Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Is That A Gigantic Cod Piece or Is He Happy To See Me - Graphics in Video Games - Ryviews Ryport

Graphics are a tremendously important part of the gameplay experience. I don't mean cutting edge realism is required in every game. I mean that a game's choice of graphical style and feeling have a very large bearing on the overall enjoyment level, especially for long term. Do the big game companies put too much of an emphasis on it? Do bad graphics damage replay value for decades to come?

Hint: My answers are maybe and sometimes.
Honestly, I'm like to think I'm someone who doesn't put much emphasis on graphics. I happily play old games even when the faces look more like triangles and when I can't quite tell if my character is wearing a hat or eating a blowfish.

Games like Super Mario Bros. withstands the test of time because it's a classic, but no one comments on how amazing the graphics still look. I think it helps that it was fairly nice looking when it came out, but that's true to plenty of games that haven't held up well. I think really solid gameplay and high levels of nostalgia helps people look pats the number of pixels in Mario.

It's not very many, but he sure can rock the "Oh my God, is that his nose!?!" look

The same goes for lots of older games. If it was very popular, it reaches a kind of "retro" success where the crappier it looks, the better. Because it's a sign of the good old days when the princess was always in another castle and Samus was just some beefy dude who only transforms into a girl for the most skilled of gamers.

"You just spent countless hours neglecting girls/food/society to beat this game with the highest score possible? Here's a picture of a girl as a reward."

So obviously some games can jump through the graphical hurdle and retain their replay value, but let's examine a game I recently reviewed: Dungeon Siege. The original Dungeon Siege is moderately frustrating for a number of reasons, but that's definitely a case where the faces looked painted on. Did it affect my gameplay? Not really, but at the same time, with two recent sequels that for better or worse play fairly similarly, the graphics bothered me. Because I'm not going to spend my free time playing an older game when the new experience has better graphics and better gameplay. So an old game that has those "retro" graphics needs to set itself apart from other games in the genre for me if it will keep its appeal.

But graphics aren't the only thing about old games that can sour a replay experience. When I go back to the original Halo: Combat Evolved, I'm not bothered by Master Chief's lack of pixel density. I'm bothered by the sluggish physics engine and un-evolved damage tables. Melee attacks and grenades in that game function very differently than they do in more modern Halo entries. That has a much bigger bearing on the replay value for me.

And the fact that Master Chief is trying to kill me on the cover

For a game like Mario, different entries either a) didn't change the core mechanic enough to be noticable, or b) changed things so much that it didn't matter. When Mario switched to 3D I'm sure everything about his abilities changed, but I didn't care because it was essentially a new format. Halo has basically kept the same format for 5 games now (ODST and Halo Wars are not included because they did in fact change the format) and that's why the small changes bother me.

So, when I hear people discuss graphics in current video games, I'm never really that thrilled. The cutscenes in Halo 4 were friggin' sweet, but does that make it better than the rest? No. I care much more about the gameplay. And like I said, the staying power of a game has much less to do with the actual graphics and more to do with how the graphics are perceived in a response to the gameplay.

And if a game is super pretty and it has shitty gameplay, time teaches me that we'll look back in 20 years and say "this game is ugly," not "this game is retro".

Let me know what you think!

Until next time,


Images courtesy of Wikipedia except where noted

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