Big chunky pixels that look like they jumped out of the 1980s are becoming more and more common and there is a good reason for it. The downside to pixel art, if you don’t like the aesthetic, you are greatly limiting the appeal of your game.
Pixel Art Example:
Realm of the Mad God
Pixel Art Tools
At the end of the day, any image manipulation tool that supports a “fat grid” can be used. A fat grid is a zoomed in view that shows each individual pixel extremely scaled up, as well as a view of the image at it’s regular size. This means your traditional raster graphic packages such as Photoshop, The GIMP and Paint.NET can all be used. Of course, a great many people just use Paint that comes with Windows!
Additionally a number of Pixel Art focused tools have been developed over the years as well.
Pyxel Edit — in beta, written in Air
aseprite — Allegro Sprite Editor. In pixel art style itself
Pixelmator — MacOS only raster graphics application. A vastly cheaper alternative to Photoshop with pixel friendly tools
Grafx2 — a free pixel art oriented graphic application inspired by Deluxe Paint. Open source too if that’s your thing
GraphicsGale — available as shareware, another pixel art focused application
ProMotion — another pixel oriented editor, this one is commercial and has been used to create several commercial games. Not sure about it’s development status.
PD Pro — commercial software. A Photoshop alternative that is vastly cheaper than photoshop
UltimatePaint — another Deluxe Paint derived painting app
Pixen — another Mac only pixel editing app. Beta is available free, otherwise its $15.
Frankly at the end of the day, any pixel based image editing tool will do. Some of the above programs do make more complicated tasks like animating or lighting a great deal easier than just using Paint, so looking into a dedicated app is certainly worthwhile.
PixelJoint — The sites all about pixel art and hosts a series of tutorials.
FinalBossBlues — Another series of pixel art tutorials
Voxels are the pixel art of the 3D world. Voxel is an amalgamation of the worlds VOLUME + Pixel. So, basically they are a pixel with depth, which in every day parlance is what we call a cube. Voxel worlds are made up of thousands and thousands of cubes… like a gigantic lego set.
Comanche Maximum Overkill ( 1992! )
There are a number of tools available for editing voxels, some free, some not so free.
Voxel — create Voxels on your iPad or iPhone. Export in OBJ/MTL format or in Minecraft’s .binvox format. Free
Sproxel — free voxel editor. Seems to have been abandoned in 2012. Last version was Windows only, prior version available for MacOS. Free
Q-Block — free, online, simple Voxel editor
Paint3D — $20. Windows application for editing voxels.
Zoxel — I think its free. Available for Linux and Windows, can export in OBJ.
Voxelogic Acropora — Much higher end product than the above, for creating ultra high resolution landscapes. Commercial, $90, with demo available
Cubicle Constructor — Probably the most polished looking app of the above. Prices range from free to $80.
Vector graphics are increasingly common, as you can support multiple resolutions using a single art asset. Since files are stored as a series of vectors, the image stays sharp regardless to how large or small it is scaled. This can be a huge boon when supporting multiple resolutions especially with mobile devices. In many ways, constructing an image using vector graphics is similar to working with construction paper. You essentially layer shapes on top of other shapes to make more complex objects. Working with vector graphics is a great deal more difficult than pixel art, but isn’t outrageously difficult.
Vector Graphics Example:
Vector Graphic Tools
There are less vector graphic applications and some clear favourites when it comes to game creation.
Adobe Illustrator — This is the Photoshop of vector graphics. It’s also got a LOT of stuff in their that you don’t need, as the package was originally made for doing page layout in the print world. Still probably the most used professional tool. Expensive! Only available by subscription now.
Adobe Flash — Increasingly Flash is becoming more and more about game creation. Flash Professional can be used to create and animate vector graphics, and commonly is! Also expensive. Only available by subscription now.
Inkscape — FREE! Great free vector graphic package. Very commonly used by those on a budget.
Corel Draw — another commercial vector graphic package. Targeted at the same market as Illustrator. Also expensive ( $500 )
iDraw — Mac/iPad only, quite cheap ( 10$ iPad, 30$ Mac ). I personally use this program. More intuitive than Inkscape, simpler than Flash/Illustrator. No timeline for animation though.
There are a couple 2D animation systems available as well. You can draw your character once, cut them into pieces and let the software handle the animations. Note that these tools work with regular bitmap graphics, not just vectors
2D IK animation tools
Spine — 2D skeletal animation
Spriter — another 2D animation tool
Vector Graphic Tutorials
Gamasutra tutorial — Same guy as above, great series.
Inkscape Tutorials — A series of, you guessed it! Inkscape tutorials. Not necessarily game related, but techniques still apply
If you are interested in pursuing 3D, you can find a list of the most commonly used 3D applications right here. Many of these applications have a price tag in the $5000 range. However there is the freely available Blender package which is an incredibly capable 3D program for modelling, animating and texturing. On the other hand, it isn’t an easy application to get started with. This means the, Blender for Programmers would be good to look through. This is even better. If you are interested in 3D, it is a good place to start.
3D for the less talented!
There are plenty of tools available with a much lower learning curve if you want to work in 3D. This section mentions a few of them.
Poser — Use existing character models. Dress them up, animate and render or exports. You can easily create animated characters using this application, and can buy a number of pre made assets if the existing content isn’t enough for you. Poser costs between $200 and $400, although it is quite commonly on sale.
Daz Studio Pro — This program is a lot like Poser. However it is free but comes with a lot less assets. I did a tutorial on creating a sprite sheet with Daz and The GIMP if you want an idea what it is like. That said, although Daz is free, they will spam you A LOT. Some get two or three emails a week from them and it’s not trivial getting yourself removed from the mailing list!
Make Human — Create fully boned photorealistic humans with ease. Oh, and it’s free! Used to be a Blender plugin, but now it’s free.
Bryce — Create stunning landscapes with basically zero effort or talent. It’s rather amazing the results you can get from this guy!
Sketchup — Previously a google application for making 3D models for use in Google Earth. There is a gigantic repository of models available for free. If you need to create levels or cityscapes, this is a GREAT place to start. There was a recent article on Gamasutra on exactly this. Be careful with licensing issues though!
These applications are like working with 3D clay. Even with little skill, you can make some remarkably awesome results.
Sculptris — Free! Baby brother of ZBrush. Try it out, it’s free.
ZBrush — THE 3D sculpting application. $700.
3D Coat — In between Sculptris and ZBrush. $350. Often on sale on Steam, keep an eye.
Mudbox — Autodesk’s sculpting application. Most expensive in the list, $800.
Of course, you always have the option of creating a game that uses strictly programmatic art. This is, art that is generated by an algorithm instead of an artist.
Programmatic Art Example
Basically if you go this route, your art is in mathematic form. On the one hand generating your game art algorithmically has the advantage of minimizing the need for artists. On the other hand, it requires a completely different set of skills, especially when it comes to writing shaders! Fortunately there are a few tools out there that help you create shaders visually.
Use existing assets
There are a HUGE number of assets available that you can buy or simply download online. You should be able to source a ton of your assets this way. The maxim You Get Way You Pay For isn’t always true, but it often is! On the other hand, simply because you paid for something doesn’t make it good! Working from many of these assets is tricky because they may not be suitable for games, may not be legally licensable, etc.
OpenGameArt — a huge repository of game focused 2D and 3D art assets.
Blend Swap — 8000+ freely available Blender Blend files.
Blender-Models — Another Blender model resource
Mixamo — 3d character model and animation on a pay per use basis. Much like Bryce and Daz but online. Upload your own model for animating, or buy one of theirs.
Content Paradise — (paid) content for Poser.
Daz3D models — (paid) content for Daz3D
Unity Asset Store — if you use the Unity 3D package, there is a huge asset store of ready to drop in assets and scripts
Turbo Squid — the biggest 3D object store. Huge variety of content, quality and prices.
CGTrader — buy and sell 3D assets.
GameTextures — high quality game ready texture maps for sale.
Reiner’s Tilesets (Collection of isometric Tilesets)
Tiles Library (Collection of Tilesets)
Pixel Art Icons for RPG (420 Icons)
Game Icons (+1300 Game Icons)
Flexible Game Prototyping Graphics (LostGarden)
CG Textures (Texture Library)
Mayang’s Free Textures (Texture Library)
FroGames Proto Packs (3D Prototype Packs)
3docean (Marketplace for 3D models)
There are a number of other asset stores available, this is just a small selection of the more common resources.
Selection Of Free Icon Sets
- +1000 Game Icons
- +3800 Free 16px icons (Yusuke Kamiyamane)
- +1000 Free 16px icons (famfamfam)
- +200 Free 32px icons (Mihaiciuc Bogdan)
- Pixel Art Icons For RPG (DeviantART)
- 25 Free Minimalist Vector Symbols And Icons (MediaLoot)
- Huge Database Of Pictogram Icons (The Noun Project)
- The Best E-Commerce Icons All In One Place (Web Design Ledger)
- Most Complete Credit Card Icon Set (Icon Shock)
- Payment Method Icons Set (Pixeden)
- Mini Credit Card Icon Pack (Graphicpeel)
- Somicro: 40 Free Simple Social Media Icons (Veodesign)
- Social Media Buttons (Media Loot)
- Social Media Icons (Media Loot)
- Tips on making game art by ValentinoZ
- Freelancing as an artist FAQ
- A programmer’s guide to creating art for your game
- The Total Beginner’s Guide to Better 2D Game Art
- Designing Game Assets – A Tutorial for the More Technically Inclined by Khela Interactive
- The big list of Pixel Art tutorials a section of pixel art tutorials glazed with inspiration, community and masters!
- Pixel Art Tutorials For Pixel Lovers
- Pixel Art General
- 2D will never die
- HD INDEX PAINTING IN PHOTOSHOP
- The cool rules of spriting