Since its inception in the early 70s of the last century, pixel art has remained one of the most popular trends in computer graphics.
It has come a long way from timeless classics to cheap trinkets from the bottom of Steam.
Why did pixel art appear at all? Where did the word pixel come from and what does it mean? Why has pixel art remained popular for almost 50 years and how is it related to 19th century French painters? About everything in order.
Let’s start simple – what is a pixel? Well, of course you know why we are taking you for fools? Not at all, because the word “pixel” has long and firmly entered the modern lexicon, and everyone knows its meaning very well, but where the word itself came from is the subject of separate disputes.
The most common version sounds like this – pixel, this is the correct pronunciation, without softening at the end, this is short for picture element. In turn, the word pictures in English is usually abbreviated to a short pics, which later transformed into the slang pix.
Thus, the phrase pix element appeared, which was then reduced to the already familiar pixel.
And so, Picture element, aka pixel, means the smallest element in raster graphics, the foundation of the basics.
Pixels are like atoms, or building blocks from which something more is assembled. Such a technique for constructing graphics was dictated by the technical limitations of the hardware of those years.
In those days, no one could have thought that someday it would be possible to build the entire scene in games, so it remained painstakingly, like building a house or creating a mosaic, to assemble a picture from small pixel tiles.
However, this technique was invented not by the developers of the past, but by the painters of the past, namely the representatives of French neo-impressionism.
In 1884, the Parisian artist Georges-Pierre Seurat painted the painting “Sunday on the Island of Grande Jatte”, which gave rise to pointillism.
Pointillism, literally translated from French as “dottedness”. Technically, pointillism was based on the technique of applying dotted, separate strokes of a rectangular shape.
At the same time, the artist abandoned the traditional mixing of colors, because the brain itself mixes paints into the right colors when colored dots create a single visual image on the canvas.
The progenitor of pixel art, as well as modern video games in general, is the legendary Pong – arcade table tennis.
The game was released back in 1972 for arcade machines, and 5 years later, in 1977, for Atari 2600 home consoles. And although Atari actually borrowed the idea of Pong from its competitor, the Magnavox console, it was the Atari version that made history.
In an uncomplicated, as it seems now, arcade game, there are only a few graphic elements. Pong can be called the apotheosis of minimalism, and a modern player might think that the game looks like this because of the technical limitations of those years, but this is not entirely true. The Atari 2600 had much more visually rich games, so the minimalism of the console version of Pong is a conscious creative decision.
The beginning of the 80s was marked by the arrival of the legendary Nintendo Entertainment System, aka NES, aka Dandy.
It is NES video games that owe widespread popularization.
Well, we remember the first Nintendo as the console with the most terrible pixel art, because the era of the 80s gave the industry many landmark games that changed history. It was during this period that Pac-Man, Mario, Donkey Kong, Galaga, Mega Man, Metroid, Legend of Zelda and many others appeared.
In 1984, Yale University student Jordan Mechner released Karateka. At first, the game was available only on Apple 2 computers, but then it gained incredible popularity and spread across all major platforms of that era.
Jordan Mechner decided not to stop there, and in 1989 he created the legendary Prince of Persia. In addition to the stylish minimalistic design, the game had an advanced animation system at that time.
In the meantime, in 1987 Nintendo consolidated its success with an updated version of the legendary console called the Super Nintendo, or simply SNES, which successfully existed right up to the end of the 90s, and in Japan support ceased altogether only in 2003.
In general, the 80s, for obvious reasons, became a symbol of pixel art, other graphic technologies simply did not exist. The developers tried to diversify the video sequence, but the notorious pixels were still at the heart of it.