In what way do graphics matter?

graphics?
Is one of these games better than the other?

I’ve been milling over this question ever since the advent of the Wii. It’s sparked such a controversy within gaming circles that fanboys have furiously unfurled every last bit of ammunition in their cache’s in hopes of leaving Wii’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 aren’t sold on motion controls, can’t ignore Nintendo’s Street Sense-like (see: Kentucky Derby ‘07) 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 Wii’s (lacking) graphical capabilities as one of the last pieces of fodder for those looking to justify the PS3’s recent lack of a single title on Japan’s top 30 software sales, or Microsoft “channel stuffing��? over the holiday season. Before moving on, trying to be as objective as possible, this needs to be said: The Wii can’t even come close to what the PS3 and 360 are capable of, graphically. Those unflinchingly faithful to everyone’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 I’ve ever taken in school. I’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?


Where art thou?

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 Gogh’s “Starry Night,��? and rightfully claim them as beautiful as any realist piece, right alongside Millet’s “The Gleaners.��? I’m sure most of you know where I’m headed with this…


Absolute Best…the Best?

MassEffectAt what point, in gaming, do the absolutely best graphics become undesirable? One can look at screens of a game like Mass Effect and wonder: “Where do we go from here?��? Not that anyone is even close to disappointed by the amazing screens we’ve seen so far. It’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; they’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. I’d say one of the best examples, to date, is Super Paper Mario. An extremely strange choice, I know, but I swear I’m going somewhere with this.


Another Take on Graphics

SPMAnyone who’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 it’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 Mario’s 8 bit outings, severely outdated, are a joy to see again in this modern setting. Obviously, SPM doesn’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.


Are Games Art?

I want to clarify that I don’t think this article isn’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 they’ve loved that weren’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 Baker’s Fallen Monarchs? Does Super Paper Mario hold the same abstract beauty as Munch’s The Scream? These are extremely intricate questions, and while I hardly feel I can provide the definitive answer to such a highly debated topic…I can’t help but feel that games will one day have the ability to hold the same esteem.

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About the author:

Floating World – who has written posts on NintendoFuse.


  • http://danielprimed.com/ Daniel Primed

    To answer your question(when will people get tired of realistic graphics?) I personally think that it depends on when the difference between the realistic ‘graphic increases'(between new and old consoles) becomes small enough that the majority of people don’t care.

    I have never really been attracted to realism as I have to more imaginative media.

  • http://danielprimed.com Daniel Primed

    To answer your question(when will people get tired of realistic graphics?) I personally think that it depends on when the difference between the realistic ‘graphic increases'(between new and old consoles) becomes small enough that the majority of people don’t care.

    I have never really been attracted to realism as I have to more imaginative media.

  • Floating World

    Thanks for the comment. I hope it was a fairly coherent read.

  • Floating World

    Thanks for the comment. I hope it was a fairly coherent read.

  • shanoboy

    Of course video games are art. They’re creative, expressive and they excite emotion. But video games are special because they add that extra dimension beyond just seeing, hearing or touching. They add interaction.

    You make a great point. When does it get to a point where super realism is no longer desired or necessary? Personally, I love great graphics but the Wii has plenty of horsepower to appease me and I don’t say that just because I’m a fanboy.

    Nice post.

  • shanoboy

    Of course video games are art. They’re creative, expressive and they excite emotion. But video games are special because they add that extra dimension beyond just seeing, hearing or touching. They add interaction.

    You make a great point. When does it get to a point where super realism is no longer desired or necessary? Personally, I love great graphics but the Wii has plenty of horsepower to appease me and I don’t say that just because I’m a fanboy.

    Nice post.

  • Gameking102

    I think ps3 graphics will be a gimmic even thou it is a good system it lacks great games.

  • Gameking102

    I think ps3 graphics will be a gimmic even thou it is a good system it lacks great games.

  • Floating World

    Great Point Gameking.

  • Floating World

    Great Point Gameking.

  • Keldryn

    The more lifelike graphics become, the more we notice the aspects that just aren’t right. The human brain is ultra-specialized by millions of years of evolution to process facial recognition and expressions instantaneously. There are structures in the brain that appear to be almost solely devoted to these types of pattern recognition.

    As the 3D models in games become more human-like, the more inhuman and “creepy” the differences become. Movements that just seem off for some reason. “Dead eyes” on a face that otherwise looks pretty photorealistic (ie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within). Facial expressions that don’t match the tone of the voice acting.

    Even a person who is completely unfamiliar with 3D computer graphics can instantly spot those subtle nuances that we just haven’t been able to capture yet. I don’t think it is necessarily impossible to achieve, but I think it does question the worth of pursuing hyper-realistic graphics. When a game has deliberately non-realistic graphics, that hard-wired critical analysis is bypassed.

    The ultra-realistic graphics only look impressive until the next technological advancement arrives, after which they look crappy and outdated — for example, any 3D Playstation 1 or Saturn game that had a realistic graphics style. Games from this past generation that had a very consistent and well-designed visual style will probably still look good 10 years from now, even if it is obvious that they were built on older technology. Games such as Ico, Zelda: The Wind Waker, Psychonauts, Sly Cooper, Ratchet & Clank, Okami, etc. Many of the more realistically-styled games of this past generation are already looking dated and aren’t going to get any better with time: many sports titles, Metal Gear Solid 2, most FPS titles, etc.

    The stand-out titles of the 16-bit generation still look really good today, even with their much lower-resolution sprites and near-total lack of 3D: Chrono Trigger, Super Metroid, Yoshi’s Island, Sonic the Hedgehog, Secret of Mana, etc.

    And take a look at some of the earlier attempts at photorealism, back in the early days of 256-colour VGA mode. Such as Mean Streets. Ugh. There are a few games of that era that still look great in their 320×200 resolution glory: Loom, Ultima VII, many of the Sierra graphic adventures…

    It’s all about the artistic style. Technically proficient graphics only look good while they’re current, but fantastic art direction is timeless.

  • Keldryn

    The more lifelike graphics become, the more we notice the aspects that just aren’t right. The human brain is ultra-specialized by millions of years of evolution to process facial recognition and expressions instantaneously. There are structures in the brain that appear to be almost solely devoted to these types of pattern recognition.

    As the 3D models in games become more human-like, the more inhuman and “creepy” the differences become. Movements that just seem off for some reason. “Dead eyes” on a face that otherwise looks pretty photorealistic (ie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within). Facial expressions that don’t match the tone of the voice acting.

    Even a person who is completely unfamiliar with 3D computer graphics can instantly spot those subtle nuances that we just haven’t been able to capture yet. I don’t think it is necessarily impossible to achieve, but I think it does question the worth of pursuing hyper-realistic graphics. When a game has deliberately non-realistic graphics, that hard-wired critical analysis is bypassed.

    The ultra-realistic graphics only look impressive until the next technological advancement arrives, after which they look crappy and outdated — for example, any 3D Playstation 1 or Saturn game that had a realistic graphics style. Games from this past generation that had a very consistent and well-designed visual style will probably still look good 10 years from now, even if it is obvious that they were built on older technology. Games such as Ico, Zelda: The Wind Waker, Psychonauts, Sly Cooper, Ratchet & Clank, Okami, etc. Many of the more realistically-styled games of this past generation are already looking dated and aren’t going to get any better with time: many sports titles, Metal Gear Solid 2, most FPS titles, etc.

    The stand-out titles of the 16-bit generation still look really good today, even with their much lower-resolution sprites and near-total lack of 3D: Chrono Trigger, Super Metroid, Yoshi’s Island, Sonic the Hedgehog, Secret of Mana, etc.

    And take a look at some of the earlier attempts at photorealism, back in the early days of 256-colour VGA mode. Such as Mean Streets. Ugh. There are a few games of that era that still look great in their 320×200 resolution glory: Loom, Ultima VII, many of the Sierra graphic adventures…

    It’s all about the artistic style. Technically proficient graphics only look good while they’re current, but fantastic art direction is timeless.

  • Will

    What an awesome post Floating World. This kinda stuff is right up my alley. As an art major who is pretty much at a crossroads in career choice, I’ve juggled around the possibility of going the gaming route. I would never do so if it would give me a dead end in terms expressing my art to the world. I am a big believer in the latest technology age giving artists another outlet to express themselves quite like the advent of the camera. I enjoy reading your comparison of art evolving not merely based on visual accuracy.

    This brings up an important point about art, especially fundamental art. The fundamentalist believes that the various arts should remain seperate and exploit the things that set themselves apart (the flatness of painting, three-dimensionality of sculpture, ect.). And likewise artist either excepted this thesis or didn’t. I see video games as providing entertainment quite like theatre or film controlled by the user. It is the responsibility of the programmer to alter perception and art direction to visually bring something different. Consider film today, we have all types of genre and perceptions of reality. Quite like art realism is in for a certain time and it has its place but then the artist feels the need to challenge himself or express themselves differently, so comes surrealism, abstraction, even minimalism (Tetris still is one of the most successful games of all time and what graphically did it have going for it?).

    I think its foolish to criticize the ingenuity of Nintendo’s move because they are rediscovering their craft. They are going back to basics like many modern artists and are finding what it is that makes good games. They have redefined gaming. Not to say that graphics will never be big again. Graphics have always been one point on anyones score board so why do we hold it up as the most important? What about game play, controls, replay value, or even god forbid originality. Artists never follow the norm, we leave that to pop stars and corporations all of which can only follow trends.

  • Will

    What an awesome post Floating World. This kinda stuff is right up my alley. As an art major who is pretty much at a crossroads in career choice, I’ve juggled around the possibility of going the gaming route. I would never do so if it would give me a dead end in terms expressing my art to the world. I am a big believer in the latest technology age giving artists another outlet to express themselves quite like the advent of the camera. I enjoy reading your comparison of art evolving not merely based on visual accuracy.

    This brings up an important point about art, especially fundamental art. The fundamentalist believes that the various arts should remain seperate and exploit the things that set themselves apart (the flatness of painting, three-dimensionality of sculpture, ect.). And likewise artist either excepted this thesis or didn’t. I see video games as providing entertainment quite like theatre or film controlled by the user. It is the responsibility of the programmer to alter perception and art direction to visually bring something different. Consider film today, we have all types of genre and perceptions of reality. Quite like art realism is in for a certain time and it has its place but then the artist feels the need to challenge himself or express themselves differently, so comes surrealism, abstraction, even minimalism (Tetris still is one of the most successful games of all time and what graphically did it have going for it?).

    I think its foolish to criticize the ingenuity of Nintendo’s move because they are rediscovering their craft. They are going back to basics like many modern artists and are finding what it is that makes good games. They have redefined gaming. Not to say that graphics will never be big again. Graphics have always been one point on anyones score board so why do we hold it up as the most important? What about game play, controls, replay value, or even god forbid originality. Artists never follow the norm, we leave that to pop stars and corporations all of which can only follow trends.

  • shanoboy

    Great points Keldry and Will. What an awesome post and set of comments!

  • shanoboy

    Great points Keldry and Will. What an awesome post and set of comments!

  • Floating World

    This is some of the most intelligent discussion I’ve seen in gaming circles in awhile. Thanks for the awesome comments guys. I wasn’t out to prove a point, neccesarily, just open up the age age-old debate from a slightly different perspective.

  • Floating World

    This is some of the most intelligent discussion I’ve seen in gaming circles in awhile. Thanks for the awesome comments guys. I wasn’t out to prove a point, neccesarily, just open up the age age-old debate from a slightly different perspective.

  • Andrew

    There are some great points here. I’m just really sick of some people saying that the Wii isn’t that good because of it’s graphical flaws (in comparison with PS3 and Xbox 360). But the reason why I love the Wii is because of the intuitive Wiimote and Nunchuck controllers, and how they add an entirely new experience to games, such as Red Steel and Wario Ware.

  • Andrew

    There are some great points here. I’m just really sick of some people saying that the Wii isn’t that good because of it’s graphical flaws (in comparison with PS3 and Xbox 360). But the reason why I love the Wii is because of the intuitive Wiimote and Nunchuck controllers, and how they add an entirely new experience to games, such as Red Steel and Wario Ware.

  • http://www.xanga.com/relaxing_roth Roth

    I wanna see graphic arts that I don’t normally see in every day human world. That’s why I like watching Anime, Cartoons, and play Video Games.

    The more humanly realistic these games become, the more less-likely I’ll be attracted to how it looks cause I can see the same schnit when I walk outside. Well, unless it’s got something to do with science fiction. :D/
    That’s probably one of main reasons Halo and/or Metroid are so popular because it’s a space war.

    // Roth

  • http://www.xanga.com/relaxing_roth Roth

    I wanna see graphic arts that I don’t normally see in every day human world. That’s why I like watching Anime, Cartoons, and play Video Games.

    The more humanly realistic these games become, the more less-likely I’ll be attracted to how it looks cause I can see the same schnit when I walk outside. Well, unless it’s got something to do with science fiction. \:D/
    That’s probably one of main reasons Halo and/or Metroid are so popular because it’s a space war.

    // Roth

  • Will

    That brings up another point. Most people can’t relate to a lot of these ultra realistic games with their loads of body counts and impossible controls. Nintendo has opened up gaming to a neglected audience and numbers have shown that the Wii isn’t stealing gamers but merely adding to it. Whenever I have friends over for a party or to have drinks its become relatively easy to turn them on to some genuinely fun gaming that can become a foundation for the above “hardcore” gaming.
    Its no longer a nerdy thing to be involved with but I would never go as far to call it a fad. Let’s call it a revolution.

  • Will

    That brings up another point. Most people can’t relate to a lot of these ultra realistic games with their loads of body counts and impossible controls. Nintendo has opened up gaming to a neglected audience and numbers have shown that the Wii isn’t stealing gamers but merely adding to it. Whenever I have friends over for a party or to have drinks its become relatively easy to turn them on to some genuinely fun gaming that can become a foundation for the above “hardcore” gaming.
    Its no longer a nerdy thing to be involved with but I would never go as far to call it a fad. Let’s call it a revolution.

  • Will

    That brings up another point. Most people can’t relate to a lot of these ultra realistic games with their loads of body counts and impossible controls. Nintendo has opened up gaming to a neglected audience and numbers have shown that the Wii isn’t stealing gamers but merely adding to it. Whenever I have friends over for a party or to have drinks its become relatively easy to turn them on to some genuinely fun gaming that can become a foundation for the above “hardcore” gaming.
    Its no longer a nerdy thing to be involved with but I would never go as far to call it a fad. Let’s call it a revolution.

  • http://abxy.org/u/noodle93 Noodle_93

    I started gaming with the Megadrive II, loved it. Then Gameboy, then Advance, Xbox, DS, then Wii. I regretted selling my ds, and am thinking of buying a GBA.

    Why?!

    Because I don’t care about the graphics. I just saw a PS3 playing at a store tonight. To tell you the truth, it’s good, but it’s not like wow! Honestly, I love Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald/FireRed/LeafGreen. The graphics are so stylish. And the way that Wii can win this round is by harnessing the Gameplay. Nonetheless, they can still try good graphics, but look at SPMWii, Wiiplay, Warioware. It looks good because of colors! I prefer to play a colourful game than a dark FPS’.

    /.Noodle.

  • http://abxy.org/u/noodle93 Noodle_93

    I started gaming with the Megadrive II, loved it. Then Gameboy, then Advance, Xbox, DS, then Wii. I regretted selling my ds, and am thinking of buying a GBA.

    Why?!

    Because I don’t care about the graphics. I just saw a PS3 playing at a store tonight. To tell you the truth, it’s good, but it’s not like wow! Honestly, I love Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald/FireRed/LeafGreen. The graphics are so stylish. And the way that Wii can win this round is by harnessing the Gameplay. Nonetheless, they can still try good graphics, but look at SPMWii, Wiiplay, Warioware. It looks good because of colors! I prefer to play a colourful game than a dark FPS’.

    /.Noodle.\

  • icedog

    This is a really nice post. I agree with what you wrote. I think about this all the time and wonder where games are heading. I believe that games are art, but the majority of the world perceive them as a product. Just like how many art forms in the past were perceived as products, when now at this present age they are perceived as art.

    Video games contain so many fantastic ideas by imaginative human beings. They are indeed a work of art, from the story, the atmosphere, the style, all the way down to the engine itself.

  • icedog

    This is a really nice post. I agree with what you wrote. I think about this all the time and wonder where games are heading. I believe that games are art, but the majority of the world perceive them as a product. Just like how many art forms in the past were perceived as products, when now at this present age they are perceived as art.

    Video games contain so many fantastic ideas by imaginative human beings. They are indeed a work of art, from the story, the atmosphere, the style, all the way down to the engine itself.

  • http://www.icancode.co.uk/ Laurence

    Hmm…
    Graphics are definitely important in games and always will be. However playability will always be harder to crack than good graphics.

  • http://www.icancode.co.uk/ Laurence

    Hmm…
    Graphics are definitely important in games and always will be. However playability will always be harder to crack than good graphics.

  • http://www.icancode.co.uk Laurence

    Hmm…
    Graphics are definitely important in games and always will be. However playability will always be harder to crack than good graphics.

  • Pingback: In what way do graphics matter? « The Tinkmaster’s Thoughts

  • Dan

    The PS3 graphics are better than a Wii, but I see it like this. If you want new styles in gaming try out a Wii. If you want the best graphics possible it is obvious. Use a PC !

  • Dan

    The PS3 graphics are better than a Wii, but I see it like this. If you want new styles in gaming try out a Wii. If you want the best graphics possible it is obvious. Use a PC !

  • http://greasepaint-mustache.blogspot.com/ JT Firefly

    Congratulations on a nice article.

    I’m not convinced the Wii will “win” in the end, though. People these days seem to put so much value on visuals (video games, movies, even magazine and book covers…) it’s ridiculous.

    A friend of mine once said that the PS3, while being much more expensive than the Wii, still offers more “bang for the buck” – because of better graphics. Got me wondering since when video games wasn’t about the fun anymore.

  • http://greasepaint-mustache.blogspot.com/ JT Firefly

    Congratulations on a nice article.

    I’m not convinced the Wii will “win” in the end, though. People these days seem to put so much value on visuals (video games, movies, even magazine and book covers…) it’s ridiculous.

    A friend of mine once said that the PS3, while being much more expensive than the Wii, still offers more “bang for the buck” – because of better graphics. Got me wondering since when video games wasn’t about the fun anymore.

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