Some of you may have seen this week's What Do You Think? coming from a mile away, as it stems from a debate which took place in the comments section of our recent review of 868-HACK [$5.99] by Michael Brough. The debate centered around the use of pixel graphics, and more specifically the very simplistic retro-inspired kind.
On the one side, some people feel that using visuals like that is "lazy" and more or less is an easy way out of doing the visuals in a game. The thinking goes that, back in the day 20 or 30 years ago, graphics like that were a product of hardware constraints only. Developers did the best with what they had to work with at the time. So in this day and age of unimaginable computing power and a host of software that allows games to approach photorealism, why on Earth would somebody actually choose to use simple pixel art for their game?
The folks on the other side of the fence argue that pixel art isn't easy to do–at least not east to do well–and in fact can be more difficult to pull off than just playing drawing graphics or using software to create what you need. I tend to agree, as with pixel art you're constrained by the size of the grid and pixels that you're using, and you have to create the look that you want within those constraints. It can definitely be tricky, and I think it's pretty easy to tell when someone has put a lot of care into their art and when someone has basically just phoned it in.
Recently, pixel graphics have become very en vogue, and not just in the world of gaming. There's a huge retro revival going on in popular culture. But in terms of iOS gaming I think there's another big reason for the resurgence.
On the App Store, literally anyone can make a video game. Traditionally, game development has been teams of people with specialized skills. Artists, designers and programmers all put their skills together to create one cohesive game. In iPhone development, it's entirely possible that just one person is the artist, programmer and designer all rolled into one. And, while not always true, that one person is most likely more gifted in one of those areas than the others. That same grid that confines pixel art can also be the guide that keeps someone who can't freeform draw worth a lick on track.
However, beyond whether or not pixel graphics are or aren't the easy way to do things, it seems to be a very polarizing style for people. You either love it or you hate it, in most cases. I started gaming on the Atari 2600 and so have grown up with a deep appreciation for pixel graphics over the years. I think when I see them now, there's definitely some nostalgia at play for games I've loved in the past back when pixel graphics were practically all that were possible on the hardware of the time. Someone who grew up on the PlayStation or Xbox might not have that same kind of appreciation, and so are quick to write off pixel graphics as "lazy."
So that got me thinking, where do you all land on this matter? Do you see pixel art in a game and immediately think the developer is taking the easy way out? Or do you see it as an homage to the heritage of video games? Does gameplay trump everything else no matter what kind of art style a game uses? Or is it immediately ruined for you if the visuals aren't cutting edge, not matter how fun the game may be? Let us know in the comments below.