Kevin G (@applesaucers) on Twitter pointed out this astutely argued article (AAA, truly), that explains why modern ideas of “pixel art” are so wrong-headed. http://alvyray.com/Memos/CG/Microsoft/6_pixel.pdf
In sum, what we’re seeing is not what we’re intended to see. Pixels aren’t square; they’re overlapping fuzzy points, that are fed into a display system. And the pixels designed for a CRT are designed for the artifacts and properties of a CRT display. For instance, the strawberries in Pac-Man:
There are no white dots in this sprite… or are there?
We’re not meant to see the raw pixel data any more than we’re meant to read raw code unless we’re researching how a thing was programmed, or listen to the raw takes of a band’s recording before they’re engineered into an album. I mean, you can – but if you do that you know what you’re getting into. And for older games, I don’t think many people do know.
To that end, post your favorite examples of things that look just fine or otherwise great on a CRT display, then then dissolve into bland puddles of color if you look at an array of the raw pixel data.
The green is meant to melt away and turn into cracks, accents, shading. The orange is supposed to bloom and become a highlight. Look at the texture and details in her helmet, in the cook of her knees. Look at the awesome shading on her gun arm. Look how you can actually distinguish her shoulder, and the parts of her gun arm. And then look at the undifferentiated mosaic that the purists will call perfect and clean. Missing so much of the intended signal.
Ninja Gaiden 1:
Just, the bricks. Man, look at the difference. How many colors, how much texture, are we missing out on?
Also, this illustrates how solid outlines are meant to work for NES games. In an emulator, Ryu looks like a Colorform being shifted around on the backdrop. On an actual NES, on an actual TV, he has shading and detail. the outline serves both to differentiate his anatomy and to blend him into the backdrop – as opposed to set him apart, as it does on your LCD monitor.
WHAT ELSE YOU GOT, KIDS?