Recent game-changing phenomena in film such as Into the Spider-Verse and Mitchells Vs. the Machines have proven to be landmarks in transforming the industry and widening cinemagoers’ expectations on what a ‘good’ movie is.
Long gone is the early-2000s trend of realism being the only defining factor of animation quality, and with that said, it only makes sense that this is equally true when it comes to the game industry and the variety of art styles in video games.
New, fresh takes on 3D game art styles are incredibly valuable to modern game developers, and today’s renewed focus on the wild, different, and spectacular has produced countless visually spectacular gaming experiences no matter in which direction you look.
The 3d game art style that a developer chooses when working on a game art and animation can depend on their vision for the game, the audience they’re aiming to sell the game to, or the tone of the story they are telling inside the game. The art style can also be influenced by and conversely influence many other factors such as actual gameplay and in-game mechanics.
Different 3D art styles are separated and made distinct by a wide number of factors which can include rendering techniques, shading methods, and especially artistic direction.
Even though all forms of 3d game art share the fact that they are made up out of three-dimensional models, the style can have more than simply aesthetic impact – changing the kind of lighting engine required, performance on different computers or platforms, and the angle that needs to be taken in character design.
See below some common archetypes in types of 3D game art, and some of the games our team has worked on:
Be it an action-packed eyecatcher reminiscent of Sunday-morning cartoons or a fun, comic-like adventure through the exaggerated and unreal, cartoon game art styles are some of the most distinct and stylized. Before systems were evolved enough to even contemplate realism, many games had to take on a cartoonish approach with as little detail as possible to make production and running on old-timey systems possible.
Nowadays, however, the genre bears some of the strongest statements in unconventional, different 3d art styles. Here game creators can explore the wild and bizarre without having to worry about realistic modelling and lighting, and this lack of constraints has been a large factor in making many current top-shelf games possible.
On top of this, a large part of this genre can be said to dip into anime and JRPG fame, as most games from the Japanese game industry reside here.
Examples: Tails of Iron, Minecraft, Dragon Ball Fighterz, Overwatch
The early 2000s may have pushed for it – and sometimes overindulged in it - but the modern world of video game realism is a wholly new practice of dancing upon the line between the uncanny and the revolutionary.
Realistic lighting, environmental effects, and picture-perfect models are the focusses of this 3d art style, and every year advances in graphical technology make the mimicry of real life easier and more successful. Cities that one can find on a real map? Celebrities, recognizable faces, and picture-perfect landscapes? You’ve got it!
But realistic 3d modelling don’t come without challenges. The style presents a lot of expectations, and even games with hyper-realistic models can fall from grace due to imperfect lighting, physics, or other external factors.
Examples: Insurgency: Sandstorm, Red Dead Redemption 2, Battlefield 1, Crysis 2.
Gone is the fine-detailed focus on the canny and realistic in 3d art styles, and replacing it is a wide-open scape of imagination. Fantasy games and the defined art style accompanying them may not have the edge of familiarity that games that aim for hardcore realism have, but since when is the world of the unreal about focusing on what is real?
We spoke earlier about some of the constraints that realism in video games bears, and these rules are precisely what Fantasy Realism focuses upon bending – though not breaking.
Examples: Eternal Cylinder, Elden Ring, Skyrim, Fallout 4
This 3d art style in a nutshell? Color between the lines.
Maintaining relatively flat faces on models and not having to worry about blending objects seamlessly into one-another allows for game engines to run at higher frame rates and on lower-spec computers without sacrificing appearance.
Low Poly 3d art styles provide a perfect example of how fine details and lifelike shading does not equal an attractive art style, nor even necessarily contribute to a lack of depth and quality. In fact, some prefer this art style over more reality-grounded ones thanks to the action-packed and stylized feel it allows.
While not fully similar to ‘cartoonish’ games and 3D art styles in nature, this genre definitely allows for a certain level of embellishment and creative freedom while maintaining a canny and relatable appearance that strays not to far from the real world.
Examples: Divine Knockout (DKO), Borderlands, Okami, Breath of the Wild
Soft edges, blending colors, and a generally story-rich approach on worldbuilding. These are all common characteristics of hand-painted 3d game design.
This 3d art style focuses on dynamic, watercolor shades and form, often incorporating dream-like and whimsical aspects in an entrancing effort to transform any moment upon the screen into a veritable art gallery.
Present as a notable trend in art styles in video games among some ‘artisan’ and independently developed titles, each model and background is the product of the labor of dedicated artists, and this level of inspiration and quality often carries on in everything from character design, shading, and user interface.
Examples: SpeedRunners, Hades, Spiritfarer, Hollow Knight
Putting 3d art into games is only half of the journey. Even the most skilled designers need the aid of 3d modelling programs to realize their creative vision, and the variety of choices is just as wide as the art styles they can create.
See below some of the most commonly used programs by designers around the world to create all different types of 3D game art, with a list of pros and cons for each:
3ds Max is a professional 3D modeling and rendering software that offers a sharp, premium edge in creating dynamic environments and colorful characters.
Focusing on maximum artistic control and robust rendering, those using 3ds Max for 3D game art can expect an elegant, all-ends-covered journey to reliably producing quality products.
- Top-notch material quality
- Robust, well-rounded, and professional
- Easy approach to complex models
- Somewhat difficult interface
- Sharp learning curve
- Complex process to animate
Maya is a true powerhouse in 3D modelling. Offering a strong suite of simulation and animation tools, many creators find that using Maya for 3D game art simplifies processes that would otherwise be somewhat complex in other software, allowing more time to be spent on style, refinement, and quality.
With Maya there’s no need to animate and test each environmental or elemental effect separately. Models come out of the box ready to interact with the world they will be living in, and all the better-looking for it.
- Highly suited to professional 3d design
- Useful and varied plugins
- Wide variety of features
- Subscription purchase only
- Takes a lot of time to render
A long-time staple of both the game-design and animation industries, using Blender for 3d game art comes as second nature to many developers, animators, and artists.
While Blender is and has always been 100% free to download and use, this doesn’t mean that it offers any less quality. Utilizing Blender for 3d game art has been instrumental in starting the careers of many designers and can even be used to simulate.
- Highly popular software with good support
- Free and open-source
- Massive amount of public resources
- Steep learning curve
- Occasionally buggy
- Can limit production quality
Pingle Studio’s sterling reputation in game development is backed up by years of quality training and experience and boasting countless successful collaborations with major firms on games ranging from X4 and Hello Neighbor to PC Building Simulator.
We excel and thrive in realizing ideas – turning your descriptions into a concept sketch, and then from a concept sketch to a fully finished and immaculately polished final product.
Dynamic and able to tackle any genre or challenge, our team is fully dedicated to being a one-stop powerhouse of art and animation development, leaving our partners in game design fully satisfied with their end product each and every time.
Want to see more of our works? Have a different style in mind, or eager to see more? You can find our full portfolio on Artstation.