There’s no denying that over the years, video game design has become an art form fit for a museum. Where games used to be limited by pixel count and storage space, today they can indulge in pretty much any style or presentation developers can imagine. Sometimes a game even takes inspiration from famous paintings or political art movements.
From dreamy worlds that contain the surreal, to emotional turmoil represented only by rough strokes, to a game made entirely of Renaissance paintings and illuminated manuscripts, here are some paintings and art styles that inspired video games and more helped make them digital masterpieces.
Before Stray let you play as a cat, Okami let you play as a wolf. More specifically, you play as the goddess Amaterasu in her wolf form, summoned to defeat the evil of Nippon. Your quest will be aided by the Celestial Brush, a mechanic that allows you to paint on the game itself.
Okami’s world is filled with bright colors, bold strokes, and thick lines. Coupled with the very literal brushwork technique where you use ink, this style of art can be associated with the Japanese style of painting known as sumi-e. While sumi-e has traditionally lacked color, we’re certainly not complaining about the colors in this game!
9/10 Back to bed
Back to Bed is a puzzle game in which you must protect your sleepwalking self from danger and pitfalls. The game’s art style is reminiscent of Surrealism, a movement that emerged in the 1920s and aimed to depict the more dreamy, spontaneous, and weird aspects of the self.
As you play this game, think of René Magritte’s artwork called The Son of Man, which depicts a bright green apple hiding the face of the eponymous man. Like Magritte’s work, Back to Bed requires you to place identical green apples in front of your sleeping self to keep you from falling off the edge of the game’s nonsensical architecture.
8/10 The procession to Calvary
Ever wanted to wreak Monty Python-inspired havoc on world-famous paintings while upbeat music plays in the background? In The Procession to Calvary it is possible. In this point-and-click adventure game, you’ll explore famous Renaissance paintings while controlling Rembrandt’s interpretation of Bellona, the Roman goddess of war.
Characters in works such as Dieric Bouts’ The Last Supper come to life and provide humorous commentary as you explore the painted environments. Since all of the art in this game is from the Renaissance period, be prepared to see realistic interpretations of people, wars, mythological and biblical scenes, structures and lots of angels.
7/10 Disco Elysium
Disco Elysium’s art style is one of the first things you notice as soon as you boot up the game. As you sketch what type of personality you think Harry Du Bois has, you’ll find yourself staring at various images of his inner self that have been slightly smudged or not even fleshed out.
These interpretations of Du Bois can be described as Disco Elysium’s approach to Abstract Expressionism, an art movement that developed in the 1940s to convey people’s bewildering, disjointed, and often ugly inner emotions. In a game that challenges you to question everything, including yourself, this inner vision is not presented to you as a clear-cut image, but as shapes, sounds, and colors that are often frightening to observe.
6/10 Kiai Resonance
Although the premise for Kiai Resonance may seem simple – just take down your opponent with one decisive blow – its art style is anything but. This indie game uses the Japanese woodcut style called ukiyo-e to showcase its swordsmen and atmosphere. Notice how the images in the game feature strong ink strokes that outline the people, buildings, and trees, and have bright colors (like red) that stand out and draw your attention.
A famous example of the woodcut that you may be familiar with is Hokusai’s The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. This print, which has appeared in museums, works by other artists, and even anime, features the eponymous light blue wave towering over fishing boats, with Mount Fuji in the background. I hope no one fought with swords on those boats!
Although traditional illuminated manuscripts typically depicted biblical imagery and governmental laws, Inculinati’s manuscripts prefer to compete in a strategic showdown. As the Inculinati, prepare to gather an army of animals and mythical creatures, collect ink and crush enemies with your giant hand.
Illuminated original manuscripts boasted bright colors and even gold to add an extra flair of importance to their illustrations. In this game you can draw a giant snail. So it’s like gold in that this game is comedy gold!
4/10 Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX is the remake version of the 2006 games, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Blue Rescue Team and Red Rescue Team. One of the biggest changes you’ll notice is the watercolor-like vibe this updated game showcases.
From the moment you begin, it’s like stepping into the pages of a storybook. This whimsical and colorful style is reminiscent of artist EH Shepard, best known for the illustrations for AA Milne’s book Winnie the Pooh. It’s a playful and bold take on the original pixel art, and one that puts a fresh new spin on this classic. Literally.
3/10 Diverse garden
Manifold Garden elevates the art of puzzle-solving by transporting you to an infinite, physics-ignoring world of patterns and beautiful architecture. In this game, you can jump off a ledge and land right back where you started, scale waterfalls like they were stairs, and watch new structures emerge and repeat themselves seemingly forever.
This type of design resembles the artwork of Dutch artist MC Escher. Escher, who was famous for incorporating math and science into his drawings and prints, playing with perspective to the point where even the organized looks disorganized. One of Escher’s most famous prints, Relativity, evokes Manifold Garden’s sense that things never have a definite beginning or end. It is as fascinating as it is confusing.
In Sable, you take on the role of the title character as she explores a stunning open world on her motorbike. Inspired by artist Jean Giraud, also known as Moebius, Sable’s unique art style features bold lines, piercing colors and realistic cartoon design.
Moebius was best known for his innovative work in comics and science fiction, which played with perspective, shadows, and bold outlines, all elements found in this game’s sand-filled world. For a more direct connection between Sable and Moebius, see Moebius’ comic Arzach, in which another silent protagonist traverses vast, beautiful, and almost empty landscapes.
1/10 mini metro
You don’t necessarily have to go to a museum to find works of art. Art can be found everywhere, even in everyday life. This is especially true for Mini Metro. Mini Metro lets you create a working commuter subway system. In this way, you can follow in the footsteps of Henry Charles Beck or Harry Beck, whose 1933 proposal for a topographical map helped make the London Underground system easier to navigate.
While previous maps focused on the distance of each stop from each other, Beck’s map grouped these stops into a simpler, linear line. Although Beck wasn’t an artist, his mapping technique has been used since her debut in London and is sure to help you create your own personal mini-subway systems.
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