Video Games – Philosophy of Good Graphics

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Video games had underwent thorough massive improvements and evolution – style, aesthetics, interactions and the list goes on. Especially on the visuals aspect of video games, more powerful hardware specs mean a more stronger, more elaborate art and animations. But is having a “good art” simply mean more stronger and detailed graphics? That is of course, one element that determine the quality of art of a certain game, but I feel there is much more than just having very powerful and detailed graphics.

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Linearity and Open World

To bring up my next point, I will have to discuss briefly about this first. So does linearity or open world effect graphical quality of a game?

Technically, I would say no, but it is no doubt easier to bolster the visuals of a game by focusing and highlighting the world. Especially with how graphical technology had improved, all the little details can be integrated in a large world. For example, when one play games like Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed, Red Dead Redemption, one can easily notice just how expansive the world is. Games nowadays aren’t limited to hardware limitations too, so the draw distances for these games, as compared to before, are so high, their depth is almost extraordinary, creating that very fascinating immersive experience and manifesting that adventurous mood within the gamer’s persona. The ability to see buildings or landscapes in the very far-off distance, and to be able to even move forward to it and explore is one of the positive highlights of modern open world games.

That’s not to say graphics for all kinds of linear games are inferior. There is however, a distinct lack of visual appeal when one compares a world-driven game and one which is non world-driven. One would focus it’s resources and budget on building up the world while the other won’t focus on it, and since the world is such a large scale, the graphical appeal for the former is bolstered that much more. Perhaps this is why there is a constant rise of open world sandbox games recently, since these are the types of games where developers can actually make good use of the console’s high specs.
 
 
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Interactivity

Interactivity promotes the interaction between a gamer and the game, and I feel it is another important element to be discussed upon when one determine the quality of graphics of a particular game. With technological and graphical improvements, the game’s world can be created with immense detail, but what good would that intricate detail do when the gameplay and exploration is linear?

There is a reason why I rated Xenoblade Chronicles, and especially it’s graphic department with such a high score. The world the game created is extraordinarily vast – it successfully instilled the fantasy ambiance that the game was going for, and the details and vibrancy were able to be created due to the stronger seventh-generation console, Wii. If you compare it to the graphical heavyweight console like the Playstation 3, of course, what Wii did with Xenoblade clearly has it’s issues, jaggy edges, blurred close-up views, and non HD supports; but that doesn’t ruin Xenoblade’s graphical quality much.

And it doesn’t stop there.

In my opinion, what makes Xenoblade Chronicles such a graphical powerhouse clearly isn’t the strong details, but rather, it’s interactivity with the world. Xenoblade utilized it’s interactivity and open-world exploration extremely well, it does not make the efforts that went into rendering these backgrounds wasted. In fact, it is as if these interactive backgrounds were coming to life – the level of immersion in Xenoblade is top notch. Additionally, the way Xenoblade is designed, especially in it’s gameplay structure, does not make one rushing through the main story. It allows one to take his time wandering around these beautiful fantastical worlds created by the developers, and explore every nook and cranny of all the little intricate details of the vast universe.

Xenoblade Chronicles has one of the best visual direction I had ever seen, and if I were to make a comparison to another graphical heavyweight title… like say, the very linear Final Fantasy XIII, my choice remains clear. You can make a large world, but it won’t help at all if the design of such games don’t promote exploration and interactivity with the gamer. I feel interactivity with the worlds the game created is an important aspect when discerning the graphical quality of the game, especially when a major portion of the game’s plot is world-driven.
 
 
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Themes and Concepts

This next point in my post is more irrelevant to the previous two points, and in this part, I will be talking about the themes and concepts which the graphic designers for certain games may had going for, predominantly, Vanillaware games. Vanillaware is known for their 2D games, even though in an era dominated by 3D, but what makes their visuals so appealing? It’s because most of their games seem to reference real life mythology and traditional aesthetics in their designs.

Befitting it’s settings of Japanese origin, Muramasa: The Demon Blade focus on a visual design that makes it Vanillaware-esque, while integrating designs of Japanese traditional paintings. For example, Raijin’s boss platform design is noteworthy. It was as if the fight was carried out while looking at a traditional Japanese painting imprinted on an ancient Japanese scroll.

Aside from Muramasa, I had also played Odin Sphere, and in that game, the magical, fantasy ambiance that the game had, expressed an atmosphere akin to a children’s literature. There is also the fact that the whole game is based on Norse mythology, which makes the designs that much more compelling.

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To that end, there are a few things to consider when discerning the quality of a game’s visuals. It’s not only just about having strong, flashy visuals; it’s about having substance and retaining graphical capability at the same time.

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This entry was posted by Kai.

7 thoughts on “Video Games – Philosophy of Good Graphics

  1. While I would say that graphics aren’t everything, it’s undeniable that they are an important part of what draws a player to any particular game. It’s not all about the quality of the graphics themselves though; design, theme, detail, composition and style are all important factors.

    What’s become more and more apparent in the last few years is that style can trump quality when it comes to making a game appealing. There are a ton of wonderful indie games out there without the budget of AAA titles that still manage to hook people with the uniqueness of their visuals.

    Beyond style there’s composition, the ability to make all of your graphical assets fit together and complement each other. The overall design of a character doesn’t work if it doesn’t make sense in the context of the setting, right? If you’ve got a recurring theme that links multiple aspects together, that’s even better.

    When it comes down to it, quality and detail are the icing on the cake. You can have all the realism in the world, but it won’t make your game more attractive if it doesn’t offer something extra to the mix. And even if you get everything right visually the whole experience falls down if the other aspects aren’t up to scratch >.<

    I feel like i've rambled, but the point is that there's more to quality when it comes to graphics.

    • I honestly don’t play a lot of indie games myself, although if I’m not wrong, there was one Western-made title that was very visual novel-esque too, which I just couldn’t remember the name atm, lol. I think the reason why some of these games seem just as visually-appealing, or perhaps even more than modern graphically powerful games are because the unique visual style just seems to go hand-in-hand with the context of the game, which is as you had said – composition. The games that I’m actually thinking of, are games like Dangan Ronpa, Ace Attorney, 999 and the likes, and it’s interesting to note that these games have one thing in common: they are from portable game consoles, and since they are obviously weaker game consoles compared to the likes of PS3, it’s a good way to make up for their weaker graphical capability due to the specs.

      • I think you’re right in saying that games on portable consoles do much better with adopting a unique visual style than they do trying to push the graphical capabilities of their respective devices. I often find myself saying that any game released on a portable console would be better on a TV-based console, though when they’re stylized like, as you’ve said, Danga Ronpa and co, they sometime do work better being portable.

        • TV-based consoles recently are all just about “power”, maybe there are a few exceptions here and there but that’s how I see it generally. Even Wii U seems like it’s going full force, lol, having playable PS3/PS4 games as well.

  2. Of course, graphics is not everything. Sure, western games tend to focus more on realistic graphics since their games tend to focus more on realism rather than fantasy. In contrast, most Japanese games, especially Japanese RPGs tend to focus more on fantasy and anime inspired art styles over realism. Because of the differences of styles, western reviewers tend to be biased towards these games mostly because of difference of graphics styles.

    While I obviously prefer Japanese games over western games, I agree that graphics is not everything and of course, there is more aspects that make a quality game such as good gameplay, story, music, etc.

    • Hmm, in 3D, it is indeed really easy to see anime-influenced designs on the characters. Although if we’re talking about backgrounds, there are just as many fantasy-inspired art in Western games than they are realistic ones as well.

  3. Pingback: Insight to my Review System – Part 2 | deluscar

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