Anyone familiar with any classic games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Earthbound will at once understands the overall look and feel of pixel art. Pixel art uses the aesthetic and properties of 8-bit and 16-bit graphics to create worlds, characters, and ultimately, full games. Artists and developers often use the process of ‘spriting’, which involves forming your creation out of pixels. Game sprites are what fueled gaming and have seen a resurgence in recent years. Stardew Valley and Kynseed, both life simulators, involve impressive pixel art graphics inhabiting every aspect of their game worlds. From the dirt, the plants, to the minor creatures lurking in the bushes, pixel art propels the game forward, enriching the players’ experience. But what is pixel art exactly? And how does one go about getting started with making their own pixel art game? First, a few basics.
Pixel Art and Examples of Games
Pixel art in and of itself a digital art form that allows the artist or user to create a wide array of different assets for a game. Pixel art can be found as far back as the oldest arcade games, like Space Invaders. The pixel art was what made those games unique and they just worked.
Before, I mentioned Final Fantasy Tactics. This game was stunning, in that it blended pixel art, 3D environments, and isometric camera views. But pixel art isn’t relegated to the 1980s and 1990s. Specifically, the game Enter the Gungeon has taken pixel art to the next level. Filled with fast-paced gunplay and colorful characters, Enter the Gungeon blends pixel art with great animation and graphic rendering. If this is your style of game, then keep reading!
How do you go about creating your pixel art for a game? Well, first and foremost, you need a decent program to help you with the artistic process. Luckily for you, there are more than enough options to try your hand at illustrating and spriting. Before you even develop a game using pixel art, you need to create the objects, characters, and story elements that will populate your world, giving your game the framework it needs to move forward in the creation process.
Different Programs & Walkthrough
Animating with sprites and 8-bit and 16-bit pixel art had become a huge hobby amongst game lovers and artists. This led the way for multiple programs and artist resources to be developed for pixel art game developers. Below is a list of programs to get started on your 3D pixel art gaming journey.
- GIMP: one of my favorite art programs for free, GIMP allows the user to access many of the features that are included with programs like Photoshop, how cool is that? Coming with GIMP is a pretty serious graphics renderer, allowing for some top-notch game development potential. Of course, using GIMP alone won’t develop a game, but it could easily be one of the more important tools you use in your quest for that sweet pixel art game.
- GraphicsGale: This site is great; it’s specifically honed towards the spriting that I mentioned before. GraphicsGale allows the user to lean into the animation, coloring, and rendering of different sprites. For GraphicsGale, I will provide a little bit off with a walkthrough for you:
- Don’t be intimidated by any user interface! Many of the features of it are standard fare, and you should get used to it by experimenting a little bit. Flex those creative muscles
- Within minutes, you can get your creation underway. You utilize the palette, the loupe, (which is kind of like a zoom tool, so you can ensure you are being as detailed as possible) and create your sprites in different animation poses.
- You can further export or animate your sprites to do what you want them to. I recommend the plethora of great YouTube tutorials out there. There is also a very in-depth tutorial by the user RHLPixels on DeviantArt.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Using 3D Pixel Art
While using pixel art can prove to be some of the peoples’ favorite art styles in games, it also does have its drawbacks. Here are some pros and cons of pixel art games.
- Timeless: Luckily, games with the retro look to them hold up pretty well. You could easily hook up a SNES and play several games, (like Earthbound), and feel like it was made today. This is a breath of fresh air. If you were to boot up some games from the original PlayStation or Xbox, I guarantee that the visuals will sometimes make you cringe with how poorly they have aged.
- Dedicated community: the pixel art community is alive and well. Not only that, but they are extremely passionate. Ranging from hobbyists to more serious game developers, pixel artists have countless online forums and programs in which to bounce ideas off of each other, help one another, and engage with other artists’ work.
- Difficulty Standing Out: This is a tough one. Back to my mentioning of entering the Gungeon, the thing that made that game an instant classic was its uniqueness. There is nothing like it out there. Nothing like it has been tried before. A run and gun, shoot ’em up game where the gameplay is frantic, hectic, and downright insane. The problem that many developers will have is trying to get your creation to stand out. Not saying that you can’t develop something groundbreaking, but chances are your first effort will be more of an experiment to cut your teeth on, rather than a triple-A masterpiece.
- Market Saturation: This somewhat ties in with the above con. Working with pixel art can be easier than working with 3D models, and the bar for a retro-style game being created is much lower than a graphical powerhouse. Thus, there are a lot of pixel art titles out there. Like Enter the Gungeon, you need to have something that stands out and isn’t another copy of a copy of a copy.
These are just some resources you can use to propel yourself towards creating that 3D pixel game that you always wanted to crank out. Whether you use GIMP, GamersGale, or interact with the vibrant community, the best advice is to play the very games that utilize this style. Much like writers are encouraged to read often to hone their craft, you must play!