From Pixels To Photorealism: Game Art Through The Years

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Above everything else, games are a visual medium and experience. Whether it's trailers, print ads, box art or the games themselves, developers and publishers know that they must sell how the game looks just as much as the plot, dynamics and characters. Of course, the way games have looked throughout their short history has depended entirely upon the technology on hand. So, let's take a look at game art through the years based on the many platforms that have been released.

Arcade Graphics

Back in the 1970s and 80s, gaming graphics were very simplistic. Even though arcade games were fitted into huge cabinets, they still didn’t have enough processing power to really expand past vector and pixel designs. What developers could do though is create “3D” game art, which is perhaps most evident in Star Wars (1983). True, the graphics look incredibly juvenile in comparison to today’s standards but the use of lines and colours created a depth that few other games at the time could match.



Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) & Super Nintendo

Though it was released under the name Famicon in Japan, the gaming system that really changed graphics forever would go down in history as the Nintendo Entertainment System or NES. Before the NES console, games looked ugly, rudimental and even confusing, so it was great when games like Super Mario Bros came out with bright colours, clean lines and plenty of detail for the time.

Things only got better for Nintendo once the 16-bit era started, bringing more detail, colors and sharper sprites than ever before. This was most obvious in the Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG) genre, which included the likes of Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Chrono Trigger.



Sony PlayStation & Nintendo 64

The PlayStation was just a 32-bit system but the console had a CD drive meaning that developers could store far more data in their games. This led to far more 3D games and allowed developers to use textures like never before. Still, Nintendo 64 games looked just as good even though they opted to stick with cartridges. Super Mario 64 (1996) was a complete masterpiece for the time, showcasing 3D art spectacularly. The character also looked more cartoony than pixelated, with the days of circles with edges having finally disappeared for good.

To this day, many indie designers choose to create games that look very similar to early Sony PlayStation and Nintendo 64 games. Though they could very well go with a more modern graphic design, there’s something about the cartoony characters, bright colours and basic textures that draws designers in. Meanwhile, the iGaming industry also continues to develop slot games with cartoon graphics, though they are definitely easier on the eye than games of the mid-90s. For example, many of the Casino Cruise slot games such as Mega Moolah, Finn and the Swirly Spin and Crystal Queen all use rounded, animated character designs and extremely bright color palettes, much like the JRPGs of old.

Modern Day Consoles & The Future

As systems gained more processing power, games began to look gradually more photorealistic with many games looking almost too real in recent history. Nintendo and Sony still remain at the forefront of game art, though they have also been joined by Microsoft, which is known to host fantastic looking games on both PC and console. In some ways, it’s a shame that the days of pixel art and cartoonish color palettes have gone, but there’s no denying how impressive games like Far Cry 5, Skull & Bones and Anthem are.

In the future, we’re sure games will get even more photorealistic in their art style though this may not necessarily apply to all releases. As we said earlier, indie developers and even entire industries such as iGaming often choose the older styles. We may even find that games develop an entirely different art style that straddles the line between realistic and gamified. Only time will tell but we are certainly excited to see what’s next.