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That specific sprite style in early NES games
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Author:  DRW [ Thu Aug 25, 2016 2:40 pm ]
Post subject:  That specific sprite style in early NES games

I've noticed that some of the early NES games share a specific sprite style. It's some of the sports games, but also "Kung Fu". The pixel artwork on the package makes the similarity even a bit clearer than the actual sprites:

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Do you know if there's any reason why these games share this style?
I can understand that the sports games like "Tennis", "Baseball" and "Soccer" use the same style since they're all part of the sports series.

But why "Kung Fu" as well? This one is even an arcade conversion and the original sprite definitely does not look particularly like that NES style:
www.vgmuseum.com/pics8/kungfub.gif

Also, it's not that Nintendo was just uncreative. Most other games have their own style. "Pro Wrestling" and "Urban Champion" don't look like "Kung Fu" at all. And "Gumshoe" and "Gyromite" are totally different anyway.

So, is there anything to know about this style? Did it exist before the NES? And are there other games, apart from the ball sport games, which use that same style?

Author:  rainwarrior [ Thu Aug 25, 2016 2:49 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: That specific sprite style in early NES games

I would just call that art direction. Someone in charge at Nintendo wanted them to have a consistent style, so they managed it.

I don't know how complete the credits are, but the one person common to all 3 you mentioned in Mobygames' credits is: Hiroshi Yamauchi
http://www.mobygames.com/developer/sheet/view/developerId,52461/

He's credited as executive producer, but there aren't really credits for art. I don't know if he would have been the artist (or if it's the same artist), but I would suspect that he was involved in choosing and maintaining that consistent style across Nintendo games of that time.

Edit: ccovell says Yamauchi is a bad lead, sorry. More detail below.

Author:  DRW [ Thu Aug 25, 2016 2:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: That specific sprite style in early NES games

The thing is that it's not really the case that all (or most) games had a consistent style in the beginning. Just three of the sports games ("10-Yard Fight" and "Volleyball" have a different style) and "Kung Fu" and that's it.

Author:  koitsu [ Thu Aug 25, 2016 3:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: That specific sprite style in early NES games

Yes, the reason this style was chosen was to make people 30 years later ask why it was chosen. :P Have you contacted Nintendo with your inquiry? If so, what did they say? If not, why not?

I will point out that this style only applied to NES box art (US and EU, I believe) and not Famicom, and applied only to games developed by Nintendo. Joint ventures such as Bandai/Nintendo titles did not get this type of art.

Other games using the same pixellated/mosaic-esque box art style:

* Clu-Clu Land
* Duck Hunt
* Golf -- "sports game"
* Gyromite
* Hogan's Alley
* Ice Climber
* Stack-Up
* Pinball
* Wild Gunman
* Wrecking Crew
* Donkey Kong
* Donkey Kong Jr.
* Donkey Kong 3
* Donkey Kong Jr. Math
* Mario Bros.
* Popeye
* Balloon Fight
* Mach Rider
* Gumshoe
* Volleyball -- "sports game"
* Slalom -- "sports game"
* Kid Icarus
* Metroid

Author:  DRW [ Thu Aug 25, 2016 3:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: That specific sprite style in early NES games

You totally misunderstood what I'm talking about. I wasn't talking about the pixelated package artwork. (Otherwise, I wouldn't have said that "Pro Wrestling" doesn't use the style, would I?) I was talking about the fact that some sprites in those old games are drawn in the same style.

Author:  koitsu [ Thu Aug 25, 2016 3:42 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: That specific sprite style in early NES games

I think you should try playing the games I listed. I believe you will find most, if not all, have sprites that match the box art. There are exceptions (as you repeatedly bring up "Pro Wrestling"; you ever seen what the Japanese got?). It is safe to assume that most of the the box art was created as a result of the sprites, not the other way around -- but I imagine there were certainly exceptions to this too, particularly for games which hadn't been "finalised" yet (i.e. in-game art/graphics hadn't been decided upon, or possibly were too weird/odd for the region in question to comprehend at first glance).

If I had to take a "gut feeling" stab at it, it would be about money/cost savings. Said box art style at the time was certainly easy to do, and likely inexpensive. It has been repeatedly documented and admitted by Nintendo that the Famicom and NES were created on a budget -- why spend tons of money on artists and high-quality box art if the console itself, when released in another geographic region, could be a total flop?

Author:  DRW [ Thu Aug 25, 2016 3:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: That specific sprite style in early NES games

I was not talking about the pixelated packages, I was not talking about the relationship between game and box.

I was, plain and simple, talking about the fact that Thomas from "Kung Fu" looks almost exactly like the "Soccer" guy and the "Tennis" guy, only at different sprite sizes, but with clearly the same art style.

The similarity is not global enough to assume a common style guide of early NES games. For example Mario, the fighters from "Urban Champion" and the guy from "Gumshoe" don't look like Thomas at all, nor do they look like each other or like any other Nintendo character.

Each game has its own style. But for four of them, they decided to use the same sprite style: "Tennis", "Baseball", "Soccer" and "Kung Fu".
Three of them are ball sports games, so the similarity might be intentional until they dropped it with "Volleyball" in 1986.
But "Kung Fu" is a game that doesn't fit the pattern at all, especially since no other action game tried to use that style and since the arcade sprite of Thomas looks different as well.

Author:  ccovell [ Thu Aug 25, 2016 4:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: That specific sprite style in early NES games

rainwarrior wrote:
the one person common to all 3 you mentioned in Mobygames' credits is: Hiroshi Yamauchi.

I hope you were being facetious... right?

Yamauchi was the president of Nintendo. He put his name on top of all of Nintendo's games whether he had a creative hand in games or not... (spoiler: never.)

Author:  rainwarrior [ Thu Aug 25, 2016 4:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: That specific sprite style in early NES games

ccovell wrote:
rainwarrior wrote:
the one person common to all 3 you mentioned in Mobygames' credits is: Hiroshi Yamauchi.

I hope you were being facetious... right?

Yamauchi was the president of Nintendo. He put his name on top of all of Nintendo's games whether he had a creative hand in games or not... (spoiler: never.)

I wasn't being facetious. I don't know the history of Nintendo's leadership, or anything about Hiroshi Yamauchi. The credits also appear to have been deduced from secondary sources, not the games themselves (it says "uncredited" next to them). If there's an interesting biography of Yamauchi you'd like to share instead of teasing me for not knowing who he is, I'd be happy to read it. :P

My point was merely that a consistent style is usually deliberate, and due to consistent art direction, usually from a single person. Was suggesting game credits comparisons as a place to start looking for that person.

They could also just naturally/accidentally arise from people who work in proximity imitating each other, I suppose, but I kind of agree with DRW that there's enough consistency there to think it's deliberate. There don't seem to be very good credits for any of these games, there was no name besides Yamauchi commen to all three, and nobody was credited with the art.

Author:  M_Tee [ Thu Aug 25, 2016 4:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: That specific sprite style in early NES games

Acknowledging that this is off-topic, but addressing it anyway:
koitsu wrote:
If I had to take a "gut feeling" stab at it, it [the decision to use sprites as box art] would be about money/cost savings. Said box art style at the time was certainly easy to do, and likely inexpensive. It has been repeatedly documented and admitted by Nintendo that the Famicom and NES were created on a budget -- why spend tons of money on artists and high-quality box art if the console itself, when released in another geographic region, could be a total flop?

From what I've read, the black box style was a deliberate decision to represent the content of the game more transparently to consumers, in direct response to the video game crash of the early '80s due partly to the Atari market being flooded with poor quality games featuring deceptively different artwork. Although the sprite art on the black box games was enhanced rather strongly for the boxes (most sprites being given 7-8 colors worth of shading, intentionally hiding the difference between the NES and the arcade games at the time), the representation was still a fairly honest one, focused on "If you buy this game, this is what you will get."

Author:  tepples [ Thu Aug 25, 2016 5:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: That specific sprite style in early NES games

Perhaps the art style is an artifact of 3 colors and the pixel count.

  • Palette: dark, clothes, and skin
  • No outline, as previous games with a black background had also used no outline
  • Eye is a single dark pixel
  • No mouth
  • Character taller than Mario "Jumpman" Mario Sr. in Donkey Kong

Does the sprite in my NES project template have a similar enough style?

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Author:  ccovell [ Thu Aug 25, 2016 5:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: That specific sprite style in early NES games

rainwarrior wrote:
I don't know the history of Nintendo's leadership, or anything about Hiroshi Yamauchi.

OK, but I think some amount of history needs to be known if one is going down the path of game credits / period art style, lest one send himself down the garden path. If you know that Yamauchi was famous for [boasting] never having played a video game, you can curtail research that would waste your time. Yamauchi had the same role in game creation as Roman emperors had in the fates of gladiators in the arena.

Author:  rainwarrior [ Thu Aug 25, 2016 5:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: That specific sprite style in early NES games

ccovell wrote:
rainwarrior wrote:
I don't know the history of Nintendo's leadership, or anything about Hiroshi Yamauchi.

OK, but I think some amount of history needs to be known if one is going down the path of game credits / period art style, lest one send himself down the garden path. If you know that Yamauchi was famous for [boasting] never having played a video game, you can curtail research that would waste your time. Yamauchi had the same role in game creation as Roman emperors had in the fates of gladiators in the arena.

I was suggesting credits as a place to start looking. Finding out who the people in the credits are and what they did is the next step. You happened to know who Yamauchi was ahead of this step, I did not. Researching him would have been the next step, except I was leaving that to DRW, who is the person more interested in the question.

Unfortunately the credits seem too sparse to be of any further use in the same direction, so in this case that line of inquiry is probably a dead end, for the reason you just gave.

Again, though, I know that you're a person with a lot of knowledge of this kind of history, and I've read some of your articles. If there's a source you found interesting where you learned this stuff about Yamauchi, I'd kind of like to read it. (Not to answer DRW's question, obviously, just for interest.)

Author:  koitsu [ Thu Aug 25, 2016 6:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: That specific sprite style in early NES games

DRW wrote:
I was not talking about the pixelated packages, I was not talking about the relationship between game and box.

I was, plain and simple, talking about the fact that Thomas from "Kung Fu" looks almost exactly like the "Soccer" guy and the "Tennis" guy, only at different sprite sizes, but with clearly the same art style.

This wasn't apparent to me from the screenshots or any aspect of your original post. I'm not going to get pedantic, but "why do these games share this style?" is not the same question as "Does anyone see a similarity between the protagonist in all of these separate games?"

For what it's worth, I really don't see much similarity. Yup I'm serious. When you have 8x8 to work with, and a limited palette, there comes a point where everything is going to "look similar".

It's pretty obvious, however, that many of the first-generation NES/Famicom games reused graphics or made very small/minor alterations to them when used in a different game. Not just the fonts either.

Author:  ccovell [ Thu Aug 25, 2016 9:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: That specific sprite style in early NES games

rainwarrior wrote:
Again, though, I know that you're a person with a lot of knowledge of this kind of history, and I've read some of your articles. If there's a source you found interesting where you learned this stuff about Yamauchi, I'd kind of like to read it. (Not to answer DRW's question, obviously, just for interest.)

I don't know off-hand of any articles about Yamauchi himself, but various YouTube videos about the history of Nintendo might talk about him. I'm sure he's also mentioned in the histories of BPS / Tetris, and Satoru Iwata, etc (Classicgamingquarterly, for one.)

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