The pitfalls of pixel art



Mind blown!

From the article.

Eh, horseshit.

There’s no technological reason why this song couldn’t have been composed 30+ years earlier.

Sure, there will be games where hyper-realism is called for. But,

  • the current indie game revolution is due in no small part to the democratization of pixel art tools and aesthetic
  • visible pixels is one of the easiest ways to effectively communicate digital generation

Well to be fair, you could create a pixel based game in UE4. Is it the best use of that engine? Probably not.

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That was a super interesting article. He somehow didn’t mention games like Disgaea though which are 2d-sprite-art but feel completely HD. Maybe because thats probably an ultra high level of production to pull off indie creators can’t realistically be held to.

Part of the reason that Terry sprite looks so incredible is because SNK was unique/small/foolish enough of a company to spend literal millions of dollars and human-hours of work on redrawing the same sprites over and over again over a period of two decades – all while manufacturing an entire hardware platform to draw it all with. No one will ever reproduce that, nor should they, because they were cursed by their perfection in the sense that everything “looked the same” and same meaning “fucking incredible”.

Even today they try so hard to resurrect their games/legacy, but if you see a screenshot of Top Hunter… Do you get that much more out of playing it? As a huge fan, i say that honestly… At any point in their looong history they could’ve turned to the geniuses they clearly employed, who were drawing the art and making the games and said “hey, where should we go creatively?” but instead they just did the same thing, over and over, in fact they still are (as if anyone who made the original games/sprites gets a red cent)

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An 8-bit post-processing effect is built into UE4, so it’s not just fair, it’s expected.

Your yardstick is “the best.”

My yardstick is “cool.”

For example, I like living in a world where there are 24,000 versions of Fell In Love With A Girl on UKULELE. Certainly beats this more moderne attempt, because reasons.


Hey I’m all for people using tools (physical or virtual) in random out of the box ways. It can create some really cool things. Even a failure could inspire someone else to make it work / or create their own vision.

Artist/author here! Keyword in that quote is “tend to.” There are always exceptions.

That said, this video didn’t use real legos, I don’t think. I believe it was all done through an algorithm. And even if it was done with stop motion and real legos, you can bet dollars to donuts they used all the most up to date video editing software. Even if they wanted to capture a stop motion aesthetic, why on earth would they add man hours splicing 8mm film on top of it?

Anyway, hope you enjoyed the article overall!


Pixels aren’t really squares, though. It’s much more complicated and depends strongly on the type of display being used. But pixel art for early video game systems was not optimized for viewing as discrete right-angled squares, but rather the fuzzy overlapping pixels of the average CRT television of the time. For some interesting reading about accurately simulating all the effects of a CRT screen using modern hardware, see this article:

Short version:


Hey! Thanks for droppping in!

I said song/composed not video/filmed. Your made a point about “the remnants of the Jazz music scene,” and my counterpoint is the type of blues The White Stripes were playing could have been made on 30+ year old technology.

We’ve a scant ~35 some years of popular video game history. Who’s to know what styles will be enduring in 2050?

It was quite a swell read, and I love your skill in describing and illustrating the aesthetics. I’m better to have read it, but, like Rob, I think it had an opposite effect on me - I’m more convinced that Pixel Art will remain a popular and beloved movement in digital art for some time.

We’ve a regular around here, @penguinchris, who makes the most awesome pixel art for the little role-playing games we enact on this bbs.


I really appreciate this swan song. I commented some similarly forlorn sentiments about the pixelart alphabet recently posted on boingboing. I feel the feels. I also really enjoyed some of the technical discussion and the general love letter to craft and artistic choice.

In the end though, this article felt like a strained apologia for the fact that games are a lot of fucking work, and making a game as artistic expression for a niche audience doesn’t pay the bills. You can either bleed for your art, or pander to the ignorant masses and actually do your craft for a decent living. Lucky are the few who get to do both.

Once upon a time pixels were Hot 100 because they were state of the art, now they’re a beautiful style for afficionadoes. Hand drawn animation is in the same boat, disney gave up the ghost a long time ago, and decided to stay huge by following the trend. Kids these days and all that. Anime gets a pass, as does the frederator stuff, so clearly it can still be done. You’ll get plenty of people (game reviewers and other children) who will always say “that looks ooooooold. Boooo.” I agree with @funruly’s optimism, though. I think pixel art will endure, just as other self-restrained aesthetics have.


Downsampling a 3D game to a lower resolution does not make it “pixel art.”


As Pixelation is defined as a technique that delivers the desired jaggies, we’re left to try to debate what makes or breaks “art.”

I think most attempts to define an art style as exclusive to a particular technique are prone to fail. It’s like saying Impressionism can’t be “dot-matrix art” because they used an unorthodox technologie.

See also: gif flip books.

Oh! My apologies. But actually, that’s just as well. That white stripes song was still being conveyed with a modern medium. Dirty guitars, strained, unique vocal stylings and things like that put a classic format into a palatable veneer. Also, that was during a big “retro revival” period in the top 100. It was kind of a fad(Strokes, Hives, Vines, White Stripes). So even if it could be argued that this was indeed an old fashioned sort of deal in the modern era, it represents the exception, not the rule.

That it could have been made on 35 year old technology is sort of obliquely related to my overall point, but either way, it was speaking to people in a language they understood. Modern tech or no, that’s what’s ultimately important. If tomorrow, a billion people received a crash course in pixel art, there wouldn’t be much need for this article. Thanks again!

Absolutely correct.

If you check out some of the better thought out emulators (like Neo-RAGEx for NeoGeo games), you get several pixel rendering options, one that is straight up pixels as shown in the left photo, one that emulates the diagonal pixellation of CRT TV’s (which itself is beautiful in a way), and a third one which interpolates the pixels to look higher res.

Depending on the game sprites, the third option can be a thing of beauty as well. Added in that NeoGeo had 2d sprite based games that took well over a decade to be surpassed in attractiveness by any other console, most of its game library has aged pretty well.

Hell, they are still making Metal Slug games for the NeoGeo arcade consoles!

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and NO ONE posted the “Chun-Li is Jealous” video… its up to me


SNK made some of my most favouritist games evar. Game play maybe not on par with Last Blade but some of the animation in Garou was stellar.

And IMO Lucasarts peaked with The Dig and maybe Full Throttle

That said, this video didn’t use real legos, I don’t think.

it does, that’s the whole point. Lesser directors would and have faked that sort of thing but this is Gondry, his whole style is to think of a simple yet mindboggling technique and actually do it. Sure they rotoscoped it using printouts of a pixellated (ha) version of the live action footage and had an army of people to sit and do the boring stuff but it doesn;t represent a striving for the most up to date anything. Not sure what you mean about ‘man hours splicing 8mm film’ but yes of course if Gondry wanted an 8mm film look he’d use 8mm film. In this case he shot it on 16mm film, doubtless telecine’d and edited on an NLE but that’s not been anything special for decades.

(plus the original comment wasn’t even talking about the video haha.)

Anyway it was an interesting article.

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Looking back at the screenshots and examples used in the article, i think there are more issues at play than just "will the masses accept pixel art?“clearly, there is a market. People " get” pixels. Superbrothers: Sword and Sorcery EP was a huge splash, and is very explicitly “pixel art.” The pixel art alphabet i referenced above, and the team who does the isometric cityscape posters are other examples. Pixel tributes like pixel avengers, pixel sweaters (the fargo tv show promos), etc, abound and proliferate on the internet. They succeed on a larger scale though, bexause they wear the pixelness of their conception loudly on their sleeve (literally, in the case of the sweaters).

by contrast, a lot of the work shown accompanying the article is less deliberately pixel-based, more subtle. The fidelity is so high, the dithering so well-crafted, that the images almost fall into an uncanny valley. The initial screenshot of the wave is a good example, as is the “quite good” KOF image. In the latter case, the drawing is so good, it really does look like a 3D model, but rendered with a low reaolution. It fails by it’s own success. It’s a little like a photorealistic watercolor painting, the medium doesn’t show through the way an impressionistic, washy painting would. You have to explain the work that went into it. If the tiles in the manatee mosiac had each been super tiny, a person would need to be made aware that the artist had gone to the trouble to use itsy bitsy tiles.

This is all to say that because pixels no longer are state of the art, if pixels are part of the deliberate artistic choice, a non-afficionado will need to be slapped in the face with the pixelness in irder to appreciate it. When used as a subtle medium that is shrouded by it’s own expert execution, it tends to fade to the periphery for the lay person, and just becomes a distraction.


Yeah. Really good art doesn’t require explaining. People look at it and like it. The only explaining you have to do is to tell them why.