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Substance Over Flash

Beau Turkey Posted:
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Mabinogi: Substance Over Flash

MMORPG.com Mabinogi Correspondent Beau Turkey writes this article discussing the merits of substance over flash when it comes to Nexon America's Mabinogi.

Graphics are a funny thing. Discussing what good graphics are, and why a player prefers them, is a lot like discussing art. After all, everyone has an opinion and there can be no "right" or "wrong," just preferences.

Some players tend to like more "realistic" looking games like Vanguard, Everquest2 or Lord of the Rings Online. Others lean towards "cartoony" or cel-shaded games like Dream of Mirror Online or Maple Story. Then there are games like Mabinogi that show off a style that can be semi-realistic and very cartoony all in the same world.

The question is, do you allow graphics to make or break a game for you? Does it need to look like real life to feel authentic, or do you need bright colors and big explosions to help you have a good time?

Mabinogi utilizes the Pieione Engine, which seems robust enough to create a massive dragon battle while still taking very little of a PC's resources. I have had Mabinogi running in the background while checking other games, and can easily switch between it and checking email, writing blogs or posting on forums.

I will admit that at first I worried that I would not be able to get past the semi-Anime look of Mabinogi, but quickly the "true sandbox" quality of the game sucked me in. The graphics grew on me as well. Also, Mabinogi does not boast the intense animations or colors that many Anime style games do. Instead, it has a more muted color range, characters that are more in proportion (as adults) and animals/pets can sometimes be beautiful and graceful.

Here are a few examples of other media that, in my opinion, do the same thing as Mabinogi:

  1. The Blair Witch Project: This movie was made by throwing actors into the woods with video cameras and scaring the crap out of them, all based around a loose series of events. Not only did it result in great performances, but the hand-held camera work (and choppy sound) was later edited into a movie that let your brain do most of the work. You didn't see much of anything, and what you did see gave you a very strong impression of what that thing was.  
  2. The game of chess: This board game has been entertaining people for, what, centuries? I have played it in e-mail form, 3-d "monster" form and in person with another human. Despite its limited lighting, sub-par monster design, and simple rule-set, I am drawn in every time. In my head I get an impression of my army conquering the other side.  
  3. Old Radio Shows: Many people used to sit around and "watch" the radio after dinner, listening to adventure tales, the news, and comedy programs. Even to this day, radio is a viable and vital form of entertainment. Yet, no graphics whatsoever. Again, your brain does the work and it takes the impressions of a character or item and you see it in your head.

Mabinogi uses a few things to give you a great impression of a fire, for example. In fact, campfires seem to crop up anytime players are congregating. When they do, many of them sit around it and talk. Making a fire is a simple process, filled with simple graphics, but it works better than in most games.

How simple and basic is it?

  1. Equip a nice new axe.
  2. Chop down wood and gather it.
  3. Start the fire making skill, and nominate a point on the ground.  
  4. Sit, share a meal with other players (another fun system,) heal up or just talk and enjoy the stars.

Not only do the graphics do their part, but the game actually says "The fire feels warm.." which gives you the impression of sitting around a real campfire. I carry an axe anywhere I go.

When a new game is announced, one of the first things players are concerned with is how it looks. Next, they are concerned with "Will my PC run it?" System requirements go up as PCs become more powerful, players upgrade their systems to follow, and the cycle continues. Mabinogi has decided to stop that never ending process by making a game that feels very real, but not due to just the graphics. When you have a game that would have been considered a graphical powerhouse years ago, you have allowed the games graphics to stay where they are at, and do without the constant struggle to keep up with graphics-hungry players.

FPS gaming is notorious for putting out the same game-play wrapped in an ever-increasing system hungry engine. Players brag about their Frames Per Second, sometimes more than of their enjoyment of the game. As someone that went through school for art, I can tell you that one of the worst things to do is to try and capture reality, especially when you do not have the ability to do so. I saw so many students grab a picture and a canvas only to come out with a work that distracted you with the lack of reality rather than the beauty of the piece. Your eye tended to notice the little flaws, being that the artist was not good enough to make the painting look like the photograph. I went for the impression of a photograph, I tried to make images like those you see in a memory.

Even the most powerful engines we gamers can run do not work at realistic levels, at least not right now. In order for a game to run smoothly while rendering other players and keeping up with what the system is doing, not only would the engine need to be light but our PC's would need to be heavy. Both are not common enough for photo-realstic MMO's to be the norm.

Games like Mabinogi work because they dismiss the rules of this reality and take you into it's own. You accept its lighting effects and big eyed characters because it all blends together with exciting game-play.

Also, Mabinogi doesn't distract you with over-the-top explosions or fire effects. It goes for the middle ground and delivers a game that can not only run on many different systems, but that pulls in many different players from many different age groups. The kids seem to like the semi-Anime style, the adults love the sand-box gaming. Then, each side slowly discovers the other and what comes out is a more rounded community.

So, are realistic graphics needed for you to enjoy a game? Do you value graphics over game-play? If a game like Mabinogi was wrapped in the skin of a LotRO or a Vanguard, would you give it a chance?

I say give it a chance anyway. You'll find more options in this game than in almost any game out there. The graphics will grow on you.


Beau Turkey