Graphics Matter

_I was thinking back on years past in video gaming…trends come and gone, mass opinions on games altered, companies viewed in different lights than they once were. Then, I thought about a term once heavily used that isn’t spoken as much anymore: “Graphics don’t matter.” Everybody knew at least one of those guys. Anytime you’d have a video game discussion, they’d always chime in “Graphics don’t matter, just gameplay! Super Mario Bros. plays as well now as it did back then! Tetris didn’t need fancy visuals to be addicting!” Those statements…I’ll agree with them, sure. Hell, at one point in time, I probably found myself spouting off similar statements. But do they really argue the point that graphics in video games “don’t matter”?

_The first thing that springs to my mind when I think about this is the surge in HD collections of last generation games on modern consoles. I’m not against these collections in the least. They’re like the video game equivalent of DVD collections…like…the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter movies. They come out on DVD sequentially, then when they’ve all been released, they’ve later packaged together in one nice, easy to carry to the counter, little package…or a big package. It varies from release to release. I’m all for that. I’d like for gaming to be more similar to film and music releases in that way, where older titles are still readily available to consumers years after their release [The Virtual Console is was a great platform for this, as have XBLA and PSN to a lesser extent]. However…a lot of these HD releases aren’t that old by gaming standards, and more to the point, aren’t that hard to find copies of. The God of War Collection, Metal Gear Solid Collection and just released Devil May Cry Collection are a few examples. Both MGS and DMC actually WERE re-released late in the PS2 era, albeit in the DVD style “All the games wrapped in a pretty box” mode, on top of the games having been produced in large numbers in the first place, so they were never exactly rare games. So what’s the appeal? [Well, the MGS HD Collection had a console playable Peace Walker on it, which is pretty fucking awesome…hell, even the PS2 MGS Collection box set had a PS1 copy of MGS1 included in it, and was released well after most large retails stores last stocked PS1 games, so even that had an appeal to it for any gamers that got into the series with the PS2 entries. A lot of stores still carry PS2 games, though the amount of titles carried in any given store shrinks by the day.]

_I’m sure that in some cases, there are people who missed out on games last gen playing catch-up for series they’ve heard about in gaming circles, or wanted to play the previous entries after having played their current gen installment in a series. However, I find the people most excited for HD remakes are fans of the original games…people who have already played and own said titles. I suppose it’s…kind of like being able to update your video game collection in the same way people upgrade their DVD collection to Blu-rays. Or maybe they’re just huge fanboys of said series and would buy them even if it was just a single disc collection with no graphical upgrades whatsoever. I find the first option more likely, however. [Though the second is never out of the question.] Isn’t that an example of graphics mattering?

_How about another, stranger example. Let’s go back in time 20 years. You pop in…I dunno…Double Dragon into your NES. The menu graphics come up all funny. Instead of two bad ass dragons breathing fire around the words “DOUBLE DRAGON” and the game mode select menu spelling out words in english, you get a mess of shit made up of various random squares of unintelligible graphics…however, it’s quite evident what each unintelligible mess of graphics represents, due to their relative positioning on the screen. You can even press start and start up the game. You can see a rectangular mess of random graphics walk up to another rectangular mess of random graphics and…do something to it…and then the first rectangular mess of random graphics grows inexplicably larger. But if you’ve played Double Dragon before, you know that the first mess was a random mook named Williams [Whose mother birthed identical centuplents, all of which she named Williams and all of which eventually turned to a life of petty crime within the same gang and all of which also trained in karate and none of which ascended higher than the orange belt level.] The second mess was Marian, the Lee brothers main squeeze…or at least, object of affection. Plot was pretty thin back then and I never read the instruction booklet. For all I know, Billy and Jimmy Lee just stalked her from the shadows, saw her get kidnapped and decided to play good samaritan to get closer to her. Anyways, Williams punches Marian in the gut, then carries her off. But remember, this is all in “fucked up NES graphics” mode. But it’s all discernible. Then you can start playing with your random graphics mess, fighting other random graphics messes on (for reasons unbeknownst to me because I don’t know much of anything about programming) un-fucked up stages. But…you don’t want to fucking do that. You’re gonna turn off the fucking console, blow on those pins, pop that bitch back in and keep doing that until it fucking works.

_This is a prime example of graphics mattering. Say what you will, but even with in “random mess of rectangular graphics” mode, the actual gameplay of Double Dragon would remain unchanged. You could say “Hey, there’s a difference there, buddy. In that example, you’re not seeing the creators true vision! Plus there are a bunch of times where you wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails of what’s going on, which would effect the gameplay!” This may be true…but it’s besides the point. The gameplay mechanics remain unchanged. The biggest difference is that you’re no longer graphically punching and kicking, you’re just…growing new graphic mess extremities into other messes until they disappear. Yes, this is an extreme case that you don’t even have to actually deal with…but pretend it wasn’t. Pretend that a game shipped like that – completely playable and legitimately fun gameplay-wise, but with the graphics made up of jumbled up shitpiles that were roughly the size of people maybe and gave you headaches from looking at it for too long. Would you really say in that situation “Graphics don’t matter, gameplay trumps, I’m buying this.” [Let’s also pretend that a game like that wouldn’t become a cult thing on the internet. Actually, if my blog got hits, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an indie game platformer based off of this exact thing. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t the first time someone came up with this idea and that said indie game already exists in some form.]

_Let’s not kid ourselves: We, as people, like things that look pretty. There’s a reason that models are generally good looking. There’s a reason why they bothered colorizing televisions. There’s a reason why gazing upon a true HD picture on an HD TV the first time kind of slightly blows you away. Things that look good are just nice. You have the choice between two chocolate cakes. One of these cakes fell apart when it was being removed from the baking pan and then had the frosting poured onto it and kind of stirred around since it didn’t have the form to actually being “frosted” in the conventional sense. The other cake held its shape, was frosted properly, and then had a smile pattern drawn into the frosting. If you have a choice…odds are you’re taking the smiley cake. Sure, they’re both going to taste the same in the end…but if given the choice, you’re gonna take the pretty cake…but you’ll take the janky looking cake if push comes to shove. Unless you had to pay for it. Could you imagine going to the store and buying a pre-made cake that was just a giant blob of frosting and cake bits? I could actually…but I’d talk them down. “Look at this thing. I’m not going to pay normal cake price for the one your 4 year old fucked up.”

_Now…the point of this isn’t to say that graphics > gameplay. Nobody wants to play a pretty looking pile of garbage because it’s always going to be garbage. But the point is more that I don’t think anybody really wants to play an ugly game. A game doesn’t need to to have hyper realistic graphics to look good. It just needs to be…appealing. 8-bit sprite work can still look good in the year 2012. Dan Paladin’s work on games like Castle Crashers and Alien Hominid look great, despite having simple monochromatic shading. Hell, Geometry Wars graphics consist of little outside of geometric shape outlines blowing up in front of a space backdrop. Graphics have never had to be mind blowing all the time…they just needed to be presentable.

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Filed under Playtime, Thoughts

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