Inspiration

A Brief History of Video Game Design

From Pong to Minecraft: what we learned from analyzing video game design over the years (plus, resources for your own game designs).

Super Mario Bros. is one of the most iconic games of all time. (Nintendo)

It was 1972 when Pong burst onto our CRT screens. While many programs came before it, Pong’s iconic white paddles and square dot would usher in the dawn of commercial video games.

This was once the forefront of gaming technology. (Wikipedia)

The time was right. The Magnavox Odyssey was the first commercially produced home video game console, and was also released in 1972. It came with several games, including Table Tennis, on which Pong was allegedly based. (There was a copyright lawsuit, but that’s a whole other story.) The commercial success of Pong helped to drive the commercial success of the Odyssey, and an industry was born.

We’ve come a long way in the last 45 years. When you’re looking at an immersive virtual reality environment, those two white lines and square dot are a long way from your mind.

Danger Ball is practically VR Pong! (Playstation VR Worlds)

High resolution screens mean gamers can have near photorealistic experiences – take Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Mass Effect: Andromeda, or Forza Horizon 3 – and yet are still happy with nostalgia-inspiring pixelated creations, like Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP, Shovel Knight, and perhaps even Minecraft (though this is a massive free-form 3D game as well).

Forza Horizon 3 shows how far we’ve come… (Forza Motorsport)
…while Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP demonstrates that nostalgia inspired graphics still pulls fans. (Sword & Sworcery)

Massive 3D environments are popular, such as World of Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed, Tomb Raider or any number of other examples from the last ten years. But you can achieve a lot in single scenes, as well.

From the late 1980s and well through the 1990s, developers LucasArts and Sierra became known for their 2D point’n’click adventure games, such as The Secret of Monkey Island, or the King’s Quest series (or Police Quest, or Space Quest).

The Secret of Monkey Island was a cult classic, and the style is coming back. (IGN)

These games were at times amusing and ridiculous, moving and poignant, and are great examples of the depth game storytelling can reach.

But while our technological capabilities have grown, many of our styles have remained the same. Side-scrolling platformers like 1985’s Super Mario Bros are still hugely popular across a range of gaming mediums. Some fantastic examples of modern side-scrollers include 2008’s Braid, 2010’s LIMBO, and 2012’s Deadlight. All three are also finely crafted emotional stories, showing that you don’t need complex visuals to pull at the players’ heartstrings.

Vivid backgrounds provide perfect contrast to Deadlight’s silhouette characters. (Tequila Works)

This could be, in part, due to the rise of the smartphone as a game console in its own right. The powerful portable computers are perfect for short, level based gameplay during your commute or other dead time.

Where am I going with all this? I don’t want you to think you need ground-breaking graphics or systems to compete in today’s game market. Classic styles and mechanics are classics for a reason.

With that in mind, let’s have a look at some of the Envato resources that could help you bring your idea to life.

Backgrounds

Backgrounds set your scene and help convey your mood and atmosphere, and good use of layers will help give a 2d scene a 3d feel (this is parallax scrolling, where the foreground moves faster than the background).

Game Background

This great set of 10 modern game backgrounds is split into 6 different categories: Classic, Asia, Horror, Snow, City and Miscellaneous.
Files are 1024×512, 100% tileable horizontally and the layers make them parallax ready.

They are available in different formats such as: AI, EPS and PNG (full + layered backgrounds). These vector files are really easy to edit and customize.

Space Game Backgrounds

A side-scrolling platformer doesn’t need an obvious platform. Why not try a side-scrolling space shooter instead? Or how about navigating a lost astronaut through a dangerous asteroid field (coming up below), against these beautiful backgrounds? (If you do that I at least want to be in the credits).

This set comes with 4 backgrounds, 16 space components including planets and suns, in 1920×1080 glory. The file formats are AI, EPS and PNG, and the layers and components make this parallax ready.

Red Mountains Game Background

The red mountains could easily be a desert backdrop or deadly alien planet. This vector illustration is layered and editable, and are horizontally tileable for your side-scrolling action.

The download will be as a editable .EPS 10, .Ai 8, .CDR 10, JPEG and transparent .PNG files.

If you’re looking for more like this, author ragerabbit has a large portfolio that includes other game backgrounds and items.

Seamless Background

These blue mountains are another option. The components are vector images, so they are easily editable and scalable, and everything is already separated into layers.

Author VitaliyVill is another great artist with a portfolio that includes backgrounds, sprites and characters.

Workshop Background

If a side-scroller isn’t what you had in mind, perhaps this workshop background can inspire you? This is a perfect background for a single scene or title screen.

This is a vertical, hand-drawn illustration with a resolution of 2048×2732px. The files are fully layered, and the vector designs mean most items can be scaled without any quality loss.

If you need something else, check out the huge range of fantastic game backgrounds available on GraphicRiver.

Sprites

Sprites are the 2d images that populate your scene. They can be characters, monsters, items, or simply design elements.

2D – Game Character Sprites

This character pack is just a sample of what designer pasilan has available. This character is suitable for shooting games, running or platform games, or anything else you can think of.

Files types Include: .AI, .EPS, .PNG, Spriter. Preloaded animations include an idle stance, running, throwing, attack, and more.

Author pasilan has a huge collection of character sprites. Check them out. You’re sure to find something to suit your game!

Blast Sprites

If you’re in need of any sort of explosion, have a look at this pack from ashishlko11. This is just one of the many options available in their portfolio.

This set contains 5 blast sprites, each 12 frames long. It comes with pSD and PNG files, as well as sample GIFs.

Also have a look at Game Art Vol 1 for more looping animations.

Giant Black Widow Spider Game Sprite

I hate spiders and even I’m a fan of this sweet set. Spiders are villains for a reason, and this black beauty is no different!

The file comes with 7 animations, and the pieces are all vector images to allow for resizing without any loss in quality.

For more monsters and enemies (or hey, heroes, I’m not judging) check out this skeleton army from the same author.

Shadow Teen Girl

This great silhouette character will let you draw on the style of games like LIMBO and Deadlight. The set comes with 37 preloaded animations, and an assortment of character components in AI and PNG formats for easy editing and customizing.

Author bevouliin has a large portfolio too. Check it out!

Vector Asteroid Sprites

These are the asteroids I mentioned earlier. Couple them with the space backgrounds and you’ve got yourself a setting!

There are 15 different models to choose from, and each comes with several frames of damage. The files are PSD, AI, and EPS, and are, of course, vector images to allow resizing without loss of quality.

Even better, author -wowu- has a complete Asteroids game package that includes backgrounds, this asteroid set, ships, powerups, animations, and a user interface.

Top Down Pixelart Sprite Bundle

Something I haven’t touched on is top down games. Some older role playing games used this style, along with some shooters. It’s less common, but still effective (and less common means you’ll stand out!). This sprite bundle contains 8 different packs, and should have enough to get you going!

It contains heroes, enemies, tile sets, decorations and more.

If you need something else, check out the huge range of game sprites and resources available on GraphicRiver.

Music and Sound Effects

One last thing. Don’t forget that the right music and sound effects are instrumental (sorry) in creating your atmosphere. In fact, sound may even have more impact than the visuals. Even the opening notes of your theme music can be important. Sierra’s opening theme was pretty much my childhood.

Music and sound is much more difficult to demonstrate than graphic assets, so click here if you want:

Otherwise, stick your headphones on and have a browse through AudioJungle’s huge catalogue of music and sound effects.

Read more about game design:


Tyson Pink

About the Author Tyson Pink

Tyson is a freelance writer and editor, and LEGO tragic. He drinks too much coffee. You can find him at his website, or follow him on Twitter.