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Respect the pixel...

Pixel So this is very much “old man shouts at cloud” territory, but I’m waiting for Match of the Day to download and no one’s seeding. Feel free to move along, you can ignore me.

Still here? No?

I’ve been playing a few 2D games lately. Stuff some of my students have made and stuff that’s been clogging up my pile of shame for a while. One thing that’s jumped out and slapped me in the face through all this is the number of games that use low resolution pixel art as ‘a thing’ but then go on to ruin the effect by completely ignoring the pixels they’re basing the game on.

Things like: elements of the game, drawn at the same resolution in Photoshop, then scaled in-game - either through designer placement, or via gameplay -  so the pixel unit size varies between objects on the same plane. Or worse, graphic elements pushed forward or backward in to parallax layers, then scaled in-engine rather than being redrawn for their placement on screen. Limbs on characters rotating from a pivot point, rather than having drawn animation frames? That’s a common one. Or, arrgh, particle based explosions with rotating particles…

Anything that takes a square pixel, rotates it by any amount and leaves it looking like a stretched Diamond on-screen is a bookable offence. 10-15 stretch. No parole.

Often the developer is clearly aware of what they’re doing, so to stay true to the aesthetic will use ‘nearest neighbour‘ when scaling to keep the pixel edges clean. Ok, fair enough, but this tends to make the problem worse. Instead of square pixels, there’ll be a bunch of rectangles moving around the screen. They might flip between being square and rectangular as they crawl their way across my field of vision due to sub-pixel precision. Those nice circular embossed bits, drawn on the wall? They’ll look like utter shite as well… It’ll even affect the scrolling. The shimmering. The crawling. Ugh.

All of this makes me sad. All of this is easily avoidable. And nearly all of this is down to people doing it in Unity, which couldn’t care less about your pixels without a bit of leg work first.

Respect the pixel people!

Don’t put a Super SAL filter over it. Don’t stretch it, bend it, rotate it and leave it lying on screen in a heap. If you’re going to put scanlines all over it, then at least do it with some care. Make sure everything’s bright enough. If you’re not old enough to have grown up with the pixel, then go and have a look at something that properly respects it. Shovel Knight’s a good place to start. See how good something looks when it’s consistent. See how smooth movement can be without ghostly shimmer. You don’t have to make an NES game to look this good! Go wild, add as many colours as you like! Just spare a thought for grumpy old sods like me that have spent 20 years studying the pixel, worshiping at the alter of this magic dot of light that’s breathed life into so many great games and art styles, don’t wade in there with your size 9 game engine, like a bull in a china shop!

Pixels are our friends. Do right by them and they’ll do right by you!

(Brilliant, Match of the Day has dowloaded…)