Stop Saying "Stylized..."

…but what should I say instead? I know it’s an overused oversimplification, and often misused or misleading. I was going to use it to describe this job post, but then I realized it really doesn’t fit; they want a broad range of skills, a lot more than simply “stylized.”

So rather than calling Spellbreak stylized, I’m really trying to be more precise these days: graphic & punchy, or something along those lines. I guess “stylized” just has a ring to it, or something. Anyways, I’m curious what y’all think of this word, why it’s a standard go-to, and what that means for us.

And also, what is “realistic,” even?

However you describe them, the effects in this game are impressive. I’m excited to see where it goes.


Stylized for me is big graphic reads generally speaking with punchy timing. I think within stylized there is a spectrum as well though…from straight hand drawn 2d effects, to hand painted 3d ones. The purist in me has a hard time calling something procedurally generated stylized because it needs that personal touch, but it leaves me conflicted because after all, at the end of the day it’s all just massaged numbers eh?

As far as this game goes, I would call it stylized just because of the fact it’s used a toon like shader and on the character and fx level I would consider animesque. The environments I wouldn’t considered stylized in this particular screen shot. I understand why this could have been a choice, simply for clear reading of combat via style contrast, but I am hard pressed to make a call without seeing the timing on all the animation :wink:


Stylized, is pretty much defined as depicting in a non-realistic way.
Cubism is stylized, romanticism isn’t.

So it functions as this broad umbrella term for anything that includes non-realistic elements.

Useing it in games is a bit weird though as actual photorealistic rendering isn’t yet a thing. (kinda) And stylizing is use in most “realistic” games because it is so useful to the design of a game.

Call of duty attempts to realistically render it’s environments for example, but there’s still a lot of stylization going on. (think ui, non-realistic lighting interactions, over-exageration for gameplay reasons, etc)

I think potentialy describing the style from which something lends elements is slightly more usefull.

  • Toony : Rendered to look like a cartoon.
  • Anime(or manga)-esk : Rendered to look like a typical japanese anime.
  • pixar-esk.

Or describing techniques or elements:

  • Simplified.
  • Halfone shaded.
  • Exagerated.
  • Graphic

But that obviously doesn’t sell as well :smiley:

Last thing to concider is that, at this point, stylized has kinda started living it’s own life in the gameing world as illustrated. So maybe comparing it to the general art term doesn’t do us any favors.


People tend to disagree with me when I say even uncharted is “stylized”.

((what I meant was, its not realistic, and since people want to call everything non-realistic stylized (and perhaps pixelart as a separate category) I use that particular word when talking about in its a stylized representation of realism.))

When people ask me if I do stylized I ask them to show me some examples of what they want, and its always different. sometimes more like Mario, sometimes low poly, other times its wow-ish, sometimes something more like paragon.

sometimes I wish we had something more along the lines of what they call paintings.
modernism, impressionism, abstract, surrealism, etc.


lol didn’t we talk a bit about this on the fb group? I’m really glad you brought this up! I have OPINIONS on this subject, I just want to preface this by saying that these are all my personal views and I don’t presume to speak for my employer or anyone else!

But yeah, I haaaaate using terms like “stylized” and “realistic” to describe artwork. It forces you into a narrow mindset where art exists on a linear scale, and is either one or the other. Just like you said Jason, the more we think about those terms, the less useful they become. I get that they’re part of our vocabulary and are convenient shorthands for consumers, but as professionals within the field we need to think differently about this stuff. It gets even worse when people attach actual job qualifications to the terms, i.e. I’ve seen job postings for a “stylized” game has VFX done using Photoshop and After Effects, while a “realistic” one uses Houdini and Substance Designer. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

The way I think about it is - if art fundamentals like animation principles, composition, color theory, etc. is what we’re trying to do, style is how we’re trying to do it. For example, color theory teaches us that the color orange is complementary to teal, but it doesn’t tell you which color your AoE effect should be, right? That’s what your game’s style is for. The “rules” for what makes great artwork is the same across all projects, but how we choose to approach and respect those rules is going to be totally different depending on what we’re working on - that’s what I like to call style. Every game has an art direction, every game has a style, and we’re expected to create art that fits regardless of what that style is.

With that mindset, “stylized” suddenly becomes a ton of (sometimes contradictory) things; simple, bold, vibrant, slow, disproportionate. “Realistic” becomes grounded, desaturated, high-fidelity, detailed, gritty, cinematic. I consider The Last of Us to be grounded and detailed, but the world is also vibrant and not really desatured - does that make it stylized or realistic? Journey is simple and slow, but incredibly cinematic, so same issue there.

Not oversimplying stuff into these two categories will help you, as an artist, to understand why Wind Waker is different from World of Warcraft, or even how Battlefield and Call of Duty approach similar problems very differently.


Spellbreak seems stylized to me. There’s:

  • Clearly defined edges, shapes, and shape language
  • Saturated colors
  • High contrast, both in value and color (in multi-color fx)
  • Snappy particle systems
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I’m really getting a lot of thoughts as I read the wide array of opinions on this. FWIW, here’s how Google defines Stylize:

“depict or treat in a mannered and nonrealistic style.”

So when it comes down to it, every video game ever is stylized to a degree, some being far less realistic than others. Maybe that’s all we’re really trying to say when we use it. The logical side of me wishes we had a standard formula…

less than 25% realistic = stylized
greater than 75% realistic = realistic
25% - 75% realistic = an ambiguous area where these terms fall short

Worth noting, these hypothetical percentages could apply to an infinite number of styles, not just a certain group. There are unlimited ways to distort reality in art. I’d caution against tying “stylized” to any specific artistic principles, techniques, or aesthetics.


I`m agree with Chris about linear scale from stylized/realized. It must be with more variables. Something like this chart(its just for example, it must be more comlpex, may be not only one chart) where realistic it is complex area on this chart. But most of people very lazy and much simpler just say its stylized or realistic than try to explain why.

For example, i’ll transtorm ‘realistic’ explosion into black and white explosion… Must new explosion be stylized or realistic? IMHO, it wiil be and stylized and realistic for me. Stylized color, but in common its real explosion by dynamics, form, and etc… some kind of ‘filtered realistic explosion’. Or I can say that the game stylized, but fx not in this case. Realistic FX in stylized game, something like this.

Other question, how about things, that doesnt exist in real world? In Quantum break we see time reverse fx and etc. And for me its look very realistic, but why not stylized? I think its about how FX lies on the rules of gameworld and all enviroment. Realistic for game world, but not realistic for ours. But all world of QB its recreating of our world, so it easily can associated with ours.
May be, depending on how much we associate game world with our world it become more or less stylized, doesn`t it? And it can depend not only on visual, but on lore, characters, gameplay…

P.S: Sorry for bad English, not often really write comments and talk like this. But i hope you understand the main idea :slight_smile:

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I think if we swapped the word “stylized” with “exhaggerated” that would help explain how “stylized” vs “realistic” any effect is.


Whenever me and my friends talk about this kind of subject I always bring up Scott Mccloud’s triangle of communication.
I think instead of being “Stylized” it’s more of a question as to how abstracted things are. ‘Stylized’ is a really vague term that can encompass a broad spectrum of art in general, from painting to comics, to games and so on.

I think this is closer to what we need to start developing as a language for how to describe the artistic impression of games in general. But only as an afterthought. I think if you try to conform to some sort of style or technique beforehand, you’re boxing yourself into a strict mindset that could potentially hinder your creative output.

This is the triangle of communication.


That’s really cool thanks for sharing!


I guess stylized can already happen if you are taking or changing something, like doing abstraction or , changing proportions, taking colors values away etc., so that you are going away from Naturalism,
for example I like in Picasso’s Bull Abstraction.


Gesture driven graphic design.

Motion defined graphic elements with active linear shapes that assist in communicating effect.

Animated graphics exercising minimalist aesthetics.


since we are on this topic :slight_smile: lets add this common art direction phrase…

"it looks too cartoony"


We have an opportunity to really come up with names as awesome and evocative as music genres.

Our game has retropunch style vfx.


lol! These are fantastic. It reminds me of when early 2D frame-by-frame Flash animators attempted to coin the term “Tradigital Animation,” but it never stuck.

But maybe right here, right now, we have the power to actually make new terminology stick?

i believe.

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The adoption of the term “soulercoaster” and what to call swipe meshes was a very heated discussion in the FXVille offices. It ended in a truce. No ground gained by any side.


The souls coaster on then


There was an intresting article about this on, might worth to read it:

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(i think this will be an ongoing thing forever)

I do like Kevaliers name suggestions.