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3D Art Clutter



This isn't related to RPG Maker and I am not sure it is really applicable in the same way to 2D pixel art, but I thought I would talk about it anyway.


The other day I was watching footage of Underworld Ascendant (a project that I am extremely skeptical about regardless of the credentials of it's creators, having a lot of neat ideas, and being a "sequel" to one of my favorite games, but that's besides the point), and I noticed a sort of unfortunate trend in it's presentation. Granted it's a very very early alpha, but I think it's basic art direction is one of the things that will probably stay more or less the same. Besides I have noticed the same trend in other modern 3D games too, especially first person ones, compared to earlier examples of the same type of game. The most notable example is what I have seen of the new doom game compared to the original.


See, the thing about the original Ultima Underworld games, or indeed the original Doom games, is that the levels were very abstract and had juuuuust enough detail that you realized what they were supposed to be even if they didn't exactly look like real places. There were a lot of restrictions on what kind of things 3D games could do. Now though, I feel we have the opposite problem with a lot of modern 3D games, the problem of having way way too much detail to deal with to the point where levels get cluttered with random stuff that just serves to make everything look busy. The continuing trend (despite much outcry) of having games have a more muted color palette dominated by a single tone doesn't help.


See, in an abstract level the bare minimum of detail means game objects stand out, such as items or monsters or even walls. It's very clear where everything is, and with a bit of experimentation what everything is for. Having random cluttered details everywhere doesn't serve the gameplay very well. This is also why the immersion-breaking practice of highlighting interactable objects in bright colors or giving them particle effects is more and more necessary. Because you can no longer reasonably parse the world in a lot of games to figure out what is a meaningful game object and what isn't.


I am not going to be like a lot of other people and say that the root of the problem is that the restrictions like those imposed on early game devs forced them to be more creative and make better games and that's why with the restrictions removed games are so much more generic and boring. Because that's dumb. No seriously, it is. Maybe it is kinda true that restrictions help creativity and tightness in design, but what they mostly do is annoy and frustrate those who have ideas and want to play with them. And no not all ideas are good, but the more different ideas that can be expressed, the better it is for everybody. Some people may work better with limitations sure, but some just want to get things done.


No, I think the root problem is the old "

" (tee-hee) problem. Or to be more specific, too many artists in a pipeline pumping out more and more art assets to build levels. Huge teams, or even overly art focused small teams, can often build environments based only on what looks nice with no regard to how well it plays. The problem is that when you focus so much on catering to the artists whims, you make gameplay elements less important, and you make the game design less focused.


And it wouldn't even be so bad if 99.999% of it were not completely pointless static objects that had no function, or if it did had so many extra details and busy visual design that it would be hard to figure out what that function was. Not to mention how difficult it is to solve the problem of funky hitboxes and getting stuck in terrain that is just there for decoration in the first place. I am not saying extra aesthetic details are automatically bad, but if the whole gamespace is built with them you have a problem.


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Well, maybe, but it seems to me in RPG Maker and most 2D games that due to the way sprites and tiles are used that it's a lot easy to tell eye candy from actual game objects. Foreground objects are slightly brighter, there are more repeated elements that the player can familiarize themselves with, you don't often have to worry about a light engine, you can get a better overview of the whole area, and so on. It's not a thing that you will never have to worry about, but it's a lot easier to deal with in 2D.

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