A common media portrayal/ stereotype is that gamers are obsessed with the graphics of their games and systems. There’s an element of truth to this, but usually with good reason. Often that media portrayal may just be because graphical improvements are the easiest way to demonstrate that one game/system is newer or more advanced than another, and also the most obvious difference to explain when talking about consoles to a non-gamer.
I don’t normally put too much attention on a game’s graphics- as long as they aren’t incredibly bad or otherwise distracting, I won’t think too much about them. However, one way to instantly get me interested in a game is to tell me it’s cel-shaded.
Cel-shading is a relatively recent animation technique that renders 3D objects in a 2D way. A cel-shaded work usually has flat textures and colours, with sharp separation between light and dark areas, such as in a cartoon or comic book. It’s also known as “toon shading”, due to this cartoon-like appearance. However, the term cel-shading refers to a lighting system rather than just the graphical style: a game with the visual appearance of a comic but lit and shaded in a realistic way would not be called cel-shaded.
|Sonic Shuffle- the typical bright use of CS|
|Killer Is Dead- CS can also be used
to make violent scenes less realistic.
The first console game to use CS was Jet Set Radio, released for the Dreamcast in 1999. Arguably, Fear Effect (released in 2000) went into development first. However, although Fear Effect looks cel-shaded, it’s lighting system technically prevents it being truly cel-shaded. Also, many CS techniques were actually invented by JSR’s development team, so to me JSR wins.
When you compare this to the progress of games with realistic graphics since 1999, JSR has aged much more gracefully than games of the same generation aiming for realism. Below is a comparison of Silent Hill (1999), and Silent Hill: Downpour (2012)-
I don’t need to say which is which.
Games using CS or pseudo-CS have increased in popularity in the last few years. My theory is that this rise could be connected to the increasing popularity of superheroes and superhero-related media. Cel-shading can represent cartoon or comic styles incredibly well, making it one of the best aesthetics for superhero media especially combined with the utopian/fantasy atmosphere I mentioned earlier.
Cel-shading can also be used to port a usually-realistic game to a lower-powered system without sacrificing major parts of the game. Rockstar did this in GTA: Chinatown Wars for the Nintendo DS, while Activision did this for the early Tony Hawk games. I think that the proliferation of mid-size gaming devices such as 5-inch phones and 7-inch tablets, coupled with a growing interest in porting and re-releasing older major games, may increase the popularity of celd-shaded ports.
Some of the media attention for CS may also be from the controversy generated by The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. TWW is visually interesting, as it combines cel-shaded characters and foreground elements with dynamic lighting and depth of field effects in the background. While technically impressive, many people felt it was too cartoonish and childlike, so the next Zelda game, Twilight Princess, returned to a more realistic style.
Nintendo didn’t fare very well with their cel-shading, unlike Gearbox Software’s Borderlands series- one example of a pseudo-CS game being both critically and commercially successful. The Borderlands games have taken advantage of the increases in computing power since CS was first developed, using this power to create a hybrid design- a realistically-shaded 3D engine overlaid with thicker character and object outlines (to create a comic-book effect) and CS-style textures.
Borderlands’ distinctive outlining.
You can see why I find cel-shading so interesting now. I think this is partly because I find games using brightly-coloured landscapes and maps easier to navigate, so can normally remember my way around a cel-shaded game but get lost in realistically-shaded games; and partly because I tend to like quirky games with funny atmospheres, which is something cel-shading does really well. However, because cel-shading, while increasingly popular, is still only used in a small percentage of games, I’ve never really played many games using it.
For this reason, I’m going to be looking for other cel-shaded games. I’ve already got a few to look at:
The Wolf Among Us Crackdown Borderlands/ Borderlands 2
And after I’ve finished those, I’ll be looking out for others- I’m really interested in playing Killer Is Dead, and Catherine is supposed to be an unusual game.
Killer Is Dead
- The Darkness II
If you know any I might find entertaining, please let me know.