A friend and revered colleague of mine, Simon Tarr, recently posted this on facebook
Fez is a lovely, lovely game. And it means that we don’t need any more 8-bit things. Right? RIGHT?
After reading it, I could not like this ENOUGH. Look I grew up in the 8-bit generation; from my brother’s Atari 7800 to my Nintendo, 8-bit graphics permeated my childhood’s artistic pallet. So in the later 2000’s when the independent game scene decided to further rebel against the AAA game developer’s need for hyper realism and adopted this art style, I loved it. Jumping a few years later… It feels tired and contrived. So I say, ENOUGH WITH 8-BIT!!!
I probably wouldn’t feel this way if the market wasn’t now flooded with this retro art style. Games which are well know or critically acclaimed such as:
- Realm of Mad God
- Story Teller
- Super T.I.M.E. Force
- Cave Story
- Desktop Dungeons
- Retro City Rampage
- Super Crate Box
- Super Meat Boy
- A Slow Year
- Enviro Bear 2000
- Mega Man 10
- Bit.Trip Runner
- You have to Burn the Rope
- Mega Man 9
- Nearly Every Adult Swim game
- And so much more!
So am I telling my fellow game designers to completely stop using this antiquated style? NO! What I am saying is for you to ask yourself this very simple question, “Does this artistic style help further the message or experience I am trying to invoke?” If the answer is no, THEN DON’T USE IT! The reason why Megaman 9 and 10 worked with its graphics is Capcom was purposefully trying to pander to the people who grew up with the original games. This was also evident from the box art they released along side of those games.
Even Minecraft’s 3D 8-bit feel worked for the blocky astetic the game was trying to invoke.
But when developers tack on this style without thinking why it matters, it is analogous to people who spend thousands of dollars on a digital camera and then run it through a filter that makes it look like it was taken using a Polaroid in the 70’s.
In either of those cases, just because it is cool doesn’t mean that it is right. With any art direction in games you have to know why you are using it. Okami was a game about ancient Japanese mythology and they chose to do it in a water color style.
Rez used a very minimalist and abstract style to represent travelling through a network in order to unlock the trapped conscious inside of a machine.
Crayon Physics Deluxe used an advanced physics system that was artistically represented by construction paper and crayons.
In these cases, and many more, they used their inventive artistic style to enhance the game, and not just because it looked cool.
Don’t get rid of 8-bit. I love 8-bit styles, but please use it when it makes sense.