With the recent release of new screenshots for the Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, and the questions about its ability to hit 1080p with 60 frames-per-second, the Daily Reaction crew has decided to discuss the importance of visuals on a person’s experience.
Dan: This is a topic that I do not think could ever have a simple answer, as each person will have a unique take on what constitutes high fidelity or even what can technically improve an experience. Much like what happens when the discussion of games as an art comes up, there is always some personal biases and thoughts about the subject that are always dependent on that person’s definition of what can constitute a work of art.
Thankfully, this isn’t necessarily to try to disprove or prove that games can be a form of art, but more about how visuals are a significant portion of what a big percentage of gamers rely on to drive their experience. To really start this off, I think a simple concept needs to be considered, as I think it is the only way to portray the difference between excitement and cutting edge visually truly pushing your experience.
Back when you first played one of the latest and greatest new titles to launch, whether it was the first-time consoles moved away from cartridge-based content, or jumped a whole eight bits, how enamored were you by that experience? If you move back, are you still greeted with something spellbinding, or does the game’s content weigh heavier on your enjoyment? Some classics will obviously be a bad example of this, as some titles are timeless. But, if we look at the games that do little more than chase the tech, we can see a greater fall off of excitement the more its original achievements become dated.
While I do think a number of games do fall into this type of category, I do think that annual sports titles become the easiest ones to point out. With little more than a year between each launch, and marginal differences in content, tech becomes the primary driving force to get people to purchase a new copy every year. This leaves last year’s game to become antiquated. But, what happened to the experience that once existed only a year ago? The content stayed the same, but the status quo evolved.
So, personally, I find it humorous for people to get so caught up in chasing the numbers for every game that releases because, in a few years, a new bar will be placed. Does this mean that tech doesn’t play a role in experience? Absolutely not, but I do think that a good design will almost always beat a spec sheet. If we see many of the characters who have stood the test of time, we can see that it has never been about numbers, but more about what those characters could make you feel.
While, we have said that Nintendo is sitting at a different table than their primary competition, they have figured out that raw horsepower isn’t everything, and hopefully, we as gamers will realize that too.
Chandler: I have to swing the pendulum a little bit and say that visuals are absolutely imperative to games and to a final experience, but I’m also going to take a left turn and go in a direction that you didn’t expect (or perhaps it’s completely expected, if you know me). Visuals take on an interesting meaning to different people, and when I talk about visuals, I am not necessarily talking about graphics or fidelity or realism, or any other number of buzzwords that the industry latches onto. I’m talking about visuals as a certain style, or in order to achieve a specific end goal for a game.
Many people simply boil down visuals to “are the graphics good or bad?” I’m guilty of this myself to a certain extent, and I must say that I love high graphical fidelity. It really makes experiences like The Last of Us, Uncharted, or The Order 1886 shine a little bit brighter and achieve the goal of a captivating, action filled, emotional experience. The high realism in those visuals was part of the end goal of each experience, and it’s painfully obvious when games are aiming for this but miss the mark because of goofy animations, bad textures and lighting, or a number of other problems that can plague developers aiming for graphically impressive works.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are games that are not reliant on graphics to captivate the audience. Every single one of us has been sucked into at least one mobile game, whether we’d like to admit it or not. Fallout Shelter is receiving critical acclaim from many but doesn’t have “realistic” graphics. It has the visuals that it needs to fulfill its ultimate goal and provide the end user with a great experience. We’ve seen numerous indie titles hit the PS3 and PS4 with graphics that may not impress in the traditional sense of being photorealistic, but achieve certain goals to elicit a certain reaction from the player. Gamers looking for hyper realism may miss out on something because of its retro styled look that drives them away from great narrative or gameplay.
If we have the technological capabilities, developers should aim to hit the highest marks possible without compromising their game. Yes, this is the part where I talk about numbers. Those magic numbers. I’m pretty sure you know the ones I’m referring to. They rhyme with ‘Hen-Weighty-Lee’ and ‘mix-tee-tames-for-beckoned?’ Achieving 1080p and 60fps should be a goal as we increase our capabilities in the processing world, though if hitting those special numbers costs us something else extra being processed in the game, where do we balance the scales? When does that demand increase to 4K resolution? 120fps? While I would love to see these things, I don’t want other portions of these games to suffer as developers seek to meet expectations.
As we demand bigger worlds, more open areas, realistic and dynamic AI, increased particle, effects and world physics, and graphical fidelity, we need to remember that processing power — while far more impressive than it has ever been — is ultimately limited. The balance should fall in a place where the goals of the experience are realized while maintaining a playable state and pushing the limits to the best of the developer’s abilities. Hopefully with that we can fall in a place where we have stunning visuals and everything else we are after without causing the project to fall short of its intended goal in the final experience.