Cultural Plus: CryptoPunks, NFT, Video Games, and Pixel Art

A Brief History of Pixel Art, from its simplest to its finest.

NFT & CryptoPunks

Since the formation of the world in new verse or commonly called ‘Metaverse’, art workers, especially in the visual design field, have been aggressively exhibiting their work through NFT. Besides the money they get from selling NFTs, this phenomenon appears to be most suitable for its artists’ existence.

Image by Larva Labs

Who doesn’t know CryptoPunks? The pixel art-based character inspired by London punk scenes has become one of the non-fungible tokens projects on Ethereum. Launched in 2017 by Larva Labs, this project has a significant role in today’s NFT world.

Over the years, several CryptoPunks collections have been sold for fantastic prices. Punk #5822 for instance, this alien-style punk featuring a blue bandana, sold for $23 million on February 12, 2022. This punk is an alien group which only nine aliens in the whole CryptoPunks collection.

Image by Larva Labs

I mean, it’s just an ordinary square-to-square art. It seems to have a gut in its growth period, considering the creation of pixel art is also a doorway in technology that we can enjoy today.

Video Games Era

Throughout its history, pixel art has become more visible in video games than in museum exhibitions. Most pixel artists in the 1970s would create their graphics using machine code. Or similarly low-level assembly language, still to draw each game’s graphics line by line. Even when the first home consoles arrived in 1977, none of them had frame buffers until the television in 1979, and arcade wards didn’t standardize them until Taito’s 1978 Space Invaders.

Image by Space Invaders

As a result, the pixel art of the 70s prioritized function over form. Graphic usually monochrome and readable silhouettes were more useful than aesthetically pleasing character designs. In the arcade, the surrounding hardware often played a role in assisting each game’s visual presentation. Providing artificial color using strips of tinted cellophane laid over the monitor and supplementary artwork that fed the player’s imagination.

Space Invaders was a watershed for the monochrome games of its day, using its frame buffer to display more carefully designed characters. Aliens that you could even call cute, those invaders sparked an invader boom in Japan, which helped establish the country’s first arcades at the time called “Invaders Houses“.

Image: Galaga, Galaxian, Pac-Man

The Invader Boom was eventually overtaken in 1979 by Namco’s “Galaxian“. “Galaxian” was Namco’s first game to support RGB color, capable of displaying red, green, and blue. Mixing the light colors produces a broader spectrum in much the same way a painter would mix pigments. This was followed by the infamous early video games Pac-Man and Galaga in 1980-1981, which demonstrated the advantages of pixel art sprites or stamps as they were known back then. For that reason, by the start of the 1980s, pixel art was the industrial standard for video games.

Nowadays

From the past five years until now, pixel art is back in popularity with its square face with character. Many artists compete to create new pixel art faces, if we used to only know 1 to 16 bits, pixel art in modern faces has many colors that are more refreshing to the eye, the 3D version of pixel art is also interesting to explore.

However, not a few artists also hunt for old gadgets just to make pixel art. Pinot, an Indonesian-blood artist, likes to digging old gadgets as collections including supporting devices for productivity.

“We will find a lot of uniqueness of the electronic gadgets that we have. If it used to be a limitation (color is less accurate, etc.) then now it is unique for the owner itself. For example this Game Boy Camera. If it used to be a limitation (only 2-bit color, very low pixels, etc.) now it is unique and it gets appreciated more.” Pinot says.

Pixel art has developed rapidly following the uniqueness of each color produced by a square. Indeed, changing trends follow evolutions over time, but each art produced has its own characteristics. And pixel art pays it all.

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Kultur Ekstensif is an independent curatorial media that explores in-depth on culture, lifestyle and everything in between. Our editorial content is not influenced by any commissions.