While games are not entirely defined by their chosen art style, the visual element of your game is the first thing most players see. We’ve discussed art styles before in a wider sense, in the choice of hyper-realism vs stylized art and also of the importance of other visual elements. VFX, and what it communicates to players, is absolutely integral in a quality player experience.
But how do you choose the right art style for your game? What art style will work best for your players’ experience? There are a few things to consider when it comes to deciding on your style, so let’s have a look at some of these key deciding factors.
Art and story are connected, or at least they should be. The atmosphere, mood, and tone of your game is directly connected to the player’s experience and the story. If you’re game is light on story, or has no standard narrative to speak of, the general player experience is still heavily informed by the tone of your game.
The atmosphere of the newer Wolfenstein games is dark and grim, given the narrative that the good guys have lost and are fighting back. But it’s a little comical and goofy, there’s levity in the amount of gore and absurdity of the world around the player. You don’t expect that same goofiness in something like the Arkham trilogy, where we’re neck deep in the filth of Gotham or the maze-like corridors of the Asylum.
Understand what you are trying to show with your game and let it inform the art style. You don’t want Animal Crossing traipsing into your Warhammer 40,000 grimdark environment. That won’t end well for anyone involved.
The gameplay and tone go hand in hand. Therefore, your art style must consider the type of game you are creating. Just as we mentioned above, Warhammer 40,000 isn’t going to be delivering quiet games about building up a hive city. And Animal Crossing isn’t going to have you committing multiple atrocities upon your foes, even if the spiders deserve it.
Your art style will help deliver your gameplay. Keep your calm and chill vibes for your relaxing games like Potion Craft. And let your players sink up to the mud in their knees while they rush through the battlefields of Chivalry 2 or Mordhau.
Closing out this trio of considerations, you must understand how your art style helps you appeal to your target audience. Your gameplay, mood, and art style all inform what you are creating – so first understand what kind of game you’re trying to make. And who do you want to play it?
You have your typical default options – gritty photorealism for your modern shooters, quirky and unique stylised for your narrative-based indie adventures. But they don’t have to be limited. Play around and work with what you’ve got. Nobody says a photoreal game can’t be narrative based but it is taxing on both time and resources. And a pixel-art adventure doesn’t have to be calm and childish! Look at Night in the Woods, a game that looks very casual on its surface but actually holds one of the most striking modern game narratives on the market.
With the modern focus on photorealism, some might associate photorealism with a good game. Or that a game that isn’t photoreal is somehow lesser than its stylised peers. Not so. Understand that your art style must serve your game’s experience first. This is a difficult argument to make currently, as every major AAA title boasts incredible photorealistic art. But don’t let this get in the way of your final experience. Photoreal or stylised, you must do what works best for you.
When it comes to photorealism, your game’s technical performance must be flawless. With such high levels of detail, mistakes or disruptions are much easier to notice. So, if it doesn’t serve your story or experience, or if the price is too taxing, investigate more stylised experiences.
The most important detail in all of this is to do what is in your means. Do what is best for you, your team, and your game. Find that balance and use the tools at your disposal. We know that no game is ever perfect, it’s only ever released. So, it’s up to you to decide where to draw that line.