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Redout, AER, Arms of Telos: Why Low-Poly?

We’ve seeing somewhat of a rise throughout the past few years, and still going strong, of many games utilizing the low-poly graphic style in many different genres.

Most if not all old games from two generations back were using this type of graphic style is because of low game-engine power and the tech wasn’t good enough yet. Now, some developers are using low-poly out of desire, but is it because of an artistic reason or more? We’ve asked a few developers on why they’ve chosen this style.

Arms of Telos developer/s – Justin Pierce:

It’s several reasons that come together that made it the right choice for AoT. As a solo dev, it’s faster to create — and I’m not a super skilled 3D artist anyway — A lot of people that play competitive FPS games are in the habit of turning graphics down all the way anyway and the games with realistic graphics end up looking super ugly. They do this for performance reasons and also to increase visual clarity by removing clutter.

So I want to design a game that looks good when they do that or design it in a way where it isn’t really necessary. The textures are already minimal so you don’t gain any visual clarity by downgrading them to 1/8th res, and there’s not a lot of texture data clogging up your GPU’s vram.

And while low poly style has gotten a TON more popular since I started development, I still think it’s a unique art style that will set the game apart — especially as a competitive shooter — and I’m still working toward carving out a unique style, even among other low poly games, for Arms of Telos.

Redout developers – :

Three basic reasons

Because it’s something different from what you usually see in race games, they usually shoot for realistic or plausible environments and graphics;

Because it’s simple! Using simple shapes and basic forms helps keep the player focused. The pace in Redout will be *very* fast, so we don’t need our player’s eye to wander around the environment. Also, we have a very retro’ inspired gameplay, and we thought it would be nice to use low-poly geometries with realistic, elaborated shaders on top. It feels like a link between two generations of games, a point of contact between the classic and the new.

Because it’s cool as milk 🙂 synthesizing low-poly environments and ships might look easier but it actually requires *more* concept work than shooting for realistic, so it’s not “just low poly”: our style has a precise direction and it required lots of concepting and trial-and-error testing.

AER developers – Robin Hjelte:

The low-poly look is a result of a few factors. The first one would be that when we started working on the game, we were still students at university. AER began as our bachelor thesis project. We were two groups with two people in each (so in total 4 in the team) who wrote different thesis. On my part it was about the aesthetical side of game development, and how an experience can be the goal and the focus of a game, rather than just fun and / or just the expansion of a game mechanic.

The other team worked with how a game world could be built, inspired by cubism. The result was the adventure AER, rendered in a reduced low-poly artstyle, which I wouldn’t call cubism as it is now, but which was inspired by it from the beginning.

Using this low-poly look, we discovered some technical upsides (on top of liking it purely aesthetically), which let us to work with large worlds even though we have a small team. So, in short, it was a decision that was grounded both in the technical world, the production aspect and in the aesthetical (that we all kind of liked how it looked and felt).


And so we learn got to know the reasons why some developers chose to take the low-poly root aside from the visual appeal. It’s easier/simpler and faster to develop a game with, having maximum performance while maintaining great looking visuals, gives a cleaner and clearer look with less distractions to keep the player focused, and lastly it consumes much less resources in terms of developing a game, meaning bigger worlds and more assets would be made and put in place.


Update:

We got in contact with two more developers with a primary focus on low poly too, we asked them the same question and we’ve got an answer from them after they’ve read the answers of the developers above. Do they have something new to share or is what have been said is the main reasons of using low-poly?

Polyball developers, Aaron Cote:

I think low-poly forces the player to be more engaged in the context of the game. Your imagination actually gets used in visualizing the world around you. For all of us, the Master Chief is the Master Chief, in his high-poly glory, but the protagonist of AER is visualized slightly differently for all of us when we try to apply our real-world filter to her figure. Maybe this effort is what turns some people off of low-fi graphics, instead opting for the spoon-fed visuals of most AAA titles.

When working on my own projects I often look towards the tree as the prime example of low-fi visuals. In AAA a tree is rendered using individual leaves and branches that dynamically respond to wind and player presence. They show me a tree, and I see it for exactly what it is – nothing more, nothing less. It is, in fact, a tree. Using the typical low-fi tree as a foil, it lends itself to the environment more than itself. It’s not a selfish tree, and says “don’t look at me, look at me in this place.”

Poly Bridge developers, Patrick Corrieri:

I think low-poly can look really pretty and unique if done well, making use of very few triangles to describe a 3d shape is fun and reminiscent of some traditional art movements.

Once the artist is comfortable with the style and the pipeline is established, it can be pretty quick to make more assets and create more content compared to doing hi-res models.

It runs efficiently on most hardware since it doesn’t have much to render. In the case of Poly Bridge, we took it a step further and there are no textures on any of the models (only solid colors using vertex coloring with baked ambient occlusion) making it very fast to render.

It can easily give a sense of a “miniature” world which is what we wanted when making Poly Bridge, making it look cute, playful and approachable.

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