Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What I mean when I talk about Graphics

The body of this post was originally composed about two years ago when this blog was brand new.  Because of my difficulty in articulating my thoughts, opinions and convictions, this post sort of floated around in draft form for those two years.  I recently read an essay over at Gamasutra on the same subject and decided to dredge this old post up, dust it off and finally publish it.  I think the subject of graphics has long been an important one in Video Games, though it does seem to be pretty much the same story as when I was a teenager.  Bigger, better, higher, faster.  If this subject interests you at all, have a look at the Gamasutra article I've linked here, and share any thoughts or resources you have on the subject.  Thanks. -D   

no denying this is purty, but is it enough?

When it comes to Graphics, I have always been and will always be, something of a hypocrite.   At least, it will seem that way to everyone who isn't inside my head, or doesn't understand me in that special "nerd" way.  I will, on the one hand, whine endlessly about graphics.  About too much focus on good graphics.  Too many bells and whistles, and not enough depth.  And then, on the other hand, I will dance a jig and praise halleluja to the graphics of games I like.  This is a pattern I plan to never break.

For example: in the case of Minecraft: it’s hard to call the graphics ‘good’ per se, on some sort of linear scale of supposed ‘quality’  - however, it’s easy for me to call the graphics ‘awesome’ because they are.  It’s more a design thing than a photo-realistic thing.  Photorealism is a keyword here.  There is a belief somewhere that this is the pinnicale of graphic representation, and I have to disagree with that. 

When I was younger, I believed in photorealism.  I believed that was the sort of art that required skill, and that abstract art was just nonsense.  Funny thing though:  I have no memory of cartoons as art, or my opinion of cartoon art.  Cartoons were simply alive, and I loved them.  It never occurred to me that they might be art.  Maybe this is one of the best measures of art. 

Bridging the gap from cartoons to realism is comic book art.  I thought Jim Lee and Mark Bagley were the best comic artists of the 90s.  This was in part because of their ability to convey realism, but, growing older, I see that their version of realism was highly stylized and not really photo realistic at all.  But even that level level of realism isn't necessary for enjoyment.  

Quintessential Jim Lee artwork from my childhood

It would be nice to have a better vocabulary for these things.  To better be able to explain what I mean.  I'm going to work on that in this post.  Jac, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.  Little help?

Jaconian's Interjection: I totally get/agree with what you're saying.  I'll argue that with some Final Fantasy games, that they've moved away from story and focused too much on the look and graphics of the game.  "It's not all about graphics!"  But then, when I play say, Wave Race, I'll be like, "It's a pretty standard racing game, nothing overly special.  But dear god man, look at the water!  It looks fucking real!"  That might not be a great example, but I understand where you're coming from.  Another one is the "updated" graphics in Dragon Warrior in the US from Dragon Quest in Japan. 

In the image you can see the difference in sprites and in the article is says that the character always faced that direction, regardless of the direction.  I tell myself now that that would bother me and the "better" graphics are better for game play, even though graphics aren't a big part of why I find that game/series to be so awesome.

Another thing that I've found myself being a hypocrite about, in a similar manner to graphics, is the quality of music in games.  I can listen to the Legend of Zelda overworld theme for hours on end, with it's simple three tone musical awesomeness.  But then with the music from Ocarina of Time, I'll go on for hours about how the music sounds like not-so-great MIDI.  Additionally, the sound quality between the two is different and while there are sound quality improvements over the original soundtrack, ultimately I feel that there was a shift away from melody to atmosphere

OR, staying with Zelda, the graphics and design of the game (like what you said in your previous post) are perfect for  he game.  BUT, if there was an updated remake with either the Wind Waker or Majora's Mask engine, I would be singing its praises even before I got a chance to play it.  Maybe that's because it's something we've been talking about since Ocarina of Time came out.

Yes, graphics sure do represent a mixed bag of experiences.  And it seems like that is the key to the whole thing- how do the graphics affect your experience of the game?  Arguably, with the Dragon Warrior example, your play experience probably wouldn't have been affected much by the graphical updates.  If nothing else, the fact that the character always faces the same direction may have been slightly distracting.  But, then again, it may have been more distracting than I imagine.  I always accepted that the 'open world' style design of Dragon Warrior is a place with four cardinal directions, and that the characters within have a front, sides and a back.  The idea of every character sort of 'strafing' along is kind of distasteful.  But I'm probably over thinking it, which is okay; I like doing that.

I guess when thinking about graphics, it is good to think about how they are used.  In the case of Wave Race, it may be good to note that the game took place in many different settings.  The first that come to my mind is 'Drake Lake,'  which has the most dynamic graphics in that game.  Here, the fog-lifting action on the third lap sort of 'shows you what you've been missing' to great effect.

However, even without the fog-trick from Drake lake, the water effects on Wave Race are awesome.  More than any other racing game, Wave Race gave me the desire to drive off of the course and just go exploring.  I think the water effect had a lot to do with that.  A water environment is so much more interesting than a racetrack environment.  I only wish they had actually supplied an open world track.  Or, hey - you know what would be awesome?  A Jetski option in Pilotwings!  For close examination and exploration of the coastlines and islands. 

Alright, I'm getting distracted here with another one of my random 'you know what would be cool?' game ideas.  Ultimately, I'm not sure what my point is here.  Except maybe that 'my opinion is my opinion and that is that.'  Which is kind of... a moot point to begin with.  Anyhow, when I look at the industry, I see a lot of hyper-realistic big AAA games, but then I also see some really cool artful and abstract indie games.  So, I keep my attention on the indie games, but I do wish that the masses being catered to by the big-industry could see and appreciate the games I love.  And that's normal, isn't it?  


P.S.  Since I originally wrote the bulk of this post, I had the great pleasure of reading Scott McCloud's fantastic 'Understanding Comics' series.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in comics, art and design. I found the contents relevant to subjects outside comics; including video games. He puts forth this idea of Realist vs Iconic graphics, and puts them in this nifty Triangle (below), which he cleverly calls the 'Big Triangle.'  He has a breakdown of the Big Triangle on his website.  Go check it out, why not?

No comments:

Post a Comment