In what way do graphics matter?
Is one of these games better than the other?
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been milling over this question ever since the advent of the Wii. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sparked such a controversy within gaming circles that fanboys have furiously unfurled every last bit of ammunition in their cacheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in hopes of leaving WiiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s commercial (and some would agree, critical) success, full of holes. Sure, some still try to argue that the controller is a gimmick, though Sony obviously buys that motion sensing controls are the next logical step in the evolution of gaming, and Microsoft, though they still arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t sold on motion controls, canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t ignore NintendoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Street Sense-like (see: Kentucky Derby Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ07) advance on their ever-decreasing sales lead. So for the most part, I think the argument that motion controls are a gimmick can be laid to rest. This leaves the WiiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s (lacking) graphical capabilities as one of the last pieces of fodder for those looking to justify the PS3Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s recent lack of a single title on JapanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s top 30 software sales, or Microsoft Ã¢â‚¬Å“channel stuffingÃ¯Â¿Â½Ã¯Â¿Â½? over the holiday season. Before moving on, trying to be as objective as possible, this needs to be said: The Wii canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even come close to what the PS3 and 360 are capable of, graphically. Those unflinchingly faithful to everyoneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s favorite plumber need to get a clue and stop pretending otherwise. For instance: Not too long ago, on a Wii-specific forum, Nintendo fanboys were touting one gaming magazines claim that Metroid Prime looked better than Halo 2(a last-gen effort), without a doubt. Grasping straws much? In spite of this long, somewhat esoteric introduction, I am trying to make a point, I promise. This ongoing debate has brought me back to one of the very few art classes IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve ever taken in school. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m reminded of the slow, somewhat painful transition of realist art towards impressionist art. To the point of: At what point does realism become undesirable, in favor of original artistic concepts?
Historically, in the case of visual art, the desire to replicate the human form as closely as possible, ultimately saw its demise largely because of the advent of photography. Replication of human forms, while highly lauded for many generations, was no longer as stunning as it had been, nor necessary. The move from realism to impressionism was a long-time coming, and was, at first, scoffed at. The technical prowess necessary to be a talented realist was thought to be far and above anything an impressionist could muster up. However, over time impressionism gained acceptance, popularity, and perhaps most important: critical acclaim. Anyone can now appreciate paintings such as Van GoghÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬Å“Starry Night,Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã¯Â¿Â½? and rightfully claim them as beautiful as any realist piece, right alongside MilletÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Gleaners.Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã¯Â¿Â½? IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure most of you know where IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m headed with thisÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
At what point, in gaming, do the absolutely best graphics become undesirable? One can look at screens of a game like Mass Effect and wonder: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Where do we go from here?Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã¯Â¿Â½? Not that anyone is even close to disappointed by the amazing screens weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve seen so far. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just that there is only so much that graphical prowess can add to the gaming experience. I think, more so, that games like Half-Life 2 (similarly, Elebits) prove how much amazing physics can turn something as played out as the FPS genre into an original experience. I think that games like Lair (will) prove that beyond amazing graphics, the ability to have hundreds of individual enemies with extremely sophisticated AI will immerse the player more than ever before. I also think that games like Shadow of the Colossus create such atmosphere that one could get lost in a world that was thought up from thin air. I think most gamers will find that, eventually, if developers begin to pay more attention to creating individual blades of grass than creating a good, fun, gaming experience; theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll begin to tire of next-next-next-next-gen graphics. Does this all excuse the lackadaisical approach developers have taken towards graphics on the Wii? Of course not. An ugly game (for its time) is still an ugly game, but the Wii is certainly capable of creating stunning games, in their own right. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d say one of the best examples, to date, is Super Paper Mario. An extremely strange choice, I know, but I swear IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m going somewhere with this.
Anyone whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s played SPM can instantly recall world three as one of the most entertaining parts of the game. Not only is it a fun experience, gaming wise, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a pleasure to simply go through it, due to the amazing direction taken with the level design. The entire world is depicted through oversized pixels. Seaweed is cleverly animated in the water, and castles taken straight from MarioÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 8 bit outings, severely outdated, are a joy to see again in this modern setting. Obviously, SPM doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t need much under the hood graphically, but the art direction of the entire game created an experience that transcended sheer power. Obviously games like Okami, and Twilight Princess come to mind. Even further back, games like Rez (and even NiGHTS) are still highly praised due to their ethereal art direction. Hopefully, their success will usher in others of a similar style.
I want to clarify that I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think this article isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t trying to claim any one thing, merely open discussion. I think if most took the time to stop and think, they could see just how many games theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve loved that werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t stunning on a technical level, but on a personal level. Something about the game invoked a sense of awe in the gamer. This all brings up the age old question: are videogames art? Is Mass Effect on a similar plane as BakerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Fallen Monarchs? Does Super Paper Mario hold the same abstract beauty as MunchÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s The Scream? These are extremely intricate questions, and while I hardly feel I can provide the definitive answer to such a highly debated topicÃ¢â‚¬Â¦I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t help but feel that games will one day have the ability to hold the same esteem.