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thoughts, provocations, insights, and introspection on games, gaming, and we the gamers.

Author: aspekx

What makes graphics old school or new school for you?

Posted by aspekx Monday September 12 2011 at 11:44AM
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this is not going to be my main post for the week, but a question arose for me recently while posting a response to an article on a game i enjoy. there were a few people who were complaining about the graphics being 'old school' or in particular 'outdated'.

at first i wondered about their graphics settings or hard/software. but then it dawned on me, what are they seeing that i do not.

now i am not implying that its a negative or even a positive thing to see something that others do not. i actuallly mean the question quite literally: what are they seeing.

in other words, what lines or curves are giving them a signal psychologically that informs their brain: this is old/outdated? now, its obvious that personal taste is going on here, but beneath that i suppose i am wondering what the cues are for determining that a game has great graphics or outdated ones.

clearly, the difference between 32bit Final Fantasy and FFXIV (or even XI) is tremendous. at this point the gap is so large that the overwhelming portion of the population is going to socially experience the same response.

in part because there is the social memory of the game having been around so long. and in part because social influence helps us all agree upon certain basic standards of beauty. as you can tell i am *not* a Platonist when it comes to such things, ie., i do not believe that there is something in the universe that's called Beauty which exists in and of itself. beauty is a construct based upon context and by context i mean universal context.

so now, have you ever considered what aspects of a game make you think that the graphics are old school or even outdated? what curves or lines tell you that you are looking at something old or something that is not beautiful in the gaming realm? is it instead the hue and tone of the colors?

i would love to hear some response on this as it strikes me as a potentially interesting conversation to be had.

RavZterz writes:

It's the same difference between FF and FFXIV.  If you pick a certain game I could tell you what generation it looks like it's from.

Mon Sep 12 2011 9:21PM Report
KenFisher writes:

To my perspective...

Old school is armor molded into a character, low poly environments with low to moderate detailing (clutter), basic lighting, limited shadow fx, no normal mapping.

Current or even next-generation is an extensive variety of mounted armor, high poly environments with plenty of detail (clutter), advanced lighting effects like volumetric haze shown by dynamic lighting, detailed shadowing where light sources, illumination and shadowing all fit together, normal/displacement mapping producing the illusion of extremely high geometric detail on characters and environment.

A related topic is the misapplication of advanced rendering where the client gets bogged down so heavily that gameplay suffers.  Advanced graphics should enhance the game, not hinder it.

Tue Sep 13 2011 1:17AM Report
aspekx writes:

and this is of course what i find so interesting. Ravik clearly knows by simply observing - this is/ this is not.

and ActionMMORPG has a much more technical definition. is it the case that Ravik has simply picked up unconsciously all those details listed by ActionMMORPG?

or like i mentioned above does Ravik, like many, including myself, simply see something 'else'?

i think both these posts do highlight again this question.

Action, do you think that Ravik and others simply see what you are defining technically here without knowing the technical details of what they see? and if so when does personal bias enter the picture?

Ravik, do you think if you knew this definition beforehand you would have been looking for those details, or is there something 'else' that catches your eye and lets you know that you are looking at good -v- poor graphics?

(i hesitated to use the word 'poor' as what they did at the time was typically the limits of what the medium could bear.)

Tue Sep 13 2011 5:57AM Report
KenFisher writes:

Compare two people:

I have a family member with extensive education in fine art.  She looks at an image and sees color, layout, style, mood, and factors that I couldn't understand let alone explain.

My background is in technology.  I look at an image and see models, special effects, lighting, and rendering.

In comparing the two people bias from "self" is unquestionable.

Using this image as an example:

She might look at this and see an image approaching art.  Without a doubt, she would take in the image as an educated observer and point out things she feels from it and changes she feels could improve it.

I look at that image and see significant technical faults.  The light from the fire illuminates the tree and rock, but not the ground nor grass immediately next to it.  There is no smoke from the fire.  There is haze on the distant mountains but yet no haze on the backdrop sky.  There are downward shadows on the ground, but yet the main lightsource is the moon very low on the horizon.

disclaimed:  I've nothing against Rift.  The artwork and style is superbly done.  I just find the technical presentation lacking mostly likely due to a last-generation engine being pushed to do what it cannot.

Beauty is in the eye of the observer.  From that one can infer that ugly is also highly subjective.

Along these lines, I happen to agree with Ravik about FFIV.  The artwork, rendering and general graphical presentation does an excellent job of fitting together.  A combination of multiple elements producing a whole.

On the other side, I have no doubt that a Rift fan would be quite pleased with the image that I find faulty.  Perhaps this bias from within has us seeing two completely different images.  To them it is a reminder of a game with strong art style.  To me an old engine that doesn't quite cut it as "next-gen".

Tue Sep 13 2011 7:11AM Report
KenFisher writes:

Pardon the 2nd post.  I wish there was an edit.

One thing to keep in mind.  Asking a programmer about art is just about as risky as getting your gardner's opinion on an appendix operation.  :-)

Tue Sep 13 2011 7:58AM Report
aspekx writes:

well yes and no. after all its mmo's we are talking about here. if the art can't be handled or animated well by the code, then we have more than one problem going on.

more importantly i think its worth pondering what aspects we are seeing that make us exclaim, Well done!

(and yes i wish there were an edit button as well =)

Tue Sep 13 2011 6:42PM Report
RavZterz writes:

ActionMMORPG """On the other side, I have no doubt that a Rift fan would be quite pleased with the image that I find faulty. Perhaps this bias from within has us seeing two completely different images. To them it is a reminder of a game with strong art style. To me an old engine that doesn't quite cut it as "next-gen"."""

This really says it all.  Looking good and having next gen graphics don't have to go hand in hand.  2D platformers are still being made today with the same look and feel from 12 years ago. 

I'm not sure which mmo people were saying looked outdated, chelan, but if you post a picture I could tell you if it looks older or if people are most likely complaining about the style.  Kinda funny I posted a similar topic about game visuals a few days ago.

Tue Sep 13 2011 7:46PM Report
aspekx writes:

i completely agree with you both on this. it is a study in aesthetics, how and why people feel something is beautiful or interesting or well made or not is at this point unanswerable, and may remain that way.

but as you point out, quoting Action, there are still 2D scrollers, not just isometric, but scrollers out there.

i'll try and find your post. in the meantime i'm still waiting on the Wizard's game from Action to be released ;)

Wed Sep 14 2011 9:58AM Report
Toxia writes:

I dont have big words to describe it, but i am a graphics whore so i'll give it a shot.

I guess the first would be 'polygon count' (?). Games that have rocks that look like stop signs, etc. if its supposed to look circular, it should have enough edges to made it look like a circle until i get close enough to it to see the minute differences.

Second would be the lighting. If that rock i just talked about is in an area with really bright lighting, the lighting shines over the edges and makes it worse, so i guess that would be called contrast. (?)

Last is textures. i have a 30 inch screen(wider than taller) and if i'm standing reasonably far from the object and it seems blurry thats a problem. best example i have is the Witcher 2, in the woods, if you stand anywhere in the woods and look around, it looks real, really real, and sucks me in completely.

Sorry if i didn't get the point across, hard to put into words >_<

Sun Sep 18 2011 6:34PM Report
KenFisher writes:

@Toxia  The textures part I can explain.  There's a technique called mip-mapping where the artist (or the engine itself) creates extra copies of a texture that are scaled down in multiple levels.  The first mip is half the size of the original, second half of that, and so on.

When an object is rendered, the engine selects the largest mip level to fit the number of pixels needed for on screen.  If the mip image is too small it stretches it just a little so the texture covers the item.  This is called bilinear filtering.  That's one source of the blurriness, the stretching.

If the engine can do it, and sometimes there is an option for it, a better quality image can be made by select the largest mip that fits, and the mip 1 size up.  The object is then textured by blending the two mips* and using that to texture the object.  This is called trilinear filtering. NOTE: you might be able to force D3D to use trilinear filtering in your graphics card's setup menu.

In addition, some engines have code that tells the renderer to use a special math algo that oversamples textures for surfaces at an angle to the camera.  These get distorted without it, but with it, the texture renders more sharply.  That's called Anisotropic filtering.  Some engines allow you to turn this on, some have it off, and some video card setup utilities can allow you to force this on even if the engine itself doesn't have that option.

Your large monitor does make mip issues more obvious because you can see detail that the developer didn't think you would with a smaller monitor.

Look for trilinear filtering and anisotropic filtering in your video card setup and see if that helps improve detail.  You probably will notice some drop in framerate.  All that fancy filtering adds load on the GPU.


* simplified for discussion

Mon Sep 19 2011 10:42AM Report
aspekx writes:

i had read of mips before but did not understand the details, thanks Action.

@toxia: how do you feel about more stylized graphics however (Rift let's say)? or realistic graphics that are stylized in presentation as well?

specifically i'm thinking of a comparison maybe you could make between Witcher and Vanguard? or perhaps LotRO? both are very detailed and in many ways 'realistic' however they are all stylized versions of reality.

any thoughts, i'd be happy to hear them. and thanks for the bump =)

Mon Sep 19 2011 2:47PM Report writes:
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