Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Neo-Retro Art Style: Savior of the game industry?

Defining a cheap, sexy, and practical art style for next generation games

(image courtesy of http://www.pinknbrown.com/. WIP here)

Everyone knows Retro game art. It invades our culture and manages to be cool despite its primitive nature. But the world has changed and realistic is in. If you aren't Unreal 3, you are nothing. I've got a problem with this and it isn't my typical artistic / flamboyant / whiney one. This is an economic rant: I can't afford to make realistic art.

The more cold hearted players might say "tough". If my wallet doesn't pack the punch of a Rockstar, maybe I shouldn't be playing the development game. And to be honest, my plight is worse than just my inability to pay for realistic art. I'm looking rather pitiful.

  • I suck at creating next generation 3D models. At best, I'm a level 2 box modeler and normal mapping scares me.
  • I don't really care if my games look state-of-the-art or not. If I have limited resources, I'd rather put them into making cool game play that will sell more copies. Bang for the buck rules my world.

I'd like to say my plight is unique, but everyone who isn't EA is pretty much facing the same situation. Both publishers and developers have tight budgets and a projected 100% increase in art costs. Their existing artists aren't trained in creating next generation content and ramping up skillsets takes time. If push came to shove, they would kill for a few Katamari Damacys to boost their bottom line. Even if the graphics suck.

Next generation machines will increase the risk of game development for publishers. From the chats I've had, major publishers will be putting more eggs in the same few baskets. If one or two of these Quadruple A titles doesn't reach the mega-blockbuster status (*cough* God of War *cough*), the whole company suffers dramatically. If it sucks to be me doing next generation titles, it sucks to be them even more so. And those cold-hearted gamers who said 'tough'...you aren't going to like the limited choices you have once the Consolidation begins. (Did I hear someone say 'NFL?' Shh...they'll hear you.)

It is time to combat the economic evils of next generation excess with a powerful secret weapon. Style. Retro style.

Neo-Retro: A definition
Neo-Retro art has its roots back to the 8-bit glory days. It borrows from the simplicity of boardgames of yore and mixes it with the shiny plastic minimalist aesthetic of the iPod design cult. It can use the latest pixel shaders, polygon pipelines and technical doodads, but it doesn't rely on them to make it's impact.

Neo-retro art is:

  • Symbolic, not realistic
  • Efficient, not laboriously ornate
  • Stylish, not visceral

Neo-retro already exists and has been saving major companies money for this entire generation. Next generations will continue to refine this practical and appealing art-style. Many examples tend towards the whimsical and child-like, but there is not reason why this cannot be used for serious games as well. Some examples from around the web include:

Naturally, SpaceCrack will use this style of art. I'm too cheap to do anything else.

take care