, physics, lip-synch, etc. Unless you don’t have a rich dad you will have to strip off some of the fancy stuff you have in your mind about your game. Let’s have a look on some examples:

  • Today’s monitors have a rather high resolution. More pixels per sprite means more pixels to draw. Abstraction may help here. Or publish your game on devices with smaller resolutions.
  • Animations are expensive. Avoid it where possible. Use objects which don’t need to be (manually) animated.
  • Less is more. Reduce color palettes, details or number of animations. Use vertex painting instead of textures.
  • Use just basic shapes like squares, triangles, circles, cubes or spheres for your objects. Exploit angularity, avoid organic stuff.
  • Keep away from (known) reality. That’s the reason why many early games took place in future/space.
  • Reuse as much as possible. Take the green dragon model and paint it red. CPU can do this for you to.

Saving development cost may also create a unique graphic style for you. Don’t limit yourself just to existing styles. Take a look at older games, mainly from pre-CD eras, and find out how restrictions formed their styles.

Art-Driven Graphic Styles

Games like the already mentioned Okami or LOVE simulate painting techniques from the real world. It’s a good way for differentiating your game from others. But simulating real-world painting in games isn’t easy. Otherwise we would have seen more games with a painting touch.

Let’s have a look on some more computer oriented art: Demos. Demo creation is a long running discipline of producing multimedia with limited resources. Take a look on these videos from farbrausch to get an idea what demos are:

Get inspired by these videos and every piece of art which could make a unique graphic style for your game. Don’t restrict your thinking to realistic colors and shapes. Tempest 2000, Tron 2.0 and Rez didn’t it either.


That’s the end of the whole graphic style analysis series. I hope you could find something useful here.

My intention for this series was to show that styles are not only flashes of genius in artistic minds. They are bound to scientific restrictions as well which still evolve over time. Let’s keep an eye on these fading restrictions and test unoccupied territory. It’s like a journey through the young wild west of game art.


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