Hi folks, I don't usually start a lot of threads on the AGS forums, but earlier in the year, there was a lot of debate
, I believe partly due to a contest in the Competitions forum that I hosted, about the differences between high and low resolution artwork and their usage/viability in adventure games.Note:The below thread topic is very wordy and very tangental in places. Much of it was written as sort of a stream of thought in the wee hours of the morning, so I'd like to cut to the chase right here for people that don't want to slog through the enormous post below:
"What are the real differences between High and Low Resolution graphics, and what can the members of each camp do to help raise 'awareness', and perhaps assist the other group to really understand and be able to work together?"
Now, it's a no-brainer to ask whether hi-res adventure games exist or not - 2.5D games like Grim Fandango, Vampyre Story and the lot-so-lauded Escape from Monkey Island, and full 3D games like the new Sam 'n Max games or Dreamfall aside, we do have games like CMI and I know that we have lots of people in both camps, and double-agent people like myself who dabble on both sides (though in the last few years, I'll admit I've been leaning a lot further to the pixel-pushing side), but I'd just like to start up a topic for some open discussion about the merits of both sides, how they can be used within adventure gaming - particularly in our own little neck of the woods that is AGS.
I've done plenty of work in high resolution, but in the AGS scene, I consider myself almost on the hardcore end of pixel guys. I post art on Pixel Joint and have an unused account at Pixelation, and most of my work at Deviant art is also low-res sprites. I think I've fallen as much as many others in to the mindset that pixel=low-res. I suppose a lot of this stems from my extreme exposure to low res work here on AGS - almost all of the games released on this platform are low-res, but there are some very outstanding exceptions
developed in our very own backyard that I think, if not revolutionizing our engine and rebranding it as a more versatile tool for both high and low res games (Please stop me if I'm wrong about Nelly, Ali), have proven that it certainly does work.
That said, are we more suited to low-resolution games here at AGS? CJ has done an awesome job of implementing usage of alpha channels, extreme color-depths and higher available resolutions, but how many of us are using them? I'd also like to talk about whether this medium of ours really is anachronistic or obsolete or not? I'm of course in the camp that would say pixel art is alive and well, and provides a great challenge (as I believe, at least, that it's a lot more difficult to really convey a lot of emotion in a character with an extremely limited palette, etc, and I love the challenge that it provides). But what about our high-resolution brethren?High Resolution
We have some very talented hi-res guys here. loominous
stand out recently as very active contributors, and were key faces in the above-linked debate about the sprite jam representing the high resolution side of the coin. I really respect their work, but at times, I question the viability of their sprites based on my own preconceptions of how a sprite should fit on the screen, so to speak.
Let me mention again, in game development, I'm mostly low-res. I open up the images in my sprite editor of choice, GraphicsGale
(Which you'll note is designed for pixel art) and end up with some very interesting issues.
(Apologies to loominous for using these images without asking first)
1: Pristine .PNG image, clipped from loominous's most recent Sprite Jam entry
2: What happens when I use a 0-tolerance fill tool on the background, attempting to make a transparent solid-color background)
3: Who knows what
happened there. Looks like something went majorly screwy with the alpha during a copy-paste.
Basically, this is one of those technological issues that can trip up someone, especially who is used to working with low resolution. My natural want to work with .gif files as an animator, and the higher potential for problems in high resolution sprites can really trip up someone who isn't prepared.
Is this actually a problem? No, not at all. With prodigious use of an alpha channel, the first image looks clean and reads beautifully. When I attempt to convert it to a .gif file, problems abound. To avoid this issue with a 'halo' (an issue I think a lot of us have seen with non-alpha sprites) or worse, the team at Lucasarts for Monkey Island used a technique to solidify the edge of the sprites by giving them a one-pixel-wide black outline:
I believe Igor uses the same technique in Ignac
(another hi-res AGS venture that I'd love to see in action again). It works like a charm, and looks great in-game. There are various methods to avoid having hi-res sprites reading badly in a lower-resolution environment, so from the pure standpoint of a sprite as being something that can be used in a game, I suppose that there really is no issue with any of the high-res sprites that we see. Now, where was I going with this?
Basically, the question is, how well-adjusted is AGS to the hi-res scene? And are we really equipped to make adventure games in hi-res? I certainly believe that it's possible - a sprite is a sprite is a sprite, but how can we apply ourselves as a community in the creation of 'current generation' graphics... Or at least graphics that fit a little better with the times
, as it were.
I'd like especially to invite the members of the community who have successfully completed and released high resolution projects (Ali, Le Woltaire, etc) to educate us on their techniques in smoothly integrating high resolution graphics in their games. I believe that any insight that the rest of the community can gain from your triumphs would be a great asset and help us all learn a lot.Low Resolution
Now, I've spent quite a bit of time on high resolution. Let's talk a little about low-res. This is a lot more my speed, I think. As primarily a pixel artist, of course, I'm going to be biased about the usefulness and ease of working with low-resolution sprites. I've been doing low-res since I started doing pixel art for a failed team project competition with Geoffkhan, Cameron, Rui and Custard a number of years back. One of the main draws of low-resolution sprites in my mind is the ease of animation. With a tool geared towards that very task, like GraphicsGale (Linked above), animation becomes a piece of cake. In my current project, I'm regularly making in-game character animations of up to 100 frames per loop (Thank you, CJ, for taking the limit off of frames per loop). I can cut a lot of corners by copy/pasting certain parts of a frame, and only making minor pixel adjustments which would (and I may be misinformed), in my mind, require complete redraws of each individual hi-res sprite per frame to achieve the same amount of fluidity.
Is low-res more convenient for our purposes? I'd like to make note that there really don't seem to be all that many games that really fit the bill - most of the high resolution adventure games out there jumped straight to 3D. With the exception of a few games like CMI, there are actually very few games of any genre that I can find that make use of hand-drawn 2D graphics. This leads me to question, why not? It's not like there weren't a few years where this was considered cutting-edge; so was it a matter of 3D just being there at the same time and easier to create lots of various animations without having to redraw frames?
I know of course that it's impossible to discount all of the animation that has been done since the dawn of time which was all hand-drawn and looks just marvelous, but those (with a few exceptions) were done by a whole studio of artists, and took a damned long time to do, in general terms, and also weren't used in adventure gaems. How does the hi-res crowd compensate for this? Of course, nobody ever said that an AGS game has to be animation-heavy, but I'm a real sucker for a lot of fluid movement (Limey Lizard
is a great example of what I think visually you can really accomplish with a motivated animator in an indie project, even in a very short period of time).
For the members of the community interested in working in high-resolution, does hi-res make animation more difficult? Or is it just a difference in approach? As a low-res artist, I do all of my work on a digital medium. I actually don't take a traditional approach to sprite development almost at all - I start and finish all on the digital format, at the sprite level (no concept drawings - or if there are, they generally aren't used as part of the final product).
As an independent game development community, how well-equipped are we to develop a full hi-res game? I've seen plenty of concept art coming out of our hi-res members, but most of the actual product leans very heavily to the low-res spectrum. Someone mentioned during the debate I linked at the top of this thread that the tendency towards low resolution in AGS is because we're generally focused on the adventure games of the '90s. I wouldn't say that's incorrect, but at the same time, I am willing to bet that a number of us would be more than happy to develop or play a game done in high resolution like CMI or Toonstruck, though it seems a bit inaccessible.
What are everyone else's thoughts about the differences between high and low resolution?