Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Making the most out of graphics

Without doubt, when someone says 'This game has better graphics than this other one' they are almost always talking about levels of detail. Almost everyone associates the phrase 'good graphics' with cutting edge details, high resolution normal maps, and 'realistic' graphics.

When new games come out, the developers strive for the aforementioned terms. Games like 'Gears of war', I'll admit, I've never played any of them, but the graphics are awesome, they look REAL, or as close to real as we have got these days.

But I can't help but ask myself, is this what makes 'good' graphics? Is photo realism all we ever want out of graphics?

Over the short time I have spent on my game art development course, I have started to look at graphics in a different way, and in my opinion I have started to see a boring trend with modern graphics.

You see, in my opinion, games don't have much of a graphical 'Style' anymore, developers just shoot for photo realism, depicting maybe a big gun, or a grungy metal wall. But it is always metal, and grungy, for fucks sake someone come up with something new.

Today during a lecture we watched a French film called 'The City Of Lost Children', and the lecture before we watched 'Dark City' - While 'Dark City' was in English, today's film was not. Now I must admit a flaw, I am almost decisively closed minded to films in a different language, and usually European films in general. But I feel that watching films like these has helped me gain a deeper insight to artistic styles.

These two films are set in very Dark, Steampunk Cities, both not having daylight scenes and both using a unique blend of Greens, Blues and Yellows to set the tone of every scene. And in my opinion it is pure Brilliance, here are some links to the trailers:

The City of Lost Children:

Dark City:

The artistic styles are what, in my opinion make the films. The story lines are interesting, but that at the most. What brings these films to life for me is the perfect lighting, colors and moods of every scene. But as I watched them, I immediately noticed similarities with a bestselling video game... Bioshock anyone?

Here is the Bioshock trailer:

Notice the blatent similarities, almost specific aspects of the films have been copied and placed in the game. This is not to say that these films made, or were the only sources of reference for the game, but I am willing to bet the developers watched these films.

But Bioshock was unique! It took on a brand new artistic style for computer games, and did it well. At the end of the day, the mechanics of the game were standard, you shoot stuff that attacks you. But what made me buy it, and play it for hours, was the style, the greens, the blues, the dark story and the setting. It was exiting, new and compelling.

What annoys me about modern games, is that the art styles copy each other, and generally produce copies of the same thing. I don't think it would be too hard to start making games graphically unique, to pick a new style and run with it.

There is a game I remember, that caught peoples attention, definitely mine and my friends. A game called XIII - here is a link to the Wiki Page:

The game was average, and the gameplay was boring, but the art was unique, it had never been done before in a game, and it was the sole reason I bought the game, and in my opinion the reason that made it stand out from the crowd.

Fallout 3... Well... I guess I can include Fallout 3 in this list, not only because it has been killing my productivity, but because once again Fallout 3 has a unique style, a unique blend of 1950's illustration and graphics, with a futuristic wasteland. If it was just another Oblivion, I really don't think I would play it so much, but it is again, Unique.

It is unique art styles like these that set work apart from the mainstream. Anyone can make a space fighter plane. Anyone can draw a tree man, these things have all been done. It is our responsability as artists to draw new trends, to use new styles and to be Unique.

Unique art sells games, why don't developers understand such a simple concept.

I can't wait to be unique.