Thursday, September 30, 2010

Annoyances of the Mainstream - Visual-Tactual Discrepancy

And thus, the maligning of the mainstream continues, with this passage focused on the sticking point of sticking point: Graphics. More and more, I'm seeing games come under fire for their visual prowess, but is it warranted? I don't think so. I've changed much from my youth, where visuals simply didn't matter as much as the game at hand (ah, to be young), but this was largely due in part to the fact that games didn't HAVE technical issues of this sort when I was younger. Take slowdown for example. Every game had a perfect framerate, and if it didn't, you were simply in awe of just how much a developer was willing to push the console in order to get the look achieved on screen. These days, a game slows down, and it's something to be ridiculed--how could a developer let such a thing come to pass? What was once regarded as the pinnacle of technical merit (pushing a console over the edge) now has the worst reputation imaginable.

So the times have changed, and what was once revered is now bottom of the barrel, as is the nature of technology. But why? The building blocks of what consititute good visuals hasn't changed. While we're leagues away from the 2D ideals I just described (in 3D, slowdown is bad, bad, bad), the difference between a game looking bad and simply good or adequate really hasn't changed. I think our way of looking at them has, and once more reviewers, I'm looking at you. Yes, I realize that everything's in HD and that saying "This game looks great!" may start to feel a bit redundant for the 'Graphics' portion of a review, but things are getting off track. So in trying not to get lost in a redundant sea of praise, I think a bit too much information is getting out there as an awkward placeholder and it's warping people's perception of what makes something look good.

(someone actually told me this looked bad)

I'm still of the belief that if a game can pull off its visual accent well, then it is a game of good graphical quality. But these reviewers have morphed somewhat into tech analysts, dissecting everything from techniques used to even resolution as a sticking point. They'll go on and on like a DigitalFoundry article, throwing around programming jargon until you have less of an assessment about a game's visuals and more of a spec sheet. This misdirection of information goes straight past their reader's brains, and into their subconscious. Then, they too prattle endlessly about effects like depth-of-field and ambient occlusion. They start throwing around engine names like Unreal Engine 3 or Frostbite without an understanding of what they're capable of. Some cases will start complaining about gaffes they don't understand like LoD (level of detail) glitches and v-sync tearing.

(a split second of this is not going to condemn this game to the depths of graphical hell)

Suddenly, it's become less about the combination of these techniques and how they contribute to making a great game, but more about how many there are. I explained to a friend absolutely hailing the new Kingdom Hearts that I felt FFVII: Crisis Core was a better looking game than Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep because it has a more detailed look, as opposed to a starkly cartoonish one.

Now, I am not saying Kingdom Hearts looks bad. I am also not implying that it looks worse than Crisis Core. But to see his ears initially flare up spoke volumes. I was immediately leveled volleys about screen effects, animation, AI, textures, and it would've been more had I not stopped him and clarified: Where CC went for a more detailed, industrial, psuedorealistic look (requiring a multitude of detailed textures indoor or out), Kingdom Hearts by design doesn't carry a ton of detail, sitting squarely between Disney-style cel animation and a radical anime aesthetic. "It isn't so much the look, but the intent. KH simply looks sharp, CC looks more detailed", I said.

Then his eyes glazed over.

Was he really up for a graphics debate (given all the bullet points he threw at me), or was he likely following the spirit of a glowing review? My bet goes to the latter.

Call me crazy, but I thought we solved the graphics problem a while ago. Somehow though, the debate rages on, and really, the player loses as a result. Especially if we're going to get caught up in these faux-technical debates, when really I've seen plenty of games with a wide stamp of graphical trickery still fail to impress compared to games working with much less, practically invalidating these claims.

(Silent Hill 3 STILL looks better than any game in the series released after it. A PS2 game. From 2004.)

Generally these days, every game looks technically great. So with every game this generation sporting at least a 720p resolution and textures to boot, it should all boil down not to technical prowess, but art direction. It isn't a resolution, or an eye-light-shadow effect, its how a dev can effectively combine these things to make something that looks virtually incredible. The Wii is already proving in spades that you don't need advanced technical prowess for great visuals, and I'll be damned if someone else walks up to me and tells me Super Mario Galaxy 2 doesn't look amazing:

or that Conker: Live and Reloaded looks aything less than fantastic 5 years after its release on the original Xbox,

Or even that because Grand Theft Auto 4 doesn't look like God of War 3 or Uncharted 2, that it doesn't have the capacity to be just as breathtaking.

Surely you catch my drift by now, and it's exactly my point. The one thing that should have anyone comparing the visuals of one game to another is how well the style is pulled off, because obviously, a technical gap isn't the only obstacle a game has to overcome on its way to our eyes. More and more I'm seeing other games unfairly come under fire for not matching up with the best of the best out there, and for such bad reasons? It's almost like we forget what Namco, Konami, and Square are able to pull off on the PSP, against all odds.

Moving forward, and especially as games begin to blend into each other due to varying degrees of realism, you may want to leave the analysis behind, and focus simply on how great a piece of software looks as opposed to whatever insane machine is powering it. A game with fantastic graphical tricks but no art direction to support it is about as useless as a game with simply bad visuals, and if the critics on top don't stop copening their craws with terminology beyond the average consumer, we'll end up with a whole slew of people refusing to enjoy the finer points of our medium for what they are--that is, absorbing and enjoying our expansive vistas instead of picking apart their texture seams.

..and really, when it comes down to it, no amount of advanced 3D can produce something this intricately detailed and hilarious:

...if you have proof of otherwise, I'd love to see it sometime.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Captain Obvious RETURNS.


(Mouseover for full effect!)

Again, I'm just saying..

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

...Goddammit, Ninja Theory.

Ninja Theory + DMC = (Stephen)Dorff May Cry?

Devil May C(ash in on current vampire marketing trends)?

No thanks. No really. I can appreciate the refusal to continue where DMC2 left off, but dammit, we can't keep making him younger. While I have no problem with yet another prequel, I have an issue with the way he looks. We went from the handsome boyish charm of DMC3 Dante, to this travesty? Brandon Lee is probably turning in his grave due to misappropriation of his likeness.

Seriously. He looks like something a Crow direct-to-DVD movie shat out while squatting in front of Hot Topic.

I'm looking at these screens, and I'm wondering what the hell happened here. As a fan of DMC since the beginning, I'm well aware that at the conclusion of DMC 3, Dante was around 19 years old. Just HOW much younger is he supposed to be here, and...why in the hell is his hair black?

I don't trust Ninja Theory. Enslaved looks really nice and everything, but after a track record that is literally limited to Kung Fu Chaos on the original Xbox, and Heavenly Sword, sue me if I'm just a LITTLE skeptical about the direction they're taking DMC in with this alleged reboot. This is even with the promise that this new title will, in their words: "retain the series’ signature mix of sword and gunplay but add additional weapons, all new powers and a revitalised gameplay system as players encounter the game’s devilish mix of enemies and navigate the rich, interactive environment."

...Hopefully that "revitalised" gameplay system includes a jump button.

As far as I could tell, DMC didn't NEED rebooting, and the fact that Dante looks like he's as goth as his surroundings is unsettling. As an angsty rebellious action hero with platinum white hair, he was just cheesy enough to be self-depreciating and cool at the same time. Here, I just don't know what to think. What was wrong with continuing from where 4 left off, in a comfortable place between 1 and 2? I for one enjoyed (relatively) mature Dante, and wanted to know more about Nero, including his connection to the Sparda family. Now, like the Prince of Persia reboot that Ubisoft gave up on, it looks like I'll never see that new thread fleshed out.

Lost in a sea of marketing and..oh hell I don't know.

Fuck this game so far. They'd better flip this faster than Cole's unnecessary re-redesign in inFamous 2, or I can't see myself playing this at any point in the future.

GOD. Why the hell does he look like Edward Cullen?

Yep. Just as I can't unsee it, neither will you. Crab in a bucket, we're all goin' down.

Source: Destructoid [TGS: New Devil May Cry starring a younger Dante revealed]

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Just to drive it home a bit..

Someone at Apple must be reading. That, and they must really like numbers.

Numbers make the shareholders happy, define a consumer's reliance in a product, sometimes serving as a tipping point in new purchases, but more importantly, numbers give Apple a reason to crow above their competitors.

At their most recent press conference, they had a ton to show yesterday. Namely, that there are over 120 million of their devices using iOS out there in the wild. For the uinitiated, that would be referring to the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. With over 230,000 activations (or device purchases) daily.

To put things in perspective, The Nintendo DS has a worldwide tally somewhere around the range of 132 million. Someone's catching up.

Not only catching up, but outselling both Nintendo AND Sony with a rate that speedy.

A rate speedy enough to give them 50% of the portable market now.


I've sung my praise of the iDevices as a gaming platform before, but even I couldn't anticipate numbers like this, and certainly not this fast. But am I surprised? No.

But I know who should be. If they know what's good for them.

It's a frightening prospect, a portable platform with the ability to evolve and grow as the market or technology demands, but Apple's got it. Previously, a portable could be released with the lifecycle of a console and enjoy a healthy 4-5 years before an upgrade was necessary. But with the ever evolving smartphone market, especially as a portable gaming platform with Apple at the forefront of such a revolution, we're seeing their hardware upgrade once a year. With better hardware, comes the prospect of more and more emergent software, and it's what's making their devices sell the way they do. The question of just what an iPod can do next is much more compelling than a handheld whose capabilities are clearly defined for the upcoming 4 or so years.

If you had told me two years ago that I would be seeing the Unreal Engine on my phone, I would've snickered heartily.


I just finished taking these shots from my phone. They're from Epic Games' tech demo Epic Citadel that shows the iPhone 4's ability to run their Unreal Engine 3 tech.

If only you could see the amazing water effects, dynamic lighting, textures, and overall stability (to put it very lightly and not tech heavy) in a still shot. I have chills, and I'm simply a consumer.

The entire portable gaming market has changed. With their ability to update their tech anually, it makes them a force to be reckoned with on a level that even Nintendo can't match. I doubt it's in an effort to keep up with Apple, but you can see Nintendo and Sony attempt to jump on the update bandwagon with incremental upgrades with questionable success (the multiple revisions of the DS and PSP cluttering store shelves and confusing consumers is proof of this), but the difference is, they aren't true revolutions of the hardware before it. As such, it's difficult to justify the frivolous upgrades on display when they're hardly integral to the core experience (built in cameras, microphones, better screens) in the same way Apple makes their revisions. I can't stop saying it. It's scary.

This is without me mentioning the digital distribution model that fuels the device, something the entire industry wants anyway as an ability to combat the sale of used games and pirated software, and the fact that the low cost and high profit of iOS development is very attractive to many a developer.

It's going to be a very interesting road ahead. Nintendo has the 3DS coming, and while no one on this planet has seen a true stereoscopic 3D handheld with the alleged power of a one knows what Apple has in store for us next year, or even the year after that with the newer runs of iPads, iPhones, and iPod touches.

Redundantly, it's scary to think about.

I apologize if it seems like I'm drinking the Apple kool-aid along with the rest of the masses, but the fact of the matter is, the numbers don't lie, their strategy is sound (and WORKING), and as a core gamer? Because I always have my phone on me, and the quality of the software on the device is comparable to my portable systems with half the hassle of operation? I rarely use my other handhelds now. Remember when we all laughed when Steve Jobs said he was going after the DS some years back? Who's laughing now?

Does Nintendo finally have a solid competitor in the portable market? Yes.

Sony? Well..we've gone over that already.

Time to get to work, boys.

Source: Engadget
Apple Claims 50% of Portable Gaming Market
Apple ships 120 million iOS devices since iPhone's launch

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