A Brief History Of Graphics

A Brief History Of Graphics


So, we’re not going to state the obvious here but when it comes to games graphics are kind of important, after all without them we wouldn’t be able to see the game. We’re not saying that bad graphics ruin games, because if the gameplay is good enough most people will forgive some dodgy looks here and there. No, what we’re getting at today is that throughout the years graphics have changed in some radical ways and today I am going to take a look at them and see how they have evolved. So come with me, down a road of pixels and polygons.


When video games first became a success there were 2 mains main ways of displaying graphics on a screen, pixels and vector which were like chalk and marker. You see, pixel graphics are displayed by lots of square blocks on screen that would make up a image, these were used in games like Space Invaders and Pac-Man. Vector graphics on the other hand were straight lines that, although had very little colour, were able to create much more difficult pictures, these would have been found in games like Asteroids and Battlezone. Each had their own strengths but when full colour pixels became the norm vector started to struggle to keep up and more and more developers went with pixels as they were much more eye catching in the arcades. Things only got better for pixels with the release of the home consoles, especially with release of Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario. The arcades too helped solidify pixels as the graphics of choice thanks to games like Street Fighter 2 and Smash TV. Vector did try adding colour but the time and processing power needed to do so was not worth the effort or money for developers when compared to the ease of using pixels. Pixels however, were about to have some serious competition around the corner though.


With the dawn of 3D acceleration the polygon became the next big thing thanks to new PC hardware and the release of the Sony PlayStation. No longer were gamers content with pixels and the 2D worlds they created. They began to want more and so as arcades and home consoles became more powerful a new style of graphic was introduced to gaming, the polygon. Games like Tekken and Ridge Racer showed that 3D was the future and that not only could games look good in 3D, they could play just as good as their 2D counterparts. Polygons took the world of gaming by storm as people could now surround themselves in full 3D worlds, they were new and exciting, if a little bit on the blocky side. As consoles and even PC’s grew in power so did the amount of polygons, this meant more detailed games, new worlds to explore and of course a huge leap in graphics. But as realism in graphics began to take hold we began to see the colours brown and grey become the standard as games began to all look very similar. Lucky for us though, some maniac had a crazy idea.

Final Fantasy 7

Cel-shading is what happens when games and comics books have a baby. It gives the player a 3D world to explore but it is filled with bright cartoonish colours and a much less realistic look. Cel-shading started around the time of the Dreamcast with games like Jet Set Radio and continued with games like Cel Damage. At one point Cel-Shading was huge in games, with the style being introduced to racing games, first person shooters and it was even used in a Legend of Zelda game, that’s saying something. Sadly though, too much of something can leave people bored and so as quickly as it was here Cel-shading was soon left behind. I find this is a shame because it was style I myself really enjoyed when it was done properly.


So, into the modern day and we find there has been a resurgence of old school pixels and of course the ongoing polygons but we have also seen a few games that tried using the rarest kind of graphics. Fully hand drawn games are a thing to behold, when brought to life we can have truly gorgeous games such as Skullgirls and Dust. The only real problem with these is that it takes a real long time to make them what with everything being drawn by hand but just look at those results and tell me they are not worth the wait.


So, although graphics might not be everything to say that they are not important is very foolish, graphics have been the building blocks for games for decades and will continue to lead us into new adventures for years to come. The question is, what way will they lead us next and what new styles can we expect to see in the future?

About author


Stewart 'Grave' Gibson is the fighting game loving, Doomguy worshipping, Motorhead listening maniac of DarkSpawn Gaming. When not ripping and tearing Stewart can be found riding the open roads or at the nearest Lucha Libre event.

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