When I went to college for art I had no idea how much it impacted every aspect of society…

You see art literally everywhere, whether it’s photos of a sad animal waiting to be adopted or a poster with vibrant colors indicating a music festival. Art speaks to us and conveys a message unlike mere description ever could. In games most people often miss the aesthetics beyond how realistic the people look or how well the clothes blow in the wind. But the choice of just colors and style in our favorite games brings so much more to the table that we just don’t realize. For this month’s theme, Craft-a-mageddon, we are here to show you how to tell if you may want to play a game from a few screenshots.

Colors and Lighting

Taken from DAngaRonpa 2: You can tell by the setting and dark tones this isn't a friendly bear.

Taken from DAngaRonpa 2: You can tell by the setting and dark tones this isn’t a friendly bear.

To paint a portrait you must first position the item of interest in the most fitting environment you can. If you try to communicate that it’s a dreary afternoon you are naturally going to use greys, darker colors, and lower the lighting around your piece. The most important part of setting a mood in a cut scene is the colors and lighting. Have you ever noticed that a lot of games tend to get darker the closer to the end you get or when you’re surprised by a party member being destroyed, the setting doesn’t quite fit a dreary tone. That’s because subconsciously colors and lighting reflect so much to us that we don’t even realize we pick up on it.

Mario: Mario is a positive, safe for all ages game series. The lighting is bright in games and there are lots of bright colors.

Fallout: Fallout is a horror driven dystopian universe; the lighting is generally dim and the colors are all akin to a muddy or grungy palette.

Call of Duty: Call of Duty usually has a heroic tone with the realization of war they tend to stick to medium lighting and use more of a neutral color palette.

Using this logic you can look at most games and figure out the tone or how serious they are. Most E-rated games use something akin to Mario’s color palette and lighting, while more serious games that are for Teenagers or Adults tend to use darker colors with a little pop of color thrown in. Even in The Witcher’s newest expansion, Blood and Wine, pokes fun of how colorful the country of Toussaint is because their attitudes, regardless of what’s going on, is unrealistic and like it popped out of a storybook.

 Pixels, Anime, Realism, and Cell Shading

In game Screenshot : Cell Shaded art style from The Windwaker

In game Screenshot: Cell Shaded art style from The Windwaker

There are always different styles of art that people use to build the characters of their games. Generally you run into the classic pixel style, Anime style, Realism style, and a Cell shaded style. These all started from pixels and now that we have advanced, they all can convey different meanings. Pixels generally indicate the game is either older, Indie, or a remake. Anime almost always is used for Japanese fighters or 2D games. Realism is reserved more for serious games and is used a lot in Western releases. Cell shaded is also seen in a lot of Japanese RPG’s and a very famous Zelda game.

Pixels: Generally with the Pixel style the game is either mostly story or an older game. A lot of indie developers love using this style thanks to its ease and low cost.

Anime: Japan prides its art style of thin line cartoons and often uses it in their 2D fighters and Visual Novels. This is also known to show up in a lot of Free MMO and is cost effective for a long running series.

Realism: Realism is used in a lot of Western releases and you usually see it in more serious games.

Cell Shading: Cell shading is a very anti-aging art form that holds up well as opposed to trying to use the latest realistic graphics. You generally find it in RPG’s and it can come off as cartoony but generally games with this style have high game play and story value.

If you combine the style with the colors and lighting you should have a pretty good idea of what the game’s mood is. If you like horror games, bad lighting and a green tint is a safe bet, but if it’s using a realism style it’s almost guaranteed it’s going to be what you were looking for. There will always be times when games will of course bypass these rules to make the story more shocking or sneak in a surprise but generally this rule is pretty safe to follow.

Expression and Body Language

Taken from Official Trailer for Witcher 3 Blood and Wine: You can tell from the expression and uneasy stance something horrible is happening.

Taken from the Official Trailer for Witcher 3 Blood and Wine: You can tell from the expression and uneasy stance something horrible is happening.

When you are mad you don’t smile or get comfortable, instead you generally have a very rigid pose and your eyes are more open with your mouth in a scowl. If you see someone doing a twirl on the box art you assume he’s happy from his smiles and big wide inviting eyes. If you can recognize the expression of the characters on the box art it can tell you a million things about their plight and feelings towards the story of the game. When you see a game with an indifferent main character you know he’s probably really serious and possibly a loner. If the character on the box is climbing a wall and looking up you can assume they are going on an adventure to obtain something. Positioning of the stance a character is in and their expression shows you exactly what you might be getting yourself into.


Does it make you want to hug it?


Official art from Maplestory: I’m fierce I promise!

So you picked up a game and there’s a picture of a dark world and it looks pretty realistic except that there is a really cute realistic bunny. Well it’s a pretty safe bet this is a serious game and the bunny is really detailed but why the hell is it so cute?  Sometimes you may notice characters are way too cute for their environment. One of the things you should take note of is the design of the characters. No matter how realistic a cute pink bunny looks, they made him cute for a reason. At this point you should look at the other enemies and characters; do they look like cuddly Pokemon or are they rougher looking like Cloud from Final Fantasy? The designs of the enemies and characters, if nothing else, can give you the final judgement of the game’s mood, setting, and level of seriousness.

Cloud Strife: He carries a huge sword that is unrealistic and is clearly dressed for some combat.

Lara Croft: She always wears a serious expression and is dressed in exploration themed clothes.

Princess Peach: She is generally smiling or has a kind expression and is dressed in all pink ,frills, and has an unrealistic height.

Master Chief: He is dressed in combat Armour and always has his face hidden.

When you see these characters you can generally see a genre or mood screaming out of their designs. You would never really think Princess Peach would be very adult and you probably wouldn’t ever expect to see Master Chief strolling through town. The designs of the characters really drive home the type of game it is and even give away the exact genre in some instances. If there is a cute monster in battle with the cute main character, it’s probably not that serious of a game.

Does this thing really work?

Official Box art: Assassins Creed Syndicate.

Official Box art: Assassins Creed Syndicate.

I am currently examining the box of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. The colors are grey and brown and all the characters are very posed but in an intimidating way. Jacob Frye is posed in the middle sitting backward in a chair with a weapon drawn and a hood covering his eyes. The lighting is in the middle and the brightest color is red and in a corner near the top of the box. Nothing about what I just described sounds like a a cheery game, does it? Even more, the expressions on their faces says that they are serious but composed; a very important aspect to the game’s play style. If you look at the screenshots on the back you will notice some action scenes but they all involve very strategic positioning of the character that implies being careful or sneaking around.

Do you want to try this out? Pick a random game and let us know what you think based on the cover or a few screenshots and leave us a comment below or Tweet @geekgirlpenpals with #ArtIggle.