12 December 2018

The Split Between Traditional and Modern Pixel Art

This is a post I wanted to write back when I made my first post about pixel art, sharing what I thought was a good post on making pixel art bigger without it looking too "blocky". Anyways after that post, I had a discussion with some people and it's really interesting.

Where Did Pixel Art Come From?

Back in the old days, when games for consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System were available. Hardware and software were limited. Due to only saving 8-bit per each pixel of an image only a limited amount of colors could be displayed.[1] Combining this with the limited resolution Pixel Art was the best option back in the old days.[2] Thankfully the detail in each sprite or Pixel Art, as well as the number of colors kept increasing. Continuing through to 16-bit per pixel with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System up to our 24-bit true color system that is widely spread.

Then Why Is There Still Pixel Art?

Even though we don't have the restrictions we had back in the old days, it has evolved into a style for multiple purposes. It may remind us of the old days, it's much simpler to create than drawing a full detailed picture, you have more power over each and every pixel and all the details of the picture since every pixel matters and you can decide over every of their positions, and many more I haven't captured here.

The Split Between Traditional and Modern

Now, with our much better hard- and software we are no longer restricted to the limits we had back in the old days. This resulted in a split between traditional and modern Pixel Art. So what's the difference? What makes Pixel Art traditional and what makes it modern? Where are the bounds of each?

Traditional Pixel Art

Traditional Pixel Art is very strict about its rules. Thus you are not allowed to use more than 16-bit per pixel, which can be enforced by color palettes. Additionally, you are limited in the amount of detail you can add. Plus each pixel needs to be clearly visible so that the control over each pixel is not lost. Though the exact rules may vary from person to person and additional may be added or ones may be removed. Which cuts the bounds of modern Pixel Art.

Modern Pixel Art

Breaking the limits of traditional Pixel Art, this may not be considered to be much anymore. It can be argued whether there are any rules to this but some things can be said at least. First of all, there is no limitation in colors anymore. All the colors of true color can be used for these, which means no palettes or limited color choice per pixel. Pixel Art is all about the pixels. Without any rules, isn't any computer-created art Pixel Art? This is where we can take one of the rules of traditional Pixel Art to help us. Each pixel needs to matter and a change in pixels should be visible. I think this is probably the best way to draw a line. The more detail you add the more blurry each pixel becomes and the more blurry the line between what can be considered Pixel Art and what cannot becomes as well.


Now, this is just my thought on this topic so I don't know how far I'm off or if I hit the bulls-eye. However, even if I'm off I consider this to be a good way to differentiate between Traditional, Modern Pixel Art and the other types of computer-aided graphics that have been made and I don't think you can do any wrong by holding onto these guidelines or rules mentioned here.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/8-bit_color
[2] https://www.theseus.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/133067/Keo_Mary.pdf
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I'm a B.Sc. Games Engineer and I created this blog to share my ideas, theorycrafting, thoughts and whatever I'm working on or doing.