Visual Connection – Graphical Perfectionism

March 4th, 2010

I reckon that we need to rethink the way we approach graphics in video games. Rather than increased realism, we need increased perfectionism; visuals which are for all their intents perfect. Creating realistic-looking games only works against the grind of perfect graphics, as the higher the aim for realism, the greater chance there is of landing in the all too familiar uncanny valley.

What do I mean by “perfect graphics” though? Good point. Allow me to illustrate with a list of random games which I personally consider as visually flawless.

Each of the listed games are artistically beautiful, with no (or incredibly little) imposition from technical limitations. None of the above games can benefit greatly from increased graphical fidelity. In fact, better graphics would probably make House of the Dead II less effective, because it’s a game which ravishes in the graphical constraints. The low resolution textures actually serve to make the world more unappealing.

The graphical direction, that of perfection, seen in the above games are what we ought to be striving for, rather than pidgeonholing ourselves towards realism. Marvel at the screenshots below as examples of this perfection:

donkey-kong-country-screens

abe's-oddyssey

wipeout-hd

valkyria-chronicles

resident-evil-remake-cimea

  • The thing that stands out to me with this post is, well, look at the attention to detail in Donkey Kong Country as an example. For a game from the 16-bit era that’s many years old and is taking advantage of a long-forgotten technique (Mode7), the attention to detail in those shots and, indeed, the game is incredible. I agree with all of the games you mentioned here, but to bring it to the current generation for a moment, to me it has been the games that focus on attention to detail — or at least, adding (and subtracting) the necessary things in order to benefit the shot/scene/area/space — that have stood out the most to me. Games like Uncharted and BioShock stand out to me because of the detail they provide in their respective experiences, which isn’t necessarily the amount of objects that can be seen or interacted with in any given area but how what is there adds to the experience those games are trying to convey. Heavy Rain is another recent example, not because its characters have individual pores on their skin or their eyes insanely detailed (to the point where the uncanny valley does indeed appear), but because of the detail provided in the areas you go to in the game. The good majority of it is unnecessary, but it’s there anyway and that stands out to me.

    That doesn’t mean those games will hold up over time, or indeed forever, but it’s something worth considering in my opinion. The push for realism is, or should be, over; we’re at the point now where any technological advances are minimal (when compared to the drastic changes they were a few generations ago) and as such, the focus should shift with that change and be centered around other areas of design that are crucial to how a game’s overall experience is portrayed. Attention to detail is just one small aspect of that, and as we continue on into the future, I hope many more aspects are given the same level of respect that visual fidelity, art direction and design receives.

  • John McDougal

    I agree with all those on your list, but I must add Metroid Prime. The art design is incredible, and it really captures the organic feel of the ruined Chozo society. While the next game in the Metroid series, Other M, looks good, I have yet to see anything rivaling the detailed and varied environments that retro crafted. This makes me realize how talented Retro Studios was at creating an immersive world through gorgeous graphics and effects such as visor steam and raindrops.