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What About Graphics

Posted by RavZterz Thursday September 8 2011 at 9:11PM
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I think most gamers would agree that gameplay comes before graphics, but that doesn’t mean graphics are insignificant.  Everything visual on your monitor can impacts the game positively or negatively which furthermore impacts your enjoyment.  It’s a part of the game that we can easily say if we like or not without paying attention.  So how would we differentiate between visuals that support the game rather than interfering with it?  Personally I would separate visuals into two parts, the technical aspect and the aesthetic aspect.
The technical aspect includes performance (frames per second) and quality (texture resolution, polygon count, etc.).  I listed performance as an aspect since it affects how visuals show up on screen.  It’s easy to judge this aspect since it’s all numbers.  The higher the performance and quality the better.  Of course almost all pc games let you trade quality for performance if you need it since playing the game comes before making the game look good.
On to the aesthetic side of visuals things are a lot trickier to determine.  It’s easy to say “this game looks awesome,” but the truth is everyone has their own atheistic tastes.  These forums are littered with topics about WoW’s cartoon graphics and underdressed women carrying oversized swords, and everyone has their opinions.  In fact a certain style can change the game completely without altering any gameplay mechanics.  A WWII fps vs a modern fps or even a sci fi fps game can all play exactly the same with the only difference being the textures, example being CoD4 and CoD5.  I do think the one thing everyone can agree about regarding aesthetics is the immersion factor.  A lot more than visuals go into making a game immersive, but we could always break the aesthetics portion into atmosphere/ambience and animations/effects.
So what is most important?  I’d say performance is on top since if a game doesn’t perform well it simply becomes unplayable regardless of other visual aspects.  A good example is Warhammer Online.  A lot of players suffered from horrid performance when Warhammer Online first came out, and whether or not the bad performance was caused by graphics quality doesn’t really matter since it affected the visuals and gameplay negatively.  Age of Conan ended up instanced to help keep performance high even though it wasn’t a popular idea because performance is most important.
Now between atmosphere and animations…  I can’t really say which I prefer more, but I’d place them both over quality.  They both equate to how good the game looks, which is the purpose of graphics, but also a very controversial issue.  I can say the thing that breaks immersion the most for me is having a very detailed object in the middle of a very low rez ugly world.  My favorite mmo, Istaria, does this from time to time.  No one should ever ever do that (unless as a joke).
Aside from that the style can completely change the sub-genre of a game and make it 100x more appealing regardless of actual gameplay elements.
And finally we have the graphics quality.  As much as quality makes everything else look better, none of the other visual aspects should be sacrificed for quality.  Minecraft, Super Mario, Mega Man, Deus Ex, FFVII… all have subpar graphics quality, but it doesn’t take away from their great gameplay.  Gameplay comes first followed by a style that performs.