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Choosing a visual style for a game

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by TheAlmightyPixel, Jan 6, 2015.

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What things should be taken into consideration, when choosing a visual style for a game?

  1. Genre

    35.3%
  2. Atmosphere

    74.5%
  3. Personal preference

    41.2%
  4. Creator's skills

    48.0%
Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. TheAlmightyPixel

    TheAlmightyPixel

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    Alright. So, after spending two days thinking about the visual style I'm going to use in my game, I decided to ask for advice. Now, how should one approach the process of choosing a visual style for their game? At first I was going to make my game have a hand-painted style, with really low poly models. I ended up disliking the style. Then, I thought about going for a photorealistic style. I absolutely love eyecandy in games, so it would be fun to go for photorealism, BUT, the only problem I have with photorealism is that I'm not too good at creating photorealistic textures. The 3D models aren't a problem. Also, 2D isn't an option, as I'm making a 3D game. Also, the fantasy/imaginary style doesn't fit my game too well either. So, if anyone could give some advice on picking the correct visual style for a game, it'd be appreciated.
     
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  2. Teila

    Teila

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    Unless you are willing to spend a lot of money on assets and have the skills to make them all fit together, then I suggest you stick with your skill level. If you can't do photo-realistic textures, then either buy them or pay someone to make them. But remember, you will need to keep all of your models realistic, including trees, grasses and buildings. I am trying to that, and trust me, it is difficult. :) Thank goodness for the asset store and my own growing skill with tools like Maya. It has taken me many many months to get where I feel good about my choice and even then, there are moments when I wish I was making a cartoony game.
     
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  3. GarBenjamin

    GarBenjamin

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    I suffer from the same issue regarding artistic ability. My games look much better lately because 1) I have been using free and paid assets from the Asset Store and other sites and 2) I hired two artists that I contract out work to.

    You can make a sharp looking game by doing the same. If possible try to reduce the graphics assets you need by simply recoloring them or eliminating stuff that is just fluff. That way you can focus on getting high quality art but less of it.
     
  4. TheAlmightyPixel

    TheAlmightyPixel

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    Thanks a lot for your answer :). I have actually been thinking about hiring someone to make the textures for me, or buying them somewhere, but I think it would be more 'sensible' (and cheaper) for me to actually learn how to make them, as I know a bit about the process already. And I agree 100% with what you said about foliage and buildings. Trees and bushes, in my opinion atleast, are very difficult to texture. The challenge with texturing buildings is to add enough detail everywhere, but not too much. (I always go over the top with detail). Also, the asset store is in fact an awesome utility for game creators, but for some reason I've never felt like using someone else's assets in my game. Especially if they're free. I don't know why that is, I just feel like I'm exploiting other people's work. Anyway, I might look into photorealism a bit more. Thanks again :)
     
  5. TheAlmightyPixel

    TheAlmightyPixel

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    Thanks for the reply. So, if I understood correctly, I should make different variations of art assets to reuse in different occasions? Also, I think I really should start using the Asset Store more. Being able to get your hands on complete assets to use in game or as a base for your own asset, is quite useful.
     
  6. Teila

    Teila

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    I have bought assets just to change them. :) You can change the texture and in some cases, the packs are modular which gives you a lot of variety. Be careful though...you get what you pay for. Read the reviews, check to make sure the reviewers are legit (look at what else they have reviews, are they active on the forums, do they give 5 stars to everyone). I still get burned when I really need something and I read reviews. They really need to fix those.
     
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  7. Gigiwoo

    Gigiwoo

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    What can you create most easily? That's the style that will enable you to finish the game. Until it's finished, no one will see it, which makes the visual style irrelevant.

    Gigi
     
  8. DanSuperGP

    DanSuperGP

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    I've had the good luck of working with some really talented artists who are great at creating distinctive visual styles. One technique they use a lot is using lots and lots of visual reference to help refine the feel and inspiration of the style as they create it.

    One of the first steps they would use is to create a mood board, basically going online with google image search / pinterest and finding a lot of images from games, movies, painting, book covers, photography, etc that capture the feeling that they are looking for, and printing them out, cutting them up and posting them on a big sheet of foam core in their work area.

    From there they they do a lot of sketching, and flesh those things out into bits of concept art. This is super helpful because the art drives the design, and the design drives the art. There's a lot of back and forth where gameplay ideas will get inspired by things the artists do, or the artists will get inspired by something that comes up in a design session and find a way to visualize it amazingly.

    Visual style was an important part of pre-production, but so was programmer art. Use whatever it takes to get it working, add the art in when it's been refined enough to work.
     
  9. imaginaryhuman

    imaginaryhuman

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    It seems also that many games use a reduced/limited palette, perhaps with vector graphics, which still looks pretty good but doesn't have a lot of tiny details that can be time consuming.
     
  10. Gigiwoo

    Gigiwoo

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    Adding to @DanSuperGP's excellent post, another trick is to generate "Three Looks" - create three separate designs and discuss them. With three, you aren't attached to anyone in particular, and it creates more opportunities to explore options. If one of them is not clearly better, then you start over with 3 more.

    Gigi
     
  11. TheAlmightyPixel

    TheAlmightyPixel

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    My strong point is most likely the hand painted/cartoony style, but the only problem is, I don't really feel like it fits my game too well. And as I'm trying to create a tense atmosphere, I just feel like hand painted textures/art wouldn't really do the trick.

    @DanSuperGP Thanks a lot for this! To be honest, using reference is something I've done very rarely. I think it's about time I started using them all the time.
     
  12. DanSuperGP

    DanSuperGP

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    Yeah, we ALWAYS did this. My boss insisted on the rule of threes all the time.
     
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  13. TheAlmightyPixel

    TheAlmightyPixel

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    Interesting idea, I will definitely keep this in mind. Comparing different styles has only come to my mind as comparing the looks of those styles, or how they could look. What I think I should also compare are the effects they have on the overall atmosphere.
     
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  14. BrandyStarbrite

    BrandyStarbrite

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    It depends on how you visually "like," seeing the game in your mind.
    And how you want it to look.

    And which style you like the most.
    The visual style you see in your mind, and like for your game, is the one you should aim for.
    Period! :D

    PS: Even if it takes you an entire year to recreate that visual style.
    I say,................................Go for it! :D
     
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  15. TheAlmightyPixel

    TheAlmightyPixel

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    I did in fact think which style would suite my game the best at first, and photorealism/sci-fi is what I ended up with. I guess I'll just try to learn the trickery of photorealism :)
     
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  16. Gigiwoo

    Gigiwoo

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    Heard of Confirmation Bias? This thread reads like a script from a textbook. o_O
    Gigi
     
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  17. TheAlmightyPixel

    TheAlmightyPixel

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    Never heard that term before. You learn something new everyday.
    Also, I'd like to thank everyone who's replied/given advice, I appreciate it! :)
     
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  18. puppeteer

    puppeteer

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    In a perfect world everyone would be able to create his game in the exact way he envisioned it. But in truth we are limited by budget/time/skills, and so we must do with what we have.

    This can actually sometimes result in some really nice presentations for games that would otherwise look bland, for example take a look at how some Flash games used black/white solid colored graphics in a very artistic way, making a weakness into an advantage. Later we saw the success of games like Limbo that basically did exactly that ( Make use of limited graphical gamut in an artistic way ).

    So basically, you must use what you have in a creative way to make it seem like a feature rather than limitation.
     
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  19. Aiursrage2k

    Aiursrage2k

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    What type of game is it? If everyone is going a different way your game might stand out by going the other way
     
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  20. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    What style of art can you consistently create and obtain? If you have photorealistic mountains, cel-shaded trees, low-poly mobile characters, the odd sprite thrown in here and there, the game will look amateurish anyways. It's much better for everything to be cel-shaded, or low-poly mobile, or whatever.
     
  21. theANMATOR2b

    theANMATOR2b

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    Thought I'd add a little to the discussion too. I actually went through this thought process several months ago.

    I'm a 3D animator, I've been prototyping several game concepts and functional elements in my spare time for about a year now and I've chosen to push forward with a 2D concept that I think is doable for my novice game design skills.

    Initially I considered creating the game as 2.5 or 3D because I've worked in 3D for almost 15 years now but considered how much more time investment that would add and what would it add to the game that couldn't be presented with a 2D approach.
    Besides making the game look nicer which is subjective I couldn't find reason to perform 3D work on a game concept that could be delivered as a 2D experience.

    With all that said I'm still utilizing my 3D knowledge and processes to create 2D characters.

    Ultimately I agree with @puppeteer and everybody else - create what you can/want using the skills you have within the budget and time frame you layout for yourself.

    Cool discussion!
     
  22. This_Game_Lags

    This_Game_Lags

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    The poll seemed redundant.

    Visual Style is based solely on expression. Choosing one? Create one.
     
  23. zombiegorilla

    zombiegorilla

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    Certainly all your options in the poll should go into the decision. But it is also very important to make sure that your visuals serve both the narrative and UX. For example photorealism in a visually complex game could make it challenging to raise a call to action (like a big spinning coin or whatever), as it would break the visual consistency. Stuff like that.

    Try finding a concept artist to work with, and explore different directions. You may quickly rule out some directions right of the bat because the simply wont work, or don't serve the gameplay in a positive way.
     
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  24. TheAlmightyPixel

    TheAlmightyPixel

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    Alright, I somehow managed to completely forget about the existence of this thread (it seems I've been automatically unsubscribed to this thread :confused:). Thanks for the replies everyone!
    Many people suggested on using a style that the creator would be confident with. This, in my opinion, wouldn't always be the case, since the style someone knows how to do best, might not fit the game they're making. As I'm making a stealth game, I think if I used a cartoonic/hand-painted style for my game, it could break the immersion of the game, but of course it depends on the way I used the style (colors, saturation, etc.).

    Also, one thing I'd like to point out - I'm a student, with 3 years of studying to go through. So time isn't really an issue for me, I can easily spend multiple days on a single asset/part of a game, as I don't have a deadline of any kind :)
     
  25. Gigiwoo

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    Where have I heard this before? Oh yes, it's the cliche last-defense of the 1000s who are: attempting something too big; ignoring the advice of experts; and on a path toward eventual burn out, with naught more than a handful of failed dreams. :(

    Gigi
     
  26. TheAlmightyPixel

    TheAlmightyPixel

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    I wouldn't necessarily say I'm attempting something too big. The scope of my game is really quite small, and I've already made about 1/3 of the game's mechanics. And I'd like to know just how am I ignoring the advice of experts? o_O Also, a burn out is very unlikely. As I said, I don't have a deadline, so I don't have to rush. I can take my time on pretty much everything.
     
  27. theANMATOR2b

    theANMATOR2b

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    I believe - for me anyway - it's important to set personal deadlines and stick to them - which is hard for me :)
    This is a driver behind getting things done for me as an artist - because it can always be better!
    Secondly this provides a set schedule and an end point (delivery) and it also reduces feature creep because if you add in stuff that wasn't planned - after you've established what the game is going to be - you will soon fall behind and unless you cut other features or points of interest - that time can not be recaptured.
    Just some thought candy to keep in mind when developing.
    Now I'm off to follow my own advice!
    Keep at it.
     
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  28. Gigiwoo

    Gigiwoo

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    ... Numerous responses saying PHOTOREALISM IS HARD.

    I thought maybe I was jumping to conclusions, so I re-read the thread. One or two folks said, "Do the hard thing - no matter how long it takes", a few were ambivalent, and the rest advised something like, "Use what you got. Photo realism is hard." Add that to the 100s of other thread/posts about biting off too much, and then throw in the final defense, "time isn't really an issue" that is mostly naivete disguised in bravado.

    I look forward to the day when I can apologize, admit my error, and congratulate you on your success.

    Gigi
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2015
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  29. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    True story - that's (part of) what killed the sidescrolling version of Sara the Shieldmage. That and the concept didn't fit the genre.

    When I was challenged about a month ago to stop spamming tech demos and actually create something playable, that was what knocked me out of my slump with the game. Don't spend days making a single asset, that's just dumb. Make a game first, get feedback on the game, and schedule plenty of time to polish.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2015
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  30. DanSuperGP

    DanSuperGP

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    Gigi, do you have a fanclub... because I want to join it...'

    I swear I've written the equivalent of those words dozens of times on Quora.
     
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  31. ostrich160

    ostrich160

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    Skills should ALWAYS come first (unless your gonna buy all your art, in which case, dont make it a game that focuses on art). We've all seen those awfully made and textured 3d models that just ruin a game. Dont do that. Do something minimalist.

    A very nice style I've explored recently is that in Edward Gorey's illustrations of The War of the Worlds (The book, not the awful movie). Pretty minimalist, but very creepy and atmospheric.
     
  32. Schneider21

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    I just want to point out that I would love to play a cartoony/hand-painted stealth style game. Actually, Dishonored kind of had that look, albeit a very AAA version of it.
     
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  33. TheAlmightyPixel

    TheAlmightyPixel

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    Hmm... I may have to re-think this once again.

    @ostrich160 makes an excellent point on games that have bad texture/3d model design(s). Altough I can model, I'm not the best with photorealistic textures, but I could learn to use them properly, which might take some time.

    Also, @Schneider21 's reply sort of made me steer away from photorealism. Luckily I have only made little to no art for the game yet, so I think I'll try to figure out a style that would fit the game well while making the mechanics.

    Thanks for the helpful replies guys
     
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  34. ostrich160

    ostrich160

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    Wasnt there a stealth game by Klei that had a very cartoony art style. Something inc?

    While that is true, you could also learn to make a full scale nuclear reactor, with some time. I think if you want to be an artist for other peoples games, go for it, give all your time to texturing. But trying to learn all the skills of game development, and to a high standard, thats a whole other issue.

    My advice would to either use a minimalist art style, or focus 100% on photorealistic graphics, and not on game development, and then eventually go to work in other peoples team. Even this alone will take years, if you want it to look really nice, it could take 5, 10 years. Probably more, people devote their life to this.
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2015
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  35. TheAlmightyPixel

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    I would in fact love to go for a photorealistic style, but learning to properly use it can take some time. Adding the time I spend planning, coding and testing the game will add up to a pretty big total (and I'm doing it all by myself, altough I thought about outsourcing some things, like audio). And to be quite honest, 5 years is a bit too much to spend on my project :pEven though I am more of a art-oriented person, I still want my game to not just have nice visuals, but also work well, so I'd rather not first spend (let's say) a few months on making the game's mechanics, and then spend twice the same time just to make the visuals.

    Anyway, I'll still think about the style. I think hand painted visuals could work, but I'll try to add a slight twist to it, just to make it differ from other games that have hand painted visuals.
     
  36. ostrich160

    ostrich160

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    Believe me man, we've all been there. I said the exact same thing as you when I was beginning, I wanted to go for the realistic art style no matter how long it takes. Unless how long it takes is 5 years+, and then it starts to get a bit crazy, but thats the fact of the matter.

    However, I cannot stress enough how fantastic minimalism is. Honestly, I choose it over realism these days (which I use Substance painter for). You want a scary minimalism? Look at Edward Gorey (in fact I'll post a picture here). You want Stealth kind of style? Wireframe is FANTASTIC for that! Minimalism can do anything with a bit of creative input.

    Gorey, War of the Worlds:


     
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  37. Schneider21

    Schneider21

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    Neverending Nightmares used a hand-drawn aesthetic to create some creepy set pieces.







    I love how there is no "right" way to do your visual design. In fact, doing something different is sometimes enough to get you noticed all on its own! (But your game still has to be good ;))
     
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  38. TheAlmightyPixel

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    Thanks a lot for another two fantastic replies! So I've been experimenting with three different styles now, and here they are:



    (The wireframe isn't too visible in the image, but if you look at closely at the pipes you can see it)

    Out of the three styles, I probably like cel shading and hand drawn the most. Using a hand painted style makes everything all smooth and cuddly, while I'm trying to get more of a serious and calm look.

    I like the hand drawn style a lot, but I'll have to experiment a lot more with that, as I haven't really found the best way to get the results I want.
     
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  39. Schneider21

    Schneider21

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    Don't forget, you may get a totally different look in engine once you have lighting, shadows, ambient occlusion, etc affecting your models. Keep experimenting!
     
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  40. ostrich160

    ostrich160

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    Those are looking great, I think for your game the cell shaded would work best
     
  41. TheAlmightyPixel

    TheAlmightyPixel

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    I am really not sure if I should go with cel shading or the hand drawn style. I managed to get the hand drawn look work quite well, here's a pic: (It also has baked AO)



    The only thing I don't really like are the seams, but those are unavoidable, as they're caused by
    UV maps.

    Edit: here's a picture of the cel shaded version as well: (Though it doesn't have AO)

     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2015
  42. Aiursrage2k

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    If you want to make use of the asset store then you'll notice most of the assets are kind of realistic or cartoony, so it would probably be best to use one of those styles. Its going to be easier to pick up stuff in this style (at least speaking as a programmer).

    Its kind of hard to tell from 1 asset which style looks best.
     
  43. ostrich160

    ostrich160

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    Yeh but if its a game that you want to have a focus on graphics, you dont want to buy your art assets.
     
  44. TheAlmightyPixel

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    Graphics aren't really what I'm focusing on the most, but they do affect the mood of the game a lot, so they do deserve a lot of attention.

    Also, a little note on the Asset Store. I'd rather not buy/download art assets, simply because I want to improve my own skills further, but if I won't have the time to make some asset, I'll definitely do a quick search online.
     
  45. BrandyStarbrite

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  46. Not_Sure

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    I think picking an art style that's different from other games in the genre is also important.
     
  47. ostrich160

    ostrich160

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    Surely you should aim for those outside the genre, to stand out better. I imagine a grand strategy with twitch FPS style graphics would be quite interesting....
    brb writing that down
     
  48. TheAlmightyPixel

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    I'm quite sure that every genre already has a game that uses one of the different "base" visual styles, like cartoonic, hand-painted, photorealistic, sci-fi etc. It's just a matter of changing those styles slightly, be it colors, saturation, gamma, textures etc.
     
  49. Gigiwoo

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    Why re-invent the wheel? Lots of successful games have low-budget graphics or re-use an existing style, though they general have a nice cohesive feel to them. Of course, the one thing all successes have in common is that they shipped! Here's a rule of thumb I find helpful.

    Shipped! > Gameplay >>> Cohesive Style > Cool Style > Platform/Audience > Fancy Graphics

    First things first.
    Gigi
     
  50. CDMcGwire

    CDMcGwire

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    Mark of the Ninja

    Play it