Art style

Digital Futurism: A Discussion of Popular Video Game Art Style (Part 1)

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An electronic cyber art trend has emerged in the video game psyche over the past two decades, and it is booming with modern indie game developers. Games like MirrorMoon EP, Race the Sun, Fract, and Smash Hit have adopted the visual genetics of this low-fi movement and ensured its influential spread to another generation of gamers. Like the current explosion in the retro-inspired sprite movement, its simplicity makes it convenient for developers working on a budget looking for a quick return from the prototype stage to the launch of the final product. . In return, he commands an artistic direction that is determined, with an honestly conceived intention.

It’s a style that gaming culture introduced to the mainstream in the early ’80s, but its exposure wasn’t tied to a video game proper, but rather a video game movie: Tron.

Tron’s legacy is best known as a major introduction of 3D computer graphics technology into special effects in feature films. For many, it was also a first glimpse of a new fantasy world abstracted from cyber-consciousness, a world where crude electronic building blocks would attempt to mimic real-world objects in electric color. This visual style, however, did not take hold in video games until at least a decade later, when the ability to create real-time graphics from primitive 3D polygon models became more accessible.

Above: REZ HD on XBLA

Image Credit: SEGA /

One of the biggest video game influences of this style came with the last big renaissance in Sega development in the late 1990s, with the release of Tetsuya Mizuguchi. Ground on the Dreamcast. We can cite games that used this artistic direction before Rez, but these have not found the same echo with developers and gamers. When I ask people to name this visual style, the same two descriptors come out of their mouths: Tron-like and Rez-like.


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Curious about the recent growth of this art style in games, I reached out to four independent developers who have all created interactive experiences that are very different from each other, but whose art direction shares this very distinctive low-fi 3D cyber look – and I asked for their views on this fascinating visual style. In Part 1, we’ll cover a little bit of naming conventions and art history, and then dive right into the distinctive visual characteristics of this art direction.

Digital futurism?


Above: Oppressive MCP henchmen in Tron.

Image Credit: Disney

While I was looking for information on this style, it surprised me that I couldn’t find a term for it. To refer to this art style as “Tron-like” and “Rez-like” is too informal and sloppy. He needs a name. I ended up having to make do with a few internet chats, hoping someone came up with a good name for the style, which also disappointingly failed without a solid recommendation.

Then I decided to come up with a name myself, consisting of two words that stood out while searching for an appropriate term: “Digital Futurism”.

These words resonate with what I feel like a “Tron / Rez-like” art direction. There are a few types of Futurism, but they all share one key element: being fascinated by the possibilities of forward-thinking designs, architecture, and ideas. Tron also employed several concept artists who were heavily influenced by the appearance of the original movement, most notably Syd mead who is a concept artist famous for other futuristic influenced films such as Extraterrestrial and Blade runner (and is billed as a “visual futurist”).

Syd mead

Above: Illustration by Syd Mead for US Steel (1961).

Image Credit: Syd Mead

Where futurism tends to deal with real-world “might someday” technology, our topic focuses on what a high-tech vision of the future might look like within the rules of a universe. digital – hence a vision of “digital futurism. “

Unfortunately, futurism has a political and social problem. The first version of the movement was born in Italy in the early 1900s by the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who linked futurism to fascist ideals of the time. While Futurism celebrated imaginative visions of a future built on ingenuity and speed, it also had strong opinions on how to get there, who should benefit, and by what means. Marinetti glorified war as a great cleanser of society and violence as a positive tool of oppression.

Espansione Dinamica by futurist Giacomo Balla (1913)

Above: Espansione Dinamica by futurist Giacomo Balla (1913)

Image Credit: Giacomo Balla

One of the participants in this discussion, Pietro Righi Riva from Santa Ragione (creator of MirrorMoon EP). what we believe in. And even some of the themes of futurism, [such as] force, violence, power… are not things really present in our production, nor in our philosophy of authors. Although Fotonica, our first game, was very focused on speed and giddiness, it was so in a way that didn’t glorify strength and power, but instead tried to capture lightness.

“Futurism is part of our cultural context of course,” explains Righi Riva, “but mainly for the aesthetic contribution to painting and visual imagery in general, as well as other European movements like Cubism … they or they [Cubism and Futurism] had in common how they both tried to represent different perspectives and moments in time on one canvas.

Moon mirror EP

Above: MirrorMoon EP

Image Credit: Santa Ragione

Righi Riva sees the art style from a different angle and suggests a slightly different name: “Futurism sort of conjures up an idea of ​​visions of the future, while low-poly is more of a retro-futurism, since it evokes the beginnings of computer graphics and certainly not what we imagine the games of the future. So digital futurism can be a bit deceptive, not quite communicating that low-fi digital art style you’re referring to.

Righi Riva brings up several positives, aside from the darker political side of Futurism, and I respect his take on the subject. For the sake of clarity, however, the rest of the participants and I refer to the art style as “digital futurism”. Maybe beyond this post a discussion can continue and we can try to come up with a better name for this visual style?