Games that changed art styles during development

While often taking a back seat to overall gameplay and mechanics, a game’s art style can be hugely important in establishing a sense of identity for a given title. A unique art style can communicate the style and tone of a game and set it apart from its competitors. The art style can even draw the player’s attention to or away from different elements, as well as lend a level of visual clarity to the artwork. Although this is not the end of everything, be the overall quality of the game, the visual presentation is important. Game designers often put a lot of thought into what art style their game should incorporate.

Something that can sometimes happen during game development is that the game completely changes its art style along the way. This can be done for a variety of reasons ranging from trying to increase marketability, wanting to differentiate the game from its contemporaries, or simply because the new style fits better with the overall vision of the game. Quite often a change in art style will result in a major shift in the tone of the game. In this list, we’ll be looking at a few examples of games that changed the art style halfway through development.


6/6 Team Fortress 2

One of the best-known examples of this phenomenon, Team Fortress 2 began development in the late 90s and would use half-life Gold source engine. This first version of Team Fortress 2 was intended to have a realistic art style (at least for now) and had many gameplay differences from the final version.

After almost a decade with little to no gaming news, Valve has reintroduced TF2 in 2006 with a final release in 2007. The final game had undergone a number of major changes in development, not the least of which was a completely different, more cartoony art style. The change turned out to be the right choice. Not only did he establish TF2 aside from the other military shooters flooding the market at the time, it also gave the game a timeless appeal. This style also allowed for more exaggerated proportions, a great boon to gameplay as it allowed different classes to be identified from a distance by their silhouettes.

5/6 Okami

It may be hard to imagine, but there was a time when Okami lacked its signature art style. While the game was still in development, it originally featured a more realistic graphical style. Thankfully, this was later replaced with the game’s signature ink painting style that matches Japan’s feudal folk setting.

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The final game’s art style is one of the most visually striking and downright gorgeous to date, and it still holds up incredibly well. While the original look would have been still impressive for the time, it’s likely that Okami wouldn’t have gained as many die-hard fans as if the developers at Clover Studios hadn’t changed the art style of the game.

4/6 Overstrike/Fuse

Unfortunately, not all art style changes actually improve a game. At E3 2011, Ratchet & Clank Developer Insomniac Games has unveiled its new project, a third-person shooter game called Overstrike. The game had a campy tone and featured a bright and colorful art style to reflect it. It actually garnered decent interest and stood out among the generic grey/brown gritty shooters of the time. So it came as a shock when a year later the game was rebranded Fuse, and now sported an entirely different art style.

This was apparently done following targeted testing, which showed that teenagers thought the previous style was too childish. The game now took on a dark, gritty look and tone. This turned out to be a costly mistake, as the game ended up bombing at retail. While a wide variety of factors can be attributed to this, one of the biggest is that the game didn’t have a single identity. He ended up getting lost in a sea of ​​other grey/brown military shooters of the era. It’s a sad ending to what initially seemed like the start of a promising new series.

3/6 The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was originally conceived as a sequel to Wind Waker, and would have featured a similar art style. However, it was feared that the reason behind Wind Waker the somewhat lackluster sales in the west were due to the cartoon’s art style, making it seem like it was for younger gamers. For this reason the developers decided to go with a more realistic look for the game which would become Twilight Princess.

The final game still used the same engine as Wind Waker, although heavily modified. It is unclear how much work has been done on Wind Waker 2 before the choice was made to change the art style. Although it could be argued that something along the lines of Wind Waker could have aged better, there is no doubt that it was the right decision for the times. When announced, Twilight Princess generated a huge amount of hype and excitement from Western fans and ended up selling over 2 million more copies than its predecessor.

2/6 Final fight in the street

Changing the art style of this game ended up being a catastrophic mistake. Final fight in the street was originally launched as Final Battle: Seven Sons and was designed to have a colorful cell-shaded art style. Its gameplay and tone would also be more in line with classic entries in the series.

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That was until the higher-ups at Capcom noticed the popularity of the Grand Theft Auto series and demanded that the developers of Capcom Production Studios 8 drastically change the art style and gameplay to make it closer GTA, and hopefully will appeal more to western fans. It ended up backfiring in spectacular fashion. Fans east and west came to despise the game, seeing it as a betrayal of the series’ core identity. The game bombed hard, ultimately killing the franchise.

1/6 Borderlands

It’s kinda hard to imagine Borderlands without its now iconic art style, but for roughly 75% of the game’s development, the game looked very different. Originally, Borderlands followed visual conventions common to games of that era with a more subdued color palette and extensive use of brown and gray colors.

This was problematic for several reasons. First, the tone of the game was starting to move away from realism and in a more cartoonish direction which the art style didn’t fit. Second, the developers were concerned that the game would be too similar to other titles from the same period such as Rage and Fallout 3 and struggled to stand out. So the decision was eventually made to lean into the comic book tone with a new art style reminiscent of a comic book. This move would ultimately prove a resounding success, as it would quickly become an iconic aspect of the game and its many sequels.

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