Cel Shading: Graphics That Never Fade

Updated on September 12, 2017

Ever since the fundamental introduction of the cathode ray tube television, home video game creation and design has become not only a form of art, but a thriving business market valued at over $30 billion in the United States alone. Unfortunately, nostalgic gamers have advancements in technology over the past few decades to thank for the destruction of most graphics in their childhood favorites. One graphical design style seems to withstand the test of time popularized by Sega's Dreamcast release of "Jet Set Radio" (Jet Grind Radio in NA) in 2000. If stricken with that nostalgic feeling, then cel shading has found a way to sustain games with the same crisp, clean, and beautiful look as the first time they were loaded. This article will highlight several games that are perfect examples of cel shading's fountain-of-youth properties.

Jet Set Radio - HD remaster Publisher: Sega
Jet Set Radio - HD remaster Publisher: Sega | Source

"Sega's Jet Grind Radio is a game full of redefinitions, forcing you to really rethink what you expect out of a game from an audio/visual standpoint while delivering some exciting, balanced gameplay at the same time."

- Jeff Gerstmann

Gamespot Critic

What is Cel Shading?

To fully appreciate what causes this unique design style to be so timeless it is beneficial to acquire an elementary understanding of how it is made. The following is a brief description of one method designers use to accomplish this:

  • A black "ink" outline that is slightly larger than the object you intend to design is generated.
  • Using the technique known as "backface culling" inverted back-facing triangles are added.
  • Once backface culling is set back to normal the shading is layered on (limited shades are used to establish a blockier look rather than a subtle emergence).
  • Finally the object is Z-buffered to acquire those interior contour lines.

This way of rendering 3D computer graphics looks to imitate a cartoon/comic art style.

Cel Shaded Pot  By User:NicolasSourd - Own work, CC BY 2.5,
Cel Shaded Pot By User:NicolasSourd - Own work, CC BY 2.5, | Source

Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker

In this continuation of the popular action/adventure series by Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka, Hyrule is presented in which, at the time, never been seen before. Much of the land is covered by the "Great Sea," adding a new aspect of sailing to a vast world ripe for exploration upon the "King of Red Lions," the ship helmed by the game's protagonist. The original demo clip was met with mixed emotions due to the cel shaded style -- something never before seen in this franchise. Once released in 2002 (Japan) and early 2003 (North America) it garnered critical acclaim, boasting a Metacritic score of 96/100. Critics who once bashed the cel shaded style now stated that it gave the game a whimsical feel.

Link at Windfall Island
Link at Windfall Island | Source

"Simply a stunning, magical game"

-Tom Bramwell


Sly 2: Band of Thieves

This sequel to Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, originally released in 2004, was developed by Sucker Punch Productions and published by Sony Entertainment. It follows Sly Cooper and his newly playable band of thieves. Bentley, a turtle, is not only the brains but also the demolitions expert while Murray, a hippo getaway driver, uses his brute strength to answer problems stealth cannot. Sly and the gang set out to defeat the Klaww Gang and steal back all the dispersed pieces of Sly's nemesis' Clockwork. IGN gave Sly 2 a 9.2/10.

Sly Cooper walking across a wire in Paris
Sly Cooper walking across a wire in Paris | Source

Klaww Gang

Arpeggio's Protege
Bengal Tiger
The Contessa
Black Widow
Dimitri Lousteau
Spice Distributor
Marine Iguana
Jean Bison
Spice Transporter
Spice Producer
Bengal Tiger

Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King

In this role-playing adventure developed by Level-5 and published by videogame powerhouse Square Enix, players assume the role of a Trodain guard. As the only ones who retain mobility after a curse descends on Trodain castle, the player, King Trode, and the princess Medea set out on a quest to find the jester Dhoulmagus and undo his sinister plot. Along their journey they acquire three distinctive companions named Yangus, Jessica, and Angelo. Boasting a musical soundtrack performed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Koichi Sugiyama, as well as displaying Akira Toriyama's (Dragon Ball, Chrono Trigger) masterful artwork. Dragon Quest VIII achieved praise world wide, the first in the series to receive a 39/40 Famitsu score while also besting Kingdom Hearts II as "Best RPG of 2005" at E3.

Our Hero walking across the grasslands
Our Hero walking across the grasslands | Source

"... best example of cel-shading since Dark Cloud 2"


Viewtiful Joe

Joe is just your everyday movie buff until one day, while at the theater with his girlfriend Silvia, the movie's antagonist reaches out from the screen and kidnaps her. Luckily for Joe, the movie's protagonist Captain Blue pulls him into the "Land of Movies" and gives him the V-watch, a device that allows him to transform in to a superhero. The player, as Joe, must use this device to save Silvia from the grips of the evil Jadow, a cabal seeking to take control of the Land of Movies. This side-scrolling-beat-'em-up published by Capcom was immediately adored upon release by gamers and critics alike. Its intriguing plot, innovative graphical design, and challenging gameplay earned it a 93/100 from Metacritic. IGN placed Viewtiful Joe at number seventeen on their "Best Gamecube Games of All Time" list. Joe and his story also earned Nintendo Power's "Most Innovative Game Design" award for 2003.

Joe preping to unleash his special attack upon some Jadow
Joe preping to unleash his special attack upon some Jadow | Source

As realistic shooters from the mid-2000's begin to look as if they were drawn with crayon, it should become obvious that definition and shades do not always mean better quality in the long haul. With the Wind Waker, Sly Cooper, and Dragon Quest VIII recently getting HD remastered editions, these games have never looked more breath-taking and will continue to amaze for years to come. Who would have ever thought, that a crude design style like cel shading would bring us graphics that never seem to fade?


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      2 years ago

      This post was so nostalgic


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