Every new generation brings enhanced graphics, processing speeds, and new features that promise to wow and astound gamers all over. They bring cleaner landscapes and brighter backgrounds. New characters as well as some older ones now grace screens looking better than before. Blood flows more realistically and castle caverns appear to be even shoddier and broken down than previously. The passing of time gives way to new improvements that reflect our progressive society. Moving ahead, year after year, are graphics the only things improving?
Game developers look as if they’re getting closer and closer to realism with every new title. Still, are games really being designed for their main purpose anymore? Game reviewers frequently mention the graphics as being a, or sometimes the main strength of a title. Gamers regularly discuss the graphics rather than the story. The games industry is constantly growing and becoming more and more commonplace every year. For example, the recent 2008 provided some of the most memorable games to ever be played. Such heavy-hitters as Fallout 3 and Gears of War 2 displayed their impressive ability along with new games like LittleBigPlanet and Spore. Some gamers however, believe that modern games have lost that magical feeling they once had and instead replaced it with better graphics or larger playgrounds. Now that the tools are available for these high-end designs, the elements of narrative and playability possibly become less of a priority.
Thinking back on classic video game series along the lines of Super Mario and Megaman, gamers remember them because of their engaging and challenging game play, not their amazing graphical capabilities. Several earlier RPGs, despite having far less technical ability of those today, continue to stay favorites for that unforgettable feeling that comes from an involving and deep storyline. The graphics might not stand the test of time for a few but many still regularly enjoy them as well as others from earlier days. Additionally, others may reason that graphics and photo-realism add to the experience rather than hindering it. This can certainly be true. However, the main focus should be to present as much fun as possible. Graphics should be kept in mind but narrative, innovation, and fun ought to come first.
Nintendo is a good example of having kept to this philosophy. The Nintendo Wii is easily the least powerful of the Big 3. Graphically it’s unable to provide the depth and realism provided by Sony’s Playstation 3 or Microsoft’s Xbox 360. Regardless of this, the Wii continues to sell more systems than either of the other consoles. Nintendo played to their strengths as they did in previous generations and favored being innovative and different as opposed to powerful. The results were as they expected. Recently reported by NPD’s Group’s statistics was that the Nintendo Wii sold more than 10 million units in the United States during 2008 and that the top four games of 2008 were from Nintendo. Even more astounding was the fact that quite a few of the sales occurred during an economic downtime.
I know what you’re thinking and don’t worry, this article was not written to praise the Wii above all other consoles, (especially when I own a Playstation 3). The Wii illustration is merely to show that graphics, power, and brute force don’t always equal fun and success. For example, many of the games offered on PSN, Xbox Live, and the Nintendo Store can provide that rare and genuine feeling of fun without the complex graphics and massive amounts of space which also comes at a fraction of the cost. Developers are regularly attracted to this “indie” scene for its creative aspects and environment. Indie games, while small, strive to be original and unique while at the same time looking for new story methods. “Casual” gaming is not always a bad thing.
Contrary to popular belief, I have nothing against the recent games that take their place in our libraries today. I still get as excited as a kid in the candy store when seeing the latest trailer for Final Fantasy XIII. My point is simply desirous of video games continuing to develop into something more than looks and technical prowess. Graphics might ease the eyes and technical strength might allow for everything necessary, but the interactivity and storyline is what will keep the games close to our hearts. These wonderful things we call video games are supposed to offer creative and interactive experiences unparallel by any other form of media.
As such, they deserve the care and attention shown to all of the various art forms. Every generation will automatically improve in its graphical capabilities and technical strength. Original styles of art and narrative however, do not. So while graphics should be kept in mind; returning to the original idea of crafting the most creative and unexpected game ever should be first on any game developer’s agenda.