Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Favorite Video Game Art Style

            I have not been posting nearly enough this year and I want to steer back from that.  To that end I have found a 30-day blog challenge and will be writing out entries, hopefully I can get all thirty days without any breaks, and if I manage to do that (since August has 31 days) I will think of an additional entry to write about.  I have done a 30-day challenge before, it for movies, but that was a while back, feel free to read those too if you like.

            Today is day 16 and the topic is “Best Video Game Art Style”.
This is going to be a more rambling entry in this series for one simple fact: I do not have any formal education in animation and art styles, so I lack the vocabulary to succinctly say my piece and be done.  Instead I am going to be doing the blog equivalent of pointing at things I like and things I think are overused and making grunting noises to signal my emotions.  Even if I had pursued a Fine Arts degree instead of the Social Sciences, it would have been in writing (maybe Foley work), not animation.
If you know about art and would like to link to your own blog that talks about video game art, please do so in the comments.
"What if we tried not looking like everything else in the genre?"
 I have previously mentioned this game and I think it has lots of good qualities with its sense of humor, its music, general tone, and most importantly its art style.  A style which I feel is criminally underutilized.  “Borderlands” may be clunky as hell to play, but it has style.
I am perhaps the only “gamer” (an asinine term) who laments the amount of focus being put on graphic “realism” and the downplaying of more exaggerated art styles as a means to convey the tone of the story.  While some games do NEED realistic graphics to get their point across from a narrative perspective, “Call of Duty” wants to be a “serious” (HA!) war game, and part of that is putting people in realistic body armor and uniforms and making things look and feel as dusty and miserable as a real life war zone.  That is fine.  But why in heaven’s name does something like “Fallout” need to look realistic?
Maybe I am alone but cell shaded graphics like “Borderlands” better fit the anarchic dystopian vibe of tongue in cheek humor in the face of oblivion than the drab appearance of the Commonwealth does.  Ever since I put the idea of “Nintendo’s Fallout” in my brain back on day 3 I knew I would have to talk about it here.  But beyond asking, “can we have some more cartoony graphics to offset the more-and-more often too-dark-and-miserable tone of the Fallout series to pull it back toward the comedy side of things?”  And getting the reply, “probably not.”  I am unsure as to what else to say on the subject.
Though the success of "Fallout Shelter" might indicate a growing desire for goofy aesthetics.
I would like to point to another advantage: shorter load times.  Aiming for a broad brush and angular graphics style is a lot easier on the processor and faster for the console or PC to assemble than charting every pebbly surface that higher end graphics demands.  It also allows for more bad guys on screen at a time, with an emphasis on color helping to signal everything from status effects to special abilities, to facilitate gameplay.
Really, if not for the art/tonal style, I wouldn’t give a flying fig about the Borderlands series, and I don’t think anyone else would either, you know why?  Because “Rage” and “Red Faction” are both dystopias set in desert environments with a variety of weapons and neither of those things has been given a mention anywhere online except to ask, “Does anyone remember this?
You can try to retort with, “What about the wide variety of guns?  The multiplayer?”  The guns wouldn’t work without the art style, because the various elemental attacks rely on visual indications from the enemy you are targeting to know what weapon type to use.  AND, the multiplayer gameplay is small potatoes compared to the time spent in multiplayer shooter arenas on something like Call of Duty.  If you were to use the graphics and tone from “Fallout 4” on Borderlands no one would play the multiplayer at all, because it would offer almost nothing visually engaging to look at.  The gameplay of Borderlands is not great; the series is all style.
Style matters, and the fact that colorful and unreal art is wanted but not catered to is evidenced by the recent MADDENINGLY hyped pre-release of “No Man’s Sky” which as far as I can tell has no gameplay of substance and yet everyone wanted it because it was big and colorful.  More games need to take this as a guiding star: COLORFUL.  And from the subsequent pissy reviews they should also take: FUN.
It LOOKS good.  Looks.
What is your favorite video game art style?  Do you totally disagree with me and want more realistic everything?  Or do you think I have not gone far enough and want to only play with geometric figures and abstractions “Thomas was Alone” style? 
This game looks like a trip.
If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

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