Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Perfection through simplicity

There's something special about the Mona Lisa. It doesn't really look very special. It's just a picture of some lady with a weird smile. But look at it now: It's the most famous and valuable painting ever made! The simplicity of this painting is it's greatest asset. It seems that some game developers have caught onto this phenomenon, and have begun taking the simple approach themselves.

For example, look at Steven Spielburg's upcoming Wii title, Boom Blox. You really can't get much more simple than square characters with painted-on details. On paper this sounds positively terrible. A bunch of cuboid freaks prancing around? Really, sounds pretty lame. But once you get a good look at it, you can't believe how amazing it really is.

Boom Blox's art style is both basic and brilliant all at once

Go ahead, look it up on Youtube or IGN. See that there? That's both the epitome of simplicity and unique charm. It's art styles like this that can really boost a game to blockbuster status. Don't believe me? Take a look at another hugely famous franchise with an incredibly simple-yet-brilliant art style.

The Katamari series of games is one of legend. What Namco originally thought would do poorly on the American market exploded into a national phenomenon. The quirky gameplay, story and soundtrack all contributed to this final product, but the simplistic art style is what really made this title stand out in the public eye. Everywhere you turn there's fan art of the king, the prince, and even the blocky citizens of the game world. People love the art style just as much as (If not more than) the gameplay! And can you really blame them?

Of course, we can't have an article about artistic simplicity without mentioning the Ace Attorney series of games. The simple animations with few enough frames to count on one hand has a certain charm to it that is nearly as iconic as the art style in Katamari. The distinctively clunky animation become somewhat of a fad in all the corners of the internet, resulting in parody videos galore.

No objections to this brilliantly simplistic art style

Of course, simplicity doesn't have to apply to just the art style. There's also the games that use the most basic of all graphic styles: Sprites. Even in an age when all the currently produced consoles and handhelds can render games entirely in 3D, developers still go back to the good ol' fashioned two-dimensional graphics of the olden days. The simplistic format of sprites can often lead to great benefits for many aspects of the game in that it saves much space, but it can also lead to some amazingly beautiful level and character designs. Children of Mana was probably the most stunning sprite-based game I've ever seen, with it's incredibly bright colours and super-smooth animation.

It may look nice in screenshots, but it's even
better in motion

The vast improvement of technology over the years is great, but sometimes it's nice to get away from graphical wonders like Super Mario Galaxy and Crysis and enjoy the greatness that is artistic simplicity. After all, perfection need not be restricted to the complex.

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