I love big blocks of squares of solid colour. Games generally do not have their graphics consist of geometric squares of solid colour. Not even 2D ones; which the rest of this post is exclusively about.
To begin with I ought to discuss why I love squares of solid colour, Firstly, they’re pretty. Not all of them, some squares are of ugly colours. Those aren’t pretty; those are ugly. In addition, I’m not overcome by the beauty of the red one pixel square on my laptop screen. However, I was playing FFVI – a great sprite-based game – recently and nothing looked as pretty, with the possible exception of some of the portraits, as a right-sized black square in the right place on a white background.
There are two counterarguments to that point that I can think of immediately. Who cares about pretty? The post-modern artists don’t. The roman sculptors didn’t. Aren’t there far more impressive things that one could aim for such as awe? I have been more awestruck by a game such as Dark Souls than my own square based games, however those are exceptions and even then it is usually less detailed parts of the game such as the vista that make me go ‘wow’ rather than the as detailed as they can make it enemies or buildings.
The second counterargument is much simpler: perhaps people don’t find them as pretty as I do.
The second argument in favour of geometric squares is that they are simpler. The property of a square is its size, its colour, its location (and one could argue its neighbours). In comparison a sprite has its colours, its pattern, its size but also the sizes of its parts as well as it location (and one could argue its neighbours). This additional complexity makes it harder to appreciate the properties of the image and lessens the impact on the player.
The third point is a related one. The complexity of other images makes it difficult to appreciate them together as a unified whole. The geometric square on the other hand can be easily compared and contrasted with other geometric square to create one picture that’s a result of all the parts playing with one another. A game I made set the player up as a red square, hunting for a green square, in a white maze with black walls. You were always in the middle of a three by three square screen. I smiled with utter glee whenever I got the ‘flag of Japan’ . I was utterly delighted whenever I got these cool patterns in the randomly generated map. I could not have got such a connection or a consistent ability to spot them if the graphics and images were more complicated. That means we’d lose something that I consider magical.
My final argument in favour of squares. Is that they are far more real than anything else; with the possible exception of other shapes. If aliens existed they would have by 10×10 stark red square, they will not have Mario. By using more detailed fictions you’re staking a greater claim on the player’s screen, while the square of whatever size and colour is a real thing that the designer just choses to present to the player. I’m neither a mathematician or a philosopher so it is possible that the square is also just an illustration of the square, but even in that case it is really the player’s machine, and by association the player, who is doing the illustrating.
Taking all the points together, when the designer uses geometric squares they give the player more power and more ownership. The player can make awe-inspiring things of beauty that the designer hadn’t imagined. That excites me, and I’d hope that would excite you too.
[This was originally going to include more speculation on why games are made using the other methods, however this is already too long, and I want to go and make a game with size and colour changing mechanics. So I’ll greet you with part two later.]