It is my belief that video games are an art form. Keep in mind that like any art form there are pieces with immense substance and value while other pieces are not at all significant from an artistic point of view (they can still be great for consumers – perhaps better than the better art). Example of artful games include Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. An example of the second category would include Angry Birds. Note that I’m not saying Angry Birds is not a good game or that it has no art direction but that it is not at the same level of Prince of Persia. If you really want to pull out a steaming pile of shit you can look at something like Big Rigs.
Now, what makes video games different? They have narrative elements, audible elements, and visual elements. At the core they are books, paintings, music, movies, and every other form put together into one. The big difference however is in the involvement of the consumer. Even in linear games the involvement of the player is more actively participating. Especially with newer games tending toward having choices and multiple endings they player is no longer a passive recipient of an intention, idea, or a story but an equal partner in crafting an experience.
Of course, people that don’t generally appreciate the artistic and abstract won’t get anything out of a video game. These are the same people who don’t read or appreciate Picasso and Monet. They will always exist but it does not take away from video games at all.
If you haven’t figured out already I’m pretty excited about video games. I’m really happy to see the direction that quality games are heading and there are definitely issues to deal with (as evidenced by Mass Effect 3’s ending controversy) the future is promising.
Over at SlashGear Don Reisinger thinks that Halo Reach epitomizes the shortcomings of the contemporary gaming industry. It’s an interesting thought and Reisinger is perfectly entitled to his opinion. I take issue to several things, however. Let’s take a step back and see if we can see a bigger picture.
The very first claim Reisinger has is that the ‘90s was the golden era of gaming. What is the measure of that? By all tangible measures the general trend of the gaming industry is upward. Just the fact that the industry itself is not a niche market means that gaming has been successful. Frankly speaking Reisinger is calling back to a time that’s not correctly remembered. Take an example from politics.
Basically, Reisinger was much younger when the gaming industry was young and remembers it fondly whereas the novelty of video games has worn off and now he is noticing its flaws. Even back in the day the video gaming industry had its flaws. After all, there were the ups and downs (such as how Nintendo arguably saved the video gaming industry when it was crashing). [I just checked the Wikipedia entry and turns out there are more crashes than I knew about. Take a look.]
That aside the next point made is that the gaming industry is “dominated by a handful of companies that want to quickly turn a profit.” I’d argue that Steam is a great counterexample to this. The availability and popularity of “indie” games on Steam weakens what Reisinger says. There is truth to his claim but it’s changing for the better so rather than reminiscing he could look to the future.
The last big point that Reisinger makes is that… well it’s a bit tough to say for sure but it seems like he’s saying there are too many games that are from established franchises and not enough diversity. Let’s take the eponymous Halo franchise. In the Halo lineup of games, Halo Wars broke the mold of Halo games and provided a RTS game for consoles. This is an example of a well-established franchise taking a risk. Again perhaps it’s not something that happens enough but as franchises take hold and become a popular name, that’s when taking risks becomes profitable. While a developer could risk it all, remember that these developers are not faceless corporations but companies with people working for it trying to feed their families (or just themselves). It’s entirely unfair to say they should take more risks when their livelihood is at stake. Once the established franchises are making money then other paths can be explored.
Which brings me to this: if people don’t buy the games, they’re not going to make them. Games have bigger budgets now and it takes more copies sold to get a return because most people still follow the traditional model of selling games. (Steam offers an interesting path that might avoid some of those shortcomings.) If the game developers can’t recoup costs on a game they have no reason to make that game. Let me reiterate: if people don’t buy the games.
That’s probably the most crucial part of it. The games Reisinger claims the industry needs aren’t being bought. Why are the masses purchasing filth like Halo: Reach, though? Oh:
Halo Reach gets all the accolades that most gamers say it deserves… The game might be fun to play. It might be a great step up over predecessors.
This is conflicting. Earlier he says “there are still unique and fun titles in the wild.” Perhaps he means it differently, but I take it to mean that the other games that are easier to find (a la Halo: Reach) are not fun. Yet he calls it fun to play! And for all he harps on about innovation, he says Halo reach is a great step up over predecessors! Isn’t that innovation?
There are definitely great points that are floating around in this column. But Reisinger misses it all (at least in this article; I cannot say that he is not aware of them) and instead focuses on something intangible and often skewed by a youthful, immature perception versus a more matured perception closer to current time.
This is a re-post from an older blog I had whose ideas I still like. This particular post was originally posted on May 26, 2009, so quite a while ago.
Epic claims that we’ll have full photorealism in 10 years. Crytek is supposed to have approached photorealism with their Cryengine 2. But what’s the point? We’re going to run into a wall – the day we actually reach photorealism. What will we have then? A game that looks gorgeous but doesn’t play as well as it could have.
Where else could improvements be made? AI, phyiscs, load times, animations, and pathfinding are things that I can think of right now off the top of my head. And on top of that, what about frustrating game gimmicks like doors that don’t do anything at all or arbitrary limitations that make no sense (Altair not being able to swim, for example… don’t you think that a highly trained assassin would have to at least be able to stay afloat in water?).
I don’t have a problem with gorgeous graphics. But why does it have to be the same drab look for every game?
What about games like Okami or Shadow of the Colossus or Legend of Zelda? I loved playing games that looked different like that.
More than that the parts of games I appreciated most were when things behaved like they should. When it comes to photorealistic games, a door that can’t be broken down with a rocket launcher or grass and shrubs that don’t give to your movements or walls that don’t do anything when shot just ruin any sense of immersion. Even in a clearly fantasy (wait a minute and you’ll see what I mean) game like Halo where regardless of any “realism” there is many fantasy elements (Plasma weaponry, and hey you can’t forget the needler) exist and behave like you’d think they should. I remember a moment where one of my friends and I were playing a deathmatch game and we tossed plasma grenades at each other… and my friend died in a suicide. We watched the video of that moment and it turns out the grenade I threw stuck his grenade and they both landed on him with his grenade attaching to him… thus leading to a suicide. In context of the game, this made sense and it was AMAZING! Moments happening naturally like that are so rare these days.
Reaching for photorealism is nice but if the industry loses sight of other aspects of games that make them fun in an attempt to one-up each other the gamers are the ones that lose out. We’ll get gorgeous games that will look like real life but play like N64 or PS games. While we’ve made great leaps in graphics over the past few generations but things like pathfinding are pretty much the same. There are gems each generation that shine brilliantly yet get overlooked under the viciously blinding assault of increasing bloom effects.
In the future I want games that learn from the past. Far Cry has an open world that I like – no random enemy spawning (at least, that I’m aware of). Nintendo console games (especially the Metroid series) have great ways to hide loading times that don’t become obnoxious (like in Mass Effect). There are just… so many things that have already been accomplished! Why must we backstep in other areas to reach so hard for something that’s inevitably a dead end road anyway?
Think about it. Once we hit photorealism, what’s next for graphics? What’s more realistic than what we see in real life?