COLLECTION

Art of gaming

See video game graphics in a whole new way.

What kind of gamer are you? Do you play the same game every day or consider yourself more hardcore? Perhaps you’re just totally new to all of this. No matter where you may fall, the following titles will change the way you look at gaming altogether. That's because they're not just fun. They’re works of art.

Your first impression of any game is usually visual. Just as clothing and fashion sense can tell you about a person’s lifestyle, graphics also convey a lot about a game’s significance and meaning.

We contacted a number of celebrated game designers from around the world to get their views on art and design in mobile gaming.

Dandara reinterprets pixel art

Long Hat House, a small indie studio from Brazil, is the maker of Dandara, a stylistically eye-catching adventure game. At first glance, Dandara may look like a throwback to the era of early arcade games. But João Brant, co-founder of Long Hat House, says there’s more to it: “To me, the game is pixel art, but it’s not exactly retro.”

Dandara impresses with its innovative and fluid action scenes. Players use their left hand to zipline between surfaces while shooting at enemies with the right. The heroine, Dandara, is named after a Brazilian warrior from the 17th century who, like her namesake, emerged during a period of crisis.

Brant says they went with the pixel style to make the game more ‘viable’: “We are a small team, and we started Dandara with an even smaller team. Pixel art is efficient and quick to make,” he explains. “As we started out without an artist, we felt that with pixel art we could iterate faster and more frequently.”

Graphics in video games are like icing on a cake. Good art direction can make a game that was previously a bunch of placeholder blocks become a palpable story, with real characters and plot.

– Victor Leão, co-art director for Dandara

“I think pixel art has a very special kind of magic in it: you always need to use some imagination to interpret it,” Brant says. “And to make an abstract world like in Dandara, it is an excellent art style to help us convey that. The game world is full of symbolism and is always inviting a personal interpretation from the player.”

    Dandara Trials of Fear Edition

    A Metroidvania Adventure Hunt

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Lara Croft GO pays homage to low-poly

While more realistic and dimensional than pixels, low-poly games can’t compare to the level of detail in other more recent styles. Designers first turned to low poly out of necessity, as the technological limitations of the day made it difficult to design characters in detail. But there has been a low poly revival in recent years, with many players appreciating the style’s minimal aesthetic.

Mock-up images from Lara Croft GO.

Lara Croft GO isn't trying to be trendy. It’s just returning to its roots: the 1996 release of the original Tomb Raider featured low-poly graphics to wide acclaim.

Daniel Lutz, creative director at developer Square Enix Montréal, says his team spent a lot of time referencing Tomb Raider while designing Lara Croft GO: “We looked closely at the old Tomb Raider games for inspiration as well as other games with similar graphical styles. Games like Monument Valley and Altos Adventure were some of the games that we very inspired by.”

In Lara Croft GO, you play as the eponymous adventurer-archaeologist and explore enigmatic relics from antiquity to solve more than 100 puzzles.

Our goal was to tell the story of being lost in a jungle and discovering a hidden civilisation mainly through the environments, and the graphical style played a big role in this.

– Daniel Lutz, creative director at Square Enix Montréal

Lutz says: “We wanted the graphics to be simple enough, not toget in the way of the puzzle solving. With that in mind, we felt that a low-poly art style was a great fit, as it allowed us to make a beautiful and readable game at the same time.”

    Lara Croft GO

    Breathtaking Puzzle Adventure

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Flip through a comic book with Florence

Ken Wong, creative director for Florence, says: “I don't know if there's a formal name for the style, but it's highly influenced by ‘slice-of-life’ graphic novels and web comics. These comics emphasise personal narratives and conveying emotional nuance.”

Wong was also lead designer for the award-winning game Monument Valley. After winning the 2014 Apple Design Award, he decided to set up the game studio Mountains in Australia, which released Florence in 2018.

Florence is a story of subtleties. Its titular character, an ordinary girl with a regular job, meets a man and falls in love. As you help resolve her daily problems, the game’s love story unfolds.

Wong says the game's design actually turned out differently from the original concept: “Florence actually began life as a series of 3D puzzles, with a highly realistic 3D art style. We quickly realised that 3D was overly complicated and 2D interactions would tell a story more effectively,” Wong says. “It took some time to relax and just find what told the story best. This rough, hand-drawn look feels familiar and accessible.”

Visuals can convey nuanced beauty and meaning in ways that escape words; they can use history and culture for context; and they can be symbolic, allowing the player to interpret meaning for themselves.

– Ken Wong, founder and creative director at Mountains

Wong thinks of graphics as a ‘tool from his toolbox’ for creating digital experiences that is equally important as writing, audio, interaction and other elements: “When I design games, I try to consider all the elements in coordination, including the visuals.”

    Florence

    A story about love and life

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Skullgirls is a cracking anime adventure

The 2D fighting game Skullgirls is a balance of American cartoon and Japanese anime, each design hand-drawn by the developers. Crowdfunding provided the capital for the production, which generated a lot of discussion online.

“While it’s certainly possible to do those things with 3D graphics today, it’s not easy and doesn’t have the same feel as hand-drawn animation,” says the Lab Zero Games art team.

The design team with Los Angeles-based indie developer Lab Zero Games says the reaction from fans has been really interesting: “Japanese players think it’s very American, while American players think it’s very Japanese.”

Early drafts of Skullgirls characters.

Every character in Skullgirls has a unique fighting skill and can change appearances. Combined with the game’s stunning action, the game really punches above its weight.

The team says it wasn’t looking to create a purely anime-inspired game: “Skullgirls is not too cartoony, because the game does have influences from other fighting games (such as Street Fighter 3), which still do generally have an emphasis on physical form, and for the type of impact that such motions and actions have in their own right.”

Games with more realistic graphics generally make the player approach them more ‘seriously’, so we wanted to create something that players could look at and think was more fun and approachable.

– Lab Zero Games art team

The developers think their design choice has allows the game to ‘have more fun with itself’: “Also, it apparently helps give more of a pass on allowing creepy or disturbing elements as well, since it's more acceptable when drawn in a cartoonier style.”

    Skullgirls: Fighting RPG

    The #1 Mobile Fighting Game!

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Each of these titles has a unique appeal. Whether you're a veteran or a novice gamer, we hope they give you a new appreciation for art that goes into games.