On this blog I’ve repeatedly talked about my affinity for a certain era of 3D graphics, specifically the flat-shaded textureless kind you might see in SEGA Model 1 games like the original Virtua Fighter and are being revived in games like Sky Rogue. There seems to at least be a nascent movement of low-polygon video game art emerging and it may be moving through certain phases so to speak.
Following the popularity of the “Minecraft look” and other low-poly art, I’ve started to see some projects show up that are intentionally trying to look like games made for the original PlayStation. The idea is similar to how Shovel Knight and Oniken specifically want to look like NES games rather than simply “8-bit.” I think the project Back in 1995 is fairly well-known, but I only just heard about Banned Memories and decided to check out the currently public alpha demo. So far I’ve only seen it mentioned by destructoid, Kill Screen, and a bunch of YouTubers.
Banned Memories is specifically trying to look like the original Silent Hill, an effort I can honestly commend. I understand perfectly fine if a lot of people don’t like the look of PS1 games. Games that were realistic-looking back then look like absolute crap today when measured by certain metrics. The images are jaggy, the textures in PS1 games are heavily pixelated and warp all over the place, and most of the characters look like bunches of triangles. Despite all that, I think some games from the era managed to stand out with good art direction, Silent Hill being one such case.
I played the first Silent Hill for the first time around 2008 or so and still found its environments visually appealing. I was still able to appreciate the intricate detail put into each individual room.What’s most important is it was still able to communicate its atmosphere. I think for the most part Banned Memories is able to hit at something very similar.
The way the lighting works, the lack of anti-aliasing, the only available resolution being sub-480p, all combine with some pretty impressive environment design to make Banned Memories appealing to anyone who can stand to look back at that era. The only to things that break the illusion at this point in development are the main character’s incomplete animations and the game’s framerate which is much higher and smoother than that of most PS1 games.
I didn’t get to play much before the alpha glitched out on me but I do also see a competent adventure game here. Banned Memories seems to get the basics: exploration, paying attention to clues, collecting items, and resource conservation. I still don’t like that I have to deal with fixed camera angles in a game that has action combat, but the developer here is trying to evoke a certain era for better or worse.
Most people may think the graphics of that era objectively look like crap, but my looks back at the PS1 and N64 have proven to me that until we hit true photorealism, art direction is going to matter more than sheer technology in the long run. Any game that puts priority on realism with current technology will eventually look like crap one day. In 1997 I thought GoldenEye 007 on the N64 looked real, and today it looks like crap. One day Crysis 3 and even Star Citizen will also look like crap. Meanwhile, looking back I noticed many games from the late 90’s that haven’t aged too badly due to carefully measured art.
Mega Man Legends might be the ultimate example, being a proto case of what ultimately became the appeal of cel-shading. It looked like an anime then and it pretty much looks like an anime today. Vagrant Story is another big one. You can still see today that its character designs and cut scene direction were well-done, almost looking like an American comic book.
Recently I’ve been finding a lot of artists online devote time to “low poly art,” most of which doesn’t even appear in playable video games despite being evocative of video games. I can only hope all those artists answer the call when more and more indie developers decide to make the move from pixel art o low-poly.
- A cool book. https://www.patreon.com/posts/anime-fashion-3232606