Falling popularity of pixel art

Began to lose popularity in 1994 with the release of the fifth generation of consoles, which supported fully three-dimensional graphics. Despite the general unsightliness of the first 3d games, the technology itself was very impressive.

Two-dimensional, so-called sprite graphics continued to be ubiquitous in the 90s, but we will not classify it as classic pixel art, because at that time sprites were more of a necessity than a creative solution.

For example, the creators of the original DOOM created fully 3D levels, which became the basis of level design, but the enemies and weapons were sprite-based, pixelated.

In this case, it is appropriate to cite Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter as an example – the first was only formally pixelated, because backdrops on locations and some effects were decorated with pixel art, while the characters were transferred using photography.

Whereas Street Fighter used classic pixel art until 1997.

Also, do not forget that the 90s are Sonic, and Metal Slug, and the continuation of Final Fantasy, and the same Street Fighter, and Lucasarts adventures which are generally outstanding examples of art direction, just look how The Secret of Monkey Island looks like, Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle.

However, it was obvious that the era of pixel art was coming to an end, giving way to new dimensions.


3D graphics changed the fundamentals of gameplay and the transition to 3D is still the biggest event in the history of the industry. Over time, 3D games have simply replaced pixel art as the main technique for technical and visual performance.

From the mid-90s to the early 2010s, for more than 15 years, pixel art was practically forgotten. Until the end of the 90s, numerous continuations of well-known series continued to be released, but there was no need to talk about something fundamentally new …


The transition to 3D, among other things, led to commercial success as well. People were willing to pay for innovative technology, investors turned their attention to the video game market, and money poured into the industry.

It was for this reason that the legendary pipeline began to emerge at the beginning of the 2000s, the production of AAA games was put on stream, and everyone decided that the time for small and modest creations was over, but it wasn’t there.

In 2005, Microsoft introduces Xbox Live Arcade. The launch of the new platform marks the emergence of the industry of small games from independent developers. Now indie games occupy a huge part of the market, but then everything was just beginning.

Microsoft wanted to impress the players, so among simple entertainment like Dash of Destruction and The Maw, Arcade had serious games from serious guys like Shadow Complex.

Where is the traditional indie pixel art here, you ask? So here it is, in the many HD versions of the old games that flooded the Arcade. At various times, Gauntlet, Streets of Rage, DOOM, Castlevania and many others were released on the service, but the developers were in no hurry to use pixel graphics in new games.

The situation changed only in 2011, when the independent developer Edmund McMillen, who had previously created flash games, released the pixelated Binding of Isaac.

Binding of Isaac was not the first pixel game after years of stagnation in the genre, but most likely turned out to be the most important not only for pixel art, but for the indie market as a whole. The incredible success of the game inspired many independent creators to create new games.

Indie developers had very modest budgets and could not afford a graphon of the level of older brothers. Largely due to the lack of money, pixel art has become the most common visual style in independent games. For cool art direction, one talented artist was enough, and not a whole team of animators and visualizers, as required by AAA projects.

Inspired by the success of McMillen, the developers began to create masterpieces. The beginning of 2010 gave us Hotline Miami, Papers Please, and Terraria, the middle of 2010 pleased us with Faster than Light, Hyper Light Drifter and Undertale, and then the flywheel spun so that we, perhaps, will finish listing specific games.

All of them are beautiful in their own way, and importantly, they use the visual foundations of pixel art in very different ways.