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So, I have wanted to talk about this for a while, since it seems like it’s a topic of gaming that will probably never die, but it should be talked about. For this editorial, I wanted to talk about why graphics don’t and, in the end, shouldn’t matter. For some reason, it always seems like graphics are the end-all be-all for any console or mindset of most publishers. “Let’s make it super pretty to hide the fact the game is a hollow experience”. And yes, for a couple of gaming generations, graphics were a pretty big deal and a major selling point.
While I was born in 1989, I can understand the wow factor when Pong came out back in the 70s and blew people away. Here are these two rectangles hitting a tiny square. Then you move onto the Nintendo Entertainment system, and I’m sure people were blown away by how the games looked then. They had more colors, and could actually make stuff look how they wanted them to look, and not force the gamer to use his or her imagination. When we jumped to the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Neo-Geo, and Turbo Graphics 16 era, games could pack in more details, more colors, smoother animations, and so on. Graphics then became an even bigger deal with the jump to the Nintendo 64, PlayStation 1, and SEGA Saturn era. We could now make 3D polygons, use clever technical skills to make faux 3D, and could make more vibrant worlds. We could make more detailed pixel art, but by that time, that is when people cared more about the graphics than the gameplay. It was small, but the seed was planted. When we moved onto the GameCube, Xbox, and PlayStation 2 era, we finally had more advanced 3D models. We could make hands look like actual hands and not boxes, mouths that weren’t flat textures on the face, more details, actual facial movements, and we could do more with the graphics because the consoles got stronger. Graphics then took a huge step up when it came to the PlayStation 3, Wii, and Xbox 360 generation. We saw graphics that were getting to the point of being almost realistic. Facial movements could look more natural now, and we could do even better texture rendering. Now, in our current console generation with a new one looming in the future, we have some pretty incredible-looking graphics. You now have consoles and tech that can make even more realistic textures and better animations. However, the graphical leap isn’t all that huge from the last generation, and we probably won’t have a bigger graphical leap in the next generation. We will probably have better textures and stronger hardware, but it won’t really matter. What seems to have been lost on many publishers is that games should also be, well, games! I want to jump on a walking mushroom, fight giant boss fights with tight controls, wander a new and mysterious world, and play a racing game that makes it fun to play a racing game. It’s not that it isn’t impressive that the game looks so detailed and incredible, but if the gameplay suffers, then that’s not good for the consumers.
For example, the big major selling point early on in the current generation for games like Ryse: Son of Rome and The Order: 1886 was how incredible the graphics were. Well, now that is all they are known for, because their gameplay was forgettable or terrible. Depending on how many people you talk to, some newer games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Metro: Exodus have been more praised for their graphical detail than the gameplay. Games like Doom 2016, Super Mario Odyssey, Monster Hunter World, and Okami still look incredible, but that’s because they didn’t simply focus on pure graphical power. They made sure the games had smooth framerates, rock-solid gameplay, a great visual style, or both. Games like Spider-Man for the PlayStation 4 look incredible, but I’m having a delightful time zipping around the city, finding radio towers, fighting bad guys, and just playing the game. It looks nice, but the story and gameplay are what’s keeping me playing.
Sure, to a degree, we have to show or warrant the reason to have new consoles and stronger tech, but if it’s all to show off prettier graphics, and that’s all that you want to show off, then that’s a bad long-term plan. With less big-budget games coming out that are just getting more money pumped into them than ever before, we are setting ourselves up for a potential video game crash that’s obviously built on much bigger problems than prettier graphics. You could say that the problem with just pretty graphics covers up the major problems with the game industry in terms of bloated budgeting, lack of real unions to protect the employees, and troubling elements. Consumers need to start being more open and vocal about how we don’t just want pretty graphics. We want games that offer up incredible experiences for the price-point, and not just graphical set pieces. Ask for better games and better gameplay experiences, and not just better graphics.