Retro Slasher's Aesthetic

The concept for Retro Slasher is multi-part: it’s a rogue-lite action game where you must protect yourself and your fellow counselors from a mysterious killer; it’s based on campground slasher films of the 80s; and it looks and plays like a game from the early 80s would. In this post, I’ll be speaking to the third point.

First of all, why? While retro-style indie games are huge and have been for a long time, they’re usually done in the style of consoles from the third or fourth gaming generation (NES, Sega Genesis, etc). The second gaming generation – Atari, Colecovision, Intellivision – seems neglected. Which is a shame, since it brought us some of the most fundamental games in history.

Also, it fits the period. The most iconic campground slasher films are from the early 80s, so it would make sense for a campground slasher video game to be released on a second-gen console.

Secondly, we need rules. I’m obviously not following the original rules very strictly – this game isn’t programmed in some decades-dead dialect of assembly, after all. So, what are the rules of this anachronistic aesthetic, and how did I arrive at them?

The priorities were simple:

  • Program it in whatever was comfortable and portable.
  • Use a 16:9 widescreen resolution. Most monitors these days are widescreen, and pretty much all TVs are. The in-game resolution can be any actual size, as long as it scales up to 1920x1080 comfortably.
  • Make the graphics look like they belong on an old console. They don’t need to follow the arbitrary hardware limitations of any particular console, but they do need to look like they belong at a glance.
  • Make it play like it belongs, too. Perhaps borrow & mutate some mechanics from some contemporary games.

With those priorities in mind, here’s the final ruleset for the aesthetic:

It’s programmed with C# and Monogame. C# is a lot faster and more powerful than something like GML, and generally easier to work with than C++. With Monogame, it’s portable to basically any PC, phone, or console. Also, it makes gamepad support easy! As a developer, I personally prefer working with my own code to learning an IDE like Game Maker or Unity. There’s nothing wrong with using either of those, it’s merely a preference thing.

The resolution I decided on was 240x135. In researching the resolutions of a few different contemporary consoles, I came up with widths of 160, 240, and 256. 160x90 would’ve just been too small; everything was crowded. 256x144 seemed just a little too large; too much free space. So I decided to settle in the middle with 240x135. It’s still possible to make some screens feel crowded, while others feel free and open.

The pixel art uses a small palette with each sprite being “one-bit”. As far as I know, the single-color-sprites rule isn’t an official rule of any contemporary console, but after looking at lots of Atari graphics, the games I most wanted to imitate seemed to have this as a de-facto rule. In Adventure, for instance, every object only consists of one color.

For dealing with the one-color limitation, objects use absence of color rather than another color. Characters’ eyes are transparent pixels; stray bits of hay can be seen hanging out of the bale because of empty spots; the definition in the lunch tables comes from empty space; etc.

Several core mechanics were inspired by contemporary or near-contemporary games. Rather than having a scrolling screen, walking to the edge of the screen moves the camera over a complete screen length, as seen in games like Adventure and The Legend of Zelda. You can only carry one item at a time, like in Adventure. Within seconds you can go from loading the game up to playing, like most games of that era.

In conclusion, the game’s aesthetic was made to feel like a second-gen console game, despite modern conveniences like release on modern platforms, a practical resolution, and support for keyboard and gamepad.

And it’s nearing completion! It’s been in development for a few months now, and the to-do list is getting smaller and smaller. No release date yet, but we’re coming up to that point soon. Follow the Retro Slasher twitter or the Silent Tower Games twitter for news regular updates.

Thanks for reading!