Two More Things That Artists Can Learn From Playing Computer And Video Games

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Although I’ve talked before about the benefits of playing computer and/or video games if you are an artist, I thought that I’d look at two of the other benefits that regular or semi-regular gaming can have if you are an artist.

1) Unrealism: If there’s one problem with modern large-budget games, it is that too many of them try to be visually “realistic”.

Whilst this works for some types of games, it also means that many games look a bit too similar. However, both classic retro games and modern indie games often tend to use more unrealistic visual styles. Here are a few screenshots to show you what I mean:

This is a screenshot from "The Blackwell Epiphany" (2015). This is an example of a modern game with unrealistic 2D pixel art. As you can see, it looks a lot more unique and distinctive than "realistic" 3D graphics do.

This is a screenshot from “The Blackwell Epiphany” (2015). This is an example of a modern game with unrealistic 2D pixel art. As you can see, it looks a lot more unique and distinctive than “realistic” 3D graphics do.

This is a screenshot from "Doom" (1993) [Played using a modern source port]. This classic game uses one-point perspective in order to create the illusion of a first-person perspective.

This is a screenshot from “Doom” (1993) [Played using a modern source port]. This classic game uses one-point perspective in order to create the illusion of a first-person perspective.

This is a screenshot from "The Last Express" (1997). This game is unusual since the "cartoonish" art nouveau graphics were created through both 3D modelling and by rotoscoping (tracing) live-action footage. Even so, an artist still had to decide which details were important enough to trace and which ones weren't.

This is a screenshot from “The Last Express” (1997). This game is unusual since the “cartoonish” art nouveau graphics were created through both 3D modelling and by rotoscoping (tracing) live-action footage. Even so, an artist still had to decide which details were important enough to trace and which ones weren’t.

So, what does any of this have to do with making art? As well as showing you how using an ‘unrealistic’ art style can add distinctiveness and a unique atmosphere to your artwork, they also help you to make this kind of art too. Although unrealistic art styles can often be seen in comics and animated videos, there’s nothing quite like seeing something in one of these art styles that you can actually interact with.

This can help to give you subtle practical lessons in things like perspective, composition etc… It also helps you to see how someone re-created a 3D environment using “unrealistic” 2D graphics or created a natural-looking environment and distinctive characters with primitive minimalist 3D graphics.

A good example of this would probably be old survival horror games from the 1990s – since these games tried to create visually detailed locations with relatively little processing power, they would often include pre-rendered 2D backgrounds, which the interactive 3D characters could then be superimposed onto. A similar thing can be seen in old “point and click” adventure games, albeit with 2D characters.

One side effect of this was that the “camera angle” in each area of the game had to be fixed, because the backgrounds couldn’t move. This meant that the game designers had to pay particular attention to things like perspective and composition whilst painting the backgrounds. They had to come up with interesting-looking “camera angles” that also showed all or most of the area that the player was free to explore.

Not only will looking at some of these games show you what you can do with perspective if you study it carefully, they’ll also allow you to see the merits of different perspectives by actually interacting with them.

This is a screenshot from "Resident Evil: Director's Cut" (1997) which shows an overhead perspective. This game (and Resident Evil 1-3 too) is filled with lots of different perspectives.

This is a screenshot from “Resident Evil: Director’s Cut” (1997) which shows an overhead perspective. This game (and Resident Evil 1-3 too) is filled with lots of different perspectives.

2) Trickery: Even the makers of more realistic modern games have to rely on visual trickery of all kinds to make their games look more detailed than they actually are. Although these techniques are aimed at reducing the amount of processing that a computer or console has to do, they can still teach artists a couple of things.

The first thing is that most of these tricks are directly based on things that you need to learn if you are making art. These tricks often work by exploiting the way that we “see” the world, which is something that every artist needs to do too.

For example, most games will save processing power by using undetailed low-resolution graphics for objects further away from the player (which are swapped with more detailed graphics when the player gets closer). This also mimics how distant objects tend to look less distinctive than close-up objects in real life.

Likewise, many game designers know that the player’s attention will be firmly focused on both their character and whatever they have to interact with. This means that the player is less likely to pay attention to any subtle “flaws” with things that aren’t immediately important. It’s a brilliant example of misdirection in action. So, if something dramatic or interesting is happening in one of your paintings or comics, then the audience are less likely to notice more rushed parts of the backgrounds etc…

The second thing that game design trickery can teach artists is that it’s ok to use trickery! Seriously, it is. All art is, essentially, trickery. Even a “realistic” natural landscape copied expertly from life is still trying to create the illusion of a three-dimensional scene within a two-dimensional painting or drawing. All art relies on optical illusions and other forms of trickery to “work” properly.

So, seeing these kinds of tricks in action, learning about them and interacting with them whilst playing games can help you become more knowledgeable and comfortable with using trickery in your own art. Whether this is to try to make your art look better, or simply to save time if you have a deadline, having a good repertoire of artistic tricks is essential.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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