AuthorTopic: Rendering 2d (pixel) sprites in a 3d world  (Read 20632 times)

Offline elderPixark

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Rendering 2d (pixel) sprites in a 3d world

on: July 24, 2012, 12:50:23 pm
In some older video games, billboarding seemed like a cheap workaround for low poly restrictions. I can't remember any particular title as an example, but I do remember seeing scenery objects like trees and crowds of people projected as billboards, but in most cases, it was obviously an attempt to be realistic, even though the high amount of detail in the images in combination with alpha blending went against the grain of its low poly 3d environment.



Some games, however, were quite successful in substituting 3d models with multi-angle animated sprites, as seen in many FPS games like Quake, DOOM, Duke 3D, Wolfenstein 3D, etc., and in my opinion, those video games had really integrated those graphics well to create a unified 'composition' (if I can call a video game a composition).



However, in neither case (IMO) can we really call the examples "pixel art". But let's not get into a debate about what constitutes pixel art or discuss the methods employed by the artists of those games. In this thread, I'm interested in discussing the ways that contemporary artists EMBRACE restrictions and actually use pixel art in 3D graphics. The first example that comes to mind (for me, anyway) would be Minecraft, which uses low poly models in a voxel environment and pixel textures. Minecraft really doesn't use a lot of billboarding (except for dropped items that aren't blocks) but it renders pixels in some quite interesting ways.



One example of pixel art embracing sprites would be Infiniminer; the playable characters are rendered as animated 2d sprites with a front and back (probably textured quads with alpha blending).





What do you think about this application of pixel art? Do you think that using reminiscent, "8-bit" graphics in spite of modern rendering capabilities is quaint or creative? When does it cross the line? Share your thoughts and post more examples, if you know of any!



« Last Edit: July 24, 2012, 12:53:11 pm by elderPixark »

Offline rikfuzz

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Re: Rendering 2d (pixel) sprites in a 3d world

Reply #1 on: July 24, 2012, 01:15:00 pm
Quake made the jump to 3d models for characters. 

I'd also suggest that any multi-angled sprite games (that weren't pre-rendered) were essentially pixel art.  I think for Doom they actually used photos of physical models for some sprites, but even then there must've been a lot of direct pixel work happening. 

other games of interest:

Prinny - Can I Really Be the Hero?


PSP game, has really nice sprites, but all the geometry is made of models.  Works really well (though there's some interpolation on the sprites).  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHlJ9lFvnyo <- check the video for better example. 

Pokémon Black/White


Same deal, but the trees aren't flat billboards, they're sliced into layers, pretty interesting.

3d Dot Heroes


All 3d, essentially voxel type graphics, but interesting how they extruded the '8-bit' pixel style.

Other notable stuff like Paper Mario where they billboarded stuff that 'should' be 3d on purpose for effect.  Fez is similar. 
« Last Edit: January 16, 2013, 03:46:35 pm by Crow »

Offline Ashbad

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Re: Rendering 2d (pixel) sprites in a 3d world

Reply #2 on: July 24, 2012, 01:22:11 pm
3d Dot Heroes

All 3d, essentially voxel type graphics, but interesting how they extruded the '8-bit' pixel style.
 

Exactly the one I was going to point out.  I definitely loved the way they did 8-bit voxel graphics; I personally don't see it as pixel art.  Most of the enemies, landscapes, etc. can't be flattened out and work -- while the NPCs and characters can be flattened, most components of the game take advantage of voxeling and make more of 3D models with voxels, instead of taking 2D sprites, expanding them out on the Z axis, and only slightly sculpting them.  A notable example, IIRC is the Dragon boss (possibly dungeon 5?)
« Last Edit: January 16, 2013, 03:47:00 pm by Crow »

Offline halffish

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Re: Rendering 2d (pixel) sprites in a 3d world

Reply #3 on: August 15, 2012, 09:55:06 am
I think one of the best examples of this is Mario Kart 64 for N64. A large majority of the sprites/objects/characters which were not the level itself were 2d sprites, including the drivers.

Offline rikfuzz

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Re: Rendering 2d (pixel) sprites in a 3d world

Reply #4 on: August 15, 2012, 11:03:38 am
Well they were pre-rendered, so they're only technically 2d, in that they were stored that way, and probably a little cleaned up. The SNES mode 7 version is probably a better example, since they're actually proper sprites. 

Offline halffish

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Re: Rendering 2d (pixel) sprites in a 3d world

Reply #5 on: August 15, 2012, 11:24:23 am
Yes I guess, but mode 7 is not really 3d. I was just going off that first image in the first post, since those are prerendered as well.
Hm, Breath of Fire 4?

Offline Carnivac

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Re: Rendering 2d (pixel) sprites in a 3d world

Reply #6 on: August 15, 2012, 11:53:37 am
I think one of the best examples of this is Mario Kart 64 for N64. A large majority of the sprites/objects/characters which were not the level itself were 2d sprites, including the drivers.

And boy it looked ugly even at the time of it's release.  Played alright but given all the hype of what the N64 was supposed to be capable of the sprite based characters looked like a bad joke.

I seem to remember Klonoa on PS1 using sprites with 3D backgrounds fairly convincingly.   I'm not really keen on merging 2D and 3D.   Never liked 3D characters on pre-rendered static backgrounds either. 
« Last Edit: August 15, 2012, 11:56:15 am by Carnivac »
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Offline halffish

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Re: Rendering 2d (pixel) sprites in a 3d world

Reply #7 on: August 15, 2012, 06:36:16 pm
Really? At the time of release (96/97) I thought it was decent. Now it looks bad. I felt like we didn't even know it was 2d -- sure we recognized that those snowmen were 2d and that was it back then. But we did question why the characters were slightly blurry for the longest time.

I thought Yoshi's story was kind of a joke (aesthetic for that game was still nice) but that was a log of prerended 3d... or 2+1/2d as they marketed it.

Offline Jigsaw

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Re: Rendering 2d (pixel) sprites in a 3d world

Reply #8 on: August 17, 2012, 02:11:06 pm
The most prominent (and best looking) examples I can think of in modern games are Arc System Works' more recent fighting games, the BlazBlue series and Persona 4 the Ultimate. Both games use all 2D (pixel) art for all the characters and most effects (hitsparks, misc particle effects, etc), but the backgrounds are completely done in 3D. They use a nice mix of polygonal geometry and 2D assets (mostly for characters in the background), but the overall look gels really nicely with the characters and makes for much better depth in the backgrounds than you'd tend to get with pure 2D backgrounds, even with lots of parallax scrolling.

(Other 2D fighters that used the same technique to varying degrees of success include Capcom vs SNK 2, Marvel vs Capcom 2, King of Fighters 94 Re-Bout and The Rumble Fish)

Another example that quickly comes to mind is Strider Hiryu 2. It doesn't look quite as impressive on accounts of running on more primitive hardware, of course, but it still looks nice and I think the use of 3D serves the game well.



Generally speaking, I think 3D can be used to great effect in 2D games, if done tastefully and with some thought behind it. Basically as long as the camera remains at a fairly static angle relative to the sprites I think 3D can add a sense of depth to something you would expect to look kind of flat, whereas 2D elements in a fully 3D environment kind of look flat where you expect three-dimensionality. Regardless of how you do it though, I think a key factor is to make sure that the 2D and 3D elements simply fit together as well as possible so that neither looks out of place compared to the other. I think the Pokemon and Prinny games mentioned earlier pull this off quite well, judging by those screens, whereas... I dunno, Mario Kart 64 perhaps doesn't manage to do it quite as well. Strider Hiryu 2 arguably has a more visible discrepancy between the 2D and 3D elements, but I dunno, personally I think it works quite well anyhow.

I guess it's a matter of taste; I like 2D art, particularly well made pixel art (and it doesn't get much better than Capcom in the late 90's), so in some cases it doesn't bother me if the 2D elements call a certain amount of attention to themselves.

Offline Streaksy

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Re: Rendering 2d (pixel) sprites in a 3d world

Reply #9 on: January 16, 2013, 02:53:09 am
I stopped developing a game about a week ago.  It was only a few weeks old but there's no point continuining since the company that holds the IP is no longer interested.  Anyway, it used 2D sprites in a 3D world to recreate the original retro aesthetic with more freedom and depth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6CH3_jBmCY

I'm not the best pixel artist in the world but it's easy to keep it going when the sprites are 32x32 and have a 7-colour palette.  The original game had red, cyan, black, white, and this has a darker version of each none-black colour.

Thought you might find it interesting.  :D

This is my first post here.  I've had a look around now and then.  Some interesting stuff.  Really impressive.  Seems very tight.

Offline Dr D

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Re: Rendering 2d (pixel) sprites in a 3d world

Reply #10 on: January 16, 2013, 05:32:34 am
That looks seriously cool. Would play.

Offline Streaksy

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Re: Rendering 2d (pixel) sprites in a 3d world

Reply #11 on: January 16, 2013, 06:27:45 am
Thanks man.  :D  Wish it could have been published.  I'm thinking about rebranding it and seeing if I can sell it independantly.

Offline Cage

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Re: Rendering 2d (pixel) sprites in a 3d world

Reply #12 on: January 16, 2013, 10:50:13 am
I'd also suggest that any multi-angled sprite games (that weren't pre-rendered) were essentially pixel art.  I think for Doom they actually used photos of physical models for some sprites, but even then there must've been a lot of direct pixel work happening. 

I agree (And as far as the process goes, this was exactly the case in Doom), and I think that considering them non-pixelart, is something that comes from the modern-idea of pixelart - today's limits are self-imposed, yesterday's limit's were actual hardware limits - if I could suddenly work with 256 colors instead of 16 for example, I'd do so :)

I'm sure the artist did use their tools to their full potential, and pixelart of the days used both the approach we use today and index-painting as it's called.



Quick compat between EGA and VGA (Doom Palette) - personally, I'd like to use most of the colors to make the transitions as fluid as possible and it's just tedious to do it by hand on every pixel (unless it's a specific detail part). Actually, since most of the 2,5d games had the dark-fog effect for atmosphere, and some transparency (using transparency tables) as standard, limiting the color palette would make them ugly, which obviously wasn't desired :P

Here's a sprite from Wolfenstein, drawn from scratch if you ask me.



Either way, you still have the whole character to draw.

I think most games used prerendered sprites or models, eventually with some hand touchups, because it's a bit less of a workload - pixelling a character walking, attack, pain and death frames ( I guess it's at least ~10 unique frames ) in 5/8 directions (depends if the character is symetrical) is quite a bit :) Some of the stuff can be copied and used (for example head and torso) but the rest has to be drawn in from scratch. I've animated a character like this digitally painting and it took a while :)

Bigger color palette also made it more attractive to use prerendered 3d artworks which was quite a hype back then ;) while pixelart wasn't anything special - it was a standard of working with 2d GFX back then.

Creating a 3d game with pixelart graphics, is a tremendous workload. Some examples of such projects, and what limits they've used to lighten the amount of work a bit:

Amiga:

http://hol.abime.net/512/screenshot
Fears Amiga first person shooter - it uses pixelart for it's gfx, and of the cool amiga-style variety :) The characters are one sided though!

http://hol.abime.net/2739/screenshot
Gloom's enemies have more directional sprites I think, but notice they are pretty simple though.

As far as modern stuff goes, there's exactly the same two approaches:

1. Keep it simple stupid ;)

Aforementioned Minecraft, which is really simple in terms of GFX (I'd say it's even primitive, since the pixel tech used for it's GFX is pretty low-level)

Or the idea of totally oldschool, 8-bit console look - for example the MegaMan 8Bit Deathmatch:

Lower res sprites, color limits - you can finish your sprites a lot quicker

2. Establish some kinds of limits - either directions or the amount of frames in animation:
Retroblazer - uses single direction for it's enemies, judging from what I've seen (correct me if I'm wrong!)
(Oh and not everything is pixelart there, IIRC)

« Last Edit: January 17, 2013, 06:06:57 pm by Cage »

Offline Carnivac

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Re: Rendering 2d (pixel) sprites in a 3d world

Reply #13 on: January 16, 2013, 03:31:49 pm
Or the idea of totally oldschool, 8-bit console look - for example the MegaMan 8Bit Deathmatch:

Oh god my eyes...

Some of those games pictured work well (the old Duke Nukem and Doom and such did the mixture effective enough for the time).  Used to have Strider 2 on my PS1.  Wasn't a bad game.  Decent graphics but so many damn gaps in between gameplay to load the next boss or miniboss or whatever.
Minecraft on the other hand ranks as possibly the ugliest game I've seen in recent years.   I just don't get that game at all.
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Offline Facet

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Re: Rendering 2d (pixel) sprites in a 3d world

Reply #14 on: January 16, 2013, 11:34:25 pm
Streaksy: Grin on face throughout video, yes please. Loving the unobtrusive exposition. I have very fond memories of the Micro if not the game itself.

Cage: Great post!

I'd love to see more work with it's roots in that transitionary period of game graphics. For some reason I -really- like 'billboarded' sprites in 3D environments, they seem to me to retain so much of the appeal in the 2D qualities, with that particular kind of immersion that 3D navigation allows. I'm sure there's some interesting things you can do by acknowledging and manipulating the difference of dimension but I can't come up with a good example off the top of my head.

Offline Elk

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Re: Rendering 2d (pixel) sprites in a 3d world

Reply #15 on: January 17, 2013, 12:47:48 am
I think the newest Pokemon X and Y games fit in this thread really well... they really did well with how the pokemons appear...they look pixeled, yet they are modeled, im astonished somehow

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=4bIrWryFc7A
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