The rise of pixel art

For those who know me, you know that I’m pretty nostalgic when it comes to video games. I don’t have any time to play games right now (yes this startup founder thing really does take up every waking minute) but I do read about them and follow the industry. Retrogaming has become a quickly growing industry with more and more stores and sites popping up stocked full of original NES systems and games like Bubble Bobble and Kid Icarus that will bring back some very fond memories.

kidicarus

As time passed, so did game art, and modern video games look more and more photo-realistic with games like Fallout thrusting players into a dystopian and strangely addictive world. People aren’t thinking about pixels with games like these, instead they are truly getting into a world that feels somewhat like their own.

Fallout

When games like Super Mario Brothers came out, pixel art was the only way to go. Game designers were actually pushing the limits of what was possible at the time and having grossly visible pixels was unavoidable.

The look of Mario is all about the graphical limitations of the hardware at the time. He has a hat, because realistic hair was difficult to portray, a moustache to accentuate his nose, and dungarees to make his arm movements more noticeable. In Super Mario Bros, he wears a brown shirt below his overalls – a look that was swiftly abandoned. (Source – The Guardian)

Fast-forward to 2017 and these limitations are long gone which is why more and more games are starting to look so darn realistic. At the same time, enough time has passed that old folks like me have an incredible amount of nostalgia for games that we played in our childhood. If you haven’t read Ready Player One, it’s likely to bring back some very vivid childhood memories starring some of your old favorite video games.

Now something truly incredible is happening in both the video game and the art world. Pixel art, those graphics that were originally created out of necessity to deal with hardware limitations, is back, and in a major way. From massive hits like Minecraft, to Terraria and the now famous indie games like Super Meat Boy, it’s safe to say that games resembling those of the 80’s are more getting more popular by the day.

terraria

I find it amazing to see so much new content come out that people absolutely love playing, that graphically looks like it was made back in 1986. It shows that sometimes what is born out of necessity can actually become something so wonderful that it persists long after the limitation disappear. At the same time I think it shows how all of us in our thirties are part of a generation that grew up at what might be considered the golden age of video games, a world where pixel art was truly seen as art.

I’m excited to see how this trend continues to grow and develop. There’s no reason to think that pixel art won’t be a huge hit in VR and AR which have limitations of their own that make both of these new mediums the perfect place to continue to develop the next generation of pixel art.

What do you think? Is this resurgence of pixel art just a fad, or a mainstay that we’ll see for years to come? Comment and let your voice be heard!

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Eric Lyon June 4, 2017, 1:50 pm

    I gamed back in the day when ColecoVision was new. Atari was on the horizon, not yet released. From there it was a Commodore 64 experience as I got older. I don’t game anymore, tends to distract from prioritizing.

    However, I do still appreciate pixel art and think it’s neat when some people mix/incorporate it into the current day gaming UI/Experience.

    While I think it’s just a blast from the past trend happening right now that will eventually fizz back out again. It’s nice while it lasts.

    Reply
  • Sean Berry July 5, 2017, 5:26 pm

    It’s here to stay…or at least I hope so! Some of these pixel art games are nice throwbacks and remind us of why we fell in love with games in the first place! There are so many to choose from now, like Shovel Knight, Hyper Light Drifter, Mercenary Kings, Fez, Enter The Gungeon, and Tower Fall Ascension! When you’re ready to jump back into gaming Morgan, let me know! I’ll point you in the right direction!

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