N++ on PS4: Graphics ++

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N++ on PS4: Graphics ++

Hello again! We’re back with another blog post; this time we thought we’d talk about one of the new things we’re most happy with in N++: the graphics.


One of the main inspirations for the look of N++ was print-based graphic design: bold, smooth blocks of color with crisp, sharp edges.

We wanted something that looked and felt different from other games — something simple but refined. In order to make this vision a reality, we needed two things: a style, and the technology necessary to support it.

We at Metanet Software have always loved graphic design, especially in print. In fact, we have a rather large library of design books we frequently pore over.


It has always been a dream of ours to work with one of our favorite designers, and — thanks in part to Sony’s support via the Pub Fund program — we were able to finally realize this dream with N++, and team up with graphic designer MASA. We became aware of MASA through a book called ‘Latino’, released in the early 2000s by our favorite publisher, Gestalten.

So, over the course of the summer of 2013, we worked with him to define and refine the visual style of N++; the entity shapes, level treatments and some color inspirations, menus/UI, and of course the logo. This took a lot more time and effort than we had anticipated; what was originally going to be a matter of weeks turned into months as we iterated again and again, trying to find the right direction.

We knew we wanted the graphics to be reminiscent of N and N+, but totally taken to a new level. We just didn’t know what that level looked like, exactly. MASA really pushed us out of our comfort zone and forced us to really think about what it was that we wanted. We ended up learning a lot during that summer that informed the rest of development.

In the end we arrived at something that we’re really proud of — a pared-down, clean style, which looks as smooth as the game feels.


The logo itself was one of the hardest aspects to nail down. For N+ we simply used the same pixel font as we had with N, but this time we wanted something different — something that was less square, more dynamic, and vaguely techno-futuristic. You can see some of the in-progress attempts here.

One of our primary inspirations was Wim Crouwel; his abstract typography is immensely beautiful.

We thought that Crouwel’s modular grid-based designs were a perfect fit for the game; initially we stuck very close to the reference material, resulting in a logo which was quite blocky — similar to the N and N+ logos — and maybe a bit too derivative.

MASA kept going, making something that we think truly stands on its own; a much more striking, intriguing, and evocative design:


Once we had the visual style defined, we then had to develop the technology to draw it. It’s fine to be inspired by the clean lines of high-DPI print, but getting that look on a low DPI monitor or TV requires some graphical wizardry. Luckily we have the amazing Shawn McGrath programming N++, and if anyone is a graphical wizard, it’s him. (He made Dyad, which you should check out.)



If you’ve ever wondered why graphics are often jaggy and aliased, it’s because of how the color of each pixel is calculated: a single sample is taken in the center of the pixel, and that color is used for the entire pixel.

This is nice and easy, but it means that if a pixel is covering two objects — one black, one white — the result will be either a black or white pixel, rather than a mix of both colours.

This results in nasty shimmering, stair-stepping, and ugly ropey-looking lines.


It’s sort of like we’re trying to guess the volume of a shape by poking our finger in its direction while blindfolded.

With one poke, you can tell whether it’s there or not, hit or miss, on or off.

With two pokes, you can differentiate between two different volumes (two hits means it must be big; one hit, small; zero hits means there must not be anything there)

Basically, the more times you sample it, the more accurate an estimation you’re able to make.

One simple way to combat this problem is to take more than one sample per pixel — multi-sample anti-aliasing (MSAA) takes a series of samples inside each pixel, and then averages the results to produce an anti-aliased image.

Unfortunately, even lowly 4x MSAA means drawing the entire scene four times per frame (quadrupling the amount of work)… and it’s nowhere near the quality level we were shooting for.

So anyway, we decided to go crazy and write our own custom vector renderer.


The shapes we want to draw are defined geometrically, and a pixel’s color is determined by how much of each piece of geometry overlaps it.

This is a huge number of calculations, since it has to be done once for every pixel for every layer (most things in N++ are made of 4-8 layers); this also means generating a lot of geometry — each frame of N++ is made of up to 1,703,936 triangles!

The result is immaculately smooth anti-aliasing, which runs at a flawless 60fps/1080p.
As far as we can tell, it’s equivalent to 256x MSAA!! (or more — Shawn insists that it’s equivalent to 4,294,967,296x MSAA, and I guess he should know since he programmed it, but Shawn is often prone to hyperbole, and so although we actually do agree that theoretically it may be 2^32x MSAA, for the sake of avoiding any possible false advertising, we’ll go with the lower bound. Either way, the point is: it looks amazing.)

Bespoke vector rendering was at the top of our list of priorities for N++, because smooth graphics make the smooth gameplay feel even better. So, we’re really happy this worked out. Thanks Shawn!

The process for getting the geometry into the game is quite involved: working from our designs (vector shapes made in Illustrator or Flash), Shawn defines each vertex as code.
That’s right — N++ has hand-crafted artisanal vector graphics.


An important part of making a game feel right is visual effects, to make in-game events have more impact and to really “sell” the simulated world.

We wanted the effects in N++ to look a bit different than the usual “bunch of alpha-blended particles;” they had to work with our print-inspired style. In the end, we developed two different families of effects, “waves” and “particles”.

Waves are a strange parametric 45-degree waveshape, a chain of zig-zagging lines which create a cool geometric shape; these are what we use for electrical “zaps,” laser beams, and other long linear effects.

Particles are our twist on a classic; we sweep them along their velocity to create capsules (thick line-segments), and then collide them against the world, so that they bounce around and dissipate; this really helps to make things like explosions, dust, and blood feel a bit more chaotic and real. Plus, the bouncing looks really cool.

The final piece of the graphical puzzle was color. While the neutral grey of N and N+ is extremely functional, we wanted to move beyond that and try something a bit more dynamic and exciting.

It was obvious from the start that, because of the modular nature of the game, and the fact that colors are extremely subjective, it would be best to provide players with a range of options so that everyone could find something that they liked.

(Also, don’t worry — there will still be some highly functional neutral grey schemes to choose from in N++.)

Our friend Lisa Harrison helped us to add to and expand upon our initial set of color palettes. She’s also responsible for the awesome image on our promo postcards!


You’d think adding color is easy, since the minimal style means the graphics are relatively simple, but it’s actually a complex task — for one thing, each color scheme contains more than 100 individual colors! Tweaking each of the colors to balance brightness and visual interest, and making sure nothing looks off, is a big task.

Our strategy for the colors is generally to keep gold in the yellow family, mines in the red family, and to be consistent with “danger” and “safe” colors. Our goal is to structure the graphics in order to create a visual language that players can learn how to “read.” Because N++ requires thinking on one’s feet, we tried to design the visual aesthetic to minimize the mental burden on the player, freeing up mental resources for playing and going with the flow of the ninja.


Whew… that was longer than we anticipated! Hopefully you now have an appreciation of how involved something as simple-looking as N++ can be — minimalism is hard work! Thanks for reading. :)

Comments are closed.


11 Author Replies

  • Looking forward to reading through this. The nuances of “2D art” can definitely be difficult to grasp at times. What looks so simple on the outside can have quite a bit of depth going on behind the scenes.

    • Thanks! We thought we should write a bit about this for that exact reason — it looks so simple but actually took a lot of work from the whole team :)

  • wow that was an awesome read, but…you guys are KILLIN me with the teases! Next post better be a release date! lol…Seriously though I need N++ like a drug. I need sustenance!

  • This game was an instabuy the second it was announced, but PS Vita version as well please! It doesn’t even have to be different or have cross buy!

  • I’m buying this game. No question about that. BUT WHEN IS IT COMING OUT!!!!!

  • N++ announcement was one of the main reasons I purchased a PS4. Played through N+ on the 360, 3DS and PSP and looking forward to N++ on PS4!

  • N++ on the PS4? I hope it’s 1080p at 60fps, otherwise it’s the worst game ever.

  • I used to play N on my computer a long long time ago.
    Good times =)
    I hope it releases on Ps Vita as well!

  • Thanks for sharing some of the voodoo magic at work under the hood. Really makes me appreciate what you’re doing here, and respect your passion and dedication to perfection. Just don’t burn out – the people need more ;)

  • Like the look of the game. Anyway you can release the PSP version of N+ on PSN? Never tried it before.

    • Thank you! Unfortunately, Atari own the rights to the PSP version of N+, and they went bankrupt so we doubt N+ DS/PSP will ever be re-released in any form.

  • OMG! Looks Amazing. Finally someone able to grasp the technical aspect of MS Paint! Are you kidding me right now? There is nothing about this so galled game that says anything other than horrible. This looks like something created in DOS. I mean COME ON, is this the future of gaming? If I was you I’d be embarrassed to be showing this right now. A reason to buy a PS4? Get real. These types of games are system killers and if the current mentality continues I fear the future. This is not innovative, this is basic, uninspired, and a bore. I did not make the plunge into next gen gaming for crap like this. This stuff should be left to mobile and handhelds. I have never felt more ashamed to be a PS4 owner than right now! N++? More like N– with graphics — Im puzzled as to any positive comments about this app. Must be paid off complements to hype a very basic so called game. Heck, protools looks more advanced than this. (Hides in corner embarrassed)

  • @10 yeah you should be embarrassed after that rant. N is one of the greatest series, ever. Go crawl back in that toilet you came from.

  • N+ was one of the best things on my PSP.. hopefully it gets a release soon enough on the Vita too

    Also, is it possible you change or do something about the magenta background? as nice as it is just looking at it here is hurting my eyes and I can’t imagine myself staring at it for long.. or on a big screen..

    Other than that it looks pretty neat!

    • Good question! We’re going to be including a wide range of different colour schemes, and you’ll have control over which colours are used, so if there are some you don’t like, you won’t need to see them.

      (We’ve found that some of the more extreme colours, while tiring after a while, are really fun to dip into for a level or two just for a change of pace)

  • Please please please announce a release date. I’m so tired of my friends asking me when this is coming and having to reply with “Soon”

  • Release date please?! I am dying to play this game!

  • A wireframe mode would be pretty neat to see how about the scene’s tri are arranged, particularly on those buttery smooth curves.

    Given the potential Vita port is some time away, any word on how remote play is looking, even though it’d be locked to a 30fps video feed?

  • @10 Spot on buddy

    This is what we paid $400 for? And Sony has the audacity to make a blog post bragging how awesome these graphics are? These would have looked crappy for a SNES game. I’m beginning to seriously doubt the future of Sony. I loved PS1, PS2, and PS3, and am willing to see what the future holds for PS4, but for now, I’ve completely gone back to PS3 and don’t see anything (besides Watch Dogs) that makes me want to give it up yet. Game companies now are seeing $$$ in these cheap, easy to produce games, and I’m afraid the days of the epic music, visuals, and story will come to an end someday in gaming.

  • @10 and @16

    Love the constructive criticism, guys. Really, I do.

    Honestly though, if all you’re going to do is complain about these kinds of games, why are you here? Seriously. Why are you here, on a post for a game that obviously has no interest to you, other than just to complain and troll the developers of these fine games? Are your lives so devoid of meaning that your only pleasure comes from trying to belittle others? Fantastic lives those must be.

    On topic, I’ve played almost every level of the original N, and as soon as I get my PS4, this game will be on my must-have list.

  • N+ was awesome on psp, N++ will be…MEGAwesome on ps4!

  • @10 @16, why are you even here? Nobody is forcing you to buy and play games YOU dont like/want.

  • I agree with the bad guys on this post. Its fine to make a game like this, but bragging about the graphics? There are no graphics! Its just boxes and lines! And its taking you guys as long to makr this as it would a AAA game. Sheesh.

  • @17 and 19

    I’m here because it’s a public forum where fellow PS fans come to offer opinions and express excitement about games they like. Believe it or not, I actually like some of these smaller indie type games and may play this one someday. It’s just frustrating that I paid $400 for a machine more powerful than the “other” console and seeing so many of these kinds of games not taking advantage of that power. I’m not convinced that my PS4 purchase was worth it, but I honestly can’t wait for the day when something comes out that changes my mind. For those who like this game, explain to me how the PS4 will vastly improve the experience over other consoles.

  • @21

    You have a reasonable argument. The reason these guys are bragging about what they’ve done, is because these guys have written a brand new engine for the way every single pixel is rendered, which uses the full power of the ps4 to produce extremely smooth 2d graphics, far better than anything we could get before using previous vector renderers and less powerful systems. So this game really does showcase the power of the ps4, although in small, low-def preview videos and images it’s hard to see.

  • This looks like it would be a perfect fit for Vita. Please consider a PS Vita version.

    • We are definitely considering a Vita version! We just have enough on our plate right now trying to get the PS4 version finished :)

  • PrimeroIncognito

    Looks fun and challenging. That’s what games are all about.

    Screw the graphics snobs. :)

  • God, it’s been more than a decade since one of the levels of N had me stuck for days (back when there were 30 episodes and no replays). I can’t wait to experience it all over again.

  • You guys should really consider getting the license for the PSP version back, some people like me would want to play that until this version comes out.

    @PrimeroIncognito Well said, brother. Flukbuk and his butt buddy are nothing but spoiled brats.

  • PrimeroIncognito

    @ Kai_Shenlong (#17)

    Exactly. Right on target.


    Thanks, and I agree. Too many spoiled brats around here that have no clue what gaming is even about.

  • we definitely need this to be on the Vita :D
    I know I know there’s remote-play but come on, leave Remote-Play to those “AAA” games, give us native support for awesome games like this :D

  • @Nevermore try reading more you’ll be suprised by what you’ll learn than actually just looking at pictures. But on another note another fantastic game that I can’t wait to play. With all of these games coming out upgrading my hard drive is a must.

  • @26 as long as we are resorting to name calling, let me point out that you are an idiot. I never said I don’t like games with bad graphics. I have been gaming since the mid 80’s and some of my fondest memories are of simple games with 8 bit graphics. I’m pointing out that it is laughable to have these screenshots on this blog extolling the virtues of this game’s graphics. Tell me about the pros to the game. The challenge. The excitement. The uniqueness. Those things may all be true, but if you think these are good graphics on a next gen system you are certifiably insane. Again, this is my OPINION and you and I are entitled to one without someone else saying we have a butt buddy.

  • PrimeroIncognito

    Flukbuk on May 14th, 2014 at 7:53 pm said: “if you think these are good graphics on a next gen system you are certifiably insane.”

    Not really. “Graphics” is an all-encompassing term relating to a video game’s visual presentation. It doesn’t refer just to polygon count, particle effects, or whatever else you might be thinking of.

    Did you even read the article? They explained exactly what it is about this game’s graphics that make it unique and definitely “good”.

    BTW – Sony didn’t post this piece. Mare Sheppard of Metanet did. It says so right at the top. :)

  • PrimeroIncognito

    It would also help if people would actually play a game before they judge it.

    So many know-it-alls these days…

  • @flukbuk, its a mistake of you to think we actually care about your opinion. and also a mistake to voice your opion by stating “WE”. please dont speak for US.

    “This is what we paid $400 for?” Yes sir, it is along with hundreds of other great games.

    Also you should try reading:
    “And Sony has the audacity to make a blog post bragging how awesome these graphics are? ”
    Does it say Sony made this blog post, again i say, you shoud try reading. Metanet wrotle this blog post, not sony, little one.

    @Metanet. Im excited to try this game out, its cool to see you guys working with Shawn McGrath, hes dones some really great work. Thanks for supporting the PS Vita… we cant get enough games and the majority of us appreciate creativity like this.

  • @Flukbuk Name calling? I’m an idiot? Says you, I didn’t call you by my favorite word I like to call trolls (I would have done that a long time ago if I did). I’m saying that you are spoiled to fancy graphics. If you want to look at a game with bad graphics, take a look at The Amazing Spider-Man 2 on the PS4. Now that’s a game that really looks bad. The graphics on that game is beyond awful for a next gen title. Even that I am a Spider-Man, I still won’t buy it because of how bad it looks. N++ is different and that’s how it is. The graphics has been that way since N on the PC. It wouldn’t be N if N++ turns into 3D. Let the N++ guys do what they want because it’s their style. Don’t drag other people’s art into another company’s games.

  • OK fair enough everyone I didn’t mean to ruffle feathers. We all of course are entitled to enjoy whatever games we want and there are certainly some gems that don’t qualify as AAA. I try not to be an internet troll as I usually have better things to do, I’m just expressing frustration because it seems PS4 has become a mecca for these types of games, and IMO they alone don’t justify a $400 purchase. I do enjoy my PS3 and Vita more at the moment, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, but if you disagree then happy gaming to you!

  • The reason we bought our PS3 was a striking 2D game called PixelJunk Eden. It was 1080p at 60fps, and used the entire gamut of CMYK colors afforded by the HDMI/HDTV standard. The 3D titles at the PS3s launch just didn’t grab us, but Eden’s striking 2D visuals and couch co-op was nothing like we had seen before. (Nevermind the soundtrack!)

    N++ looks like it continues this standard of innovation. Given the constraints of smooth 2D line art, pushing other technical boundaries and seeing where it leads is fantastic.

    I’m interested to hear how the audio and use of the DualShock 4/Camera features is shaping up as well.

    Keep up the great work!

    • cheers! We’re huge fans of Eden too, especially the graphics, so this really made us feel great, thank you. :)

      We’re still working on the audio but we might post about that in the future.. currently it’s in an incomplete state so there’s not much to say about it yet!

  • @Flukbuk Alright then. You aren’t a troll and I never considered you as one in the first place. Just don’t be too spoiled when it comes to graphics. N++ is not the type of game you pay $400 dollars for. If that’s what people think, then you came to the wrong place or spent on a PS4 way too early in it’s development cycle. You’re not going to find info about AAA titles here as there are in another blog post. Consider N++ as an extra, I mean who would buy a PS4 just for this game? I sure wouldn’t. I’m holding out until there a game I really want to play.

  • Flukbuk isn’t a troll. He voiced his opinion, and while it may not be popular, he defended it without resorting to name calling or crude remarks, and he has good points in his opinion. I can see where he’s coming from, the detail they’ve put in this game is going to be hard to see without seeing the game in action. So all I can suggest to the developers of the game is perhaps a demo, let people try the game out so they can make up thier minds that way.

  • Damn it. The bad guys lost.

  • As a consumer of video games, one of Sony, MS, and Nintendo, yuck, these graphics look terrible, both technically and aesthetically. I’m giving my customer feedback on how this looks and no, I am not buying this.

  • PrimeroIncognito

    @ yowzagabowza

    They always do… even when they think they’ve won.

  • Thanks for the kind words everyone — we’re really glad that some people “get” what we’re trying to do! :)

    About release dates: we don’t want to say anything until we know we can do it. Currently the game runs and most of the levels are done, however there remains a lot of menu/UI work, as well as a lot of polish. Mostly though, there is a *ton* of back-end/database work (for level-sharing and leaderboards) that remains to be done — both development and testing, to make sure that the server can handle the load. We’ll keep you posted!

    Anyway, thanks again everyone for your support and feedback, it really means a lot to us to know that there are people out there who like what we’re doing! Cheers :)

  • To the skeptics: we realize that the style of N++ is not going to be to everyone’s taste — just like the gameplay, it’s a bit different and we’re okay with being in a niche that appeals strongly to some people and not at all to others.

    Having said that, I think that complaining that the graphics aren’t “next-gen” is hard to defend… it might not look like it to the untrained eye, but this is absolutely new and interesting graphics code — as far as we know no one has written a vector renderer like this in a game yet. It actually took some optimizing to get this running at 60/1080! It’s super-smooth and we’re really proud of it.

    In hindsight, the fact that the blog scales the screenshots does sort of undermine things! I would invite everyone to look at some of the screenshots on our presskit page: http://nplusplus.org/presskit/sheet.php?p=nplusplus#images In case it’s a bit subtle — try to find a pixel. You can’t! This may seem like a little thing, but it makes the motion feel even better.

    Speaking of which, since this looks even better in motion, we will definitely be releasing some new videos in the near future… we just have a lot of other things to attend to, and there are only the three of us.

  • May I ask why the game isn’t coming to PS3? It certainly seems capable enough.

    • We didn’t plan for PS3 support and as a result we would have to rewrite the rendering system (and it probably wouldn’t look as good). We’ll certainly look at the option of doing a PS3 port once PS4 is done (as we will with a potential Vita port), but right now we’re just trying to get the PS4 version done before worrying about anything else!

  • @ECisMe

    I really don’t think the PS3 is capable of running N++. N+, yeah. But because N++ uses new software that pushes the PS4 to (and past, if you read the post prior to yours) its limits, the PS3 would probably stutter and freeze if you tried playing N++ on it.

  • Looks awesome, definitely looking forward to it. Also, I’d like to add to the vote for a vita version!

  • @37 “I mean who would buy a PS4 just for this game? I sure wouldn’t.”

    Well, now you’ve met someone. I will buy a PS4 when this game comes out.

    I’m a huge PlayStation fan, but couldn’t justify a purchase just yet… but, when I saw N++ announced for PS4, I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d have to make the purchase.

    Keep in mind, I’ve been playing N 1.4 on my PC for over a decade (I think it’s been that long anyway).

    I fully believe that N has the most fine-tuned control of any game I’ve played. The game only manages to be so incredibly hard while still being so completely fair/enjoyable because of the precision and subtlety possible in each movement. You can leap through the air, dodging enemies as you fall, only to avoid death at the last second by wall-sliding on a tiny platform (slowing you down). You can do that not by chance, but by skill… and it’s something I’ve only ever seen so perfected in this game.

    So, needless to say… I need N++.

    And, as an aside, I also think the graphics are really amazing. Some people just don’t have the eye to appreciate minimalist design, I guess.

    • Thanks so much for writing that!! We’re so glad that some people appreciate what we’re doing :)

    • (also, we’re doing out best to make sure you won’t be disappointed; IMO the controls in N++ are the best so far)

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