A Gamer’s Look into Game Art Design

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image of different games and their art styles
showcasing different game art styles.

With technology advancing at a rapid rate, new video game hardware has continued to launch gaming into the far-fledged future, generation after generation, and as consumers of video games we commonly gush over titles with photo-realistic visuals and high-fidelity. This two traits are commonly acknowledged as the pinnacle of graphical power. Let’s take a look into video game art design and see how it effects our gaming purchases.

In the last 10 years or so, recent titles such as Crysis blew up the gaming world with a technical, high-bar presentation that visually stunned players, showcasing photo realism never before seen on consoles or computers alike. The game was so graphically intensive, that most high-end video cards (of the time) were incapable of running Crysis on max settings. Crytek would be known as one of the key developers to really push what can be done technically in a video game and Crysis would become the new technical standard.

Screen shot from Crysis - showcasing its game art design
Crysis pushed the envelope with it’s impressive lighting effects

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as they say and as much as photo realistic visuals sets the bar for how far the industry has come on a technical level. Games can look beautiful in many of ways; not just by ticking that hyper realism box. Jaw dropping visuals are wonderful on the eyes, but I will argue, that sometimes the more unique and inspiring a game’s presentation is creates focused and realized beauty all it’s own. Choosing to have a striking visual style can result in titles with distinct identities of their own and help them stand out from the crowd.

When I was deciding on what to use as an example for this article, Journey was one such title that I could not ignore. Its use of gorgeous vistas and an almost water colour art style really brings the world to life, using vibrant tones and striking colours.

Screen shot from Journey showcasing its game art design
The different hues of blue here are in stark contrast to the vivid orange of the main protagonist and helps the scene pop.

In an era of realistic visuals that are seeped in muddy brown tones, colour is a rare thing in hyper realistic video games. In high definition, colour is at its strongest, causing it to jump from your television with a crisp look. Super Mario Odyssey on the Nintendo Switch for example looks incredible in 1080p, running on a machine that has middling to low hardware specifications. Nintendo is just very versatile in how they present their games and they use all the advantages of their hardware to create impressive 1080p visuals.

Screen shot from Super Mario Odyssey - showcasing its game art design
Vivid Colours aplenty!

Unique art design can be a double-edged sword, however. The re-emergence of the 8-bit platformer is beloved for many, while others have trouble resonating with the intentional old-school aesthetic. This is where artistic expression in a video game can and will become extremely subjective. There are so many styles and personalities in gaming today that it’s undoubtedly going to cause a divide in visual and aesthetic preferences.

There’s no denying the impact striking and unique art design can have on purchasing decisions and first impressions. Visuals are the first thing we are treated to when viewing pre-release material for a game and it’s hard not to judge a book by its cover from time to time. They represent the world we are going to explore or the dungeons we are going to raid and can really define what a game is trying to do. In this saturated market where developers and publishers are vying for your hard earned cash, sometimes it’s a unique and striking art style that can really be the key factor in picking up a title.

There are definitely fans across all of gaming that enjoy the 8-bit old-school styling of Shovel Knight, the technical realism of Crysis and everything in between. This has been a very difficult topic to dissect and analyse especially from a consumer’s point of view. My opinion on visual fidelity and art design will, without a doubt be different from one person to another.

If a developer is able to get our attention with just a single screen-shot then game art design is incredibly important indeed. Has a game’s presentation effected your experience with a video game? Can a particular art aesthetic affect your purchasing decisions? Or is art design one out of many key factors that make games great?