Is Gaming All About The Looks?

The age old question, it’s one of the most hotly debated topics in the entire gaming industry but yet everyone seem to have a slightly different opinion on the issue. Firstly we have to grasp that not every gamer invests time into a game for exactly the same reasons as someone else might. Video games like any other art form, is a totally subjective and personal medium. Some folks just want to escape into a fantasy world each evening while another section of society wants to experience a sense of success or satisfaction, it’s totally varied across the board and it’s a vital point to bear in mind.

Naively you might be able to justify what some critics and journalists proclaim; that the titles with the good graphics are the hardcore games and the ones with lower end visuals are catered more for the casual gamer. Perhaps this is true in the current environment where the term ‘casual gamer’ is actually starting to mean something, and it would seem to make sense that a health fanatic mother is not even remotely concerned about how Wii Sports tennis looks graphically (you know what I mean).

But one problem crops up when it comes to the more traditional games, or what we now term the ‘hardcore sector’; people can’t describe what good graphics look like more often than you’d think. The source of the trouble, I suspect lies in the distinctive artistic styles and aesthetic tones that developers and game designers adopt for their games. The graphics could be the combination of lighting, textures, frame rates, and God know how many other subtle things.

How can we compare the graphics of Modern Warfare 2 with Ratchet and Clank? Or Crysis 2 with Timesplitters? The graphical angles are all completely different …it would be like trying to compare red with blue, and yet each of these games is considered to be stunning. My conclusion would be that the image(s) on screen have to be complimentary with one another (and the experience as a whole) rather than striving to mimic real life (although it can do if developers choose this direction).

Realism has its place within the graphical canon, but so does fantasy. Words flying around at the moment are “immersion” and “emotions” with players describing something akin to a virtual journey, perhaps the technology that facilitates graphical evolution so to add depth to games. So in that respect at least we can admit it does contribute to the experience as a whole, but it would be impossible to quantify just how much.

Leading on from this we have to accept that when we indentify a “good looking game” we are doing so in the context of the consoles power. For example the first God Of War was a big deal graphically back on the PS2, but if we put it next to the PS3’s newer God Of War 3 then obviously it will lose a bit of its eye candy.

But do ‘bad’ graphics mean bad games? If people dug out their PSOne’s and switched on Crash Bandicoot would they still enjoy it, or would the visual quality interfere with the entertainment? Interestingly a lot of Final Fantasy fans claim they preferred the earlier games to the more recent instalments, and the original Metal Gear Solid came up higher in OPM’s survey of ‘Greatest Playstation Game Ever’ than many PS3 titles. Are these views simply the products of fond memories though? Would people still favour these games if they went back to them as they are? I guess someone ought to ask really.

Some developers obviously believe we wouldn’t be satisfied with the look of old games, this being perfectly demonstrated with the sudden rise of ‘HD remakes’. Upcoming examples include Prince of Persia (the first 3 games), The Splinter Cell Collection, and the Sly Racoon games all getting polished and up-scaled into High Definition.

But then if we turn to some sales figures, we should note that the Nintendo DS has rocketed where the PSP has dipped, despite the undeniable fact that Sony’s handheld is packing a lot more power and better quality visuals. I guess what maters the most in a game depends entirely on the desires, expectations, and background of the person switching them on. Maybe that’s a lame answer, but it’s true.