We live in a world where games tend to focus on making graphics realistic. If you’re a half-serious PC gamer you probably will be familiar with the term anti-aliasing. It has been the mission of guys who spend out on gaming PC’s to get rid of “Jaggies” for more than a decade. But more and more we are starting to embrace the retro.
Fighting at street level
If you pull out that ageing console from your attic, dust it off and give it a whirl, you will probably notice something immediately. The pixel graphics are really retro! Well, duh! Of course, they are, what is retro if not paying homage to what has past? I recently had the pleasure of taking part in a Street Fighter 2 tournament on the SNES. To my surprise, it was relatively easy to plug into a modern TV!
What surprised me was how good the game looked. It didn’t have the feel of something that hadn’t aged well. It looked like a modern game designed to have an ancient aesthetic. This is probably a true testament to just how good Street Fighter two actually was, after all, there has to be a reason why it was so globally popular.
Not all good
Later on, after I had (obviously) won the tournament we tried our hands at a bit of original Mario Kart. Now I have to confess I have Mariokart on the Switch and it only ever really comes out when I have guests around. The game truly comes into its element when being played with multiple people. Here is the thing with the original Mariokart. The gameplay, even now, is fantastic. It’s so easy to pick it up and play, and ramping up the “cc” level significantly alters the challenge. But unlike Streetfighter it does not look good. In fact, some of the levels are so garish that playing five minutes made me question how my 12-year-old self didn’t suffer constant migraines (I played a lot of SNES as a kid!)
So what’s the difference
Simply, the fact that Street Fighter had better artists. Designing Sprites as they are often referred isn’t necessarily hard these days. You can change a few settings in photoshop and you are away. But even with modern tech making it so simple it still needs to be done right.
Creating a simple character is relatively straightforward for anyone with a modicum of artistic talent. But bringing it to life by adding depth, shade etc. Well, that is an altogether different challenge. When done correctly it looks incredible, Much in the way the original Street Fighter did. When handled poorly you get something that makes Mario Cart’s rainbow circuit look like it was designed by Damien Hirst.
A true art form
These days indy games often look to the past and imitate 8 and 16-bit graphics. When done well these games have a certain charm. It is nice to see a game that visually represents a time when games were less complex while containing the complexities of a modern game.
Having games of this ilk means that in the modern world there is a (slight) demand for good pixel artists. And a quick google search will show that they are justified in calling what they do art. The jagged edges may cause nightmares for those who go to sleep hugging the latest Nvidia cards, but there truly are some fabulous pieces around if you know where to look. I encourage you to check it out and if you are the artistic type and want to try your hand at pixel art there are plenty of tutorials on YouTube for you to ingest.