Realistic Graphics Are Broken

Robert Rath

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Realistic Graphics Are Broken

Realistic graphics may cause more of an issue than they solve.

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Apr 28, 2008
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Reminds me of this old article [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/experienced-points/6069-Death-to-Good-Graphics] from Shamus Young. That was way back in the long-before time of 2009. He was talking about PC games mainly, but I think it works for consoles as well. You'd think with this generation lasting so long developers would focus more on interesting gameplay mechanics than graphics, but sadly not considering many seem to be saying "we need good graphics for emotion and immersion!!" Which is saddening. And provably wrong. So far I haven't seen any next-gen game that might be doing anything interesting mechanics wise. Hopefully I'll be proven wrong, but I'm not holding my breath.

Also, while Uncharted 3 did point out Drake's obsession with treasure and gunning people down, it never did anything with it. It just went "oh yeah, that's a thing" and went right back to the slaughter. They could have done some really interesting things, but didn't. Which is a shame.
 

Izanagi009_v1legacy

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Robert Rath said:
Realistic Graphics Are Broken

Realistic graphics may cause more of an issue than they solve.

Read Full Article
Bravo Mr. Rath, excellent article.

I have a few comments on Immersion and the ludonarrative dissonance. I believe that immersion is best achieved not by appearance but by content. A world could look as real as life itself but if the people, lore, and settings are not interesting, why would you want to live in it. Living in Skyrim is nice for a sightseeing tour but the people look so bland and act so lifeless. Compare that to Persona 4, It invokes a less realistic, more stylized world with people whose faces have less features but the characters have both funny and tragic moments which make me want to hang out with them and the world is so full of color that Yasoinaba looks exciting and habitable.

As for how to make mechanics better fit the realistic ideal, one method might be to have the inclusion of actual A.I. capable of replicating human speech and emotion. I know it's far off but the conversations would flow more smoothly with a clear understanding of colloquiums and accents and the conversation wheel would be completely absent. The ultimate end goal would be something like the fulldive in Sword Art Online: a method of fully transferring the human mind into the digital and making it so that we ourselves are the npc's, enemies, and companions that we rely and communicate to.
 

Daaaah Whoosh

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Something I've always wanted more of in games is moveable objects. In games like Halo, the high number of objects that can be moved around leads to all sorts of fun activities, but in the end it just makes the world feel more realistic. In Battlefield, there aren't as many such objects, but at least the world can be destroyed by explosions and such. Call of Duty, however, features almost nothing that can be affected by the player, and thus feels like a display in a museum; you can look, but you can't touch. I believe that with a new console generation, games can afford to invest more time and effort into making objects in the world that can be affected by the player, rather than making indestructible, unchanging photorealistic settings.
 

Robert Rath

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Daaaah Whoosh said:
Something I've always wanted more of in games is moveable objects. In games like Halo, the high number of objects that can be moved around leads to all sorts of fun activities, but in the end it just makes the world feel more realistic. In Battlefield, there aren't as many such objects, but at least the world can be destroyed by explosions and such. Call of Duty, however, features almost nothing that can be affected by the player, and thus feels like a display in a museum; you can look, but you can't touch. I believe that with a new console generation, games can afford to invest more time and effort into making objects in the world that can be affected by the player, rather than making indestructible, unchanging photorealistic settings.
Good comment. Leigh Alexander compared BioShock: Infinite to Disney World in much the same way you're describing - beautiful but ultimately creepy because it's so obviously fake.

Personally, I think that was intended because Columbia IS fake, but I think it was the writing addressing a problem rather than a world specifically created to come off as phony and theme park-like.

Irridium said:
Also, while Uncharted 3 did point out Drake's obsession with treasure and gunning people down, it never did anything with it. It just went "oh yeah, that's a thing" and went right back to the slaughter. They could have done some really interesting things, but didn't. Which is a shame.
I absolutely agree. But the fact that they addressed it at all shows that it's a problem the team's been thinking about. Overall, I think that this was an example of the "just acknowledge it and move on" tactic, which is perfectly valid in many ways.
 

Vivi22

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Irridium said:
Also, while Uncharted 3 did point out Drake's obsession with treasure and gunning people down, it never did anything with it. It just went "oh yeah, that's a thing" and went right back to the slaughter. They could have done some really interesting things, but didn't. Which is a shame.
Actually, they kind of did. In the end of the game you've got them hauling up the latest ancient macguffin. In either of the two previous games, Drake almost certainly would have wanted to know what was inside it. In 3 though, he finally realizes it isn't worth it and is content to let it sink back to the bottom and make it out alive with his friends and rekindle his relationship with Elena. I think some people tend to miss it because Drake's development over that game is much more subtle than the gameplay is, or even the other games are. By the end of the game, Drake is not the same person he was in the beginning. That they don't completely beat you over the head with it makes it all the more well done.

As to the topic and the article. Very well done, and I pretty much agree. I was having a chat with a friend a few years ago where I said the constant use of this word immersion is a complete and utter lie and an unattainable goal. Even if you could have a completely photo-realistic world, are you ever going to be fooled into thinking that you're the character and not a guy sitting on their couch, controller in hand, staring at the TV? Not a chance. What people should be looking to do is engross the player. Make them get caught up in the world, the characters, and the gameplay. Granted, engrossing the player isn't an easy goal either, but it's at least an attainable one.
 

Silentpony_v1legacy

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Why can't the weapons publishers fight with be...you know, good games? Remember 2005? The fight wasn't "my graphics are better than yours!". Instead it was basically
"Oh, you released Resident Evil 4 did you? Well I'll just release God of War!"
"I'll see your God of War with KOTOR 2!"
"Muwahaha! I'll just release World of Warcraft!"
It was a good year, with great games! It wasn't about the graphics!
 

Bolt Van Der Huge

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There was a part in the Godfather game for the first Xbox, where you have to take Michael Corleone to his meeting with Sollozzo in the diner. The cutscene reworks the movie scene where Michael excuses himself during the meal, goes to the bathroom and takes the gun that the player character stashed behind the toilet flush tank. He sits down again at the table and moments later hurriedly shoots Sollozzo and his bodyguard, drops the gun and marches out the diner, shaken and distraught.
The scene works so well for a number of reasons. Most prominently, the Corleones agree to use Michael to meet with Sollozzo as Michael has no previous involvement with gang violence, assassination etc, and would not arouse suspicion if used as an envoy. Michael has specifically avoided the violence of his family's criminal enterprise, so to assassinate a man in public, thus entering the criminal world he tried to avoid for so long, is a traumatic moment for him.
After he leaves the diner, the player character has to drive him to the docks so he can escape to Sicily, while being chased by Sollozzo's men and the police. What does the game have Michael do? You might expect, given the story, Michael's character, his reluctance to use violence and the tone of the scene, he would be shaken in the back seat, praying for his life. Instead, the game has him leaning out of a window spraying pursuing cars with a tommy gun.
Yeah.
 

TheRightToArmBears

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I guess to a point I agree- I'd prefer it if the focus wasn't so much on graphics and that 'realistic' graphics cropped up more rarely and weren't the default aesthetics. Still, I do want to see where the graphics will go, eventually, however slowly they'll get more realistic and that's really exciting.

Silentpony said:
Why can't the weapons publishers fight with be...you know, good games? Remember 2005? The fight wasn't "my graphics are better than yours!". Instead it was basically
"Oh, you released Resident Evil 4 did you? Well I'll just release God of War!"
"I'll see your God of War with KOTOR 2!"
"Muwahaha! I'll just release World of Warcraft!"
It was a good year, with great games! It wasn't about the graphics!
2005 was the year Oblivion was released, and that was heavily touted for it's graphics (although it dated very quickly). I think it's a fallacy to claim that the focus on graphics is a recent thing, devs have always been pushing and promoting their graphics, it's just much more advanced and costly these days so smaller improvements are touted more heavily.

I mean, this entire debate that was mentioned in the article- how we justify slaughtering hundreds of people, how game mechanics rather than graphics reflect reality- definitely seems (to me at least) to be hotting up a lot recently, with games like Tomb Raider. Bioshock: Infinite and Dishonoured were both touted for their designs, world and stories rather than their graphical quality (remember some Bs:I screenshots with some terrible looking piles of apples). Bear in mind that Call of Duty's graphics have barely changed for years; it's main attraction is the smooth gameplay.
 

CrystalShadow

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That brings to mind a lot of things I used to think as a teenager. I always felt something was lacking in a lot of games. And while it had to do with realism, this article reminds me that, looking back on it, what I was missing most of the time was not graphical realism, but behavioural realism.

Environments in games just never behaved right. No matter how good they might look, they always seemed kind of limiting.

A few years back I said to someone how little actual physics interaction games contained.
Their reply was to point at half-life 2...

Now, looking at it, yes, you can pick up random junk, and throw it around... But it's very limited, and quite clunky. As fun as the gravity gun is, it's not exactly that impressive as a means of interacting with the environment, when you really think about it.

And that's to say nothing of the much more complex task of dealing with social interactions. - Which half-life 2 fails at quite badly.
Sure, it's well-presented, but in the end it's like being a mute that people talk at, rather than to, and largely ignore.
Nothing except the enemies really react in any way to what you do...

It's one of those things... Games... Ironically, for me, lack interaction. And that's what I always tend to miss. Much more so than the graphics.

Every button that doesn't work. Door that won't open. things that won't break, even though they probably would if they were real... The person walking around that behaves as if I barely exist... These things have always bothered me. Yes, I can learn to ignore them if the game is otherwise interesting... But it's still a sort of... Thorn in the back of my mind...
 
Apr 28, 2008
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Robert Rath said:
Irridium said:
Also, while Uncharted 3 did point out Drake's obsession with treasure and gunning people down, it never did anything with it. It just went "oh yeah, that's a thing" and went right back to the slaughter. They could have done some really interesting things, but didn't. Which is a shame.
I absolutely agree. But the fact that they addressed it at all shows that it's a problem the team's been thinking about. Overall, I think that this was an example of the "just acknowledge it and move on" tactic, which is perfectly valid in many ways.
True. But in this game it didn't work for me since in addition to that, there was the whole thing with
Drake getting captured and then the big bad (can't remember her name) revealing that Nathan Drake isn't his real name. It made me think they were going to link the two. Maybe hint that the reason Drake does all this is to try and find some type of purpose or something since he's an orphan and has just been trying to survive until he met Sully.

They teased quite a bit, but never explored it all in depth, which is a shame.

Vivi22 said:
Irridium said:
Also, while Uncharted 3 did point out Drake's obsession with treasure and gunning people down, it never did anything with it. It just went "oh yeah, that's a thing" and went right back to the slaughter. They could have done some really interesting things, but didn't. Which is a shame.
Actually, they kind of did. In the end of the game you've got them hauling up the latest ancient macguffin. In either of the two previous games, Drake almost certainly would have wanted to know what was inside it. In 3 though, he finally realizes it isn't worth it and is content to let it sink back to the bottom and make it out alive with his friends and rekindle his relationship with Elena. I think some people tend to miss it because Drake's development over that game is much more subtle than the gameplay is, or even the other games are. By the end of the game, Drake is not the same person he was in the beginning. That they don't completely beat you over the head with it makes it all the more well done.
That is true. I guess what I was mainly referring to was when Drake got "captured" by the big bad. That whole thread was never explored, which really disappointed me. They could have done some interesting things with it.
 

OZAuCkn7J28sHLCv

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Frankly, you can blabber on about the uncanny valley for as long as you wish, but we're not even close to it yet and the thus I feel the point of this article is voided. Stylised visuals in games are not used to avoid the uncanny valley, but simply to masks the imperfections of the technology they used. if this were true, all games would be doing this, and yet the majority of AAA games push for photorealism.

The uncanny valley is not something that should be avoided, or treated as an impassible chasm. The next generation consoles are continents away from the uncanny valley, and when we finally reach the cragged edge, only by pressing onwards will we ever reach the other side. Carpe Diem.
 
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TheRightToArmBears said:
I guess to a point I agree- I'd prefer it if the focus wasn't so much on graphics and that 'realistic' graphics cropped up more rarely and weren't the default aesthetics. Still, I do want to see where the graphics will go, eventually, however slowly they'll get more realistic and that's really exciting.

Silentpony said:
Why can't the weapons publishers fight with be...you know, good games? Remember 2005? The fight wasn't "my graphics are better than yours!". Instead it was basically
"Oh, you released Resident Evil 4 did you? Well I'll just release God of War!"
"I'll see your God of War with KOTOR 2!"
"Muwahaha! I'll just release World of Warcraft!"
It was a good year, with great games! It wasn't about the graphics!
2005 was the year Oblivion was released, and that was heavily touted for it's graphics (although it dated very quickly). I think it's a fallacy to claim that the focus on graphics is a recent thing, devs have always been pushing and promoting their graphics, it's just much more advanced and costly these days so smaller improvements are touted more heavily.
Oblivion came out in 2006. And while the graphics were nice, they ended up not mattering since the art-direction was so bland it just looked boring. Also in addition to the graphics, it also touted its "fully voiced NPC's"

Yeah, fully voiced. Only one line of unique dialog between them and all the rest is shared. This isn't even mentioning the ELEVEN voice actors for their world of "100+ NPC's"
 

BloodRed Pixel

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Great article, though it is very sad that the topic still got not through to most game devs and execs in 'the industry' and is still, well a topic.

If a game character _behaves_ realitically (within the gameworld's premise) it doen not matter if it _looks_ realistic.

It's like a long dead horse hanging in the room but no one cares about burrying it.
 

Silentpony_v1legacy

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TheRightToArmBears said:
I guess to a point I agree- I'd prefer it if the focus wasn't so much on graphics and that 'realistic' graphics cropped up more rarely and weren't the default aesthetics. Still, I do want to see where the graphics will go, eventually, however slowly they'll get more realistic and that's really exciting.

Silentpony said:
Why can't the weapons publishers fight with be...you know, good games? Remember 2005? The fight wasn't "my graphics are better than yours!". Instead it was basically
"Oh, you released Resident Evil 4 did you? Well I'll just release God of War!"
"I'll see your God of War with KOTOR 2!"
"Muwahaha! I'll just release World of Warcraft!"
It was a good year, with great games! It wasn't about the graphics!
2005 was the year Oblivion was released, and that was heavily touted for it's graphics (although it dated very quickly). I think it's a fallacy to claim that the focus on graphics is a recent thing, devs have always been pushing and promoting their graphics, it's just much more advanced and costly these days so smaller improvements are touted more heavily.

I mean, this entire debate that was mentioned in the article- how we justify slaughtering hundreds of people, how game mechanics rather than graphics reflect reality- definitely seems (to me at least) to be hotting up a lot recently, with games like Tomb Raider. Bioshock: Infinite and Dishonoured were both touted for their designs, world and stories rather than their graphical quality (remember some Bs:I screenshots with some terrible looking piles of apples). Bear in mind that Call of Duty's graphics have barely changed for years; it's main attraction is the smooth gameplay.

You know thats probably true. I just feel like there was a time when the graphics upgrade from one generation to another was taken as read, and not a major selling point. Like when they first showed the incredible graphics for the PS3 and 360, I was somewhat indifferent. I had assumed there would be better graphics. I was looking for better games. Seems like developers are taking the George Lucas approached to new things. That new graphics = better movies/games. The last few E3s have been all about showing off the new hardware and graphics for this game or that game, and not the games themselves. Granted graphics are a large part of games, but developers are making the mistake that its the only part in games. Look at Bioshock: Infinite. The graphics are good but not top-of-the-line. My subpar laptop can play the game, no problem. And its a great game!
Compare that to the PS3 launch-title KillZone whatever. It was billed as having the single greatest graphics in the entire history of games and that was supposed to be enough. And the game bombed.
Over and over again the market(gamers) are proving that good graphics should be part of the package, not just the entire package. Hell, I'm addicted to Gratuitous Space Battles and that game has Gameboy Advanced era graphics and I'll take it over Modern Warfare any day.
 

BreakfastMan

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Yeah, I disagree. Pretty much completely (though not with the idea we need to focus less on increasing graphical fidelity, but that is about it). Most people can separate fiction from reality. It is the reason many people can still enjoy films like The Raid: Redemption. The film looks fairly real, but includes almost constant scenes of horrific violence. And it has a huge cult following, so much so it is getting an American remake. When I play Tomb Raider (2013), I don't think of it as something that is "real". When I play COD, I don't think of it as something that is "real". Uncanny valley is a thing, I just don't think it applies to mechanics in the way you think it does.
 

Blood Brain Barrier

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I noticed LA Noire was quickly glossed over in the article. I'm not a huge fan of the game, but the interview sequences were a good use of realistic graphics. I was terrible at them but I can only blame my inability to read faces for that. I know a lot of people found them too easy but that's okay too. They were a use of photorealistic graphics for purposes other than monotonous killing sprees.
 

Dastardly

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Robert Rath said:
Realistic Graphics Are Broken

Realistic graphics may cause more of an issue than they solve.

Read Full Article
This is something I'm also quite passionate about. It's why I go back to games like The Wind Waker -- sure, my character looks cartoony, but so does the world he's in, so he always seems integrated into it. I'm in that world, regardless of how realistic it does or doesn't look.

What you're talking about really ties back into the problem with a lot of gimmicks. In fact, the very nature of gimmicks (and what separates them from true innovations). To me, something is a "gimmick" when it takes something that should be a massive leap forward, and only goes halfway with it... and then calls that a leap forward.

Motion controls. 3D. Photorealistic graphics. These all share a common goal: they are tricks designed to fool our senses into believing an illusion. But they all share a common shortcoming: they each target a single aspect of a single sense.

There's a reason we have more than one sense. It makes it harder to fool us. I don't believe the person in the mirror is a separate person just because he looks perfectly realistic. Other senses and knowledge fill in the gaps, keeping me from being fooled like a goldfish or parakeet. So, when one stimulus sends my brain some illusionary information, but all of my other senses receive information that disagrees, my brain counts up the votes and decides not to buy the illusion.

Motion controls lack force feedback. I'm pantomiming the swing of a tennis racket, but I don't feel the weight, resistance, momentum, or any other aspect of the act. 3D tells me this flat image has depth... but plain old stereo sound (and the rest of my field of view) tells me that's not right. Photorealistic graphics tell me I'm looking at something real, but invisible walls, awkward animations, and a shallow experience tell me I should know better.
 

Reyold

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You'd think after a while, people would get the whole "gameplay over graphics" thing, but clearly, there are those in the industry who are dead-set on the opposite, even more so than before.

I appreciate great style in graphics (Odin Sphere, for example), but I couldn't care less about whether or not the game is photo-realistic. I play games for the game, not to stare at hair on a man's arm.
 

Mahoshonen

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"I want to talk to the demons!"
"No Sheamus, you are the demons..."

My deepest apologies, but that was all I could think at the end of the article