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.