Graphics Keeping a consistent Pixel Art Style

Jam373

Member
So I'm making an action platformer with a dark but minimalist pixel art style. I'm not an artist so I'm taking it slow in learning pixel art.
Initially tried to go with 8x8 tileset and sprites but found making good looking enemies really tough. In the end I compromised and made this jellyfish 16x16 (despite my player character being 8x8 scaled-up, but that's another story) which I think captures the visual style I'm looking for very well.

ezgif-6-1afd2a6d7f25.gif

Since then I've just made this creature below, kinda like the lava lotus from mario, that shoots out projectiles when it opens up. It's twice the size of the jellyfish and I think it looks pretty good.

ezgif.com-resize.gif

However I feel like it doesn't fit with the minimalism that was established with the jellyfish. I have no idea how to make them more consistent with each other! I've kinda already committed to both of their designs and my inexperienced brain doesn't know why exactly they don't fit (other than "too much detail"). I know it's harder to get advice for art than programming, and I'm not asking anyone to fix this for me. Was just hoping to get some words of wisdom, or maybe just to hear from people that there isn't an issue and it's just in my head?

Just to reiterate I really like both of these designs, just worried that if they appeared in the same game the player might bounce off due to the contrast.

Happy to hear all feedback.
 
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Filkata

Member
There are simple things you can try to be consistent with. The jelly fish has an outline at the top but the lotus does not. Also the lotus has more in-between colors, for example on the mouth, maybe the jelly fish should have more colors as well, or the lotus should have fewer.
One thing I have found that helps me be consistent with the pixel art on my game is using a common color palette throughout the all the game assets - you can find a great selection here: https://lospec.com/palette-list
 

Toque

Member
Yeah if you want minimalist keep to a simple colour palette.
There is not much contrast in the lotus. But that might work if the background is bright.

16 X 16 sounds like a comfortable palette size.
 

Jam373

Member
There are simple things you can try to be consistent with. The jelly fish has an outline at the top but the lotus does not. Also the lotus has more in-between colors, for example on the mouth, maybe the jelly fish should have more colors as well, or the lotus should have fewer.
One thing I have found that helps me be consistent with the pixel art on my game is using a common color palette throughout the all the game assets - you can find a great selection here: https://lospec.com/palette-list
I'll have to play around with those suggestions, but I'm thinking I'll just have to redo the lotus. Colour palette sounds like a great idea that I've never tried before. Any recommendations for palettes or palette sizes? Toque suggests 16x16 but I'm not sure what they mean by that tbh. 256 colours sounds like a lot. Is there an easy way for a newb to make their own palette?
 
I'll have to play around with those suggestions, but I'm thinking I'll just have to redo the lotus. Colour palette sounds like a great idea that I've never tried before. Any recommendations for palettes or palette sizes? Toque suggests 16x16 but I'm not sure what they mean by that tbh. 256 colours sounds like a lot. Is there an easy way for a newb to make their own palette?
Palettes are deceptively complex to put together and require a lot of knowledge of color theory to create a good one, especially if you're limiting your palette size. I would recommend to find a premade palette and use it. Chances are, someone's already made something you like and you won't have to put in any effort. Lospec's palette list is a great place to find some: https://lospec.com/palette-list
 

Toque

Member
Sorry I meant your 16x26 sprite size. Not palette size.

I prefer to use a good pre made palette. Making your own is possible but not that easy. There are hundreds of good ones already made.
 

Niels

Member
Make a constant color scheme. (when using a base color, highlight and shadow version, try to make all the highlights and shadows of different colors have the same value and saturation.
Also pick a consistant way of shading and/or outline
 

Jam373

Member
Thanks everyone, took some time to play around with your suggestions. I did go through https://lospec.com/palette-list but honestly struggled a little to find a pallete that would fit without really knowing what I was looking for. But instead I've just limited the number of colours I'm using for shading and tried some of your other tips to keep things consistent.


ezgif.com-resize(1).gif


ezgif.com-resize(2).gif


Do they look worse? Yes, at least I think the lava lotus does. Buut it's definitely closer to being stylistically similar. They now share only 6 colours in total, they have the same dark purple outline, and the shading is simplified. I think I really struggle with 2-3 tone shading but I'm curious to hear what you guys think about how it went.

Should I try to add in that bright red colour to make it pop a bit more?

Anyway thanks @Niels @Toque @nacho_chicken @Filkata for your help so far.
 

Zizka

Member
Some parts of your sprites have outlines while other parts don’t. I suggest to decide what you prefer and use it as a whole: outline or no outline.
 

kburkhart84

Firehammer Games
Sprite style is determined by multiple things. Palette, lighting style(dithered, blotchy, etc...), outlines(on which sides if not all, or not existing), type of outline(simply darker color, or all the same black, etc....), lighting direction, and some other things all determine a "style." It isn't actually the size itself of the sprite, because in your game world some things are simply going to be bigger than others. However, the pixels themselves need to be the same size as each other. So you mentioned you blew up the 8x8 player to get 16x16. If you didn't make any changes, that sprite is going to clash. Another way to look at it is the "smallest level of detail." The player's smallest detail is twice the size(twice squared actually) than the other elements.

I highly recommend you check out some actual tutorials on the subject. They explain things pretty well. You could also look at some art breakdowns...I've seen some really nice ones. I remember one on Final Fantasy 6(3) that broke down the palettes, etc... and did a good job explaining why they did things the way they did. Lastly, I recommend you go ahead and get on board using a palette. I would just grab the one that fits the closest for now. You can always change things later once you figure out better what you need. And with a good palette, it will make the rest of the learning process easier.
 

Niels

Member
Thanks everyone, took some time to play around with your suggestions. I did go through https://lospec.com/palette-list but honestly struggled a little to find a pallete that would fit without really knowing what I was looking for. But instead I've just limited the number of colours I'm using for shading and tried some of your other tips to keep things consistent.


View attachment 29585


View attachment 29586


Do they look worse? Yes, at least I think the lava lotus does. Buut it's definitely closer to being stylistically similar. They now share only 6 colours in total, they have the same dark purple outline, and the shading is simplified. I think I really struggle with 2-3 tone shading but I'm curious to hear what you guys think about how it went.

Should I try to add in that bright red colour to make it pop a bit more?

Anyway thanks @Niels @Toque @nacho_chicken @Filkata for your help so far.
Make the lightest red color of the second creature the same color as the highlights in the first creature
 

pixeltroid

Member
Your lotus looks "off", perhaps because of a lack of contrast between the shades of purple and red, or even how the colors have been applied. In both iterations, the lotus appears flat and lacks the roundness it should have. It's "mouth" appears very flat and its overall shape appears to resemble a pyramid, and not a sphere.

I tried to fix your lotus image but I saw that there was an issue with pixel sizes so I ended up making my own quick & dirty version of the lotus.

LOTUS.png

Granted, I've probably used more colors than you have but I just wanted to show how the lotus can have depth and look "spherical" through shading and the contrasting colors. I also tried to add some lighting on it's jagged "mouth".
 

Jam373

Member
Sprite style is determined by multiple things. Palette, lighting style(dithered, blotchy, etc...), outlines(on which sides if not all, or not existing), type of outline(simply darker color, or all the same black, etc....), lighting direction, and some other things all determine a "style." It isn't actually the size itself of the sprite, because in your game world some things are simply going to be bigger than others. However, the pixels themselves need to be the same size as each other. So you mentioned you blew up the 8x8 player to get 16x16. If you didn't make any changes, that sprite is going to clash. Another way to look at it is the "smallest level of detail." The player's smallest detail is twice the size(twice squared actually) than the other elements.

I highly recommend you check out some actual tutorials on the subject. They explain things pretty well. You could also look at some art breakdowns...I've seen some really nice ones. I remember one on Final Fantasy 6(3) that broke down the palettes, etc... and did a good job explaining why they did things the way they did. Lastly, I recommend you go ahead and get on board using a palette. I would just grab the one that fits the closest for now. You can always change things later once you figure out better what you need. And with a good palette, it will make the rest of the learning process easier.
Yep need to change player sprite, but I'm leaving that until after I establish some kind of "style". Been looking at tutorials and it's a big help, but I guess in the end nothing will improve unless I just keep practicing.

Seems people really advise I get a palette. I can't seem to find one that has the shades of deep reds and purples I want but I guess for now I should just compromise and pick anything?
 

Zizka

Member
An outline is often a necessary evil for the characters to stand out from the background for the player, this is why backgrounds don’t often use outlines while characters do.

Case in point:
1585133676966.jpeg

As for the art itself, you could probably go even more minimalistic than that if you wanted to. The medusa is a good size to begin with.

Also, I recommend learning to make curves in pixel art. Straight lines can only take you so far.

Have you found a reference you’d like to emulate? This can help a lot when starting out to see how others are doing things. When I started, I tried to do something similar to Earthbound:

1585134542433.png
If you have a style to refer to it’ll be easier to keep things coherent.
 
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Jam373

Member
Make the lightest red color of the second creature the same color as the highlights in the first creature
I'll give that a try when I next have some time thanks!

Your lotus looks "off", perhaps because of a lack of contrast between the shades of purple and red, or even how the colors have been applied. In both iterations, the lotus appears flat and lacks the roundness it should have. It's "mouth" appears very flat and its overall shape appears to resemble a pyramid, and not a sphere.

I tried to fix your lotus image but I saw that there was an issue with pixel sizes so I ended up making my own quick & dirty version of the lotus.

View attachment 29594

Granted, I've probably used more colors than you have but I just wanted to show how the lotus can have depth and look "spherical" through shading and the contrasting colors. I also tried to add some lighting on it's jagged "mouth".
Yep I agree lotus needs some big improvements. Your version is incredibly good, pretty much exactly how I picture it in my head. I do want fewer colours and probably less detail too but I'm for sure going to use your use of contrast and shading as inspiration. Thanks for your time!
 

Jam373

Member
An outline is often a necessary evil for the characters to stand out from the background for the player, this is why backgrounds don’t often use outlines while characters do.

Case in point:
View attachment 29617
Yea I can see how useful that can be. It's just hard as I'm trying not to have it look too cartoony, but I'm also clutching at anything to make the sprites look better with minimal shading, so yea outline might have to happen. What's your opinion on using colours other than black? Have implemented my dark purple outline to save on colours and create some kind of style, but really not sure if it just looks cheap.
 

Zizka

Member
I’ve edited my previous message with more information. As for the outline, I’d have to see! If you think your sprites stand out well enough without outline then you don’t have to use them. Depends on the contrast with the background.
 

Jam373

Member
I’ve edited my previous message with more information. As for the outline, I’d have to see! If you think your sprites stand out well enough without outline then you don’t have to use them. Depends on the contrast with the background.
Fair enough and thanks for the advice!

Just noticed that all this focus on the art has really haulted me from making actual progress on the game, so tbh I think I'm gunna move on from this for now and continue coding. I'll keep reading and thinking about everyone's great feedback though, so when I do return to all this in a few weeks I can hopefully make more improvements.
 

Zizka

Member
I personally don't think tackling all aspects of a game is a viable option. You'd need to have a lot of sometimes unrelated skills or be willing to invest the time to learn said skills. I'm paying a programmer to handle the code as I'd rather invest time learning programming in the art and actually developing the game. I know of one person who ever managed to do that after years and years of commitment: Daisuke Amaya of Cave Story fame. There are others, like Joakim Sandberg for Iconoclasts but honestly those people are often nothing short of geniuses or prodigies.

Reaching a good level in pixel art requires a lot of time and practice. Ask yourself if that's something you are willing to do. You can sometimes purchase assets for very cheap online, some of them are even free.
 

Yal

GMC Memer
GMC Elder
16x16 is basically the smallest "block size" that looks good, the only reason Lemmings and some other games use 8x8 blocks is because of wanting to have a lot of stuff going on when the largest screen size is set in stone (320x240, if I recall correctly) - but this was at the expense of detail. A lot of assets I've seen online are 16x16 in grid size. Characters varies more, but terrain tiles in the 16x16 range can be useful nonetheless... you just use more tiles per block if your characters are much larger.

My tips to make your art style consistent...
  • Don't mix NES and SNES graphical styles. Your jellyfish uses artificial, stark 8-bit color while the lotus uses a desaturated, smoothly shaded 16-bit style. Either use a lot of color with smooth gradients and dithering, or use 3 colors per sprite and get creative with them. Mixing the two styles up will make either stick out like a sore thumb, often both.
  • Don't mix stark and desaturated colors, pick one or the other. (This is part of the NES/SNES divide, but you can have neonpunk 16-bit graphics too). Backgrounds and foreground objects should stick out, so there's some necessary wiggle room here (backgrounds being darker and/or more desaturated) but you shouldn't make objects pure #ff00ff magenta in an old-photograph-sepia-toned level unless you have a really good reason. It might be okay for bullets or important pickups that the player are legally mandated to be aware of, but don't use this level of contrast for things like flower decorations.
  • Pick either using outlines or not. Your jellyfish has a clearly defined outline, your lotus has not. Usually outlines are black, but basically when a 1-pixel thick border around the edges of a shape has a different color from its interior, it counts as an outline. Mixing and matching outline styles in the same image usually looks bad too. You can make "soft" outlines by having shapes outlined in a darker shade of their interior color, this is usually a good compromise for smaller pixel sizes.
  • Pick between flat, gradient or sharp shading. Basically, this is about how many different colors a shape has. Usually things are either fully flat (which gives them a more retro style), or has highlights in a brighter color, and shaded areas in a darker color (which gives them a more realistic style). In gradient shading you try to smooth things out using as many colors as necessary (or dithering patterns) while sharp shading is more cel-shading-like, where you limit yourself to just 3 colors per shape. For small pixel sizes they're mostly the same, but larger pieces can get a lot more distinct if you allow yourself to use more colors instead of pixel-pattern trickery (or just accepting less detailed shapes).
  • Pick between flat-color and warm-cold shading. For flat shading, you just lower brightness for dark colors. For warm-cold, you make lit areas slightly more red, shaded areas slightly more blue. Warm-cold usually looks better, but forces you to think about color balance more.
 

Toque

Member
I personally don't think tackling all aspects of a game is a viable option. You'd need to have a lot of sometimes unrelated skills or be willing to invest the time to learn said skills. I'm paying a programmer to handle the code as I'd rather invest time learning programming in the art and actually developing the game. I know of one person who ever managed to do that after years and years of commitment: Daisuke Amaya of Cave Story fame. There are others, like Joakim Sandberg for Iconoclasts but honestly those people are often nothing short of geniuses or prodigies.

Reaching a good level in pixel art requires a lot of time and practice. Ask yourself if that's something you are willing to do. You can sometimes purchase assets for very cheap online, some of them are even free.
Lots of indies do everything. It depends on your goals / skills / expectations. Its fun. Its good to know a little about art / coding /design. I say go for it. Yes its probably not going to be a Zelda. It amazes me when indies can everything themselves really well. You are correct those people are amazing.
 

Yal

GMC Memer
GMC Elder
The good thing with knowing a little bit about art and music is that you can communicate much better with artists and composers about what you need for your game. Never hurts to have a little bit of practice with those things even if you're not going to do anything other than placeholders yourself.
 
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