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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Value of a Games Graphics

Value of a Games Graphics
As technology advances our hobby of choice is looking better and better with each new title released. Companies are spending a lot of resources and time on crafting visually stunning and immersive worlds. Two games in particular that I am very much looking forward to Star Wars: The Old Republic and Battlefield 3 appear to be taking great care in designing the graphical boxes we play in, but the approach each is undergoing are quite different and present a completely different end result.

The Cartoon Look

It started with World of Warcraft and continues today in many games. The concept of throttled back graphics to make a game more accessible is not uncommon. Blizzard purposefully lowered the graphics on their game so that they could grab a larger audience and the game came out looking more like a cartoon than real life. SW:TOR appears to be headed in the exact same direction as the game has more of a look and feel one gets when watching the Cartoon Network than say living the real life of a Jedi Knight.

When looking at graphics we must also break it down to back drops and interactive pieces. A mountain side in the distance is not the same as a tree that a player runs past. Trees and other movable objects in games are often limited in the detail or interaction they are capable of. Often times these items are not very animated by developers for the same purpose of creating a less burdensome system.  So if developers are willing to lesson the graphical reality of their environments, the question begs to be asked. Just how important are graphics to the overall enjoyment of a game?

Realism vs. Playability

The Battlefield series of games, like most shooters, has always tried maintained a high level of graphical detail. Giving the player a feeling of realism is very important to a game in this genre, as they are often done in the first person setting. Battlefield 3 is stunningly beautiful and boasts some of the most interactive environments available in games. Each map in BF3 is completely destructible and looks as if it were real. Buildings can have holes blown out in them or they can be completely demolished. Other objects like trees, cars or fences are real looking and also completely manipulative. Watching a tank explode in a large ball of fire and flying shrapnel adds to a player’s enjoyment upon scoring the kill. If that same tank merely turned black and stopped working, the impact of the kill would be lessoned dramatically.

 Details like paint on the wall, grass growing in cracks and windows broken out add to the detail of the environment and enhance a persons feeling of realism. However with each addition to the graphical overlay the system required to run the game increases, thus shutting out some potential customers. Game developers are always attempting to find the right balance between realism and playability.

Value of Graphics

It would be improper to say a game with lesser graphics can not be successful or entertaining. Some people love Minecraft, a game with graphics that are sub-par to today’s standards. But for the majority of games, a well designed and graphically beautiful environment is very important if not essential for a games desirability and immersion. Some game developers have decided to give their customers a choice in which level of detail they want like in Lord of the Rings Online which now offers a choice between a high quality game client and a lesser toned down version.  

When we look at MMORPG games in particular, the look of the game world can be very important to the overall enjoyment of the game. When we spend large amounts of time in a virtual world we want it to be as inviting and enjoyable as possible and often the way a world looks can be very important to fulfilling this need. World of Warcraft was by no accounts breathtakingly beautiful, but what it was able to capture was players imaginations. If the game was released with lesser graphics, a player may not be as enraptured with it as they could be and may be turned off by the break in immersion they may suffer.

Pixilated Love Fest

Any way you look at it a games graphical appearance is often important to how much we enjoy the game. Some games are able to get away with less than stellar graphics, but they must provide a gaming experience that is both entertaining and has an element of game play that surpasses its graphical short comings.
For me a games quality of graphics can play a significant role in my ability to enjoy a game, but it is not always required. If a game is able to provide a fun and entertaining experience with out the need for high powered pixels than I am just as likely to try it out. Just don’t expect me to be wowed by a game trailer if it doesn’t look good.
 I am curious to hear what others think on the subject and see how they value a games graphics in their decision to both buy and play a game.  

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