|Little Big Planet 2|
Our SIGGRAPH course notes on stylized rendering describe the art history of expressive games, some basic stylized rendering algorithm examples, and case studies of important recent expressive games.
Maintaining a bold style is challenging for games, especially for 3D games, in part because the player can alter the composition and lighting. This creates situations that are visually ambiguous, incongruous, or require a simulated version of lighting. It is also challenging because many natural media styles have no obvious animated or 3D analogue, and because the computational demands of well-done expressive rendering are often paradoxically higher than those of photorealistic rendering when under currently-known algorithms. On the business side, I've experienced first-hand the reluctance of large publishers to adopt expressive graphic styles that have not been as proven as (attempted) mimesis in the market. That is a natural but regrettable risk aversion for the company funding development.
|Kentucky Route Zero|
Games are Art
There have been a number of games that elevate the art of games in various elements. The Last of Us, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Age of Empires, LIMBO, Braid, Shenmue, Tearaway, Portal 2, God of War, Tetris, The Stanley Parable, Journey, The Sims, and Gone Home are among these, as are pretty much all games created by Tim Schafer and Shigero Miyamoto. These are also all likely to stand the test of time and are examples I proudly offer to academic colleagues of why I'm excited to work and live in this field.
Visual ArtSome very recent and upcoming (hopefully--even big-budget games often don't ever see the light of day or live up to their potential) indie releases are pushing in new directions with game art visuals. Many of these adopt well-known styles from fine art and explore their extension to interaction. Others innovate with novel styles.
As a survey of these games, below are some screenshots with links to the game developers' web sites.
|The Long Dark|
|That Dragon, Cancer|
|Miegakure (this game has four spatial dimensions)|
|Child of Light|
|The Banner Saga|
|No Man's Sky|
Morgan McGuire (@morgan3d) is a professor of Computer Science at Williams College, visiting professor at NVIDIA Research, and a professional game developer. He is the author of the Graphics Codex, an essential reference for computer graphics now available in iOS and Web Editions.