Category: Assignment 4: Pixel Art

Assignment 4: Pixel Art

Brief

To create a character for a fantasy game, using a pixel art style. This character must be presented as a 64px by 64px sprite, as well as a 16px by 16px sprite.

Research

The use of pixelated graphics in video games dates as far back as video games themselves. As rendering technology was still in its very early stages at the time, the graphics used for video games were low quality compared to what players are used to today. Systems such as the Commodore 64 and the Atari 2600 lacked the sufficient processing power to display anything more detailed than blocky sprites, although at the time it was considered cutting edge.

Pixelated graphics are often seen in recent years as a nostalgic style. Games have still been developed in recent years that use the low-resolution style that harken back to the era of 8- and 16-bit. Shovel Knight and Undertale are both games known for having the gameplay innovations and deep storytelling of modern AAA games, respectively, whilst maintaining the nostalgic charm of a pixelated style. This is often a defence used by players who argue that good graphics do not make a good game, a common topic of discussion in online communities.

How the pixelated style is used is important for conveying the theme of the game, and can be difficult given how minimalistic it needs to be. A good comparison for this is Chrono Trigger and Earthbound, two RPGs for the SNES. Chrono Trigger, having a more serious overall tone, uses a lot of detail in its character and environmental design, and even in its animation, while still keeping the size of its sprites minimal. It has more detail to convey the idea of realism despite the game’s fantasy setting, as though it is realistic in the context of itself. Earthbound, while having a serious tone in certain parts of the story, is very minimalist, and approaches its visual design in a manner similar to a children’s cartoon creator. Characters and environments are created with block colours with far less detail compared to Chrono Trigger. When the game shifts to show off its darker, surrealist undertone, the style also changes somewhat to match, using more detail to match the present danger. This is used to convey the idea that the player is seeing the world through the eyes of Ness, the main character, possessing the child-like naiveté that breaks down slightly in the face of horror.

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Chrono Trigger uses highly detailed environments and character design for a more realistic appearance.
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EarthBound’s more simplistic style compliments its quirky character design and overall tone.

Development

For this character, I decided on a non-human character, and went with a spliced animal chimera similar to that from Mother 3. I chose a bird and a bat, because I have an affinity for small talking animals, and it could be developed into an animated flying sprite later on.

Batbird Concept Sketch
Concept artwork of the Batbird.

To start, I drew a concept image of the character. The sketch of the batbird helped to figure out what details I could show in a sprite. I chose a cockatiel as the yellow and light grey feathers would contrast well with the darker colour of the bat wings.

Batbird (64px)
Batbird, 64px

This is the 64px sprite of the batbird. The sprite was created by first taking the sketch and drawing around the shape on a separate layer using a Pencil tool. I then colour picked the shade of the feathers using images of cockatiels found online. I kept details minimal since the character is smaller than most others. Its talons are minimal and thin as, from a distance, they would appear thin anyway. This sprite would most likely be used in a smaller environment such as a building where the main focus is on the characters, or in a battle.

Batbird (16px)
Batbird, 16px

This is the 16px sprite of the batbird. With a smaller size, I had to omit more details, such as the talons and the grey shading along its plumage. This sprite would most likely be used in an overworld, such as a Final Fantasy-style world map, as well as menus. The character would appear in a cave environment, so the lighter grey of the wings would stand out against a darker backdrop, as would the yellow head.