In an industry of rapidly evolving technology and a fickle community that is always looking for the next bigger and better thing, the visual eye-candy that is “graphics” has held a tight grip on the priorities of the medium for years. This has been a bane on the existence of fans and developers who would rally for games with better stories, new mechanics or innovative feature sets. It now seems as though those cries have fallen on the ears of someone with pockets and influence deep enough to matter.
In an interview with Edge, former Microsoft big wig and current EA Sports president Peter Moore had some interesting things to say about graphics and their future place in the industry.
Let’s take a look, shall we:
“It’s hard to see how much better we can get from a graphical fidelity/realism perspective, though.
Nintendo took a lot of people by surprise with Wii. 'We’re gonna have fun and you don’t even get arms or legs on some of our characters. Do you want to connect online? We don’t have that. Do you want to watch HD media? We don’t have that, either.’ The future may not be about cutting edge tech, it may simply be about unique experiences."
Even though I think he is off in his assessment regarding additional media features, as consumers are voting with their dollars more and more for products that move closer and closer to becoming an all-encompassing media hub, it’s his statements regarding graphics that raise my eyebrows.
This type of potential shift in focus, if the idea takes hold on an industry-wide scale, could be great for all of us. Think about it. Millions of dollars are spent by publishers and developers as they try and make the best graphics engines, physics simulators and all the little animations and flourishes that do indeed help sell a game’s world but don’t necessarily result in a fun or quality gaming experience. Shining the spotlight on “unique experiences” could result in more games that we have truly never played before.
The medium is a baby compared to cinema, yet the importance placed on graphics, despite the increased immersion that can come along with better visuals in some games, has also done its part to stifle advances in other equally important areas of development, like gameplay. There’s no reason that games should have such a finite number of genres, as they currently do, when the medium is this early in its life. It would be extremely refreshing to see developers cast off the shackles of graphics, and give us unfathomed experiences that renew our reasons for playing games.
This change in the wind could also be beneficial from a monetary standpoint as well, for both gamers and those making the games. Those millions of dollars I mentioned earlier don’t need to be spent if a developer doesn’t need to hire an army of animators, texture artists, 3D modelers, virtual tree planters… I think you get it. Developers and publishers have been looking for ways to drive down production costs for a couple years now, and gamers have been extremely vocal about games costing too much. Putting the dollar draining task of trying to make the most photorealistic game out there in the background has the ability to give both parties what they want.
In fact, we’ve already seen this happen with games like Limbo, World of Goo, Machinarium, and The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom. Not a single one of those titles looks graphically realistic. But each one still manages to be aesthetically interesting, utilizes great play mechanics that provide fantastic experiences, didn’t cost an arm and a leg to make and can be purchased for under twenty bucks.
Graphics certainly have their place in the industry and are, in some ways, more important to various types of games now then they ever have been because of the increased immersion that top notch graphics can deliver. Games like Uncharted, Heavy Rain, God of War, and Gears of War wouldn’t be the games we love if not for the incredible advances in graphical fidelity over the last few generations. But remember, those games also have foundations built around solid play mechanics as well.
While I understand that Mr. Moore’s intentions are most likely monetarily motivated, the fact that someone of his stature in the industry is making statements like this could start the medium down some extremely exciting new paths. Indeed graphics can certainly get better, but I believe he is saying that it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see the huge visual leaps from generation to generation that we once experienced when moving from SNES to Nintendo 64 to Gamecube and PlayStation. Future graphical changes will likely be incremental enhancements as opposed to revolutionary leaps forward. Think current PC processing speed upgrades.
Sound off Rantketeers! Would a continued new wave of aesthetically pleasing but decidedly low-tech games that offered great play experiences be something you’d give a try? Will the next generation really blow us away visually, or will it be filled with lots of little technical improvements? I realize that we are still fairly far away from playing a game that looks like a CG movie, but ask yourself, how much would that really improve a game like Heavy Rain or God of War?