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.

No comments:

Post a Comment