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Graphics Whores

Editorial By Dana Massey on November 29, 2006

Graphics Whores: How They're Ruining Games

Editorial by Dana Massey

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.

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Yesterday, MMORPG.com ran its first community spotlight in which Jon Wood publicly declared his desire to see more virtual worlds and less "games" in the MMO-space. Reading this, it inspired me to give him an assignment: Ultima Online. It may be nine years old, but this game still carries the banner for the virtual-world style MMORPG and Jon assured me he isn't too judgmental about graphics. His initial reaction? He called it the crappiest game he'd ever played after about three minutes of playtime.

Jon is, as many are, a graphics whore. He's higher-minded about it and claims that in theory he'd love a game regardless of how it looks, but we all know that isn't true. He proceeded to explain that he could see the "cute factor" of UO (I'd describe UO as anything but cute), but that it really wasn't for him. As someone who started on a healthy diet of skipping school and playing Ultima Online, I was appalled and promptly found him something else to play.

The experience left me wondering: am I a graphics whore too? The part of me that misses sleep playing Geometry Wars on the 360 says no. In fact, I should have seen Jon's true colors earlier since he mocks me for playing "20 year old games on the most powerful game system money can buy" (well, could buy, since Sony delivered their version of HAL into all of five people's homes last week).

The truth is I am a mixed bag. I'll play true greatness at any resolution, but like most, I'm not about to turn down the prettier alternative. I can't go back and play Civilization I when IV is on my desktop too and I'll be damned if I play any original XBOX games. Why? I could be playing the 360. That is human nature, I may not be completely video game superficial, but I'm not about to turn down the sexier version of something I love.

The real test comes with the classics. Can you play classic games and forgive their ugly coats of paint? Jon, the superficial guy that he is, cannot. I believe I can, but I am after all farming out the Ultima assignment, so what does that say?

I think everyone has a threshold. Jon, for example, is gleefully playing the Wii and doesn't seem to care that it cannot load the latest HD graphics or other jazz. It's still pretty and looks about as good as most other games. I just don't think anything on Earth could get him playing Duck Hunt.

The ultimate in superficial gamers are those of you - and you know who you are - who see new games appear on our list and hype them one out of ten if you find any flaw at all in their visuals. Forget the ideas, forget the gameplay... graphics are king.

Graphics whores are killing innovation in gaming. A bold statement, but one I believe.

These same people who give new games a one because their graphics are not up to snuff, often sit around and complain that no one innovates. They attack companies like Blizzard and SOE for putting out games they've already played. Then, they turn around and give random indy MMO X a one rating because the visuals are not up as good as EQII!

In development, ideas are cheap. It's graphics that make these multimillion dollar projects and sadly, it's graphics that often determine whether a game thrives or fails. Everyone has a threshold and increasingly, that threshold of superficiality has moved to the point where a game that doesn't have $10-million or more behind it cannot capture enough players to thrive.

My suggestion to everyone is to go play Geometry Wars and give Ultima Online another try. If you have some fun, remember that the next time you see a game with suspect graphics pop up on our list. Graphics matter, I am not that naive, but I challenge you to also consider their ideas. Looks always fade, but substance lasts forever.

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