Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

Introduction to Pixel Art in Visual Representation

Oftentimes, artists, especially game designers, create visual representations through the use of pixel art. However, most of the early video games used pixel art for their graphics due to technological limitations. We can say that the era of pixel art in digital culture took place in the 1970s. Atari’s arcade games were at their peak, until the mid-1990s, when 3D computer graphics really hit the console game world.

Apart from that, video games as a medium were also a more established part of popular culture at that time. Currently, we can recognize pixel art as a visual genre that is closely related to video game culture. Artists often use it for video game covers and event advertisements. In recent years, many people have fallen out of favor with pixel art when it comes to video game visuals. So, they signify something nostalgic and related to games.

The use of pixel art can evoke nostalgic thoughts of the good old days. However, nostalgia gives rise to a new look. A new graphic style derived from old pixel paintings has gained popularity over the last 10 years. Indie game artists have explored the potential of pixel art as a form of representation.

Pixel Art as a Cultural Phenomenon

It is one of the main places for this new pixel style. Despite having a close relationship with video games, they also use pixel art outside the realm of video game culture. Creating and appreciating pixel art has become a culture of its own. We can enjoy it for various reasons such as nostalgia or new visual trends. In addition, they often display and offer meaningful pixels for them to sell at shows.

Starting in 2015 and growing every year, Pixel Art Park is one of their annual exhibitions and sales dedicated to pixel art merchandise. Apart from the recent domestic incident, there have long been many graphic designers specializing in pixel art. Since around 2000, eBoy has been publishing their pixel art. People know them from the Pixorama series, which uses isometric pixel art to recreate different cities.

In addition, there was and still is an abundance of design equipment and items featuring vintage video game pixel art. The examples all show that we value pixel art as a distinct type of artwork. It’s not just a game-related visual. In a general definition, pixel art refers to a wide variety of images. However, what is the philosophy that makes pixel art, which was originally only a nostalgia, an artistic choice?

Definition of Pixel Art

According to Techopedia’s definition, pixel art is a form of digital art that people draw with graphics software where they use pixels as the sole building block. Broadly, they associated it with the low-resolution graphics of the 8-bit and 16-bit era computer and arcade video game consoles. Even though we have crossed the boundaries of technology, pixel artists and game studios are still using the art form to this day.

In its criticism, pixel art or not, consists of a collection of pixels. However, it consists of a collection of pixels alone is not sufficient in defining an image as pixel art. Pixel art is unique because every pixel that makes up it is of significance. Due to its significance, every small change will affect the content. According to Shin Imai, pixel art is a raster image, a two-dimensional picture as a rectangular matrix or grid of square pixels, which uses a collection of pixels to represent objects.

We can see each pixel or group of pixels separately without the aid of the eye. Moreover, we can distinguish each pixel as a component of pixel art with our own eyes. Therefore, we can usually recognize pixel art at a glance.

Distinction Between Pixel Art and Other Raster Images

On the other hand, components of a raster image that are not pixel art are usually invisible to the naked eye. The individual pixels of digital photos are usually indistinguishable for us unless they are of very low resolution. In short, pixel art is an image composed of a collection of elements that we can distinguish with the naked eye that are shaped like a square. It is the same size and arranges itself in a square grid, where small variations in elements tend to significantly distort the image.

Thus, there is a wide variety of images that meet the requirements. According to Imai, pixel art shows how advanced or basic the graphic technology that artists use in each pixel art work is. It varies, for example, in terms of pixel density, color depth, use of graphics and other effects. The retro or future axis separates more retro styles, which seem to want to return to the good old days.

From a more futuristic form, retro seeks fresh and innovative expressions using the medium of pixel art. According to Imai, four main directions by the balance of the two axes divide the pixel art, each of which can correspond to a particular visual experience.

Evolving Techniques in Contemporary Pixel Art Games

He called it avant-garde, mannerisms, nostalgia, and lo-fi. Most contemporary pixel art games do more than repeat old technical limitations. Instead, they use a higher screen resolution to emphasize the pixelated feel. The widescreen 16:9 format replaces the legacy 4:3 format of classic games, allowing for increased visual sophistication without sacrificing a nostalgic feel. According to Jo-Remi Madsen, the programmer of Owlboy, hi-bit adds a new touch in some games defying pixel boundaries and layering non-pixel visual effects or user interfaces on top of conventional aesthetics.

With textures from pixel art, others even incorporate 3D visuals to produce a blend of the two. For example, Stardew Valley has graphics that look decidedly retro. Little has changed from the way Japanese role-playing games for fourth-generation systems represent a situation typical of Japanese video games from the mid-1990s. Also, Stardew Valley‘s graphics didn’t deviate too much from the norm for the period in terms of technologies such as medium resolution, rich colors, and conventional 2D graphics.

We can classify the game as “nostalgic” with confidence. Therefore, we often refer to this type of graphics as 16-bit style because fourth generation consoles usually use 16-bit processors. Although the lighting effect is quite sophisticated, it still uses the conventional method of creating pixel art, where artists place colors pixel by pixel.

Contrasting Color Scheme

Other than that, it’s a stark contrast from traditional and classic pixel art like Stardew Valley in terms of the color scheme and vibe that the game creates. The 8-bit style graphics, which third-generation video game consoles of the late 1980s used, are perhaps reminiscent of the pixel art in Undertale. The style is older and more primitive than 16-bit graphics. Because it uses a limited color palette, with almost no gradation, to show people and objects, the result is simplicity and color solitude.

As a result, it can leave a much flatter impression than the screens of Stardew Valley. In such a way, there are many types of pixel art. Naturally, they weren’t scattered randomly but were arranged in several groups. Changes in the social context that in economics or technology do not affect the less metaphysical, each style of art genre develops itself in response to its own aesthetic inspiration.

Moreover, we have already said that the tendency to transform in itself is rather characteristic of many artistic genres, allowing us to identify some similar trends in the historical development of various genres. In many cultures, the phenomenon of “revival” of previous fashion trends can also be seen as an example of endogenous fashion change.

The Diminishing Potency of Nostalgia

Time and time again, we still discuss the development of video games from a technological and business standpoint. Needless to say, such environmental elements impact artistic and cultural creations, especially when it comes to cultures that have heavily influenced technical progress, such as video game culture. However, we cannot explain most of the cases by looking at external circumstances.

The notion of style proves that artistic inspiration alone contributes to the diversification and evolution of cultural phenomena. Additionally, the ideas we can apply to all aspects of video game aesthetics, including gameplay, narrative, sound, user interface design, and more. As a result, there are several stylistic options for pixel art and video game designs. Ultimately, nostalgia will lose its potency as fewer and fewer gamers remain from the early days of video games.

However, that doesn’t mean pixel art will disappear. As the years have gone by, pixel art seems to establish itself as a viable artistic option rather than just a walk down memory lane. Like the synthwave music style, a music style that emerged from the nostalgia of the 1980s but continues to survive and develop into a genre of its own. It’s not a phenomenon we don’t know about.

Filling in the Gaps

However, without memory, how can pixel art stand on its own? When playing pixel art games, players must fill in the blanks when they compare them to more realistic games. Even though a character’s face is only a few pixels wide, players can still understand what they are trying to say. In contrast to realistic games whose material we have already chewed, players must use their imagination to understand them with the limited information they offer.

Such an extra effort is more enjoyable than negative, like the difference between the anime and the real life action version. Each of us fills in the gaps in the way that makes the most sense to our brains. Therefore, it often happens that when we add more features in an effort to make the character look more realistic, the magical aura of the character starts to fade. For example, consider impressionism as illustration, a late 19th century style of painting.

It acts more in the viewer’s interpretation than any other popular mode of painting at the time. Similar to pixel art, it is interesting to note that they also used impressionism at first because it was a more effective style of painting. As opposed to realistic looking games, the pixel art style offers a completely different perceptual experience.

Minimalist Philosophy in Both Pixel Art Visuals and Music

In a broader sense, a general category of aesthetics in which the viewer’s senses actively engage the visual manifestation of a character’s inner activity through outward action, line, and expression. However, when we use it to describe a game, we often misunderstand it as adopting only a few dramatic scenes. In fact, an artist is always trying to portray what they feel deeply. More specifically, the author’s true visual sense drives his creations.

Pixel games emphasize a style with distinct edges, vivid colors and unrestrained aesthetics. When designing pixel games rather than complex 3D visuals, artists often consider graphic design and how to deliver the greatest impact in the smallest possible space. The works liberate viewers from the limitations of everyday vision and give them a whole new visual experience. They produce several works that combine personal experience and vivid imagination in producing dramatic tension and beautiful poetry.

However, the pixel art style is not just about graphics. While many realistic-looking games, especially AAA titles, mimic the use of symphonic sound in Hollywood movies, pixel art games have their own unique sound thanks to 8-bit and 16-bit music. The same minimalist philosophy informs both of them. Both the newer music is a product of the early game’s technical constraints, such as the visual marvels of pixel art.

The Rise of 8-bit or 16-bit Hybrid Soundtracks in Games

Early video game soundtracks, especially 8-bit soundtracks, they had to create using very simple synthesized sounds, resulting in recognizable chiptunes. Early games relied on just a few pixels to build a fictional universe. Such restrictions affect the sound and the way a composer creates music. In those days, composers needed to use a certain method of composition because only a few layers of sound could be played simultaneously.

Compare the resounding music of most contemporary AAA games to the straightforward but memorable soundtracks of titles like Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and Final Fantasy. In general, the game’s soundtrack becomes less melodious and more atmospheric as it deviates from the pixel art graphics and explores realistic worlds. For a long time, the only soundtrack they could use with pixel art games was 8-bit, then 16-bit.

As technology advanced and pixel art went from need to preference, the sound changed too. While some contemporary pixel art games continue to use music chiptunes alone, others have strayed from their original sound track and adopted various sound forms. It’s interesting that 8-bit or 16-bit hybrid soundtracks, seen in games like Celeste, are on the rise. The hybrid creates music that sounds new while maintaining a nostalgic feel that fits perfectly with pixel art images.

The Enduring Appeal and Longevity

They combine classic chiptune sounds with realistic or modern sounds. The efficacy of game music correlated inversely with how well the music complemented the game. Also, there is a natural fit between chiptunes and pixel art due to their close relationship. When we see and hear it, music enhances the vintage vibe of the pixel art graphics while reinforcing the distinct retro vibe of music chip.

Platforming action and strategy RPG game design that impacts gameplay and creates an evocative atmosphere are the hallmarks of pixel art games. If they use it properly, simpler pixel art graphics make it easier for players to distinguish between game features and can facilitate a more enjoyable gaming experience. On the other hand, the simplicity makes it difficult to customize various game features.

Therefore, it is very important to find the ideal balance in terms of element density. Just because pixel art takes a simple approach, doesn’t mean it’s easy for artists to create. Creating interesting and different fictional characters, user interfaces and worlds while maintaining a pixelated appearance is undoubtedly difficult. It can be very difficult to find a sweet spot that allows players to interpret what we see without revealing anything.

Thus, the games they make with pixels last longer.


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