Console generations in relation to Art styles

I noticed whilst reading over some of my previous posts that I had made a lot of references to console generations to help set timelines with the points I was analysing. I would like to look at all of the console generations up to the modern games industry and what kind of art styles they used the most as well as what was most iconic about them (At least from a personal point of view)

  • 1st generation (1972 – 1977)

    Notable consoles: Magnavox odyssey, Pong machines/chips

    At its earliest point, gaming was little more than a few moving pixels on a screen at any given time. Often times to help add a visual element to the experience, devices would come with “Visual overlays” that were screen sized translucent plastic that would replicate something context sensitive to the game (Football stadium, Space ECT)

  • 2nd generation (1977-1983)

    Notable consoles: Atari 2600, Intellivision, Atari 5200

    A huge leap in technology comparative to the previous generation, games of the Second generation were able to utilize colour and sprites of a basic complexity (To the point at least half of the assets are identifiable as the objects they are attempting to portray). Animations were basic if even present and usually only really worked if abstracted significantly. Music was incredibility simplistic, with low quality bit tunes consisting of a few notes at a time with sound effects often consisting of various pitched beeps.

    Despite its simplistic graphics capability, some games were able to use colour and basic form to their advantage and create visually memorable games such as “Pitfall” and “Centipede”.

  • 3rd generation (1983 – 1987)

    Notable consoles: Nintendo entertainment system (NES), SEGA master system

    The 3rd generation is when graphics in video gaming reached a point that each game could theoretically have a completely distinct visual style that would be immediately identifiable. With 48 colours and 6 greys, The NES and comparable systems could output a variety of shades for each colour which would allow for shading 2D assets. With increased storage and Ram, the systems could also hold a far higher amount of sprites both on screen and in the wings before loading. This allows for more advance animations that better represent their intended events.

    With these advanced graphical options, games were in a far better position to create unique art styles that better suited their games. A wider colour pallet also improved game design ,with visuals being far better at guiding and advising the player. This generation saw a wide variety of art styles; Some with more simplistic assets such as “Legend of Zelda” and “Super Mario Bros”, and more complex art styles that use shading and depth such as “Contra” and “Ducktails”. This wide variety of art styles made the games library’s far more appealing to a wider audience and ensured their mainstream success (Despite gamings more niche appeal at the time)

  • 4th generation (1987 – 1994)

    Notable consoles: Nintendo Super nintendo entertainment system (SNES), Sega Megadrive/Genisis, SEGA CD

    The 4th generation was another large leap forward, not in terms of methods necessarily but instead in processing power and memory capacity’s. This allowed for far deeper colour pallets, More detailed sprites and larger spritesheets. This in turn allowed for far more complex animations and when combined with the other aspects of the consoles like Parallax scrolling allowed for far improved visuals and a wider variety of art styles.

  • 5th generation (1993 – 1997)

    Notable consoles: Sony Playstation, Nintendo 64

    With this generation saw the debut of full 3D on the home console. Using basic polygons and textures opened up a whole new style of graphics for developers to use in developing games, both mechanically and visually. The addition of a third dimension allowed for some new and interesting developments with pre-exsisting art styles. An example of this would be the “Mario” series. Previously created with highly stylised 2D assets and environments, the series made the jump to 3D successfully with its bright vibrant colours and simplistic assets fitting the low poly limits of the time.

    Art style focuses for the consoles of this generation depended mainly on which console they were based on. The Nintendo 64 had a bias for more colourful and animated games whereas the PlayStation had more of focus on more realistic looking games in some respects (With games using Pre baked backgrounds for a more realistic look). These focuses do not cover even 40% of the games on the consoles but instead are merely an observed trend of some of their more popular games.

    Despite the eve of 3D, 2D art styles still had a place on these consoles and the processing power increase allowed for far better quality sprites and assets as well as basically unlimited sprite sheet size, allowing for far more complex animations.

  • 6th generation (1997 – 2005)

    Notable consoles: Sony Playstation 2, Nintendo Gamecube, SEGA dreamcast, Microsoft Xbox

    The 6th generation did not introduce much new as far as graphical techniques are concerned but instead was a huge upgrade in terms of graphical quality. 3D models could now accurately represent items without having to abstract them overmuch. Texture quality also increase, which allowed for art styles attempting to represent reality to become fore more prevalent. With this generation, there were still 2D games being created, but they were far in the minority when compared to 3D games.

    As with the previous generation, Nintendo’s console had a high number of vibrant, upbeat games with a strong focus on characters. The others had quite an even spread with a higher number of mature rated games which focused more of a mature art style look (With many of the elements attempting to look somewhat realistic).

  • 7th generation (2005 – 2012)

    Notable consoles: Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony Playstation 3

    With the 7th generation, consoles once again saw a huge increase in quality. With highly detailed models and textures, more realistic styles were more achievable than ever before. The power to create realistic graphics, coupled with a serious movement in the industry for mature, serious games (As games were attempting to become more accepted in the mainstream and be taken seriously as an artistic medium) had a negative effect of creating a huge influx of games attempting realistic art styles. Whilst this would not usually be a problem, games with Vibrant and highly animated art styles saw a significant decrease for years. Games took on a more grey and brown focused colour pallet which whilst appealing at the time, often caused art styles to become easily forgettable.

    Towards the end of the generation, more vibrant art styles began to enter the mainstream more and more, though at a slow rate. This is a trend that has continued to this day which is bring the diveristy of art styles back up to its 5th and 6th generation high.

  • 8th generation (2012- Present)

    Notable consoles: Sony Playstation 4, Nintendo WiiU, Microsoft Xbox One

    The current generation has seen a relatively tame step up in quality (Although its processing power increased greatly, allowing for higher frame rates). However, the trend of more vibrant games entering the mainstream has continued and now, thanks to indie development initiatives on both Sony and Microsoft’s parts, more and more games that have distinct art styles are being put on platforms. There is still a high number of realistic art styles in the industry, however many of them have realised the benefit of using bright colour and the Brown/grey focus of the previous generation has all but ended.

Over the course of the games industry, art styles have always had trends and technology to work alongside. Despite this, some of gamings most iconic art styles could have been created in any generation due to strength of their styles not being due to graphical quality but aesthetic choices.



Outcomes – Series analysis/Final essay

For my final outcomes for this project, I have wanted to pinpoint exactly what constitutes an art style and how it affects the rest of the game (Design, sound and narrative). One idea I have had to do this throughout the project would be to compare a few different, long running series and examine how their art styles have changed and what common elements have kept them identifiable as the series they belong to. By examining how different series manage to stay distinct despite decisively differing art styles, I should be able to hone in on exactly what constitutes an art style and how they are designed to fit certain themes/genres.

One I have examined a few different examples and have a good amount of knowledge on the subject, I will write an essay revolving around what I have learned about art styles as a whole and where they fit in terms of games development. Also examining the best ways art styles and visuals can be used as design aspects will hopefully better showcase my understanding. Hopefully, with the project completed, I’ll have advanced my understanding of visual design significantly. Over the upcoming semester, ill be examining various art styles and how they effect the games they have been designed for. Ill also examine the various elements that make up a games art direction (Which I will collate in my final essay) and development of game visuals over the course of the game industry’s history.

I am looking forward to reading more into these matters and learning more about how visuals have functioned previously and hopefully getting a good idea of how they will develop in the future.

3D Art styles

Continuing where I left off from earlier, I will now attempt to analyse what some of 3D’s strengths are in the games industry, both in the past and modern use.

3D art styles initially started with low poly models on pc and later on some of the earlier consoles (PS1, N64, Atari Jaguar, Dreamcast ECT). In its earlier days, the technology was not at a point where models had enough detail to create a strong sense of immersion so a focus on creating a distinct style was still paramount. This is not to say games in 3D’s earlier days did not attempt more realistic art styles, but they also often exaggerated certain elements to make up for the lack of detail in certain areas. In the earlier days, their were also techniques to make the rendering process easier whilst still presenting the illusion of a fully 3D environment that involved 3D characters and objects but pre-rendered “Flat” Backgrounds. An example of this would be “Final fantasy 7” which often had complex background environments that only had certain aspects rendered in real-time. This had the added benefit of allowing for far greater detail in the environments without a performance hit.

Earlier 3D had a distinct look that attempted to create the necessary complexity in models whilst using as a few polygons as possible. This style also required the textures to be created In a way that suggested as much detail possible with lower resolutions. This “Low Poly” look has since seen a small resurgence in independent art assets, indie projects and occasionally larger budget game (Gone home, Superhot). Thanks to more advanced technology, the texture elements can be far higher resolution as well as post processing but the assets themselves are purposefully created to evoke that low resolution look that was popularised by early 3D.

As the generations moved on, graphical quality increased, allowing for far greater quality in models, textures and post-processing effects/Rendering techniques. With the inclusion of bump maping, complex lighting and techniques to reduce quality of faraway/Unseen objects, 3D graphics have been constantly improving and becoming more realistic as the industry has progressed. This can allow for a far wider diversity in art styles but also creates an issue where generic art styles become more easily acceptable. Around the Seventh generation of consoles, many games attempted to use the new high levels of processing power to create games that attempted to mimic reality as closely as possible. Whilst this had appeal initially, it saw a sharp decrease in games with memorable and unique art styles. Colorful games and games that used more “Stylistic” art direction were few and far between when compared to the previous generations and whilst this is still the case in todays industry, we are seeing a resurgence with games such as “Yooka-laylee” and “Splatoon” are good examples as well as more mature examples such as “No man’s sky”, “Dishonoured 2” and “Project Setsuna”.

Graphics will always be improving, regardless of art style trends. In the past art styles for video games have been created due in part to limitations of the medium (As many artistic works often are). With technology now allowing for incredibly high definition models and rendering techniques, creating games that emulate reality is more possible now than ever before. Despite this, more and more games are attempting to create unique and appealing visual styles will set them apart from others, and this is heartening to see.

Additional note :

I have also been thinking about Isometric perspectives in relation to art styles and realised that isometric is a perspective tool that suits both 3D and 2D and often uses both to great effect. Initially I was going to write a pose about 2.5D or hybrid art styles in relation to this, but I realised that both of these posts cover it well enough.