I’ve been working on a 2D game project for a little while now. You might say I have been working on this project since the early 90s.
I have always been fascinated by video games. Since the time I was probably three and played a Space Wars arcade machine with my mom in the alcove between a bar and a restaurant, I have been amazed by them. That I can press a button or move a stick or wiggle a mouse or move my hands around in space with a screen strapped to my face, and something deep inside a computer will respond to that input, is pure magic.
It’s only been very recently that I have been able to make any video games of my own. Nothing about making games has made them any less magical to me. Difficult work, but not less magical. I have modelled, rigged, and animated a character. I chose and painted the colors of that character. I wrote the code that makes that character move around based on inputs that I specified, and it still seems magical.
I do program a little, and I know enough of the internals and technicalities of how games work that I can muddle through, but, as you may have guessed, my main area of interest is graphics. I’m a 3D artist, with a helping of traditional 2D and illustration on the side, then season all that with some animation. I like to analyze art, partly for the aesthetic, but mostly for the technical processes that it takes to create that art. I find the how more interesting than the why. And I’m especially interested in when the how influences the why. I’m talking about constraints.
The 2D game I am working on has the benefits of a ridiculous amount of graphics and cpu processing power. I am using a 3D engine that is capable of real time lighting and shadowing. One that can change every pixel on a 4K display in a few milliseconds. One that can process millions of polygons into finished images faster than the human eye can follow. And I am trying to make all of that look like an arcade machine several decades old.
I think understanding the constraints, the how, of why older arcade art looked the way it looked, is informing how I aim the vast armada of graphics processing I have available at the problem of achieving that aesthetic. It’s not just a matter of using those same tools or techniques, it’s a matter of emulating how pixels in those games got drawn to the screen. The hows can determine the whys.
There are a lot of pixel art games out there that choose pixel art as an aesthetic, and that’s fine. I enjoy looking at an awful lot of them. But they are using that aesthetic in a very loose way. In a way that is determined more by choice than by constraint. I’m attempting to work in the other direction. I am using new tools and then placing a constraint on how I use them and letting the constraint determine how the final art will look.
That might be a semantic difference, but it’s my semantic difference.
I’m making a new game that looks like an old game, but sort of plays like a new game. And every time I press a button or push a stick, it feels like magic.