Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What's Old is New Again

-By Dan dos Santos

I was walking through a Barnes and Noble bookstore recently looking for a book for my youngest son called 'Diary of a Minecraft Zombie'. The book is a blatant attempt to merge two hot products; the hugely popular video game 'Minecraft', and the popular book series 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid'.

Despite the unimaginative nature of the book, it was surprisingly successful in appealing to my child.
My youngest one is obsessed with Minecraft, and regardless of the quality of the writing, this book appealed to him enough to not only get him to read it, but to also request the next in the series.

But more interestingly, during my shopping I stumbled across a new series of classic novels which were also attempting to cash in on the Minecraft craze. This time, not in title, but by emulating the vintage 8-Bit aesthetic that Minecraft helped popularize and push to forefront of mainstream culture.

Below are some samples of these covers, published by Puffin Pixels (and imprint of Penguin Books), and illustrated by cover artist, Michael Meyers (aka Drawsgood).

I find it really intriguing that a video game, which was designed to be a parody of classic games, has now become so popular as to render the 8-Bit look truly modern again.

The irony of course is that the desired demographic is far too young to appreciate the parody in the first place. It tickles me to think, that 30 years from now, this very style will probably resurge amongst the next generation, who will fall in love with it all over again because they feel the retro look harkens back to the 2010s.

Nonetheless, this antiquated style has become so influential that it is now the hip, NEW look and appears to be doing very well amongst it's none-the-wiser, young audience.

Even I, as an adult, have to admit that the style reminds me so much of classic Sierra games, conjuring enthusiastic memories of young heroes and sprawling quests, that even these old stories looked fresh and inviting to me all over again!

It makes me wonder how else technology has bolstered classic aesthetics...
Instagram filters that use superior technology to emulate inferior photography...
Complex progamming to emulate a simple watercolor drip in Painter...
Digital cameras that shoot at the slower 24fps specifically to make them feel like film...

What makes vintage aesthetics so appealing us? Is it that they elicit memories of when we were young and these thing were still so new and the world so full of possibility? Or is it simply that despite gains in technology, these things we enjoyed really didn't need to be much better than they already were?


  1. These are wonderful.Because of the large Pixels Treasure island pic , has a Monkey island {Lucas Arts games}vibe going on.

    1. Yeah, many of them seem to be emulating specific games, like Zelda and Castlevania. Though, appropriately so in my opinion.

  2. looking through these again , I think it's the nice clean compositions and use of colour that makes them stand out as attractive.The retro pixel look just gives a touch of nostalgia.

  3. Well the nostalgia factor certainly is part of it--I was quite excited that you name-dropped Sierra On-line just now for that very reason! Additionally, there's that whole thing about the effectiveness of simple, strong statement made by such aesthetics that also plays into our love of cartoons. And although it's a retro aesthetic, it's really amazing how fresh it becomes when paired with these classics of literature.

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  6. My theory for the reason why pixel art got so popular suddenly is, because of the emergence of the indie game market, where games are produced at a small budget, requiring some cuts in the art department. This contributes to a specific 'retro look' that some new/old gamers have found appealing. It is easier for an amateur game developer to make pixel art, for sure, than to spend the time working at his art skills, at the cost of precious programming time.
    I might also note that, from my limited experience of dabbling in pixel art, the limitations imposed by the medium can also be somewhat appealing, as the artist problem-solves to find the most effective solution to the design problem.
    Hah, if this trend continues, maybe in a few years we'll start seeing some 'new' low-poly art.

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