01. Art

Defining the differences between different video game art styles.

Game Art Styles, Unit 78 – Part one.

————————————————– Introduction ————————————————–

Video games with distinguishable art styles seem to always leave an everlasting impression with video game enthusiasts, even if the game did not do very well or never got as popular as it was intended to have done. But because of the defined art style that the developers of a certain game went with, gamers will always remember the game because of it’s striking but defining video game art style.

For example I could not imagine Mario Kart being in any other art style other than cartoon, this is because of it’s game defining visuals that has been used by Nintendo developers for quite an amount of time on games like Mario Kart, Donkey Kong and Zelda.


To add another point a video game like Minecraft would not be the same without having it’s own distinctive art style as it does today because of the way it has been portrayed by the visuals in a pixel art manner. The purpose of Minecraft in a short summary is to build and mine blocks which would suggest that the best art style for this type of game is pixel art.

This is because it shows off to a degree of what the games objectives and play style is, so another art style like cartoon or photorealism would not fit correctly with what Minecraft is trying to portray as a in-game block builder.

As it’s shown art styles are very important to a video games design process and overall look and feel to the video game when it’s finished it’s design, most video games are distinguished due to their art style because the art style defines what the video games overall look and feel will give off to new players interested in purchasing the finished game.

————————————————– Photorealism ————————————————

Photorealism is an art style where game developers try to reproduce a real life image in a video game whether that be characters, environments, weapons or even a football they are all created with a purpose of looking like the real life thing, just as if you were watching a film or a real live television programme. Photorealism has been used as an art style for video games for many years now but only recently has it became completely “life like” because of the up to date 4k and 1080p resolution images available to developers today.

A good example of where photorealism has been used would be the recently released title Shadows of Mordor where the developers have effectively used photorealism to portray the world of Middle-earth and this has help them create an immersive experience for the players that will be adventuring through Middle-earth as a character called Talion.

Furthermore Shadows of Mordor has been created with a photorealism art style to help create the look of one of the Lord of the rings movies, since the game is based within the Lord of the rings universe the developers wanted to portray the video game as another immersive film from the Middle-earth saga which is why photorealism was the best art style for the developers at Monolith productions to use for this particular video game.


In comparison to Shadows of Mordor, video games like Skyrim and Assassins Creed have also been developed to look like a real life image on your television screen because either the developers want to create an immersion of real life like features or they are re-creating the look of something already in the real world. On another hand video games like Fifa, Formula one and the WWE games are created with a photorealism art style because the developers of the game are trying to re-create the look of the sports television programmes in the virtual world to make them look as life like as they can.

Photo-realistic games are becoming increasingly popular because of the higher resolution that 4K and 1080p brings, this then allows the developers to create an even more life like virtual world because of the amount of polygons that are now available for developers to be able to create high resolution characters, environments and objects on the next-gen consoles such as the Xbox one and the PlayStation four.

Shadows of Mordor is a brilliant example to use because like Beyond Two Souls and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare the developers at Monolith productions have used motion capture to capture the emotion and highly detailed animations that the characters use or produce throughout the story in the video game world.

Using motion capture is becoming increasingly popular in the video game industry as much as it is in the film industry this is because it allows the developers to capture the emotion that a certain character would be feeling at a specific time in the video games storyline, where as normal animation would still capture the quality of emotion on a characters face just not as highly detailed as it would by using motion capture.

Shadows of Mordor Behind the scenes: 

To summarise photorealism demonstrates the skill and advanced technology of a certain gaming company that produces a photorealism video game like Shadows of Mordor. As well as showing off the companies technology and employee skill developing a photorealism game will also create anticipation for the games release and this will then hopefully increase pre-orders or market sales of that certain video game when it’s in store.

However there are disadvantages to using an art style like photorealism this is because the cost of creating games such as Shadows of Mordor, Call of Duty and Destiny are massive due to the high amount of pixels needed to create games on this scale, it is also the amount of time on the developing process which costs the company money. This then means that they will need to sell as many products as they can so they can make the revenue back from what they lost whilst developing a triple A photo-realistic video game.

(Recent title “Destiny” it’s production cost was $500 million)

Finally photo-realistic video games have high pixel and polygon counts to produce the developers desired effects, characters and environments. This will then evidently increase the file size of the overall game. A video game with a large file size for example would be Titanfall this is because of the amount of audio, pixels and different files that have to go into creating the whole Titanfall experience, this means that the download time will be longer compared to another game that has a much more smaller game file size.

A longer download wait is obviously frustrating to the players and the developers themselves but due to the amount of polygons, effects, weapons, characters and detailed environments that go into creating a photo-realistic video game there is no other way around the download wait time which frustrating to everyone involved.

Overall Photo-realistic graphics have become increasingly popular with game enthusiasts and game developers themselves this is because of the next-gen graphics and visuals a photo-realistic video game like Shadows of Mordor can produce. In addition photo-realistic graphics appeal to a much more older audience because its capturing a real like aspect where as an art style like cartoon appeals to a much more younger audience because of it’s fun and not to serious visuals and art style a game like Mario Kart is portraying.

————————————————– Cartoon ——————————————————

Similar to photorealism, cartoon art style has it’s own distinct style and way of projecting a story that the game developers are trying to tell through the art and visuals of the game. In addition this art style is best portrayed when the game designers are trying to re-create the look of a comic book strip or a cartoon you would normally see on the television.

Cartoon as an art style was first used as a 2D piece of illustrated art in the western countries for children because of the rounded shapes, bright colours and interesting characters that appealed to a younger audience but as the industry has developed, cartoon as an art style has been expanded to comics, graphic novels, video games and even advanced films like Star Wars the clone wars and Kung Fu Panda.

To add another point a good example of where a cartoon art style has been used would be in the multi-player shooter game known as Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, within this game it’s portrayed that there is an on going battle between your average garden plant and a corpse rotting zombie. The developers at Electronic Arts have free rain over what the plants or zombies look like within the game this is because of it’s cartoon art style which allows the developers to design the plants and zombie how they like because having a cartoon art style will not restrict them to a real life image or object.


Within Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare the art style defines what the overall video game is, a fun but not too serious multi-player shooter. Compared with other games like the Call of Duty franchise or Battlefield, Plants Vs Zombies has taken a different approach to a third person multi-player shooter by allowing the games art style and funky characters to be the driving force of the game rather than the games overarching storyline.

On the other hand a video game like the popular MMORPG World of Warcraft has it’s own distinctive art style which has allowed the game developers to create the world of Azeroth how they envisioned the world would look like. World of Warcraft is distinctively cartoon which makes the game more fun and appealing to younger and older audiences because of it’s rich and in-depth lore and story and game mechanics that the game provides.

Furthermore World of Warcraft’s art style has always been cartoon based but because Warcraft as a franchise has been developed now in the gaming industry for nearly close to 20 years the resolution and pixel count has evolved dramatically over the period of time that Warcraft has been available to players around the world this then would suggest that the technology has gotten better as the years have progressed and the gaming industry has grown ever more popular. Warcraft has not always been an MMORPG with a full fleshed out world for different players of all kinds of interests to explore.

Blizzard Entertainment’s first Warcraft game was released in November 1994 where players were first introduced to the world of Azeroth, this would then go to set in stone the evolution of Warcraft as a franchise and a visual video game.

The evolution of Warcraft: 

Using a cartoon art style benefits the developers in a lot of ways, it allows them to delve into something a photorealism game couldn’t produce without taking it really seriously for example a game like Sonic the Hedgehog could not be produced in a photo-realistic art style because it would not resemble anything in the real world besides an average hedgehog which is not what the developers are trying to portray for the character of Sonic in Sonic the Hedgehog but by using a cartoon art style it allows developers to create anything they can imagine. Whilst using a cartoon art style nothing is impossible not even corpse rotting zombies battling in an average garden against plants.

However there are some disadvantages to using an art style like cartoon, some gamers believe that a game that uses a cartoon art style is childish or even considered dumbed down graphics like some say cartoon is, other argue that a cartoon art styled game cannot have a serious storyline or tone to the game because of the “Childish” visuals that a cartoon art style video game may have.

But to argue a point video games like Plants Vs Zombies and World of Warcraft still have a serious storyline and back bone to the video game it’s just that some gamers do not like the funky and quirky visuals a cartoon art styled game may produce because it’s portrayed in their eyes as a childish like visual. They are not 100% wrong it’s just that some gamers prefer the more serious and realistic graphical video games like Shadows of Mordor and the Call of Duty franchise. Finally by using a cartoon art style in some video games it will allow older gamers to reflect on when they watched cartoons as a child which then produces a certain amount of immersion in the video game they may be playing.

——————————————————– Pixel —————————————————-

Compared to photorealism and cartoon art styles, pixel art is mainly used in the development of indie games whereas cartoon and photorealism art styles are used in a larger game development and by a larger company because of the amount of time that goes into making a large game with cartoon or photorealism graphics.

In addition the whole structure of a pixel art video game is that the art is made up of chunks, blocks in another sense which is a pixel that then goes into creating things like the games environments, characters and backgrounds that you would see in your typical pixel art video game like Lone survivor or The legend of Zelda developed by Nintendo.

A good example of where pixel art has been used effectively would be Mojang’s successful pixel art game Minecraft. Minecraft is a massively popular game created by a team of only three employees that now stretch to over 200 working on the game currently, Minecraft is a block by block pixel art game that has no main objective other than to mine and create what ever the player would dream of creating within the world of Minecraft.


There are plenty of indie game developers that are using pixel art as there main art style for their small scale video games, this is because pixel art is very easy to animate and it is very accessible for small game companies starting out in the gaming industry.

Furthermore pixel art is completely different on scale compared to another art style like cartoon or photorealism this is because it does not take a team of three to four hundred game designers to put together a successful pixel art video game whereas games like Shadows of Mordor would have to have a larger development team because of the size of the video game that they are developing. It would only possibly take three to five game designers to create something like Minecraft when it was first being developed as a small scale pixel art video game for the PC.

To add another point, downloading a pixel art video game like Minecraft would not take as much time as a fully developed video game like Titanfall, this is only because Minecraft and like a lot of other pixel art video games are much more smaller in scale compared to a game like Titanfall. This is because of the difference in graphical and video game design that goes into creating games like Titanfall and Minecraft.

Lastly by using a ever growing popular art style like pixel art is a downfall to new game developers coming into the gaming industry because of the market place that video games like Minecraft, Fez, Ace of spades and Lone survivor inhabit is becoming increasingly competitive between different small scale video game development companies because there are so many different small scale indie video games being released.

———————————————— Cel-shaded —————————————————-

Many people describe cel-shading as another type of cartoon art but however cel-shaded art is a completely different gig on it’s own. Cel-shaded art is created when a 3D image has been flattered down and smoothed out rather than being a 3D image looking like a photo-realistic object or character, you will also see in cel-shaded art that it looks like a pencil outline around the environments, characters and objects. This is to give the video game a more in-depth cartoon look and feel, something that looks like a graphic novel.

In addition there are not a lot of video game developers that choose to use this type of art style because it’s not that popular with a wide range of gamers today but on another hand there are more and more games that are using a cel-shaded art style that are becoming increasingly popular with gamers. A good example of a company that uses cel-shading would be Telltale Games with their Walking dead, Jurassic park and The wolf among us video games that follow up to either films, comics or graphic novels.

Just like cartoon a lot of gamers believe that this type of art style is childish but that’s where cel-shaded differs because cel-shaded art is portraying a more serious approach to a video game when it’s being developed, for example The Walking Dead Telltale series is not targeted at children of a young age it will be marketed to an older audience because of the graphical differences between cartoon and cel-shaded. Quite evidently a cel-shaded video game looks more serious compared to a video game with a cartoon art style.

(The differences between the two are for good reasons) 


Another good example of where cel-shading has been used effectively would be the Borderlands series developed by Gearbox software, Borderlands is a multi-player first person shooter game which has also been developed in a cel-shaded art style to create an immersive experience that will look and feel like a graphic novel.

Just as using a cartoon art style cel-shaded has it’s advantages and disadvantages for the developers creating games like Borderlands and Team Fortress two. Some gamers do not like the way that cel-shaded art looks which could result in them being put off the video game because of it’s overarching graphics and visuals.

Finally the nostalgic effect of portraying a graphic novel or comic book makes games like Borderlands and The Walking Dead more appealing to a wider audience because of the amount of gamers that are interested in graphic novels and comics to do with a certain type of video game or franchise like the very popular series The Walking Dead.

———————————————— Exaggerated ————————————————–

An exaggerated art style is when the developers use over the top images, examples of this would be hairstyles, characters, and weapons, anything you can think of that would fit into a game the developers go completely over the top with the designs.

As prominent as it may be in the western world with games like Devil May Cry and the Final Fantasy series. An exaggerated art style is mainly used by video game developers in eastern parts of the world within video games, anime and manga where characters and other life like objects are designed to look “Exaggerated” within the virtual world.

Another point to make would be that most exaggerated art styles within video games are not taken too seriously because of their over the top graphics and funky way of presenting a character within a video game or anime/manga.


Another good example of where an exaggerated art style has been used would be the long raining gaming series known as Final Fantasy with a massive 16 games within the game series at the moment. As you can see within the example image above the characters have exaggerated hair, weapons and outfits that make Final Fantasy a good example of where the developers at SQUARE ENIX have used this art style.

To add another point an exaggerated art style can have it’s disadvantages and advantages this would be that by using this type of an art style, there is only one main art style whereas another art style like cartoon and photorealism can have it’s differences compared to an exaggerated art style that has only one complete look which is shown when looking at different video games, anime and manga.

Furthermore an exaggerated art style gives people from different parts of the world an insight to what other cultures would represent as a weapon, character or environment in video games or even in their televisions. Overall if this art style is used correctly and effectively the games outcome and overall look will work effectively to the games sales.

—————————————————- Abstract —————————————————-

An abstract art style is mostly used within indie titles like a pixel art styled game is, but aswell an abstract art style has been mainly found within indie games like Thomas was alone and Frozen Endzone. To add another point an abstract art style is when game developers are trying to achieve a look that doesn’t resemble anything that is within the real world or anything that would represent an object or a real character.

Developers that use abstract as an art style typically use geometrical shapes such as hexagons in the video game super hexagon. Developers also use bold colours opposed to what you would typically see within other video games with heavy lighting and highly detailed textures in a photo-realistic video games such as Shadows of Mordor.

Thomas was alone is the game shown in the example up above, the game is mainly made up of squares and rectangles to display as the environments or as the characters. This game is a great example because of the games simple but effective graphics and in-game narration that Thomas was alone has to offer to video game enthusiasts.


As well as the simple but effective visuals that a game like Thomas was alone has it also uses it’s characters effectively this is because of the narration that takes place throughout the whole experience of playing the video game. The main character ‘Thomas’ is portrayed as a red rectangle in Thomas was Alone but even though he is just a simple shape throughout the storyline the players become more fond of the character because of the narration that is taking place throughout their time of playing Thomas was Alone.

This then suggests that the game works effectively even though it’s not a highly detailed game such as Shadows of Mordor but it’s just a simple indie title with as much backbone and storyline to some other triple AAA photo-realistic video game titles.

Finally by using an art style like abstract is does mean that there is some disadvantages to building up an audience because an art style like this is seen as unfamiliar to most of the gaming population which means that there are a lot of gaming enthusiasts that are not going to purchase games like Thomas was Alone and Super Hexagon because the art style is not like any other art styles on the market to date.

Furthermore most development teams that design games like this are very small which is similar to a video game company designing a pixel art indie game which means that the developers creating a game like this have to work twice and much and for a longer period of time because the development team is not as large as a development team creating a game like Shadows of Mordor. Lastly the sector of which an abstract video game like Thomas was Alone falls under is very small which can increase the chances of the video games success but overall this is because it’s difficult to create a video game within an abstract art style that will strike the right cord with gaming enthusiasts.

————————————— Concept art within video games ———————————–

Concept art is the building blocks to an overall finished product, it is the very first visual draft of what the later video game is being wanted to look like. Things like this would be the designed environments, characters and weapons within the developing video game. Video game concept art can also include things that are not completely related to the development of the end game which includes things like disk art, cover art and posters.



———————————– Important terminology within this article  —————————–

Pixel, a pixel is a 1 by 1 square image on your screen. Depending on the bit depth it can change into a whole range on colours. Overall the amount of pixels on the screen can determine the resolution for example a 1080 by 980 resolution will have a larger resolution than a 720 by 560 resolution screen. (Resolution is measured by length and width)

The resolution differences — 240p — 360p — 480p — 720p — 1080p — 4K + 


Bit depth, is the range of different colours a single pixel can use, this of course is determined by the amount of bits per every single pixel. (A higher bit depth means a high range of colours available to the single pixel.

Colour space is the range of all the colours displayed on a single monitor, printed by a printer and took by a digital camera. Two good examples of this would be:

RGB: Red, Blue and Green. These are the colours that are available on a single display monitor, by using different percentages of combinations you are then able to create colours such as red, blue and green.


CMYK: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (Black) This is generally used within printer, they are also used in the same was as RGB is used.

Raster and Vector: A vector image can be enlarged without losing resolution whereas a raster image cannot be enlarged because it will become blurry and will lose some of it’s detailed effects if it’s a detailed photo of an object or character.

File extensions: File extensions are used to indicate what the encoding and usage of a certain file is e.g. bmp, gif, tiff, jpg, psd.

Image capture: There are quite a few ways of capturing an image onto a computer, some of these methods would be to use a digital camera to copy the images via a USB stick or even drawn images can be placed onto a computer via a digital scanner. This will then allow the user to capture the image and edit the image any way they would choose to.


Optimising: Optimisation is when the video game developers change or alter the graphical performance to the video game. This then allowing the user to run the game on systems that do not have a lot of processing power compared to the developers computer.

Storage of image assets: This is a very useful way to store different things such as images another member of the development team may need in the developing process.

———————————————— Final thoughts  ————————————————

When talking about everything that goes into creating the games art and the process of turning what the game developers envision into actually making something that works is a long process whether that be for a small indie company or a large triple A development company each video game takes a long time to get from concept art to designing the visual environments, weapons and characters in video games to date.





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