Dazzling Up Those Pixels

This week I am going to talk more about pixel games and ways you can make pixel graphics look a little cooler than just a 2-D world. There are a lot of different ways to go with this and it also depends upon the type of view your game has. Like any other game, you can have a bird’s eye view of your character, isometric, fully to the side of the character (i.e. platformer games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario) and, in some games, first person. In most cases, if you want to go with anything that is not bird’s eye or platformer you will need to implement some degree of 3-D graphics into the game to make it work. This in itself is a method in making a pixel art game more interesting to look at because integrating 2-D sprites in 3-D space is really cool done right. There is a game coming out for the Nintendo Switch from Square Enix named Octopath Traveler which uses an isometric view for the game. It is a great example of incorporating 2-D pixel art with 3-D graphics in a very interesting and cool way. I have posted the trailer for the game below in case you are interested in checking it out.

There is not much behind why it works, it simply is more interesting to look at then a flat image. However, there are lots of pixel games that don’t go quite as far as Octopath Traveler to bridge 2-D with 3-D. Some developers use higher resolution sprites so they can work with more pixels. While others add a lot of polish to make the overall experience feel more like a modern game with a retro look instead of a retro game with a dated look. A single developer made a game named Stardew Valley which is a farming game but it has a very retro style to it that looks great but it doesn’t have any 3-D elements besides detailed sprites.


As you can see, the sprites are a lot smaller and higher resolution but they still retain a visibly retro look. Games like these are also some of the most manageable to make due to the graphics just requiring basic drawing at low resolutions. It still takes time to make good graphics with animations but it is a fraction of the time it would take to do the same in 3-D. Usually, the higher the resolution graphics are, the more time it takes to make quality animations. Redrawing is tough and if you plan to finish a game it is a good idea to be realistic on the resolution you choose to work with. I generally make sprites for pixel art graphics in 64×64 resolution tiles. It gives you room to work with to add detail but it isn’t too ambitious for a single person to redraw animations for. 32×32 looks good too but it is entirely up to the artist. I recommend to play around before deciding. Also, like with any other type of image, don’t scale a sprite up or down if you change resolution. Redraw it. It will look poor quality otherwise and even though it’s a retro game, it looks pretty bad and it will stand out!

The last type of pixel games I am going to talk about is the first person pixel art games. These are 3-D games where they texture the 3-D models with very low resolution textures. Another common practice these days is to make 3-D models and then to apply a “retro shader” to the camera in Unity to achieve a retro look. This way you can make anything look retro by simply applying a shader. It’s a really cool way to make a game have a unique look to it without having to do anything to all of your art assets. This is a major time saver. An example of this in action can be seen in the video below from Josh O’Caoimh. You can get a retro shader off the Unity Asset Store or you can script one yourself if you have the expertise. I have found one available here that is a more updated version of the one being used in the video.

There is more and more cool ways being created to use pixel art in new and inventive ways, you just have to start making it and see what cool games you can come up with!


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