Monday, July 10, 2017

Graphics Are Important in Video Games

In video gaming, there's always the argument of which is more important, gameplay/fps or graphics, and I was always in the gameplay is more important than graphics camp. My position was that developers should use computing resources for smoother frame rates, and concentrate on gameplay elements over graphics. Of course, this position doesn't make sense, as there are many games that have both great graphics AND gameplay.

However, if I were forced to chose, I was always in the gameplay camp as graphics weren't important to me until recently. Playing Final Fantasy VII, I used a walkthrough and wondered, what items are they talking about? I'm awful with spatial awareness with poor vision, but can I be that lost? What do you mean pick up the health potion at the start of the game (i.e. the train station)? Confused, I watched videos, and the item in question was a yellow dot on the floor. 

As for Chrono Trigger, I played the game almost blindly, and one of the few times I consulted a guide was when I thought I was at the mountain that you're supposed to enter, but I couldn't find the entrance; or, given my bad sense of directions, is this in fact the correct mountain? The video clarified that the entrance is this small black dot in the mountain that's hard to see.

The examples above show that these graphics are outdated, but they didn't impact how brilliant the games are, so I didn't understand why some gamers are so focused on graphics. In fact, I wondered, why can't more games be like Final Fantasy VII and Chrono Trigger?

So, until 2017, I found graphics irrelevant. However, as I mentioned in my prior posts, with Nioh and Breath of the Wild causing physical issues (eye-, neck-strain and headaches), I realize that graphics are absolutely crucial to the gaming experience. I feel developers should focus on graphics that have clean lines (i.e. anti-aliasing with no jaggies), and lighting/shading effects to make sure the game is in fact clear and not muddy like Nioh.

A game CAN be dark but also easy to see such as Hollow Knight. If Nioh had clear graphics like that, I'd definitely play it again to see if I can beat the end-game solo.

During the E3 2017 conference, there was a game featured that is Dark Souls-like called Ashen, exclusively for the XBoxOne/Windows. The lack of textures was disappointing--the characters don't even have two dots for eyes--that my immediate thought was why play this game when there are other games with more polished graphics and presentation such as Salt & Sanctuary (which I'll be getting once my backlog is reduced)?

Further, I didn't quite like the art direction and style of Ashen. Even so, at least Ashen doesn't appear that it would cause eye-strain, but the graphic presentation made it seem lackluster (perhaps unfairly).

I'm certainly not advocating bleeding-edge graphics like Uncharted 4 in all games, or incredible art direction like the movie, Spirited Away, but a game with decent, pleasant art with no jaggies is reasonable, and doesn't require untenable amounts of resources.

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  1. Piggybacking off of this a little, which side of the debate you take can often be heavily be considered on a game by game basis. In game's Tomb Raider, Elder Scroll's, game's with spectical I would agree with the decision to keep it 30 fps (TB be damned) Consoles just don't have the power to do both, if you want 60 FPS, you gotta give up some technical graphics to take some of the load off of the graphics card. And when they do that, they don't take the decision lightly, those a fantastic games to behold. However There certainly are games where that 60 FPS should be prioritised over those top notch graphics, game's where your twitch reflex gets tested more. A recent example I remember was Super Smash Brother for the 3DS. Now this is not a powerful machine, if they just used WiiU graphic's, we'd be fucked. But because they value'd that 60FPS so highly, because they knew how important the twitch reflex was for their game, they cut down on the graphics as much as they could and optimised it so well they could hit that goal (most of the time).


  2. I'm relieved that you mentioned the necessity of achieving a balance between graphics and fps. Totally agree that games with bleeding-edge graphics like Uncharted series and Horizon Zero Dawn, I can see it needs to be at 30 fps. But games with less intense graphics such as Ori and the Blind Forest, and Hollow Knight can run at 60 fps.

    I came from a perspective that graphics are not even needed. As a new gamer, I had to make up for all the past retro games I missed, so the dated graphics didn't bother me in the least. At that time, I found gameplay, story, character development and the like more compelling elements in a video game than graphics.

    However, Nioh and Breath of the Wild changed my view completely, where now I see the importance of graphics. Nioh intentionally wanted to be dark and gloomy, but could they not have used the techniques in Hollow Knight? My eyes became blurry playing Nioh.

    Graphics-wise, I think even the smallest indie team can make a game that has pleasing aesthetics, decent graphics, and doesn't cause physical problems. I'm thinking of Dust: An Elysian Tale. With a team of one person (!), the game is beautiful with clear graphics, and excellent gameplay!

  3. There is quite a significant difference between dark tone's, and straight black. I haven't played Nioh yet (console exclusive's pls) but I know what you're talking about, a lot of horror games in days past suffered from this issue. And the key thing to note is the kind of scenario;s you use them both in. Blacks are used as a void, there is nothing there. No character, no personality, nothing. Darker tones, still have substance to them, can still create atmosphere. You don't make a dark shot by darkening the blacks, instead introduce more colours to the white. I also think it's important to distiguish the difference between old graphics and bad graphics. Even all these years down the line, some of the greats will still look and play just fine. Some games actually still use retro style's for good reason, Game's like Stardew Valley and Terraria spring to mind. Whereas there are games that use really advanced graphical techniques but don't know how to utilise them to their fullest potential, I guess Nioh would be a good example of this.

    On a side note I'm glad you've played Dust, that game is kind of an outlier game, similar to the likes of Undertale soon after it. A game where the developer doesn't nessecarily know all that much about what they're doing, but care so much about it that they make it work, no matter how long it takes.


  4. Thanks for pointing out the artistic considerations. I'm still playing Dark Souls 1 on the consoles (rather than the preferred PC due to ease of use), and I'm still struck that despite being nearly 6 years old, the graphics still hold up, in the sense that you can see the environments, enemies and all items very clearly, even in the darkest areas.

    I'm very struck with Dark Souls 3 that despite having "monotone" colors like brown/red tone in Smouldering Lake that you still can make out every single detail, whereas with Nioh, it has the same monotone artistic direction, but it's really hard to see. And it appears that both games have equal levels of details in texture, perhaps Dark Souls 3 being even more elaborate, so it's not like Dark Souls 3 has clarity due to less textures (i.e. South Park which almost looks like the cartoon, due to not being as texture heavy).

    From what you're saying, it appears that From software knows how to use graphical techniques--I certainly would like to learn more about them.

    Going to the retro style makes sense, b/c it's not as graphic intense, but at the same time, you can still make the colors and lines clear, and not blurry. Same with anime direction, such as Gravity Rush 2. But where Gravity Rush 2 is SO clear, with incredible texture and detail, I mean, it's so vivid, it's not going to be dated anytime soon. Whereas Breath of the Wild already looks dated today. My friend, who does tons of coding as an electrical engineer said BoTW graphics is equivalent to the 1990s.

    I was SO surprised that Dust was developed by just one person, given how non-glitchy it was (except for one area). I'll have to look into Undertale.

    1. The keyword for a lot of these games, is clarity. If you put a black effect on a black backgeound, naturally it's gonna be difficult to distinguish, any artist can tell you that. But games aren't developed with one shot in mind, ofren times they give the player control of the camera, so traditional art techniques often get forgotten when modellers and amateur animators get their hands on them. They build the assets in a void outside of the world, so miss put on simple stuff like that. There are a bunch of technique's you can use to do this, a good example in League of Legends right now actually is the champion they released like yesterday, Kayn, compared to every other one. Due to one of his design elements, they decided to remove the inking on his character, the outline around him. People instantly noticed he was more difficult to read at time's, he seemed to blur on the screen if you weren't focusing on him.

      Another simple one is just choosing the right colour pallete's. Don't use #0000FF if you already used that for their level. Sounds simple, but when you don't take shaders into account, or you build it in a void outside of the level, it can be easy done.


    2. That's extremely interesting, I didn't know that achieving clarity is that basic? It shouldn't take a lot of resources to get an artist on board to make things crisp and clear?

      You're clearly a video game developer, so I was wondering if you recommend any links to video game graphics, as I'd like to learn more about shaders and so on and so forth. I think my friend was telling me about textures, shaders but it went over my head.

      Thanks so much for providing this blog with technical information!

    3. I studied Games Development for two years in college, Media for one more after that. (UK college, not university) Alongside it being my hobby since as long as I remember, I've grown quite a passion for game's. I also have worked on some games, but those were either never published, or I was never acredited (wasn't hired or paid, just asked to help with a little something by a friend, which is fine).

      There will be plenty resources online that explain these kinds of things, but I don't know which one's are good, I had an IRL tutor. So I'll give you the short and sweet of it here, if you'd like me to go into more detail, let me know.

      Every 3D game (inc 2D games with 3D graphics, Giana Sister's: Twisted Dreams, Hearthstone) is a Scene filled with Objects and a Camera.

      An Object, is made by a Modeller, and is built out of polygons. This model is lacking texture's and shaders. So next we would open up a drawing program, and using that, fold out the model like an origami net, and draw a Texture over the polygons.

      A Shader, much more complicated affects the way the light would reflect off of it, and is used to create the illusion that a flat plane isn't flat. Using complicated equations, we make object's appear smoother than they really are, we make object's appear bumpier than they really are, we make water look like it's rippling when it's really not.

      We have a light source in the scene, this will mostly be dealt with by the software but it's pretty self explanitory, it lights up the scene, like a lightbulb, but as powerful and physics breaking as you need.

      Particle Effects are not object's, though they are difficult to explain to beginners, basically it's smoke, fire, water our of a shower, anything you don't need a model for.

      Finally the Camera is what the Observer (players for example) see's in the scene, they might have control of the camera or they might not. Either way it is an invisible entity that serves as our eye's.


    4. that's really awesome, I'm sure you end up appreciating video games more, since you know what goes into it.

      thanks for the info--you gave me a good start in understanding game development. in the meantime, I'm going to read more about video game designing, it's very fascinating stuff.

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    6. Hmmm, uhhh, yeahhhh... It's kind've a double edged sword really. Whilst I do still love game's, I love them in a completely different way to when I was young. I've recently picked up NieR: Automata, and first playthrough last boss is a really impressive feat, great design. The problem is that instead of being lost in the moment, I started asking myself what exactly made that fight great? I taken in all the details and came to a hypothesis like I was studying it. Imconsidered how they made the particle effects they used, and why. How they made the UI, and why. Whilst my passion for the medium hasn't changed, don't get me wrong I wouldn't be here if I didn't love them, I don't enjoy games in the same way I used to.


    7. yes, I can see that over-analyzing might get in the way of true immersion. I still need to play NieR: Automata, but I'm working my way through Dark Souls 3 NG+7 legitimately (i.e., not using mules).

      I heard NieR requires extra playthroughs as the gameplay actually changes and gets better with each new ending revisited! I'm afraid if I write a review, I will say masterpiece, with yet another woman as main character lol. But 2017 DOES have masterpieces I think, along with plethora of woman power!

  5. Nier Automata is a funny one, it's the kind of game where if you try to pick hole's in it, and you think long and hard about it, you can see a reason you might be wrong, and that it is something the devs thought about. There are anlot of discussion's that can be had, things like whether the perspective is good or bad, whether the game is too short for casul's and too long winded for serious players, whether the story fit's, etc. You can make good and bad points for all of them. Even so called mistakes you can see aren't just mistake's, they've been thought over and explained in the gameplay.

    Talking about femenism in the industy is actually quite in interesting topic. I think it's only natural we should have more girls in game's, however I also feel like it's kinda going over the top. I think an ideal comparison here would be comparing Overwatch, to TF2 before it. When TF2 released it was perfectly fine to have an all male cast of characters. Come to today, and we see a huge number of relatable character's from different backgrounds and nationalities. In an ideal world I feel like that should be what is happening, but at the moment, it feels like they're making up for lost time, or trying to make female character's the next big thing, which is equally worrying. I kinda hate the Female Protagonist tag on steam with a passion, not because there are bad games in there, but because I don't think that should be a selling point, if it is I wonder whether your priorities are in order. Have a girl lead, by all means, but make your game good without it too.

    It's not just in game's it's a problem, it's an issue we've been seeing all along the entertainment industry. important things to mention are the like's of the Ghost buster's, and new Doctor in dr who. Credit where it's due, they're doing a fantastic job with what they have, but it isn't going to improve them at all, if anything it's only going to cause issue's when all of a sudden you can't give X character a story role because they're unsuitable now. (ie guy getting pregnant, girl paying child support story, etc.)


    1. very interesting points as there are some features of games that people like and others hate. I love min/max stats, and collecting/finding things, other people hate it. But I think you can see if the game is brilliant based on the quality, even if you don't like the features. I think you can tell if the game is problematic if the menu is very clunky and not inuitive, poor frame-rates, bad graphics, bad story, bad character development and the like.

      I'm very happy that game developers are including more diversity in their games. I completely agree with you that the focus should be not so much on the gender, but making a character compelling. It's just not honest if someone makes a character to suit purposes that are not consistent with the themes and the story you want to tell (i.e. complete personality change, no personality and other sloppy writing). I prefer a well-written male character over a poorly written female character. Interestingly enough, I can't think off the top of my head any badly written female leads, though I can come up with quite a few bad male leads.

      Although development is moving toward more positive portrayal of women, it's not making much strides in terms of the LGBTQ community. The two gay men in Persona 5, and the Geruda mission of Breath of the Wild really make me cringe. Can these developers just NOT include LGBTQ characters b/c it's going to be very offensive as they're clearly out of touch with reality, OR, if they're determined to have more representation, make SURE you get input from LGBTQ leaders in the community? It's not like you have to go out of your way to include LGBTQ characters in your games (i.e. there's no rule that forces you to do so), and if you do NOT want to put the effort into this, don't include the characters in the first place? Why go out of your way to offend a group?

      I very much enjoyed Ghostbusters, but it's not Paul Feig's greatest work, and the writing is not on par with Spy or his other movies, which I think is why it didn't do so well in the box office. I haven't seen recent Dr. Who, but if the female Dr. Who is brilliant written, it really shouldn't invite controversy or hatred. However, Wonder Woman is doing quite well b/c it's a very well written, directed movie, despite having a woman lead.


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