Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Terrible Graphics Crysis

In this months Op-Ed, I will be looking at the effects of "Next Generation Graphics" and if we actually need them.

Many thanks to "my friend" whose, up till now, only use was owning a 360. Fortunately, after coming up with the frankly genius title, he will not be the first redundancy here at Veteran Gamer

Last month, I looked at online gaming. I suggested that online may detract from a game because the developers were focusing online. While I still feel this is true, in comparison to the damage the HD graphics can do, it is negligible and online comes with tangibly good benefits. With the exception of the Wii, all current generation consoles, PC included, are pushing the so called High Definition era. Titles built with the sole intention of wowing the user, such as Crysis and games that have physics engines that put real life to shame, such as the one in Burnout: Paradise. But can a thick layer of beauty really cover up for poor gameplay. Or is it even the cause, suffocating originality?

With an introduction like that, you might think I was just going to rant about graphics. I am, after all, a Wii owner. However, graphics, and I mean this term very generally as I include stunning physics engines (as it has similar pros and cons), are, when used to complement rather than dominate, a very powerful tool. For example, one of my criticisms of Mario Kart was, while the action is often crazy, the fact that all the spinning is pre-animated ruins the chaos and makes it feel scripted. On the flip side, when racing in Forza Motor Sport at 200MPH and you slightly slip, you swerve, knocking the other contestants and causing a huge, entirely spontaneous crash. The fact that you know this can happen adds to the tension of the game. Likewise, part of the reason Halo: Combat Evolved became so popular was the Warthog. The Warthog was fun because, when a grenade exploded next to you, you flew backwards. Which leads me on to my next point.

Good graphics can make a truly immersive game. It is difficult to feel like you are inside a game if you are constantly reminded of it's fictiousness by, say, huge artefacts where your allies head should be. Would the world of Talon IV been as interesting to explore if it had just used dull colours and repetitive corridors? Would Gears of War have won game of the year if the chainsaw animation wasn't quite so belivable? The reason is, most people play games to escape their own world, if they can trick themselves this new, improved world is real, they will enjoy it more and stay in it more. Furthermore, another key feature of modern games is exploration. There is no fun in exploration if there is nothing to find but bland, blurred textures. For example, in Assassins Creed, the first time you arrive at a city, it takes your breath away and makes your long journey worthwhile. This wouldn't be quite the same experience if all you could see was the city walls and a blurry tower behind it and then nothing but the horizon.

Let's take Forza Motor Sport as an example. While Forza Motor Sport 2 is not quite Burnout Paradise when it comes to dynamic damage models, when Forza first came out for the Xbox, it was leading the way in realistic damage models. If it just showed you in a little diagram that the front of your car had been ripped off, it wouldn't have been very satisfying. However, because you see your bumper fly off it makes you appreciate the crash. Once again, it immerses you in the gameplay. By making your car more real, you realise that your shocking driving has real consequences. Also, the detailed enviroments serve to place you inside the car. Finally, by, and you may start noticing recurring themes here, making the maps look real, the player wants to explore new tracks to see what there like and makes the world more real.

However, as the gaming industry has recently out-sized the movie industry, there is now a lot 0f money in this once frowned upon market. At first this sounds good, but as many Hollywood films conform to the same clich├ęs and do not try to be inventive, the same is happening to the video game market. So, the big investors who can't really tell a Wii Remote from a PS3 controller and think the Xbox 360 is Microsofts first games console, come in and see that consoles are pushing good graphics. They demand graphics to be this good, and the developer tells them that it will cost X million amount of money. This means that, as investors do not want to risk such large quantities of money, they go with safe bets. Ie. tried and tested game types, like first person shooters. The effect of this is, when an original idea is dreampt up, it sounds too risky for the investors and they turn the game down. To summarize, because graphics are now a must for current gen gaming, games are expensive to produce, meaning high risk, innovative, games are turned down. All is not lost however, thanks to services like the Xbox Live Arcade, that is what next months article will be on.

Also, similar to the last point, decent graphics take a long time to produce. Because of the aforementioned money constraints, developers will be pushed to release the game as quickly as they can. This means, that other elements, such as gameplay, get rushed towards the end, almost as an afterthought. Once again, this is down to pressures of the developers to make HD graphics in a short period of time. Once again, XBLA can take away the need for fancy graphics and let the focus remain on core gameplay.

A point about PC's as well. By increasing the technical prowess for the game, you shrink your market. Take Crysis, you can buy a top of the range computer now, and you still will not be able to play Cryis the way it is meant to played. While people might say that they are prepared to make compromises, the whole point to Crysis, the reason it wasn't released on consoles, the reasons why the system specs are so high, is because the main selling point is to show the world "This is what our games can do". The side effect of this is, gamers such as myself, get turned off modern computer gaming sticking to the classics and turn to consoles for their HD fill.

When I was thinking of a game for this point, I actually found it very tricky. Not because there is a shortage of games that are entirly focused on graphics, but because I do not buy games that are like this. Instead of blabbing on about a game which my entire opinion is based on a single Gamespot review, I will instead comment on the market in general. Many people will be aware that games are much shorter than they used to be. Gears of War, as great as it is, comes in at under ten hours. Likewise, Call of Duty can be done in less than ten hours. Fortunately, these game's gameplay aren't suffering. However, you could argue that the reason why Assassin's Creed has such repetitive mission objectives is because they spent so long making the draw distance breath taking. The problem with all these examples in showing my point is, overall, I believe that they have benefited from the fancy graphics. If anyone has any examples of games that have genuinely suffered because the focus is entirely on the graphics, please leave a comment.

In conclusion, I think we are reaching a split in gaming. I think the games that appear to be being damaged by graphics, the truth is that the developers couldn't improve the gameplay and decided to spend the time making technically amazing graphics so they can still justify charging money f0r it. I also want to point out that I do still believe the reason why the market is flooded with traditional games rather than different games is down to, almost entirely, the huge cost associated with making a game for the HD Era. I do not think it is because humanity has finally ran out of innovative ideas. Furthermore, because graphics need to be so intricate, game length is suffering and I think that developers now need to find a happy balance. Finally, I think that realistic graphics are going to become less prominent because, lets face it, as realistic as Forza looks, it can't compete with the likes of Paradise which just look cool. It all comes down to why you play games, and because it is for entertainment, realism just doesn't have the same wow factor as it used to.

I hope you enjoyed this post and I really appreciate all comments (which I will read out if I do the Podcast) Also if you have any tips on refining my style of writing or have a suggestion for a topic I can do, please post a remark.

3 comments:

  1. whats up with the first bit, thats not guenius!!! lol

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  2. For anyone who is wondering, Kingey is the much famed "friend", so if you want to pass on praise about his excellent title inspiration, he is the person to do it to!

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  3. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I'm doing research about whether to use a 3D or an isometric camera in an MMO.

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