Colour and its absence

One thing I noticed in the previous generation (PS3/XBOX 360) was that games using vibrant colour and distinct art styles were far fewer than on previous generations (PS2, XBOX ECT). Instead, with the improvement of graphics, there seemed to be a serious bias towards realistic styles with less distinct and unique art styles.

Whilst I imagine it would take more research on the subject, my initial assumption is due to the massive leap in graphical quality, more effort was expended on making games looking closer to reality. Due to a lack of strong graphical technology in previous generations, games generally either had to attempt to look realistic within its own boundaries (For example GTA San Andreas and Metal gear solid 3) or create a distinct art style using certain techniques (Cell shading, Pixels, hand drawn, Animated ECT). This is not to say these were the only reasons I assume however the push towards Realistic styles also had an adverse trend that is only recently starting to die down.

Colour, at least vibrant colour schemes, became far less prevalent in gaming. Many games would release with a focus on browns and greys as their overall colour pallet. A good way of noticing this would be to compare Fallout 3’s art style with the recent Fallout 4. Fallout 4 has a bright and colourful environment despite being in a post apocalyptic wasteland. Fallout 3 in comparison feels rather drab with very little vibrancy and a perchance to rocky areas with little variation as far as foliage and colour were concerned. Even the buildings and man-made objects looked worn and toned down.

Whilst its graphics were acceptable for the time, Fallout 3 used a bland and uninteresting colour pallet

This trend has since died down with the technology jump between generations being far less vast and with more of a focus on performance than graphical quality. In the current video games industry, games that use distinct art styles are beginning to stand out once again. With games like Witcher 3, Street fighter 5, Doom and Fallout 4 all using vibrant colour pallets along side their attempts at realism, Colour seems to be returning to the AAA games industry which is a good thing.




Cel shading

One art style I have a particular interest in is Cel shading. Cel shading is a technique used in 3D video games to attempt to invoke the style of more traditional forms of media such as traditional animation and Illustration (EG Comic books).

Most lighting engines attempt to replicate the way lighting works in the real world, which can create fantastic looking scenes with good contrast and emphasis. However, Cel shading tells the engine to work differently to create a more simplistic lighting effect which invokes an almost cartoon like aesthetic with exaggerated lighting effects for stronger contrasts. This can work well for both establishing a more light hearted/ cartoon like art style and also for lowering the requirement of high fidelity art assets. Cel shading often allows assets to focus less on high poly counts and use texturing for their main detailing.

Initially, I had the misconception that Cel shading also including adding an outline to non background (And sometimes background) Objects to help them stand out. This was in a similar fashion to the way both comics and traditional animation do to help objects in motion stand out from detailed backgrounds. However, I remembered (And was pointed towards at the same time) Zelda : The Wind Waker that used a Cel shaded art style with no outlines. Looking at the majority of other Cel shaded games, I have noticed that outlines are popular with the style, but not indicative of it.

One use of the technique I particularly admire is Telltale game’s “The wolf among us”.

A comic book style made stronger by the use of Cel shading

Using both heavy Cel shading and outlines both as a 3D element and throughout their textures, Telltale created an art style
that looked almost exactly like a comic book in motion. Whilst the animations themselves lack some impact in many areas, I found this style visually appealing and it certainly used its Cel shaded lighting to great effect.


I was originally going to question whether or not the style could be used for more serious games due to its inherent cartoon like stylings. However, I quickly realised that games such as Borderlands and Mad world have proven its not only possible, but also very effective if used correctly. It, when coupled with good effects and tonal lighting can really set a good mood with both light and dark tones depending on requirements.

I enjoy the Cel shaded style greatly and despite it being used less in the current generation, I imagine it will always have a place if used correctly.


Personal history with Art

In college, I studied Art, graphics and a BTEC in creative media production (Games). I had a great interest in illustration and the visual side of the games industry. Initially I had wanted to animate for video games but towards the end of my courses, I decided I wanted to enter as an asset production artist/Illustrator. Every opportunity I have had I have bought and read concept art books for games and film, always interested in the concepts behind the final works. Behind the scenes DVD’s also often helped get a good idea of how the art production pipeline functioned in the games industry

After graduating college, I took a foundation course in Art at a different local college to prepare myself for an art university course. Here I learnt more techniques both in techniques and research. Researching art movements and studying some basic art history gave me a much greater apreation for the subject than I had before. Unfortunately due to both my own skill not being of university quality and family issues, I was not able to complete the course and instead, thanks to my high college grades in Creative media production, I was able to enter Abertay on the Games design and production management course.

Although I have keen interest in the visual side of gaming, I also enjoyed designing them and having been playing them since a young age, I wanted to help create them in a way that best suited my skill set (Which happens to be design focused). Despite my current design focus, I have not lost my fondness for the visual side of gaming and I still want to find ways to use it in my designs in some way, shape or form. With that in mind, researching it like this will hopefully lead to some revelations in its use as a design tool as well as its place in the final product. I also need to start considering a Vision statement for my project and I have come up with a number of questions that I could base my research around that I will need to spend time considering. For example:

  • What constitutes an art style

  • What makes an art style suit its Genre or Target audience

  • Can all art styles work for all kinds of games

  • How does a games art style effect player behaviour and mood

I will need to consider these carefully whilst I research further.

Decision and reasoning

I have spent some time considering the topics I have covered thus far and I have decided on covering my “Art styles and their uses in the games industry” Topic for the moment. This is primary due to the fact that I love the visual side of the games industry and its one that I find the most interesting.

Whilst many games seem to lack a distinct art style (Instead using high quality graphics and a realistic style instead, often stripping the game of a distinct visual identity) the more standout examples of my gaming history have had art styles that still stick in my head today. Each generation of consoles and gaming in general has had overlying visual themes with set visual styles becoming more popular and even iconic for the console. An example of this would be the more Graphic intensive, less stylistic Art styles of the XBOX360/PS3 when compared to the more stylistic focused N64 and PS1.

I believe this topic is ripe for experimentation and research for a number of topics such as :

  • The differences between graphics and Art style

  • Defining an Art style

  • Art styles and their interaction with narrative, gameplay and sound design

  • Art styles throughout a series history

  • Development of Trends in the Visual side of the games industry

  • And more..

Whilst I do not yet have a vision statement and final topic pinpointed, I think this area would be the most interesting as far as my own personal tastes are concerned. Considering I will have to stay on topic for the remainder of this semester and all of the the next, I wanted to ensure I chose a topic I felt could be expanded upon as necessary and would keep my interest. I believe in this choice, I have achieved that.

High skill investment Games

Having played them for many years, Fighting games are a genre close to my heart. However, despite my enjoyment of them, I recognize they are a genre that is remarkably unfriendly to newcomers due mainly to the time requirement to grasp its basics in a useable fashion. Someone coming to the genre new will likely be able to enjoy the single player content (Despite it often being the lacking part of the game) but will likely not improve their skills in a fashion that will allow them to effectively play against other players. The same is true of RTS games like Starcraft that require a decent investment of time learning build orders and improving inputs to match human opponents when compared to the often more forgiving nature of the AI.

In recent years, training tools in these games have become far more readily available. With comprehensive tutorials that introduce each games unique elements and challenge modes that let players train their combo inputs, fighting games have never been more approachable. That being said, the time it takes to become skilled enough for decent player vs player gameplay is still higher than other competitive games such as FPS’s, MMO’s and even MOBA’s. The same can be said of RTS’s with specific maps to help teach competitive game mechanics and each army’s unique play style and unit strengths. Thanks to strong matchmaking, Starcraft itself allows players to play against other player of a similar skill level easier than fighting games do (Though whether or not this is an indictment of matchmaking in fighting games or a statement on their inherent nature would require more research)

In more recent years, we have also seen a feature implemented into certain fighting games called “Simplified or Stylish” Mode. This take what would usually be a number of complex inputs and allows them and combos to be executed at the press of a button. This allows players to not have to worry about inputs as much as focus more on the fundamentals (I.E Defence, neutral game ECT). Removing the complex inputs reduces the complexity of the game but allows for people with less time investment to build skills that will transfer between games in the genre (The fundamentals). Combos and inputs are usually learnt specifically to the game and do not cross over as well. This mode can best be thought of as training wheels allowing players to close skill gaps with less time investment.

If I was to choose this area to research, I would attempt to see if there are other methods we can provide to help close the initially large skill gap that keeps newer players from playing against other players. Stylish mode is a good step in the right direction but even with this mode, someone with better fundamentals can still win with consistency.