5 Video Games with Great Artwork
I have been a video game geek since age 5 when I was given a NES with the Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt combo for Christmas. No other fictional character has been apart of my life as long as Mario. Literally. We are the same age. He debuted in 1981 in the first Donkey Kong game. He will probably be around even until I reach middle age (and beyond) and have children who learn about him and enjoy his games. Other childhood heroes; the Ninja Turtles, GI Joe, Transformers, etc where part of my life for a few years here and there but Mario has been there since the beginning and still today at age 28. I am not alone in this.
This is the power that great video game art direction can have. Great design is often underestimated by consumers and game creators alike. Games with poor design are easily forgotten but when a game creates a beloved character or a world that completely immerses the player, it can live and grow and become ingrained in the culture of a generation.
I am creating this list because as artists we are always looking for inspiration. Video games are an artform that most artist might not think of as a place to gain inspiration from and I hope to show otherwise. There are truly beautiful interactive peices of art out there for you to enjoy and be inspired by!
1995 – Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Yoshi’s Island may have been the first “prequel” video game ever. It is also one of the first games that I can remember actually appreciating for the artwork as well as the game itself. The creators played off of the idea of the baby Mario character and gave the artwork a very hand drawn, almost coloring book quality. Even the enemies had very simple, childlike designs to them. The colors were as if the artists limited themselves to the colors in a box of crayons. The rendering is like that of a child using a crayon that only wants to apply as much colored wax to the surface as possible.
2008 – Okami
I am ashamed to say I have yet to play this game. However, you don’t need to play it to appreciate the amazing art style. Playing through it is like living in a Japanese watercolor painting. And in fact part of the gameplay is to make certain “brush strokes” with the joystick to pull off special moves. The graphics have a very fluid look to them and there is even a watercolor paper texture visible to enhance the concept. Some of these screenshots would be worthy of framing if I could find high resolution versions. The game is one of those “cult hits” that never had great commercial success but because of its unique style has built a large online fanbase. There is even a website dedicated soley to the art of the game and fan art.
2008 – World of Goo
Puzzle games are not usually known for a unique visual style but World of Goo, created by only 2 dudes, is an exception. The concept is to stick your little Goo’s together to solve puzzles and avoid obstacles along the way. Simple, fun and completely addicting. What makes it even more entertaining is the quirky and funny art and story. The story; which is roughly about a corporation that is about to unleash a mysterious “product Z” and the hysterical consumerism that follows, is revealed in animated cut scenes that have a crude and outsider art feel to them. I’m not really sure how else to describe the art other than its weird, quirky and fantastic.
Here is a video of the artist creating one of the environments from the game.
2008 – Braid
Braid is an independent time-warping/puzzle/platform game created by Jonathan Blow and illustrated by the awesome David Hellman. The artwork is painted in Photoshop but manages to feel hand made and impressionistic. It is great to see it in motion because there are many layers that flow over one another to create a very dream like world. The storytelling is very unique in that it is rather ambiguous in the end. It is the only game that I have played where the story is actually meant to be interpreted differently by anyone that plays it. I don’t want to give much away becuase part of the magic of this game is how cleverly the gameplay relates to the story. But, my take is that it takes place in the hero’s head and is the representation of an existential crisis taking place after a break up. Slowly, as you gain pieces of paintings, you begin to see events that have lead to the break up and how it unfolded. I highly recommend playing this strange and inspiring game. (I also recommend clicking on these images to see the full size versions)
2007 – Bioshock
Bioshock combines genetic modification gone ary, Ayn Randian philosophies, and a dystopian fantasy set in an Art Deco underwater city created by a mad billionaire. It’s Awesome. When people debate about the idea of video games as art, this is a game people will certainly point to. The decisions you make throughout the game greatly impact your character and the outcome of the story.
The consistency of the design from the flickering neon lights, the posters on the wall, the Steam Punk design of the machinery and “Big Daddies”, and the architecture is that of a big budget sci-fi film. The visual style is immediately striking but it is the whole package; distant visions of a crumbling underwater city, distant screams of the genetically modified maniacs that hunt you, creepy radio broadcasts that reveal the history of Rapture (the name of the city), that make this an unforgettable experience.
The love that has gone into this game is evident by the fact that the publisher has released a highly recommended 78-page concept art book that you can download for free. There is a large amount of work that you never even see in the game.
Please let me know of other games with amazing art in the comments! I may do more of these features in the future.