Over time, the graphics in video games have evolved, that’s for sure. But one question on a lot of people’s minds is: Do they matter? Do they matter as much as good gameplay? Well, I know that isn’t the easiest question to answer with a solid “yes” or “no.” I do, however, believe they matter more than most gamers, especially the “hardcore” gamers, are willing to admit.
The reason I say this is because the average person will buy a game based on how it looks. They will judge a game solely on this. Do the graphics look fresh, realistic, unique, or do they “look like they are from 2005?” I have done livestreams and gameplay videos of a ton of different games by now. Some were good, some great, some disappointing and bad. Some that seemed more complete, some that seemed to lack content, story, and core functions in a game that we’ve come to expect. Some that didn’t lack much in regards to content, but the combat mechanics were boring, weak, and not appealing. I mean, it ranges all over the board.
I do think quite a few games (in fact a majority of games including MMORPGs) put too much of an emphasis on “pretty visuals” and environment, and leave out other key elements to making a game successful. It is frustrating, disappointing, but probably something we will continue to see as long as games are made. The reason I say this is simply because the movie industry (another sect of entertainment that stretches the limits of visuals, art, and creativity) also suffers this same fate; creating generic movies with awesome visuals, sub-par story, and mediocre acting. Way too many resources put into the visual department, not enough put into almost every other department.
I think the thing we are seeing the most of, at the moment, are MMORPGs with subscriptions realizing that despite having sweet graphics and visuals, the games end up going downhill because not enough resources were put elsewhere. Now I can’t fully say because I am not the “Producer of All Games Ever”, but there are quite a few titles that make it obvious they spent a lot of time and money on the graphics, visuals, and art… and not enough in other areas.
TERA is one of the more recent culprits. The amount of effort put into the character models and environment was pretty grand. Jiggly physics, extravagant lands (most screenshot worthy), amazing attention to detail in both the art assets and the armor, and this list could go on… but I am definitely one to believe that TERA would have had a lot better of a chance if there were less resources spent on “art” and more spent on the endgame that it lacked. No raids at launch, no PvP instances at launch, and just a few “hard” dungeons to do ended up leaving players with little to work towards once they hit the cap.
We can also argue that Guild Wars 2 is another more minor culprit of this, but the difference between GW2 and TERA is that one has a sub and the other doesn’t. Sub-based games cannot get away with lacking content like a non-sub game can. GW2 also had extravagant lands, beautiful characters that also had jiggly physics and flowy hair. I wouldn’t say this game had a lack of things to do, however, I’d say it had a lack in polish and refinement of WvW and even lack of creativity, utility, and overall re-playability of their dungeons and sPvP. There’s plenty to do from level one to eighty, but there’s a sense of progression halting once you’re there at the cap. And visuals can’t make up for this alone.
Just as examples, let’s dive into some other well known games that are guilty of this because these types of games are what big-wigs will sell. Does it look good? Yes? Sell it. Look at Call of Duty, look at the Halo games (past the 2nd one). Even the latest GTA mainly has a lot people commenting on how good the game looks. Therefore their marketing ploy is working. I am just going to throw out there that the story will probably be predictable, not that exciting, and the gameplay will not blow very many people out of the water. This just my conjecture and your mileage may vary.
Then look at games like Dishonored or Amnesia. I was streaming Dishonored and some people would come into my stream and make fun of the game’s graphics and how they “look like they are from 2009.” Honestly, it wasn’t the graphics that got me to play the game, nor was it the badass costume the main character was wearing; it was the addictive gameplay and the amazing story. It was a lot of fun to play. In fact, the only other time I sat down and played a game from start to finish, and thoroughly enjoyed it, in the past few years was Amnesia.
Amnesia is another game that didn’t have much put into graphics. Maybe some cool visuals, but not many. The back-story of the character was profound, if you ask me. Their integration of real-life people, magic, and myths was intriguing and the core gameplay was not only addicting, but terrifying. And to think that I almost didn’t play this game because of graphics…
Now let’s look at when League of Legends came out. Over the past year and a half or so they’ve been doing graphics updates, but before that the graphics were decent at best. They were cartoony, clunky, and reminded me of origami. The gameplay was fun, addicting, and it was extremely easy to get into and understand. Riot released a game that was fun to play, addictive, and their game ended up becoming the most popular online game in 2012 across the globe… despite its original “meh” visuals. They made the game first, did graphic updates later. I wish more games would follow this philosophy. Making a fun game that’s worth playing, updating the graphics after release.
Game companies, mainly MMORPGs, make the same mistakes not only with visuals but with story and too much emphasis there as well.
Hillary “Pokket” Nicole