When we dial back on video game extravagance and blockbuster mentality, we come back to the core of 8-bit graphics. Recently I’ve played Home and Alone With You by indie developer Benjamin Rivers, and both employ a pixel design that caught my attention. Due to the nature of the story with these games (deep dark secrets, mortality of life, and the existential crisis), I delve into the possibilities of why Rivers chooses this art style.
Can a simple-looking style evoke the spectrum of emotions? Games originated in this format, so why can’t they be conveyed like this in present times? In Home, the player unravels uncomfortable truths as the protagonist retraces his steps in a murder mystery. The game passes through abandoned buildings, lifeless bodies, and horrifying clues, like abandoned guns and knives, represented by 8-bit. Although these objects may seem hard to convey, the art style is accompanied by an appropriate color scheme to set the tone. The screen is a flashlight-created black vignette with dull brown and blue colors, but bloodied items and people are shown in an orange-red. With a few of the dead people in this game, I was genuinely creeped out. With the proper placement and color considerations, sprites can elicit reactions from the player.
Are short stories better conveyed with a simple art style? One noticeable element is how short these games are (Home and Alone With You are 1.5 hours and 4 hours respectively). The point is to taking away the fluff and allowing the player to absorb the story. This holds true for Home‘s prevalent 8-bit style, but Alone With You is a little more complicated to explain. For its plot, an astronaut learns about a space colony through conversations with holograms, and the low-resolution graphics thematically fit with the hologram environment. It was as if the augmented reality was being created in front of me. I wouldn’t argue pixel art is the answer for all short games, but with plot and environment in mind this simple style may be more appropriate for telling your story.
Which leads to my final question: Is anything ever that “simple”? I put the word in quotations because it’s never easy developing an engaging game, and everything is strategically planned. At the end of the day it’s about the whole package of art, sound, story, and user interactivity. Rivers hits the mark and creates two cohesive games where simple 8-bit is only a portion of the big picture.
Link to Benjamin Rivers’ Official Website: http://www.benjaminrivers.com/