Aesthetics Wiki

8-Bit is the aesthetic associated with early home gaming and arcade games, similar to early DOS and other early operating systems. It grew out of graphic limitations of games that ran on hardware with 8-bit CPUs like Sega Master System, NES, Game Boy, Atari, and Virtual Pets. It is also associated with later games that didn't necessarily run on 8-bit hardware but still had limited graphics.

It is characterized by blocky, sometimes extremely simplified pixel art and absence of dithering. Art, especially animated sprites, often lacks any outline or shading. Another common design element is text with a dropshadow to add legibility or visual appeal. Because of the low resolution (the consoles in particular were limited to 256-pixel resolution) of these systems relative to the display, the pixels were extremely large, particularly on consumer televisions which could easily be twice the size of a typical CRT display. While 8-bit is generally understood to correspond primarily with the Sega Master System and NES-based console games, this page includes earlier and similar-era media on other platforms like arcades and computers.

Due to its nostalgia factor and the low cost of extremely simple graphics for amateur game design, the aesthetic has never entirely gone out of fashion. However, most "retro 8-bit" games tend to harken back to the 16-bit era rather than true 8-bit.[1][2]


The earliest games published in the late 70s and early 80s were heavily limited by the color palettes and lack of understanding of how to work in what was essentially a new medium. The resulting games frequently presented a complete lack of detail or subtlety. Graphics lacked in dithering, aliasing or outlines and animation was extremely simplistic. Typical examples include Karateka, Space Invaders, Utopia and Winter Games. Some computer games continued to display a similar aesthetic well into the late 80s, like King's Quest. This era is here referred to as the Big Pixels sub-aesthetic.

As the eighties progressed, early NES games introduced a different graphical paradigm to PC games, leading directly to the style today known as 8-bit, and characterized by its reliance on blocks of 8x8 pixels, which couldn't use more than three different colors. Further limits existed on the total number of sprites that could be displayed, such as the total number of colors, etc. This created an immediately identifiable look in games like Super Mario World and Pixel Medieval Fantasy games. As game design progressed, designers and artists developed tricks to get around these limitations leading to games like Kirby's Adventure and Mega Man 4-6.

Even the simpler 16-bit games were a marked step up over their 8-bit equivalents. The difference is always very obvious when comparing an 8-bit game and its 16-bit successor or port:




The exact nature of limitations varied depending on the exact systems involved, and were very different on earlier computers than on consoles. Early computer games had a specific aesthetic that we'll call Big Pixels:

  • Images composed of flat sections of colors
  • Hardly any lining or aliasing
  • Usually no dithering
  • Very low color numbers overall, often as little as 4 for the entire game
  • Little to no on-screen UI

Classic 8-bit hallmarks:

  • 8x8 sprites used to construct everything
    • (Some consoles did include 8x16 sprites)
  • Sprites frequently unlined
  • Limited use of dithering
  • Limited on-screen palette: despite a total maximum of 256, usually only 64 could be used simultaneously
  • A three-color limit for each individual sprite
  • Simplistic animation
  • Flickering caused by exceeding horizontal sprite limits
  • Monospace fonts
  • Text with a drop-shadow, especially in HUDs

A peculiarity of 8-Bit graphics is that the pixels, especially on CRT televisions, had some black spaces around them, allowing for much subtler actual appearances than can be credited when looking at their equivalents on modern monitors.


Older Video Games[]

  • Alex Kidd in Miracle World (1986)
  • Civilization 1 (1991)
  • Civilization 2 (1996)
  • Day of the Tentacle (1993)
  • Duck Hunt (1984)
  • Excitebike (1984)
  • Hang-On (1985)
  • Karateka (1984)
  • Kings Quest 1 (1984)
  • Lemmings (1991)
  • Maniac Mansion (1987)
  • Might and Magic 1 (1985)
  • Might and Magic 2 (1986)
  • Prince of Persia (1989)
  • Super Mario Bros. (1985)
  • Winter Games (1985)

Modern Games and Remakes[]

  • Blasphemous
  • Cave Story
  • C-Evo (Civilization clone)
  • Shovel Knight
  • Stardew Valley
  • Terraria
  • Tiny Civilization


  • MS-DOS menus and interfaces
  • Windows 95 Haunted House screensaver