The days of pong and tic-tac-toe on the digital screen are far behind us, and with it we have recently entered a new age to where even video games are being displayed in major art museums. But how have our video games evolved over the course of the last fifty years to become the beautiful artistic renderings we now see? To figure that out we need to look at a couple different styles that are used through video games.


Legend of Zelda: Windwaker


Cel-shading is one of the more iconic styles of digital gaming for 3d graphics, which manages to utilize a style that became famous through cartoons and comic books as a non-photorealistic lighting system. This shading method has been worked on continuously over the past decade with the first truly capable introduction being ‘Legend of Zelda: Windwaker’, which holds a more cartoony style. However as the 3d modeling advanced we now have cel-shaded games like ‘Okami’, which provided a painted and realistic look with the slight touch of cartoon. Then finally we end up with a more advanced cel-shading in the past year or two with ‘Borderlands 2’, introducing a fully realistic cel-shading that can at times look like the real world, and other times completely like you are watching a comic book come to life.


Borderlands 2

Two Dimension

This style dominated the first twenty or so years of the video game world with games like pac-man or asteroids. The two dimensional design relies entirely on proper placement of lines and utilization of a select number of colors. It is largely a method and example of minimalist art design. The two dimensional video game was the first types of digital games to ever surface due to the limitations of computers and lack of knowledge on how to code 3d models. The first two-dimensional games to appear with a maximum of five lines and a couple of dots were ‘Pong’ in the seventies and tic-tac-toe in the fifties. But as we reached the nineties games like ‘Super Mario Bros’ emerged bringing in action-adventure and platform games into the mix while being an entirely new look at two dimensional designs with an improvement of using colors and blocks. This style is largely only used today for games ported to cell phones or tablets, since it had been replaced by three-dimensional modeling mostly.


Super Mario Bros


A style that isn’t just a single style of art but an incorporation of multiple elements put together to create photorealistic rendering. This is only a style that has started to emerge in the last decade and only truly started to shine more recently in the last few years. One of the earliest and most iconic realistic environments established was with the game ‘Myst’, which although was only the beginning, its realistic environment managed to immerse a player into the game just the same as any other realistic art style in video games today do. By today’s standards it may seem very cartoonish and not as realistic but the game is nearly two decades old now.



The next to surface with the combination of minimalist environments like 2d platforms and a truly realistic experience that captured the world in darker lights was ‘Shadow of the Colossus’. This game took a truly unique fantasy environment and combined a special shading element to produce a dark but incredibly immersive and realistic environment that many consider to be better than the realistic games that have surfaced in the last few years with Legend of Zelda games.

The final nail to the realistic designs we encounter are the two most recent releases of ‘Guild Wars 2’ and ‘Elder Scrolls: Skyrim’, which manage to produce a design that fully immerse you into a fantasy world that shouldn’t exist with such realistic elements.


Elder Scrolls: Skyrim

It is only a wonder at what point does the games we are now producing tread to the line of not just a three-dimensional environment but a five-sensual environment known as virtual reality. Will we see such things soon? And what kinds of games could be imagined with that technology, let alone the art styles that will come from it.

No matter what people might say, we are truly in an age of digital art, whether printed to book or glaring on a screen, it’s hard to go about being an artist without getting involved in digital designs these days and looking at game art designs just might be the way to see how our whole artistic world progresses.

carla Written by Carla Eaton: Carla Eaton has a B.A. in Mass Media and writes on the topics of business, technology, and design. She currently blogs for, who specializes in Dell printer cartridges.