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The Most Beautiful Video Games Inspired by Famous Artists

From Walt Disney to Piet Mondrian, video games have long been taking visual cues from a great number of artists past and present.

Katsushika Hokusai's Great Wave off Kanagawa, of the 1830s, is a globally recognizable piece of art from Japan's Edo period, and an aesthetic influence on the 2006 video game 'Ōkami.' Image via Wikipedia

Ever since the dawn of gaming, there has been a huge debate about whether video games can be considered art. This has been inflamed time and time again by the latest releases, which constantly push the boundaries of what can be achieved within the medium. Naively, those arguing against always seem to deny the creators and artists the proper credit for their work, labeling their output as nothing more than a toy. This is disingenuous and under-appreciates the amount of effort and painstaking research that goes into the development of many modern games.


But while certain areas of the art world seek to distance themselves through a combination of criticism and snobbery, video games are drawing ever closer pulling in more and more influences from filmmaking, architecture, and other mediums naturally regarded as "artistic." This exchange has produced some of the most vibrant and visually compelling gaming titles. It's also nothing new. With that being said, here are eight beautiful games inspired by real-life artists.

A screenshot from 'Transistor'

'Transistor,' inspired by Gustav Klimt

Supergiant's science-fiction role-playing game of 2014, Transistor, is a great place to start when talking about how art and particularly artists have influenced gaming. Simply by looking at some of its environment assets, you can begin to assess the impact of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt on the game's aesthetic. Specifically, the game appears to borrow from Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I and his popular painting The Kiss, with its use of art nouveau patterning and reliance on opulent colors.

'Ōkami' screen via the game's official website

'Ōkami,' inspired by Katsushika Hokusai

When Ōkami was released back in 2006, critics rightly praised it for its striking visual style that lent heavily from the Japanese Ukiyo-e genre. This style of woodblock printing was prominent during the Edo period of Japanese printing and boasted such celebrated artists as Hiroshige and Masanobu. A popular theme depicted within the genre included the representations of folk tales. This made it a perfect fit for a game focusing on folklore and celestial beings. The artist that is most commonly associated with Ōkami is Hokusai, whose influence can be gleaned from early concept art as well as some of the in-game backgrounds.


'Ico,' inspired by Giorgio de Chirico

Fumito Ueda's 2001 puzzle-platformer Ico is considered by many to be one of the greatest games of all time. Amongst its most attractive aspects was its gorgeous art style, which has gone on to influence The Legend of Zelda series director Eiji Aonuma as well as Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima. The Italian metaphysical painter Giorgio de Chirico was an inspiration for Ueda while making Ico. His work also had an impact upon the creation of Ico's Japanese and European box art, which was a deliberate homage to Chirico's The Nostalgia of the Infinite. Ueda believed the allegorical world of Ico had much in common with the surrealistic domain that had been shaped by de Chirico.

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A screenshot from 'Dishonored'

'Dishonored,' inspired by Giovanni Antonio Canaletto

While making Dishonored, developers Bethesda were very open about their aesthetic influences. One of the artists frequently cited was the Italian landscape painter Canaletto, whose work depicted 18th-century Venice and London. Canaletto was responsible for shaping some of the architecture that would appear in the game's fictional city of Dunwall. This resulted in the title having an air of authenticity while players partook in its intelligent stealth-action gameplay.

A screenshot from 'Cuphead'

'Cuphead,' inspired by Walt Disney Productions and Fleischer Studios

The forthcoming Cuphead is a game that drew headlines from the press as soon as it was announced, almost primarily because of its excellent art style: a glorious throwback to the early days of animation. The run-and-gun shooter, out on Xbox One and PC in 2016, is a marvel to look at, taking cues from both Walt Disney and his fierce competitor Max Fleischer for its characters and environments. One of the hallmarks of this particular era of animation that made its way into Cuphead is the character design, which revolves around exaggerated features and huge, expressive eyes.

Artwork from 'Ori and the Blind Forest'


'Ori and the Blind Forest,' inspired by Hayao Miyazaki

You don't have to look far to see the influence of acclaimed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki on the video game industry. Without him many of our favorite video games would look different, including the likes of the Final Fantasy series, Ni No Kuni and Beyond Good & Evil. And he continues to inspire video game developers to this day, the most recent example of this being Ori and the Blind Forest, from earlier in 2015. The game takes notes from Miyazaki's 1984 feature Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The game deliberately gives off the appearance of being hand-drawn and uses light in much the same way as Miyazaki in Nausicaaä, and his 1997 film Princess Mononoke. It even contains a level that is named after the pre-Studio Ghibli film as a subtle hat tip, named "Valley of the Wind."

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A screenshot from 'The Bridge'

'The Bridge,' inspired by M.C. Escher

There's no ignoring M.C. Escher's importance in the creation of Ty Taylor's 2013 puzzler The Bridge. Immediately, you can see aspects of Escher's work being drawn upon to inform level design, with impossible constructions occurring throughout the many stages. The central character is even modeled after the graphic artist himself. Some of the pieces that have their fingerprints on the game include his famous lithograph The Bridge, and his most popular work Relativity.

A screenshot from 'Thomas Was Alone'

'Thomas Was Alone,' inspired by Piet Mondrian

Who said rectangular shapes couldn't be interesting? After Mike Bithell's fantastic debut Thomas Was Alone, pretty much nobody. Though the story and puzzles elevated the title to the status of indie classic, the simple design was an endearing trait that sold it for many gamers. Edge reported that the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian was an influence on Bithell while he was in the process of implementing this distinctive art direction. Mondrian's minimalistic works, such as Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray, and Blue from 1921, offer some important clues to back this up.

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