A fellow game-dev contacted me for help regarding pixel-art. He asks:
Im thinking about that why does my game graphics seem dirty sometimes? One possible reason maybe that my game has too low resolutions, and at same time, we add too much ‘particles’.
On the surface, it seems like a simple question to answer. All you gotta do is remove those extra particles, and make it look ‘cleaner’…! But what does clean actually mean?
Lets break the fundamentals down to see what can be done!
Every drawing starts out with a sketch, period. But the step afterwards tends to be a silhouette sort of sketch. It’s vital to get this part right because it bridges the messy sketch from the polished sprite!
All you need to focus on is getting the overall shape right. No need to worry about adding colors or shade yet.
Take Cyan’s work as an excellent example: (link to tweet)
2. Smooth Particles
Animating particles can be tricky…
a) If the particle does not follow a logical animation, it’ll look like random dots spawning on the screen.
b) If the particle lingers on for too long, it will look like a house fly.
c) If there are too many particles, the overall animation will become cluttered & messy looking.
Finding the right balance between these variables is key to animating great looking particles. Once you nail down these core variables, you can worry about the more advanced usage of colors, blendmodes, and alpha.
Lets break it down using the example image from Justus:
a) Based on the placement of the particles, I can tell the animation is way off!
The outer particles wander off too far from the slash.
3. Particle Cluster
Single pixel particles should generally be avoided due to their lack of shape expression. The only exception to this rule is when a cluster of particles start to dissipate. You can use single pixel particles for a single frame or two in those instances!
4. Organic Shape
When doing VFX, always remember these two rules:
1. Avoid parallelism
2. Use organic shapes
Organic simply means natural. Think of shapes from nature like the leaves in the trees and the clouds in the sky. Their shapes follow natural patterns that are made up primarily with circular shapes.
So always try to avoid using pointy or randomly protruding shapes. There are expectations but for the most part, avoid them.
5. Smooth Shading
Shading relies on keeping the light source consistent throughout the drawing. Its fine if you dont use many colors to refine the shade- just ensure the shade ‘silhouette’ is on point with the light source.
This image does not follow a consistent light source. The shading is jagged near the center and it protudes randomly near the edges. Fix this by simply aligning it to the shape of the main sprite (make sure you get the silhouette shape correct before shading)
6. Character pose & follow through
Id spread out the arms more and make the hair float in the air to make the pose look more dynamic.
Other than that, the silhouette looks ok- you can tell where the head, arms, legs and hair are.