Game Designers Need to Refocus

Photorealism shouldn't be the name of the game, argues Introversion director, Mark Morris

So far, with visually abstract games like Uplink, Darwinia and Defcon: Everybody Dies, Introversion has taken an obvious stance on the graphics vs. gameplay debate. Company director Morris says that Introversion is likely never to create a photo-realistic title, and his reasoning is simple: “Everybody’s doing it, it’s expensive and, most importantly, photo-realism doesn’t matter.”

But really, would any reasonable person argue that graphics (particularly photo-realistic graphics) are more important than the gameplay factor? Probably not, but Morris says that the games that are released nowadays indicate otherwise.

“What I think happens too often is that [developers] sort of go, ‘We’re going to show you the best graphics you’ve ever seen and then we might pack a bit of gameplay or a little bit of entertaining fun on at the end,” he says. “I think that’s a very bad thing, a very bad thing to do, and I think we’re seeing a lot of companies doing it.”

Ancient mentality

Whereas some people see the advancement of graphical fidelity as an indicator of progress—a wave of the future—Morris thinks that that mentality is ancient in terms of the interactive entertainment age.

“I think graphics are important—they’re the way that they pull the player into the game,” he admits. “But the industry seems to be so incredibly focused on high-end photo realism and drawing people into the game through [improving] the graphic systems that they’re sort of stuck about twenty years ago.

“I think they’re stuck in the ‘80s when graphics games were so rubbish, that every time a new game came out, the graphics would improve slightly and that would be really so important,” he argues.

But graphics proponents such as Nvidia VP of content Roy Taylor insist that photo-realism is extremely valuable to the gaming experience. In a recent Next-Gen news piece, Taylor argued that a furrowed brow, eyes swollen with tears or an angry grimace on a virtual character’s face could create the same connection with a player as a movie viewer would find with an actor or actress on the silver screen.

Being a reasonable man, Taylor conceded that “graphics should encompass the gameplay.” But he added, “[Saying ‘graphics don’t matter is’] like saying, ‘The quality of my TV screen doesn’t matter.’ Oh really? So then in that case, you can go watch 24 in black-and-white on a seven-inch screen.”

Gaming experience

Morris takes issue with that analogy in particular. “What makes 24 wonderful is the fact that it’s episodic and that it’s happening in real time,” he says. “[It’s] nothing that you can get from any other medium other than television. So when [Taylor] says it’s like watching 24 on a small screen, I think it’s nonsense… If I owned a cinema, I could go and run 24 on my cinema screen and it would get slightly better. But the real joy of 24 is that it maximizes the particular medium of television like nothing has ever done before. So I think when he uses that quote he picked a bit of a bad example.”

Morris does say that photo-realism has its place in modern gaming, as the pursuit of high-fidelity graphics produces new technologies and pushes the medium forward in some areas. But at the same time, he stands firm on his opinion of those game developers who focus too much on snazzy visuals.

“Well, to answer whether or not graphics matter, I’d say yeah, they do,” Morris says. He explains further, “But when someone asks, ‘does realism [in graphics] matter?’ I’d say, no, it doesn’t. Immersion matters, drawing the player in matters, giving the player a gaming experience unlike anything they’ve ever had before matters. And I’m saying if you want to spend all your efforts on photo-realism, then you can go ahead—but you’re not doing anything for the industry.”

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