First off, I’ve released a comic book. John Michael Jones Gets A Sword For His Birthday collects the first year of John Michael Jones Gets A Life in dead tree form.
You can get it for cheap on Amazon here, for much less cheap but in color on Amazon, here, or for cheapest of all in color, but as a PDF instead of a dead tree on Gumroad, here. Either of the dead tree versions will give you a discount code to get the Gumroad PDF for free, a feature I don’t expect will see much use for this comic, but it’s there.
So, as I experiment with game development, I have tried out a few art styles and perspectives. I’m going to list them and the pros and cons of each here. I’ve done this before, but not in an organized way. Here we go:
1. Pixel Art
I like it a lot. Appeals to nostalgia. Quick to produce. Pixel Art games will tend to run on lower-end hardware. Upscaling low resolutions doesn’t look worse when you get a 4K monitor; it looks the same. Fun things I want to do with my game art like palette-swapping shenanigans are a piece of cake.
Oversaturated in the marketplace. Using non-chiptune music is jarring (I love chiptune! But most of the music I have access to for scoring my games is not chiptune). Game is constrained to the 2D plane, except for some hacks that are a pain to implement. Character costume changes that are not palette swaps require me to recreate the animations from ground zero.
2. Hand Drawn Art
I absolutely love how it looks. Lets my art style shine, which maximizes marketability. Can use with non-chiptune music without jarring anyone.
Much more labor intensive, meaning games and worlds have to be smaller to compensate. Will not run on lower-end hardware. Palette swap shenanigans are doable, but much more annoying. Will look noticeably worse when upscaled onto a 4K monitor. Not only am I constrained to a 2D plane, because of the extra work to animate multiple directions, I’m basically locked into a side-scrolling perspective.
3. Low Poly 3D
Less saturated than pixel art, so more marketable, but not as much as hand drawn. Still appeals to nostalgia, though for Millennials and older Zoomers more than GenX/Y. Not as efficient to produce as pixel art, but way more than HD. Can use non-chiptune without jarring. Has access to a Z-axis, so I can put jumping in my top-down games without shenanigans. Can run on a potato, but furnishing upscaled textures for the Elite Gamer with the 4K monitor is simple. Palette shenanigans are a bit harder than pixel art, but way easier than HD. Costume swaps are much, much easier than either.
I like the art style, but of the 3 it is my least favorite. I have far more practice in 2D, with the attendant far more skill.
They are all good and all have their uses, with 3D constantly taking the role of “first best at nothing, but second best at everything.” However, which one is truly best will depend heavily on what sort of game I’m trying to make.
There are four game concepts that I rotate through. One is a virtual pet that runs on your phone. A mix of HD and pixel art is ideal for that, as seen in the currently existing prototype:
Although a low-poly virtual pet would make certain concepts, like varying monster size based on genetics, more feasible.
The second is a Sonic Metroidvania, starring Jump the Shark or Sparky the Dragon. HD art is probably ideal for that, with pixel art being a close second. But I keep abandoning that project because I don’t have a notion I want to pursue that is different enough from existing Sonic or Metroidvania games to justify years of my life, which is what it will take to make that game. I have a few interesting tweaks to the Sonic formula, but nothing groundbreaking. And no story I want to tell that’s compelling enough to justify a game that is otherwise a clone.
The third is Link’s Awakening style gameplay, but with Megaman X elements such as dashing, starring a robot whose parts you can swap out as you collect other parts.
3D is hands down the rock-star of this game concept. It gives me a Z-Axis, allowing for player jumping in the Zelda perspective without any hacky trickery, and it makes swapping character parts a breeze compared to the other styles.
A subset of the third (and technically fourth) game concept is Hat Trick, which is a story that could be a top-down adventure game, like Zelda, with Megaman elements. Hat Trick as a game or series of games does not strongly lean to 3D over pixel art, but it does militate away from Hand Drawn. And Hat Trick is a strong enough story to justify making a game that doesn’t do anything new, but is just a clone of another game.
Hat Trick can be forced into a Metroidvania, but it naturally tends towards a top down Adventure or a JRPG.
The fourth game concept is a JRPG that borrows gameplay components from Chrono Trigger, the Mario RPGs, and Pokémon. And this last one fits every art style equally well — I think using a side-on perspective like that of a beat-em-up overcomes the limitations of the HD art style. However, it prefers either pixel art or low-poly 3D, to enable a top down view with breadth of worldbuilding.
I am an artist who can code rather than a programmer who can draw. To play to my strengths, I should focus on the 2D HD. But my desire to make beautiful games is less powerful than my desire to make interesting gameplay.
So I’m trying the 3D on for size, with the idea that my top-down Megaman X is the only game that demands one art style above all others, and the Hat Trick games and JRPGs can have their gameplay in 3D and still work. Because at the end of the day, looking good is the second most important goal of a game’s art. The first is serving the gameplay.