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What’s In an Art-Style?

William Murphy Posted:
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As I was reading over this past week’s “WildStar Wednesday” over on the official site, I realized one of the many reasons I’m personally so keen to watch this title: it’s the art.  I see a lot of comments on our forums about many games that the “art style” is not for this person or that person.  Take for example, a friend of mine who simply cannot play Aion because he finds the art style to be simply too “Asian” for his tastes.  The same is often said by commenters of TERA’s oversized weaponry and scantily clad females.  Then there’s the other side of the coin when folks don’t like a game because it’s trying to be too real looking, or vice versa because it’s too “cartoony” (SWTOR DEBATE ANYONE?).  Meanwhile, I look at WildStar, a stylized blend of sci-fi and fantasy, and I see hints of Titan AE and get all nostalgic for one of my favorite animated movies ever.  Immediately, I want to get lost in Carbine’s world.

The thing I like about stylized visuals, such as what’s found in WildStar, is that it helps and does not hinder my immersion.  Let me explain: we’re all familiar with the uncanny valley right?  If not, short version is that the UV is basically the point at which something drawn/animated tries too hard to look “real” and ends up creeping the bajeezus out of us.  Did you all see The Polar Express?  Pretty much that.  The movie was made to get people to cry tears of lost youth and nostalgia, and instead it made them cry from fear of robotic creepy sex-doll children taking over the world.

The benefit of using stylized visuals in any game is two-fold.  One – it allows you to really get creative with just about anything (people, monsters, locations).  Two – it allows you keep your system requirements at a reasonable level, which is still very much a necessity in the PC MMO space.  Look at the below picture: the only thing remotely creepy in this one is that the Aurin’s hands would make me feel insecure in my masculinity if she and I were to run frolicking down a beach, hand-in-hand.  Seriously, she should not be able to palm a super-sized beach ball. 

I’ll keep this column short and sweet this week.  What do you prefer?  Are you the kind of gamer who is turned off by the over-stylized look one might find in a Pixar movie?  Is it “too cute”?  Do you prefer the way games like Age of Conan try to meet somewhere in the middle?  Or are you holding out all hope for a day to arrive when games can get past the uncanny valley altogether and we don’t have to see atrocities like the below picture (admittedly not a videogame shot, but still)?


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.