When you play a game with retro graphics, there are some things you expect. Pixelated graphics. Sprites. Limited color palette. At first glance, Realm of the Mad God has retro graphics like many other games:
However, Alex of Wild Shadow Studios put in several things that don't fit the usual retro graphics approach. The above screenshot shows that the world map and its pixels rotate with the player, while the trees, players, and monsters stay axis-aligned (like billboards in 3d games). Weapon projectiles move in any direction, not only the usual 4 or 8 that you might expect from a game on a tile grid.
Less apparent is the variable scale. The “pixels” aren't simply magnified by a fixed amount. Each object has its own scale, which you can see in this screenshot by comparing the trees:
Something that's easy to miss is that some effects have a shower of “pixels”. In this composite of three screenshots, you can see red “blood splatter” and some green remains of something that exploded (I think):
Also easy to miss is how the water effect breaks expectations of retro game art. The sprites themselves are pixelated, but the alignment doesn't match the map. With this, Alex produces water animation. Look closely at the sand and water boundary, and you'll see that the “pixels” don't match up:
One of the neater effects in this game is the 3d dungeon walls. The ground, tops of walls, and sides of walls are all rendered with pixel art. In this screenshot you can see one of the players is behind the wall:
I drew some examples of things that could be interesting but aren't actually in the game at this time: dissolve effects (teleportation?), shadows (to show height), shearing (to show motion), rotated body parts or weapons (for improved animation), and outlines (to improve contrast or show effects like damage or buffs):
The sprite art we got from Oryx is pixel art, but in a vector graphics engine there are lots of things you can do with the sprite art. For Realm of the Mad God, Alex played with rotation, scale, alignment, and 3d to produce some neat effects that you don't normally see in games with retro graphics.
Update: [2013-07-13] Also see this blog post about the 3d art style.