Pixel Art: The End of an Era

At first glance, the launch of Kirby Mass Attack a few weeks ago was a minor event. The umpteenth installment of a saga that has never enjoyed recognition in Europe for a console that gives its last blows passed without pain or glory through the sales charts.

The aforementioned Canabalt from Saltsman, the enchanting iOS puzzle The Last Rocket, the brutal VVVVVV platformer, Wayforward jewels for DSiWare such as Shantae: Risky's Revenge and Mighty Flip Champs, Super Meat Boy, Superbrothers: Sword Sworcery, Cave Story, Tiny Tower , Game Dev Story, Bit.Trip series, Capybara's future Super TIME Force ... the list of fantastic - not to mention commercially successful - pixel-based indie games never ends.

The few developers who still work with pixel art facile today do it because they want to, not because they have to. Unlike those that do it in 3D, they are not limited by the number of polygons, the size of the textures or by technically trying to go further. Pixel art is a more advanced medium in its evolutionary line and, therefore, designers can concentrate solely on doing something different, both from a visual and playable perspective.

"Do you remember special effects in movies for the last 75 years? Asks Bozon.

"Latex puppets and miniature models were the only viable way until CG came along. Well, today you can still entertain the masses with puppets, only now you do it of your own choosing."

"It's the same with pixel art. Creative people can work without thinking about technology and set limits to create something unique. So maybe the golden age of the pixel is past, but now we are free to use it purely as a form of expression".

One of the concerns is the size of the power market. Can you grow beyond graying players who thrill at the promise of a return to simpler times? Is the vision of a set of pixels something that puts the teenagers back, a generation that has grown up with Halo and Call of Duty rather than Pac-Man and Gradius? Saltsman is not overly concerned.

"We used to wonder if putting a pixelated game in front of a child would complain that the game was ugly compared to Super Mario Galaxy or whatever," he says.

"My nephew may be too old - he is seven or eight years old - but when he comes home he loves to put on all those old pixelated NES or Mega Drive games. The art is not the problem, it is the exaggerated difficulty of those games. it's what drives him back. "

"My mother can play pixel art games, kids can play them - I don't think there's anything about that that's a problem," he continues.

For better or for worse, in 2011 most triple-A developers will try to imitate the visual style of Michael Bay, Spielberg or Pixar, producing games that seem less and less games. While it's a bit sad that all that's left is a few talented indies to honor the work of the creative ancestors of the medium, it's great to see Capy, WayForward or Saltmans step up to conserve - and innovate at - the only visual style that the video game industry can consider as its own.

"It's steeped in pop culture, so I don't think it can just go away," concludes Bozon.

"Techniques will be lost over time, but visionary styles will remain. As a creative exercise, try to imagine a future where polygonal graphics are no longer the norm. Games that had good visual styles will endure in our memory, But those who were trying to imitate reality might not age as well and look weird. Hopefully we can continue to use technology in new and artistic ways. "

Johnson Smith

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