Graphics and the game industry

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by Mikademus, Apr 6, 2007.

  1. Mikademus

    Mikademus New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2007
    Messages:
    145
    Likes Received:
    0
    This is a topic I've been mulling for some years now, and I'd love for a discussion with fellow developers about it. I wrote an article about how I perceive the game industry's almost-exclusive focus on graphics as a threat to genuinely good games over at my blog, and my main theses are:

    • Graphics has become the most important aspect of a game
    • Games (and other popular media) are becoming increasingly superficial, while their presentation gets better and better
    • Graphics is the most expensive aspect of game development
    • Development costs are too high to handle without external financing
    • Investors requires tried formulae
    • This forms a vicious circle

    I develop this much more extensively in the article, but the bottom line is that I think the industry is painting itself into a graphic hell corner where, taken to the extreme, graphics replace every other game aspect, and especially creativity lose.

    The question is what extent this affects indie game development. To a certain extent it might even be the force that (re)generate indie games at all?

    I know this topic has been argued quite a bit, but from reading threads here I'm of the impression that the regulars here are more interested in a good discussion than throwing pies...
     
  2. GolfHacker

    GolfHacker Member

    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2006
    Messages:
    1,073
    Likes Received:
    0
    I maintain that having the latest, greatest wizzbang graphics is not necessary for a good game. Some of my favorite games that I still play are older 16-color games like Commander Keen, Crystal Caves, and King's Quest. While good graphics is certainly a plus, it won't help a lame game - and there are far too many lame games on the market today (especially mainstream).

    At My Game Company we develop games primarily for kids, and kids are quite happy with 2D cartoon art if the game and/or story is good. Fashion Cents, for example, continues to generate steady monthly sales even after 3-1/2 years, despite its dated graphics. The game's appeal obviously goes beyond its graphics.

    Good graphics (e.g., in a screen capture) might entice someone to download and try the game, but it won't be enough by itself to clinch the sale. If people enjoy the game, they'll buy it. If they don't, they'll delete it and move on to something else.
     
  3. GBGames

    Indie Author

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2004
    Messages:
    1,255
    Likes Received:
    0
    I think articles about the overemphasis on graphics will always be written. I remember reading a letter in Nintendo Power probably over 10 years ago talking about the graphics taking the lion's share of the space of a game cartridge, preventing the ability to squeeze in more actual "game".

    I think that people will always find examples of games that do nothing but demonstrate more graphical power than previous games. On the other hand, there will hopefully always be games that make use of them in interesting ways.

    Raytraced pseudo-3D engines were awesome when they first showed up, and they created a new way of playing games. Even then, there were people who thought that games using those engines emphasized graphics over gameplay.

    What always surprises me are the game players who think that graphics are the most important aspect of a game. Games don't suck because they look bad. If graphics were the most important thing, classic games wouldn't be played today. Snood was pretty popular, although games like Puzzle Bobble looked much prettier.

    On the other hand, if everyone else is making beautiful-looking games, and you make an awesome game that looks terrible, it will be a tough sell. "Next-gen" graphics always raises the bar, and customer expectations are definitely something you would need to pay attention to.

    Your article does treat the topic well. I think the cost of graphics have become prohibitive for many developers, and it does have a very real effect on what kinds of games get made.
     
  4. Mikademus

    Mikademus New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2007
    Messages:
    145
    Likes Received:
    0
    GBGames, thanks for the approval. Yes, many articles have already been written, and the debate is perpetual, but I have seldom seen the debate put in a rational, economic form. It is usual along the lines of "Games now suck. They were better before! It's only graphics nowadays...", but seldom any attempts beyond subjective opinions as to why things are changing.

    As GolfHacker says, graphics and game play enjoyment are almost orthogonal concepts (though horrible graphics will always detract value), but as I see it, graphics has entailed a structural change in game development.

    Back in the early 8-bit days, principally everyone could make a game, and most games, even the big hits, were made by small, often cellar-based developers. The big names then (as now) were really the distributors, like Ocean for the C64, it was only later they became producers. What stopped this mode of production was, as always, need for capital, and as I see it the principal factor driving up capital requirements is graphics.

    GolfHacker, I am extremely happy to hear that you can make money on games with qualities beyond, eh, "mere presentation" - I hope this translates into that you can invest your development time into creativity and contents instead. But you did not say where or how you sell; do you, or do you think you could, sell your games in the major outlets?

    In my experience no game will be accepted into the big game outlets without being backed by a major distributor, and they would be incredibly reluctant to accept anything not spouting frontier-land graphics.
     
  5. Corvus

    Corvus New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2006
    Messages:
    25
    Likes Received:
    0
    Graphics or Photo-Realism?

    I've had this discussion a great many times and what it always comes down to it that I think it's important to distinguish between "graphics" and "photo-realism".

    As a visual medium, games need good graphics. As games, they don't so much need photo realism... in my opinion.

    Note that "good graphics" means the appropriate style of graphics to get the point of the game across. This can result in anything from Zork to Gears of War. What's that?! Zork didn't have graphics? Don't tell a typographer that!
     
  6. ZeHa

    Original Member

    Joined:
    Nov 19, 2006
    Messages:
    425
    Likes Received:
    0
    Yes, that's really a good point here: "good graphics" doesn't mean "photorealistic graphics"

    One problem with photorealistic graphics btw is, that now we've come to a stage where a 3D engine can handle everything to make it look photorealistic, but the artists can't handle that anymore. That's one reason why game development today takes longer than 10 or 20 years before, when big commercial games could be completed in less than a year. Now they have to compensate the 3D engine features with the features of their artists, and either it takes too long (see Duke Nukem Forever) or it won't look perfect.

    In my opinion, the industry should focus more on "cool" graphics than photorealistic graphics. Just look at cartoons, they never tried to get extremely photorealistic looks in there... because nobody would like it. Instead, the Simpsons are very successful and their looks are pretty far from anything photorealistic. Why can't they do the same with games? They even messed up that Spongebob point'n'click-adventure (I mention it everytime, I know :D ) with the use of some ugly 3D meshes instead of nice, perfect, cartoony 2D-graphics (which would be possible on nowaday's screen resolutions).
     
  7. JoKa

    Indie Author

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2005
    Messages:
    467
    Likes Received:
    0
    Some publishers/distributors focus very much on gfx, but fortunately not all of them. Personally, although I often play mainstream 3D games with tons of effects, I don't like some casual games because I think they're simply overloaded with shiny stuff. I know quite some casual gamers who don't care too much about gfx, too. When a casual publisher tells me that their audience expects high-end gfx, I ask myself: is it really the audience or is it simply their policy to offer only the best-looking stuff?

    This reminds me on mainstream game magazines, who always tell us how important it is to have superb gfx or ultra-smart enemies. Did they ever care that there are also players who are irritated by all those special effects and who are frustrated because the enemies seem have a much higher IQ than the player himself? There are so many first person shooters and many are really good, but if someone asks me about my favorite I still say: Doom :)
     
  8. Mikademus

    Mikademus New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2007
    Messages:
    145
    Likes Received:
    0
    Offering high-end gfx is often a requirement because non-high-end will be unlikely to generate spontaneous purchases. Also, graphics is, in the eyes of people who haven't been part of the games revolution, an "objective" measure of the "quality" of a game. Frustrating as hell, it is.

    Absolutely, good graphics > photorealism, where "good" == "appropriate". It seem like only the indie developers still remember that point, because the industry is deadlocked in their carved-in-stone belief that photorealism of the Grail. A couple of years ago the marketroids tried to "youth-adapt" games by "cartoonify" 3D games, generally resulting in butt-ugly cell-shaded abominations. Cell-shading is a basic 3D technique to get a "cartoonish" look, but it is, contrary to belief, incredibly difficult to get good cell-shading. Again, the idea apparently was that graphics (this time "cool cartoon graphics") was key to game appreciation and sales, and generated such wonderful hits as The Simpsons (the Crazy Taxi ripoff). It seems to have been a phase and experiment that is not declared a failure and over; games are back on the photorealism track.

    This is in fact my problem atm. I am a good artist, but primarily a programmer. Graphics is the bottleneck, and regardless of how good I am at it I can't produce the graphics required for a decent-sized game. So my problem is: how to turn this into an opportunity? I spend a lot of my game-dedicated thinking time on how planning how to graphically design the games I want to make to be cool without getting bogged down by the graphics. First of all, one is generally limited by the intention of the game. If it is to be realistic then the graphics can't be too unreal or suspension of disbelief will be hampered. This means cartoon graphics is not always appropriate. Another way of simplifying is using billboarded sprites, which reduce 3D animation complexity. It is however unsuitable when the camera is free-floating since the number of animation frames increase exponentially. The final option is going for the Tron look, which is a nice option but gets old fast and is also inappropriate for many settings. In short, while the "appropriate graphics to deliver the intention of the game" is correct, it is, for an indie, also incomplete - it is rather the "appropriate graphics for the game intention and developer capabilities". I guess few are surprised to hear that most of my prototypes are in Tron graphics :)
     
    #8 Mikademus, Apr 6, 2007
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2007
  9. RinkuHero

    RinkuHero New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2006
    Messages:
    672
    Likes Received:
    1
    Graphics shouldn't be the most important part of a game, but bad graphics can drag a game down no matter how good the gameplay is.

    Classic games like Commander Keen don't actually have "bad graphics" the way a lot of amateur games with programmer art do; the graphics of classic games is still pretty stylistic and nice to look at. All good games need graphics that don't hurt your eyes. After that minimum is met, it's up to the gameplay.
     
  10. GolfHacker

    GolfHacker Member

    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2006
    Messages:
    1,073
    Likes Received:
    0
    My primary sources of advertisement at the moment are word-of-mouth and Google Adwords. Marketing Fashion Cents has been a real challenge, since it is oriented primarily at young girls who typically don't visit game sites or other sites where you would normally advertise games. I think sales could do much better if I could figure out how to get it in front of my target audience.

    That said, I have had interest from several major studios. One that I am currently negotiating with wants to produce a Nintendo DS version of the game, which would definitely find its way into retail stores (if the project goes forward). We'll see.

    As for my development time, I do have several creative ideas for games that I plan to work on later this year (after I finish rewriting Fashion Cents to be cross-platform). My problem is that game development is a part-time gig at the moment, so my time is limited (for graphics and everything else). Fashion Cents and Dirk Dashing generate enough income to cover operating expenses for the business and put a little cash into my pocket, but it isn't enough to earn a living from. So I can't quit my full-time job yet. But I'm getting there. Thanks for asking!
     
  11. Anthony Flack

    Indie Author

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2004
    Messages:
    2,176
    Likes Received:
    0
    Look at the critical pasting that God Hand got in the press, for the crime of being a silly game with average graphics, where the focus was entirely on solid game mechanics and lots of fun. It's one of the most enjoyable games I've played in ages, but people hated it because the level of polish isn't quite as high as they expect these days.
     
  12. RinkuHero

    RinkuHero New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2006
    Messages:
    672
    Likes Received:
    1
    The only bad reviews of God Hand I've seen cited its high level of difficulty. And it did get positive reviews in many places too.
     
  13. ~LK~

    ~LK~ New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 31, 2006
    Messages:
    29
    Likes Received:
    0
    It's a level of detail uncommon on the PlayStation 2, though the great-looking characters are undermined somewhat by the game's boxlike and often uninteresting environments. - Gamespot 8.0

    Does God Hand make sense? Not a chance. Does it have awesome graphics? Not really. Does it introduce new gameplay or innovative mechanics? Nope. Is it more fun than a barge full of inebriated midgets? Oh hell yes. - Gamerevolution B+

    At first glance God Hand seems very repetitive with wave after wave of enemies running at you - gameshark B-

    It's somewhat apparent that God Hand was meant to be a joke on many levels, much as a film director might intentionally make a B-movie. The game practically encourages button mashing, enemies are extremely generic, the level layout is very uninspired, the dialog and jokes are poorly written and delivered, and most of all, much of the control and gameplay mechanics are so old-school it hurts. While Clover took a huge risk in hoping that this sort of off-kilter design would appeal to some gamers, and there will probably be a few folks out there who will dig this extremely niche design, by and large the joke simply falls flat. Dead flat. - IGN 3.0

    The environments are fairly plain looking and they get pretty repetitive to look at fairly easily. Whether intentional or not, God Hand’s voice acting is a mix of bad and laughably bad. The game’s great sense of humor mostly comes through in the voice acting, although at times it will seem more awkward than anything else. The game also seems to play on typical Japanese gaming stereotypes in a comical manner. - Gamezone 8.1

    Unfortunately, once the novelty of the game's wacky premise wears off, there isn't much substance left to keep you hooked. And the graphics in God Hand don't quite live up to the standard set by other Capcom games such as Devil May Cry. The music in the game will also drive you crazy, with a blatant rip-off of the Hawaii Five-O theme that loops endlessly. Also, if you didn't have carpal tunnel prior to playing God Hand, you certainly will afterwards: turbo-button mashing is the norm in this game. - gamepro 3.5 out of 5


    God Hand seemed to overall get decent ratings primarily due to over the top attempts at humor as well as the multitude of attacks/moves. It took a beating in most other areas though. I will note that afew of the reviews above look worse than what they are, for many also pointed out positive things as I mentioned, with some saying the liked/enjoyed it.

    Graphics have been, and of course always will be an important aspect of games. The only differences in many of the high end graphical games, and ones which "seem" to focus more on game play, either out of choice or necessity, I think is the target audience, and the precieved level of risk involved. It's an old argument regardless in which way you take it. For good or bad, graphics sells and sticking with "cloned" themes repackaged aparently has less preceived risk than shooting for unique gameplay very often. And, most are only interested in what will make them money now, rather than taking any risk. I do think that the days of cookie cutter gameplay and relying on visuals alone is coming to an end, at least within the next couple of years.

    My question is where do people think the indie scene will go in the next few years. Continue along the same lines it is now, or otherswise.
     
  14. Mikademus

    Mikademus New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2007
    Messages:
    145
    Likes Received:
    0
    You're really lifting forward two semi-separate issues: (1) that innovative games will be misunderstood and killed unfairly; and (2) that graphics is (unfortunately) paramount. The first point is something that would deserve an article of its own --I might get back to that when/if I've gathered enough material :)-- but is tremendously annoying. One of my very favourite games of all time is the 1998 "Warhammer: Dark Omen", the first full-fledged, feature-complete 3D Real-time Tactics game, in which you commanded fantasy regiments in highly realistic and tactically intricate battles (no resource management, reinforcements, etc, only your troops, the terrain, true line-of-sight, and very very varied enemies). It is STILL better than most games released, in fact Namco's "Warhammer: Mark of Chaos" released in December 2006 was intended as a sequel to Dark Omen, but except in graphics, was worse on all counts than an eight years older game, but few remembers it, and when released it was in the middle of the RTS boom and most of the press thought it was a feature-starved incomplete WarCraft in 3D. Still, it might have paved a little way for Ground Control and the Total War games, and had it been released today it would have been a great hit. Mark of Chaos is an excellent example of the argument I've been trying to make: it has superb graphics, and absolutely abysmally horrid gameplay. Still, it has received relatively high markings because the press basically says "a lacking game and implementation but looks absolutely stunning - 8.5 /10".

    Since the idea of graphics is getting continuously stronger entrenched it is likely that this will be the factor for the continual ostracising of indie games from "serious" consideration, simply because they will look "bad" and thus necessarily be "amateurish".

    EDIT:

    Just realised something as I was reading about ML Crux - people with less perspective seems games with bad graphics as we see ASCII games: as unsellable. I find many ASCII games wildly entertaining --I love Nethack, Angband, ToME an others-- buy I certainly do not view them as sellable. For some reason this maked me depressed.
     
    #14 Mikademus, Apr 7, 2007
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2007
  15. ~LK~

    ~LK~ New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 31, 2006
    Messages:
    29
    Likes Received:
    0
    Granted, I agree that they can be viewed seperately and in many cases should. But I believe in this instance, they do go hand in hand.

    For a very large portion of the population that buys/plays games, the interest begins at least with looks. I'm not discussing niche type games or people who are looking for specific elements of gameplay, but rather the general "gamer" out there. Two examples of upcoming games I would use would be Crytek's Crysis, and Bio-shock. Both have enjoyed a very large following which began from graphics. Once they got peoples attention, they were hooked by the prospects of new/better gameplay which both tought. I do not believe a following could have been achieved as quickly, and to such a degree if the graphics were not as.. polished as they seem to be, and neither game is even out yet. It's a very hard proposition to convey to consumers our game does not have the graphics, but our game play is top of the line, even if it is true. But then, it greatly depends on.. again, what your target audience is and what your goal is in developing games in general.



    Thats plausable. But my question is, why do some if not most indie developers target audiences that would require lower end graphics to begin with? Is it because of competition.. or time frames needed for production not being cost effective.. or? You said serious consideration.. consideration by who?
     
  16. Applewood

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2004
    Messages:
    3,858
    Likes Received:
    2
    Yes, they do. graphics is extremely important. Aesthetic appreciation is one of the major things that make us different from Monkeys, and I've not yet found someone who could actually do good graphics think they're not needed.

    It's not even to do with computers. Would you'd rather play monopoly on the proper board, or the one you drew yourself on a bit of A4 in your lunch hour ?

    Please do not insert your own prejudices on the term good graphics. Photo-realism (and even 3D of any sort) can be done just as poorly as crap 2D. In the same way, there are bad looking 2D games and good looking ones.

    The bad looking one will not sell, and that's really the end of the argument. It's proven by mass statistics, and for us selling into that market it makes it moot to even discuss further. Well, it would, but some people who can't do it still stay it shouldn't be needed so it comes up a lot!

    Me, I want games to be either photo-realistic or highly stylised. If that's in 3D, 2D or even black and white, I don't care, as long as it's pleasant to look at.
     
  17. Applewood

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2004
    Messages:
    3,858
    Likes Received:
    2
    And it's actually this that's the main reason why development spends far more time on graphics than gameplay.

    In most genres, certainly all this simple match-3 stuff, the core gameplay programming takes a few days, whereas the graphics and general polish takes ages to do right, even when you're good at it as you are.
     
  18. RinkuHero

    RinkuHero New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2006
    Messages:
    672
    Likes Received:
    1
    "I've not yet found someone who could actually do good graphics think they're not needed."

    I second that. I think this applies to every aspect of a game as well. People who can't program think programming is over-hyped, people who don't know anything about sound think that plopping in some clip-sound is enough, etc.

    Here's a bit of a challenge (for anyone): how many games with bad graphics have *you* personally bought? I don't mean classic games that would be outdated today, I mean modern games with graphics like these:

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    (Apologies to the authors of these games, but even they would probably admit they don't look that great.)
     
  19. Anthony Flack

    Indie Author

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2004
    Messages:
    2,176
    Likes Received:
    0
    A lot of reviewers clearly did have trouble playing the game, and obviously never got into it properly, perhaps due to it being too hard for them. Comments like the one above suggest someone who never even progressed past level one. Certainly there were reviewers who loved it, but there were many others who straight-out dismissed it as being crap.

    Many of those reviews felt justified in giving the game a hammering despite their comments making it clear they had only given it the most superficial playthrough and never really connected with the game. I think if God Hand was a little slicker looking, then people wouldn't have been nearly so quick to dump on it, even if they didn't really "get" it. If the game had've been presented really nicely they would have actually had to work to find out if it was good or not. But as much as they might criticise this or that, those reviewers generally seemed to have made up their minds within the first minute or two, and from that point onwards were just looking for a few more negative things to poke it with.

    Now compare that to the critical reception of Okami, which was universally praised. But so far I've found it very, very boring to play, and not nearly as good as Zelda.
    Oh dear; I thought you just drew those pictures yourself to make a point.
     
  20. Mikademus

    Mikademus New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2007
    Messages:
    145
    Likes Received:
    0
    Probably indie developers are just as caught up in the "graphics reign supreme" mindset as everyone else, they just come at it from the other angle: "my game wont have the best graphics, therefore I better target a imaginary lower end trailing tail population". The "serious consideration" is also related to this: it is part the press and popular perception, being formatted to the "graphics reigns supreme" standard, and partly the mindghost of their own making, as above.

    Fair enough, at least to a certain extent, though programming large (huge) games actually takes as long as producing the content resources for it. Studios usually have 3-5 programmers and as many content creators. However, (1) it doesn't change that the inordinate focus of graphics that we incresingly see is wrong and bad for the end product; and (2) that this exclusive focus on graphics makes developers forget about things like pre-planning, thinking through and laying a solid foundation for the game and game mechanics before starting to fantasise about how they can present their vague and "me too!"-ish product, which in fact means the the graphics carpal tunnel syndrome may be bad for the bottom line.

    LOL! Fabulous examples!

    In reply to Applewood and RinkuHero, I don't think anyone here is really quite insane enough to argue that games should be allowed to look like utter and complete shite just as long as they play ok. Naturally, games should look acceptable at the least, or at least not bad enough to distract. The problem is rather that graphics is judged before and above all other aspects. I would like to read reviews saying things like "The game looks acceptable and plays very well", "the game looks terrific but plays quite bad", or "I recommend it because of its game play".
     

Share This Page

  • About Indie Gamer

    When the original Dexterity Forums closed in 2004, Indie Gamer was born and a diverse community has grown out of a passion for creating great games. Here you will find over 10 years of in-depth discussion on game design, the business of game development, and marketing/sales. Indie Gamer also provides a friendly place to meet up with other Developers, Artists, Composers and Writers.
  • Buy us a beer!

    Indie Gamer is delicately held together by a single poor bastard who thankfully gets help from various community volunteers. If you frequent this site or have found value in something you've learned here, help keep the site running by donating a few dollars (for beer of course)!

    Sure, I'll Buy You a Beer