Art and animation

Playing With Nostalgia: Using ‘80s Animation to Design an Exciting Video Game Experience

Every piece of art co-exists in a space that inspires and is inspired. With Global Steel, we have been inspired by old cartoons. How old? The cartoons of the ’80s. Remember The Centurions? He-Man? How about M.A.S.K.?

In this blog entry, we break down aspects of ‘80s animation that motivate our approach to animating features of the game.

Before we dive into things, note that we will refer to a lot of ‘1’s and ‘2’s. In the animation world, 1s mean every single frame is unique, so at 24 frames per second you’ll have 24 unique drawings within that second. 2s mean that an image holds for two frames, rather than one. So, if we were to animate one second at 24 frames per second on twos, it means every other frame will be unique.

The Walks

Though He-Man is a very good example of smooth, and rotoscopic walk cycles, every hero and villain has the same animation. For our game, the inspiration for walks is taken from cartoons like Dungeons and Dragons and M.A.S.K. Those shows had a more general approach with lesser frames and were non-rotoscopic. This allowed every character to have their own animation depending on the sequence.

In our game, the walk looks more natural as it is in 2s based on The Visionaries. The style also comes very close to that used in the 90s. This makes for the perfect combo of consistency, 3-dimensionality, and detail.

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Character walk cycle from Global Steel © Macondo Games

The Runs

The runs in these TV shows are in 2s (except in He-Man, where kids run in 2s while adults run in 1s).

Spacing has been limited to make frames register to the eye. The frames are very rotoscopic; giving it a buttery smooth flow as every frame has a unique drawing (referring to the lady). From He-Man & The Masters of the Universe.

We wanted to avoid players feeling bored with slow gameplay. So we decided to go with faster run cycles for important characters. Cheetara from Thundercats was the perfect reference for what we were trying to achieve. In the Thundercats opening there is a sequence where Cheetara runs across a group of monsters in the Thundercats opening. Her upper body bends forward to show aero dynamism, as well as the frames in it. As a result it looks smooth and aggressive.

Extreme animation in 1s, far spacing to show speed, extra yellow FX to show the blur which adds to her speed. From Thundercats.

We mixed Cheetara’s running posture with a mixture of 1s and 2s for all the main character and boss running sequences while the other lower tier grunt enemies have their sequences in 2s.

Magdalena‘s (© Macondo Games) running sequence is a mix of 1s and 2s. This makes the gameplay feel fast while also giving weight to the animation.
The grunt’s generic run has been animated in 2s.


In western cartoons from the ‘80s, the transformations are quick with white flashes while the silhouette morphs into a different shape. While in anime transformations involve the body expanding and contracting.

This transformation incorporates flat silhouettes, while the colour flashes between orange, blue and white – making it appear as if the image is continuously moving while oscillating between those colours. From He-Man & The Masters of the Universe.
Instead of just transforming with some light flashes and silhouette changes, the animators literally show his transformation bit by bit. There has been a lot of reuse of frames and panning still shots. From Dragon Ball Z.

The Incredible Hulk was the perfect reference for our game as it combines the best of both worlds. It incorporates more consistency, progressive transformation, and character acting. All of this in a limited fashion which was common in the ’80s.

As the Hulk transforms, his clothes rip apart. It happens slowly so the audience can register his transformation. He angrily bangs his hands on the ground, before finally looking into the screen and turning green. From The Incredible Hulk.

For one of our bosses, we have incorporated character acting and impactful energy waves, along with smoke FX enveloping them which creates an overall 3D feel. Furthermore, it makes the sequence more dynamic.

The timing was stretched out in a few places to make her transformation sink in. Volumetric smoke erupting from the body, with a few sharp wisps was added to signify her slow progression into a beast.


The FX animations in western cartoons of the ’80s are bubblier and round, catering to children. In anime, smoke and impact FX tend to have a sharper/triangular shape to make the effect more serious and violent.

Comic-like, but basic solid coloured smoke. From He-Man & The Masters of the Universe.
Sharp, strong glows with saturated colours, white impact frames for intensity, as well as air brush-styled dome shock-waves, so that the FX blends with the overall sharp scene. From Sailor Moon.

Thankfully, there are sequences from The Centurions and The Visionaries which blend well with the Japanese-themed style of one of the studios known as TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha). They are responsible for The Centurions and Spiderman. It is an important studio to keep in mind when it comes to taking inspiration.

Giant reddish orange smoke encompasses the screen conveying the range of the explosion. There is a base colour along with a darker shade of the same colour, giving it a lot of volume and a 3-D effect. From Centurions.

Other than that, anime like Dragon Ball Z, City Hunter, Sailor Moon and Yu Yu Hakusho are some prime examples for FX animations.

Initial sharp spikes show an impactful burst. Circular point is surrounded with smoke which focuses on the point of explosion. The volumetric smoke has contrasting colours (orange/yellow centre to denote the point of explosion and red/grey brownish smoke).
From Dragon Ball Z.
A red smoke with white highlights signifying the section that carries the firepower, slowly fading away without fading out (using transparency to extinguish the smoke).

Character design

The ‘80s and ‘90s characters always depended on realistic proportions and facial features as if a real person were a cartoon. He-Man and Fire and Ice represent this style well. They used rotoscopic animation to support this life-like style. But, later cartoons produced by Japanese studios like Toei Animation and TMS Studios went for a more limited approach. Hence, they enhanced the details via shading while reducing the number of frames and making the animation more consistent.

Highly detailed faces with strong and semi-sharp edges to show how toned these characters are. Proportions are fairly realistic with semi-exaggerated eyes (in some characters), which makes them look expressive and beautiful.
Facial contours such as the cheekbones are hashed with lines for more definition while the hair has independent strands. Facial features remain realistic and thus the characters still look good without any shading and just base colours.
In line with American ‘80s animation, we emphasize the line weight and hash-lines.

Body design

The 80s character physiques were modeled to match the conventional perception of an ‘ideal physique’. The men possessed buff, wide chests and smaller waists and broad shoulders, making them look barbaric. The women had strong but slender physiques. While they had a wider chest and well-toned arms and legs with thick thighs, their waists were really thin, making them look like a pristine hourglass. Contours are defined through hash-lines with line weight and the figures do not needing shading.

The males and females have very similar physiques. The males are broad-shouldered and thin-waisted with muscular limbs. The women have a wider chest and pelvis while having a smaller waist and toned limbs, making them athletic, acrobatic and tall.
Our iteration.
After applying some colors.


When it comes to the backgrounds of the ‘80s, every background was hand painted via poster colours on textured paper and blended really well while keeping them saturated and poppy. The backgrounds often had gradients and strong values indicating tints and shades without any sharpness.

Foreground elements would be cleaner and brighter with more saturation (often without shading) so that they stand out from the heavily textured and shaded backgrounds.

In these backgrounds from various ’80s series (most of them during night), it is interesting to see the contrast between the background and the foreground characters. The backgrounds mostly deal with blues and greys while the foreground elements have warmer colours.

This way, the animators can just focus on the base colours of the characters and not spend their time shading the characters. Meanwhile, the background painters can go all out on one image making the overall production chain faster.

Monochromatic background contrasted with colourful foreground characters. The background is rougher with more patchs to emulate a metallic surface. Characters don’t have any shading and have saturated colours. © Macondo Games

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Written by Aayush Ray Chaudhuri (Art | Animation)

Edited by Tanay Sharma (UX | Manager)

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