In Defense of Pixel Art

What did SNK do to Metal Slug? After months of waiting, Metal Slug 7 arrived on the Xbox Live Arcade as Metal Slug XX… and man was it ugly. For some reason, the idea has seeped into the community that “HD filters” are the way to experience games with older, lower resolution sprite work. SNK did it before too, with Fatal Fury Special. There is no way to remove the filter, which is anything but “HD.”

What that filter does is apply a layer of noise reduction to everything. It turns crisp sprites into blobs, robbing them of their art, all because some gamers are spoiled rotten by anti-aliasing in 3-D titles. It makes sense in a 3-D space, where someone deep into the frame could be shooting you, but the blockiness of the image prevents you from seeing your opponent as opposed to an object.

In a 2-D space, that is not a problem. Enemies are always distinct. It offers no advantage to “fix” them. To be clear, the term “HD” is a terrible misnomer. It refers to a resolution, and adding a noise filter to games does not suddenly increase their resolution.

Players have lost their appreciation of the sprite, a shame since Metal Slug in particular has some gorgeous hand drawn art. Every pixel is in a place for a reason; someone put it there in that frame of animation. People who complain the image looks “blocky” are missing the point entirely. Why would you want to ruin someone’s work because a classic 2-D title does not feature the same visual fidelity as Call of Duty?

We should be cherishing the sprite, not smothering it with filters. It is the equivalent of smoothing over the Mona Lisa because *gasp* brush strokes are visible. That is the nature of the beast. You can physically see how the brush strokes come together to create an image, and the same goes for sprites. Every frame of animation offers information, a look into its creation. These ridiculous filters ruin someone’s ability to do that.

Don’t take this the wrong way. The look of something like Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix is spectacular, but more importantly, untouched. Nothing is smoothed over. You can call Metal Slug XX lazy since the game has yet to change many of the same sprites used since 1995, and you’d be right. The game is due for a make-over, but trying to appease a segment of the gaming populace who lack the appreciation of this quickly disintegrating art form in the meantime is deplorable.

Update: It is odd the day this is posted, SNK releases Neo Geo Battle Coliseum to the Live Arcade with… graphic filters and no option to turn them off, even though the PlayStation 2 edition offered the choice. For shame SNK.

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