Video Game Visual Style Development: What It is and How It’s done

Creating an immersive game experience goes beyond compelling storytelling and fluid mechanics; the visual style can make or break a game's success. The issue: many developers find it challenging to unify the game's visual elements in a way that is both appealing and aligned with the gameplay experience. A disjointed visual style can distract players and degrade the game's overall quality. Here's how our Video Game Visual Style Development service solves this problem: we perform an in-depth analysis of your game's core mechanics, themes, and target audience. Then, we conceptualize and implement a visual style that amplifies your game's core experience while resonating with players. This strategic alignment ensures that every visual element serves a purpose and enhances player engagement, setting your game apart in a saturated market.

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Game visual style explanation

According to publishers, game visual style is the most important thing for players. Between two games of the same genre players will chose one with the best visual style. If you don’t believe it — compare Dota 2 and League of Legends. Dota is more realistic, LoL is cartoonish. Also, Blizzard made Heroes of the Storm — MOBA with unique characters and mechanics, but with generic visuals. And it failed.

legaue of legends and dota 2 visual style

If you want to make a successful game — you need to develop superb and outstanding visual style to be different from competitors. To achieve this you have to research the game market: what games are popular in the chosen genre, what style was used in failed games and what was never used in games of that kind.

You may suggest outsourcing the game visual style development to Kreonit studio. We’ll do the research and create the most suitable art style for your game. If you want to learn more about game visuals’ development — read below.

What is a visual style

Game visual style defines the shape and colors of objects we have in real life.

There are 3 common game visual styles and one unique — abstract art. Let’s explain it first.

Abstract style is good for casual games, puzzle, board games and other kinds of game with no actual main character. flOw, connect the pipes genre, geometry games and other projects where the main character is a jumping ball or flying triangle are abstract. Their art style depends on colors they use.

abstract game visual style

Quick tip to abstract style: there is no chair in the game.

Next 3 styles are cell-shading, exaggerated style and realism.

Cell-shading style uses rough contours, sharp shadows, fewer gradients and thick outline for every object. Cell shading style is good for multiplayer games of any genre because it makes easier for the developer to highlight important objects: other players, items, objectives, etc. Also, cell-shading allows artists to play with proportions and colors, because the final image will still be cartoonish or comics-like. So why don’t use it to create non-scary monsters, enormous swords and pointy hairstyles?

cell shading game visual style

Quick tip to cell-shading: a chair in the game looks like it was drawn with sharpies.

Exaggerated visual style is what we may call “Like in 3D cartoons”. There is advanced lightning with soft shadows and gradients, but the object’s proportions are still strange. In this case the artist may express whatever he wants: talking animals, bubbly cars and dancing jewels. Cartoonish game visual style is good for single player games with no complex story.

exaggerated game visual style cartoonish

Quick tip to exaggerated style: a chair in the game has odd shape.

Realistic style is mostly used to tell stories, to scare the player or to make him associate himself with main character. It works the best with sport games, shooters, open worlds and other games with humans as main characters and human activities as main mechanics. Yep, it sounds like we are reptiloids from Alpha Centauri.

realistic game visual style

Quick tip to realism: you saw a chair from the game in IKEA.

How game visual style depends on game genre

There are two rules of video game art style: abstract style suits casual games, cell-shading, cartoonish and realistic styles are good with other genres. So, if you want to develop a more complex visuals than Beat Saber has, you need to carefully choose style.

Usually, the more realistic art style is, the more realistic gameplay the players expect. For example, Counter Strike, Rainbow Six: Siege and Insurgency: Sandstorm are rather photorealistic. The gamers expect low time-to-kill, deadly headshots and no 15 feet jumps — and these games have it.

counter strike realistic art

Also, the players expect the game with cartoonish graphics to have easier gameplay and be appropriate for children. For example, Mario, Crash Bandicoot and The Legend of Zelda games are childish. So are popular mobile games like Pokémon GO, Candy Crush and Minecraft Mobile.

There is correlation: the harder the gameplay is in terms of game mechanics depth and complexity, the more realistic the style should be.

Also, cartoonish violence and horrors simply don’t work. In the popular horror game Five Nights at Freddy’s gameplay is simple, monsters are literally living animatronics, but the game itself is trying to look realistic.

What kind of video game art style do you need to choose

Apart from genre, video game art style choice must be based on story, gameplay mechanics, tempo and what feelings the players should have.

Realistic games are trying to simulate our reality and our world is rather slow. For example, most of the popular racing games use realistic art style because players buy these games to drive the real cars and not some imaginable vehicles. The same goes with first-person shooters, sport games and other simulators.

The next thing is a story. If the story is serious, epic or sad — you better use realistic style or cell-shading. The players won’t be in sad mood if the game looks like a cartoon for 9-years old.

In the end, if the gameplay is what matters the most in your game, you should definitely use exaggerated, cartoonish or cell-shaded style. Why not realistic style? Because realism requires to copy the way the real world works. For example, enemies’ weak-points doesn’t glow red because it won’t look real. The only example we can name is the Portal series, but it looks realistic only because of the Source Engine.

Exaggerated game art style lets you to highlight every gameplay-important element with shape, color or visual effects without ruining the visual style. It is one of the reasons why Mario games have so many gameplay options — because style does not limit the game designer’s creativity.

Small conclusions:

  • pure gameplay, no story told in cutscenes, little to no dialogues — abstract;
  • gameplay and story (lore) are balanced — cell-shading or cartoonishly-exaggerated;
  • sad or scary story — realistic style.

Of course, rules are mean to break. There’s a game called Little Misfortune — a sad story executed in bright vibrant colors like a modern fairy tale book for children. It breaks the rules, and makes the player feel bad because of the contrast between happy image and terrifying story.

little misfortune art style

Also, there is World of Tanks — tank arcade game with realistic visual style. Unlike War Thunder with a complex destruction system, World of Tanks uses health bars and bonuses just like a typical arcade. But it’s still quite popular.

How we develop art style for client’s games

Game art style outsourcing isn’t an easy task: the game designer doesn’t always have complete vision of the future game, thus we must create visual style from scratch. 

First thing to do is to study the game’s documentation: genre, story, game mechanics, intractable objects, characters and level description. We need to know what art we are going to draw.

Second step is to research the game market. We may find out that cell-shading isn’t good for strategy games like Total War or StarCraft. Or that nobody gonna play a 3 in a row game with realistic visuals. Not because the style is bad itself, but because it doesn’t serve the gameplay purpose.

There’s a guy on YouTube who made a No Internet T-Rex game in Unreal Engine 4 with RTX and realistic graphics. Did this version feels better? No, because you can’t clearly see cactus and pterodactyls anymore. Also, it is harder to calculate jumps and actually play.

trex game unreal engine

So researching and making a decision about art style is a very responsible task: we must create a video game visual style that wasn’t used before in this genre, but still suitable for a game of a kind.

The third step is actual drawing. Our artists create character and locations concept art and try to develop a unique art style. But what “Unique game art style” means? Basically, it explains the character’s proportions, color palette and level of detalization.

Let’s explain these with three games: Borderlands, Team Fortress 2 and Valorant. They are FPS with cell shading art style, but every game utilizes it differently. Borderlands use unnatural exaggerated proportions, high detalization and thick outlines, TF2 has even more exaggerated characters, but almost no detalization and vivid colors, while Valorant uses vibrant colors, and also cell shading for characters and visual effects. As a result, those games look different, and you can distinguish them by their looks — but technically they are done in the same art style.

So finding a unique visual style requires us to produce one good concept of anything what will be in a game: location, character, object, weapon or even a font. When we knew that this is The Concept We Are Looking For, we’ll extrapolate its art style on other game elements.

The fourth step is to find a color palette. Even games with photorealistic graphics have unique color palettes to look unique in the player’s eyes. For example, Battlefield series uses muted palette for environment and bright red fire for a contrast. It looks cool and also allows the player to always spot the firefights and not to mix up environment with HUD.

battlefield 1 game art style

Color palette relies on the game’s mood, gameplay and genre. Casual games should have vivid colors, adult games — more muted colors. But there must be a few special colors — a signature combination that will make your game stand out the competitors. In the Battlefield these color are gray and red, in Call of Duty Modern Warfare — bright green. In Darkest Dungeon there are black and red, and in Candy Crush — a few shades of pink.

And the final step of game art style development is writing a style guide. This document includes all work on art style: proportions, texturing rules, colors, drawing style and so on. With a help of a style guide any artist can draw sprites or sculpt 3D models for your game that should suit the main style. It’s very useful if you are planing to update the game with new content.

Conclusion about game visual style

Video game art style is difficult topic. It’s easy to spot differences between different franchises art style, but it’s difficult to explain them on paper. Still, there are many examples where gamers prefer one game before another because of barely noticeable distinction in colors, shapes or texturing method.

Most game artists rely only on their art taste while creating a video game art style. It may lead to generic visuals and color palette which won’t interest the players from their first glances. We are not like this — we rely on statistics too.

game visual style development example

Video game market research for art style development is much safer practice. Of course, you won’t invent a new style this way, but surely will earn money because most players will think: “This game looks good!”.

But if you want us to create something with unique visuals like Darkest Dungeon or Minecraft — fill the brief, and we’ll help you.

Kreonit game outsource studio is filled with skilled artists, developers and writers. We develop games in Unreal Engine and Unity3D, make assets, write code and story, create and balance game mechanics. If you want to know more — read other articles or see our portfolio.

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