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Realism vs. Style: the Zelda Debate 441

Bonnie Ruberg is a staff writer for Planet GameCube and Gaming Age, a freelance games journalist, and the author of Heroine Sheik, a blog dedicated to investigating sexuality in gaming cultures. Today, we have the pleasure of running a piece she's written for the site about a topic that's been brought up more than once in the comments here on Slashdot. "For Zelda fans, this is a time of anticipation. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is officially on its way, and everybody is talking. By now, we've all seen the pre-release screenshots and videos. Nintendo has made some major changes with the series' latest installment, and the gaming world has let out a unanimous gasp at the results." Read on for the rest of her analysis of this oft-debated issue.
"Realism vs. Style: the Zelda Debate"
By Bonnie Ruberg

With the stylized aesthetic of Wind Waker all but gone, Nintendo has implemented carefully rendered, highly realistic polygons in its place - perhaps in response to the outcry of fans who disapproved of "kiddy," cel-shaded Link. The game's release date has even been pushed back in part to allow developers more time to perfect the new look. The question of realism versus style is one that has plagued art for centuries, and video games are no exception. Since the 2003 release of Wind Waker, a title both adored and despised, the Zelda series has come to epitomize that debate for the gaming industry, and heated words have been exchanged on both sides. Now, with Twilight Princess on the horizon, the old argument has been rekindled. What better time to take a look back at the issue and ask, once and for all: Is this really just a question of a pretty face?

When The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker came out two years ago, it's cel-shaded graphics caused a big stir in the American gaming community. Since then, debate over the value of the game's stylized aesthetic continues to be a popular topic in online video game forums. While there are some gamers who openly defend the title and its style, it seems the majority of voices express disappointment, even disgust. Many feel that the cel-shading gave Wind Waker a "cartoon-like" or childish look. One fan writes of encountering the new aesthetic for the first time, "I felt as though something had been stolen from me." Other forums-users remark, in comments that mirror thousands by like-minded gamers, "The graphics ruined the game," and "[Wink Waker] destroyed everything Zelda stood for." Now that Nintendo is taking the series back in a more graphically realistic direction, one precedented by the artistic approach in Ocarina of Time, those same disappointed fans are starting to rejoice. "These screens are exactly what i have been waiting for [sic]," writes one forum-user. Another: "All I can say is wow!!! I am so glad the cartoonish Link is gone. That is what kept me away from the whole Zelda franchise."

The press too seems glad to see the return of realism. After playing the demo at E3, Gamespy called the change in graphics an "upgrade," noting that "the overall style is a lot more grownup" and that "the game simply looks more alive." Gaming Age said realism "seals the deal" on the title, which is "by far one of the best looking games Nintendo has ever made," while Gamespot simply refers to "the undeniable appeal of realistic Link." According to Eiji Aunoma, the director of Twilight Princess, the decision to move away from the highly stylized aesthetic of Wind Waker was based partially on fan reaction. It was also dictated in part by the new game's storyline, which follows an older Link and a more serious adventure, and therefore needed a more "adult" graphical style. Still, even this decision to focus the game on a mature hero was affected by criticism from gamers who didn't enjoy playing as younger Link. As Planet GameCube notes, in the end, "The fans asked for a realistic Zelda, and Nintendo is delivering in a big way."

While it's understandable that players would have opinions about the looks of a favorite game, the debate over the aesthetics of Zelda has gone beyond friendly banter. What makes the topic so important that gamers just can't let it go? It's not really all about looks. If Zelda weren't Zelda, no one would make such a big fuss. As it stands, the series has so strong a fan-base, full of so many die-hard followers, that it has come, in a way, to represent video games as a whole, if not the industry itself. This makes the question of realism versus style in Zelda a much larger one than if it were applied to an unpopular, or even moderately well-known game. The issue has been further complicated by Zelda's close association with Nintendo, which struggles constantly with its already "kiddy" image. While the developers of Wind Waker made an artistically bold decision in utilizing cel-shading, their choice may have weakening Nintendo's mainstream image - one which must remain welcoming to adult gamers if the company is to compete against Sony and Microsoft in the current market.

But for the video game community, the question of aesthetics is also a cultural one. Whereas, in the Japanese market, unique style is highly regarded, realism in games is more often an American ideal. This can be seen in the supposedly negative link that critical gamers draw between Wind Waker's cel-shading, officially called "toon-shading" by Nintendo, and cartoons themselves - considered by most Americans to be a juvenile form of entertainment. Yet in Japan, anime and manga (the Japanese equivalents of cartoon shows and comic books) are regarded as legitimate art forms, and though some are designed for children, men and women of all ages enjoy these products, which lack the "kiddy" connotations they hold in the United States. Similarly, the gender expectations that are so rigid in mainstream America are not as clearly defined in Japanese culture. Japanese gamers are less concerned with appearing "masculine," at least in the American sense of reveling in games that flex their graphical muscle. The comments of U. S. gamers, especially those participating in forums, are influenced by the need to protect a certain macho image, one in favor of "grownup" realism instead of "childish" stylization.

The larger question at hand, however, is perhaps unanswerable: Is the point of gaming to recreate reality, or should it go beyond realism, into the realm of art? Video games confront this issue directly through the use of interactivity. Developers must decide whether to make a gaming experience as realistic as possible, allowing the gamer to step inside the character and his actions, or to keep him at a distance through an unfamiliar visual style. Certain types of games logically benefit from an inclusive aesthetic; racing and fighting titles rely on increasingly robust graphics technology to bring you more believable interactivity. With other categories of games, such as action-adventure, the genre into which the Zelda series falls, the decision isn't so clear. Neither is who makes the call: Should it be the developers/creators/artists themselves, or the game's fanbase, its potential consumers? If gamers demand graphical prowess in a quality game, as their response to both Wind Waker and Twilight Princess implies they do, they also have to face the possibility that all games, if rendered as realistically as possible, may soon look the same - not so much art as playable photographs of the world around them. Then they must ask themselves, honestly, whether or not that's a bad thing.

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Realism vs. Style: the Zelda Debate

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  • a vote for realism (Score:2, Interesting)

    by amrust ( 686727 )
    I'm excited enough about the new "realistic" Zelda I've even considered a Gamecube pruchase for it (can't justify it yet). I wish Ninetndo would port this to other consoles like PS2.
    • Well the system-seller for me was Metroid Prime. Pick up a copy of that and MP2: Echoes, and then along with this purchase would really make it worth it.

      Since you seem to be in to action-adventure (Zelda), I don't think you'll be disappoined with MP. Just go into the game knowing that it is NOT a First-Person-Shooter, and you'll be happy. With the way weapons lock on to targets, it is more like Zelda than an FPS.
      • The interesting thing about both Zelda and Final Fantasy is that they are games with large fan following, and they are constantly building up on that by releasing new versions with better graphics, better movies, better music and better this that. But what these developers fail to realize is that sometimes playing a video game is like reading a comic book. If you make it real, like make a movie out of X-Men, you take away that "thing" from the comic. You don't use your imagination anymore in a movie, or in
    • by hazzey ( 679052 )

      I think that there is just as much chance of Nintendo porting Zelda as there is of Sony porting Gran Turismo. The console manufacturers want there to be a game related reason for choosing their console. Having every game available for every platform is great for the consumer, but bad for the smaller console manufaturer.

    • Not bloody likely. Hiroshi Yamauchi would appear in the night as a Ninja of all that is Nintendo and eviscerate any executive stupid enough to do that with a katana. Of course the blood would be green.
    • by ianscot ( 591483 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:27PM (#13491731)
      Personally I'm 38, my kids were 11 when they played Windwaker, and I loved the emotive cartoon style. We haven't seen games that more gracefully bring across emotional reactions by the characters.

      That said, there was almost nothing in the game that seriously challenged the kids. Despite the (deservedly) legendary depth of play from Zelda titles, I think the designers decided they were making a cartoony title so they should pitch it to kids in terms of the level of challenge too. Which sucked.

      We can accept gritty realism or the cel shading thing. Either one has to be stylishly executed, and the game has to be far more than a shooter where I'm opening doors in order to hold my interest.

      (Near as we can tell the delay with the new Zelda is the development group adding play depth. Props to them.)

      • Nobody has real looking graphics! I've heard this whole real vs toon thing since the SNES--- and anything "realistic" from back then is a joke today.
        "realistic" graphics are for shallow people without imagination or those who have some serious insecurity issues (americans are brought up with major insecurities so they consume more.)

        I suppose next they will want nintendo to add voice overs to the game because its more realistic than learning to read.

        I just hope the new Zelda at least is on par with Windwaker
      • by forkazoo ( 138186 ) <> on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @03:23PM (#13492306) Homepage
        Personally I'm 38, my kids were 11 when they played Windwaker, and I loved the emotive cartoon style. We haven't seen games that more gracefully bring across emotional reactions by the characters.

        every person over the age of 25 that I've heard comment on the cell shading has been supportive of it. The only people complaining about the style not being sufficiently grown-up are 14 year old morons who have no sense of how not to bitch about things, and no idea of what adult actually means. They want the blood and guts style in an effort to seem macho. they have no concept of game development, art, or the technology. they just know that having a game with a lot of blood will impress their 14 year old friends.

        Nintendo should release a cell shaded game where the main character is a persecuted homosexual who has to solve puzzles which refer to classical literature in order to avoid being lynched and attacked by a suspicious homophobic public. The goal is to be able to adopt a child in Missouri. Then, we can see what style is more grown up.
      • What I found most interesting about the Wind Waker is that despite its appearance, it seemed to have the darkest plot of any Zelda game. (Stop reading now if you don't want any plot details spoiled.) Essentially, it takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, where Hyrule has been completely forgotten, buried (though preserved) in a massive flood. At the end of the game, it is completely destroyed, and Links sticks a sword into Ganon's forehead.
      • by Verteiron ( 224042 ) * on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @05:40PM (#13493774) Homepage
        I find that a lot of people who hated the toon-shading made their decisions before they actually saw the GAME. Hell, I was guilty of that myself. The screenshots didn't impress me, but the first time I saw the game actually on display at Video Games Etc I was completely blown away. The animation was the smoothest-looking I think I've ever seen, the characters' motions looked real and solid, everything had -weight- to it. Everywhere I looked in the game, details, details, details! Look at a star through your telescope.. it's actually twinkling. Moths dance around the torches. Link's facial expressions are used well, especially the way his eyes will give you hints about something nearby that you need. I'm looking forward to the new "realistic" Zelda game as well, but I sure hope they haven't lost the feel and movement of Windwaker.
    • by rAiNsT0rm ( 877553 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @03:43PM (#13492554) Homepage
      I know everyone's pocketbook is different, but a used GC at EB/GStop is $59.00. I traded in a few crappy PS2 titles and got mine for $6.00.

      I've since traded in a bunch of stale PS2 titles and have Mario Party 5, Donkey Konga 2 w/bongo's, Starfox Adventures, Puyo Pop, Mario Sunshine, Metroid Prime, and Luigi's Mansion for a total investment of about $60 including the system.

      That's about the cost of just one new title, and I have had more FUN with the GC than I've had with my PS2 in years.
    • by Pxtl ( 151020 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @05:11PM (#13493492) Homepage
      Screw realism. I've already got all the reality I can handle. On a game console you've got the power to make any reality you like - why slave away making a pantomine of this one?

      The same thing cheeses me off in FPS games - how players want sniper rifles and nazis and waiting for the next round to restart because respawning is unrealistic... this perspective limits things so damn much. Reality and history has a much shorter list of gameplay and artistic possibilities than your imagination.

      I loved the cel-shaded games the moment I saw them. Dreamcast had a laundry-list of awesome titles with cartoon shader graphics.

      The problem is that the US game market is full of early teens. These kids are quite possibly the worst possible target market - look at the wasteland of the movie and music industries that cater to them. In games, they're obsessed with things being adult and serious and dramatic, because they're so desperate not to look like kids. In the end, it's a reflection of their music - the games are as emo as they are. Everything has to have an end-of-the-world plotline and serious, dramatic graphics and real-world weaponry.

      By the time you realise that what really rocks are games that are fun and unique, you're too old to have the time on your hands to kill playing them.

      Which is the more adult person? The one who plays KillZone? Or the one who plays Chu Chu Rocket unabashedly because it's FUN.
  • by gbulmash ( 688770 ) * <> on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:19PM (#13491635) Homepage Journal
    I think a major issue here is tradition vs. evolution. The stylized, cartoony look is "classic" Zelda, and for some people, their preference would be to put all the time and energy into gameplay and story while keeping a more classic feel to the visuals. On the other side are the people who feel that since the ability to present more realistically rendered worlds has evolved, so should the worlds of Zelda. More than art vs. reality, I believe the "don't fix what ain't broken" vs. "but there's so much more you could do" argument is what really drives this debate.

    Tradition vs. evolution is such a classic set of counterpoints. It pops up in religions, in corporations, in clubs, and it's no wonder it rages now in video games. They now have enough history for tradition to take a foothold. In the long run, though, I doubt that it was the cartoony appearance that really made Zelda players into Zelda fans. It may have been endearing, but it was the gameplay and stories that really made it addictive. IMO, the story, gameplay, and AI quality will be the final arbiters of the fate of this game, not the visual realism or lack thereof.

    - Greg

    • by jkuff ( 170923 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:43PM (#13491904) Homepage
      Over the history of animated films, there has developed the concept of "suspension of disbelief" [] that allows the audience to forget that they are watching a film and become emotionally attached to the characters. Disney films were particularly good at doing this, despite the fact that the renderings are not "realistic" (Mickey mouse has four fingers, etc.)

      For computer animation and video games, audiences are especially critical of mistakes in the depiction of human characters (both appearance and movement), particularly if they attempt to be too "photorealistic". Remember how audiences reacted to the movie "Final Fantasy"? Making characters believable is not simply a function of realistic rendering, but depends deeply on the story and personalities. In the case of Final Fantasy, audiences were too distracted in noticing subtle rendering and animation flaws that they failed to suspend disbelief. If the rendering had been more stylized (like in Japanese anime), viewers may not have focused only on rendering flaws, but on the story and characters. This is what Pixar knows how to do very well, making movies about Toys, Bugs, Cars, etc.

      I love the Zelda series, and I love how Nintendo has consistently worked hard at developing storyline and characters, and bringing it all to life with a unique stylized rendering. I simply hope that the new Zelda will not be too "realistic" that players will be distracted by any small flaws in the appearance to appreciate the underlying story.

      • by DrEldarion ( 114072 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [0791uhcsm]> on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:53PM (#13492002)
        Remember how audiences reacted to the movie "Final Fantasy"?

        IIRC, everyone I remember talking to about it said "the graphics were great, but the plot and characters were shallow and undeveloped."
        • IIRC, everyone I remember talking to about it said "the graphics were great, but the plot and characters were shallow and undeveloped."

          Yes. The filmmakers spent too much time trying to make a photorealistic film that the story and character development was neglected. And in the end, the audience was unfortunately too busy noticing the realistic light reflections on a character's helmet to pay attention to the storyline anyway...

      • IIRC the term for this is "The Uncanny Valley" Where the depiction is so close to real that we reject it based on the slightest flaws.

        Another interesting phenomenon is that with simple, cartoony characters, the player is much more inclined to identify with the character. The more you add detail to the main character, the more the player sees the character as "someone else"

        Other games have generated this effect by simply not showing the main character. EX: Myst, Half-Life. The lack of definition to th
      • Related to style, but doesn't quite apply:

        "Over the history of animated films, there has developed the concept of "suspension of disbelief" " (emphasis mine)

        Willing suspension of disbelief is not specific to animated films, nor did it develop along with them. Willing suspension of disbelief has been around as long as literature has been; for example, Aesop's fables require it for true understanding.

        The trick with both realistic graphics and fantastical graphics is to not interrupt the flow. Inconsis
      • by rufusdufus ( 450462 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @04:38PM (#13493135)
        The effect you are talking about has been dubbed the Uncanny Valley []. It was first discovered in the 70s in robot research. Essentially its an emotional effect where people are creeped out by a human image that is too close to real, but not perfectly realistic. More at the link!
    • Exactly.

      I too was in the "yuck" camp when I first saw and eventually played WindWaker... but once I got in the game and quit paying attention to the unusual styles, it turned out to be a fairly decent Zelda. My main real issue with it is the excruciatingly slow pacing until you get the cyclones and the way you are initially forced to go after the first two pearls... I wanted to at least visit the northern wallet fairy early in my gold game.
    • It's not just that, either. What other Zelda games did we have? Up to and including the SNES version and Gameboy releases, the games were basically restricted to classic object tiling common on all RPGs of the era. They're not cartooney, just variants of controlling a character on a series of maps.

      After that? Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask? Tentative forays into the 3D realm using the highly limited gaming engine of the N64. Not cartoonish either, just common for the time.

      Wind Waker? They worked h
    • Looking at some of those screenshots, Link looks fairly intelligently designed. *ba dum ching* Oops, there goes my karma. :P
    • I'm a graphic / interactive designer and I don't think this has anything to do with "evolution."

      Deciding to apply cell shading to Zelda isn't what hurt the franchise, it's the illustrative style they adopted. Nintendo adopted an illustrative style that is, traditionally, associated with childhood. If their art director opted for more universally appealing illustrations, they wouldn't have seen the big backlash.

      That being said. The game was quite fun... but too easy in comparison to past Zelda titles.
  • False dichotomy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by daniil ( 775990 ) <> on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:21PM (#13491662) Journal
    Realism isn't the opposite of style; it's just one kind of style.
    • by Monkelectric ( 546685 ) <slashdot@mon k e l e c t r i c . com> on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:33PM (#13491796)
      I love it when some guy blows away the entire premise of an article with one sentence :) Good job.
      • He actually didn't.
        He really just purposely misinterpret what the writer was trying to say.
        It's pretty clear that by style the writer was referring to stylized graphics of the game.

        Of course a better word might have been chosen, but the fact remains that the writers meaning was clear.
    • I defiantly agree with you there . I really like the look of the new Zelda game .. I also really like the look of Wind waker . both are very stylised .. it just so happens that cell shading is a more in you face (Jargonistic cringe) style . We obviously wont recognise Realism as a style as quickly as well... it takes a special eye to see the style in the ordinary

      We do tend to appreciate realism more as it can help with the immersion in certain types of games .
      I am glad this time around it is realistic as it
    • Why should it matter, anyway? As long as gameplay isn't sacrificed because of the new look, I'm fine with it. Let them do what they want with the graphics as long as the game is still fun.
  • by MrAnnoyanceToYou ( 654053 ) <dylan.dylanbrams@com> on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:22PM (#13491665) Homepage Journal
    Sony and Microsoft are fighting a war to dominate the living room, Nintendo is making great toys for adults and children. There's a marked difference between the two strategies. While more realism is a move towards the current market, I like to think that Nintendo is going to last while Sony and Microsoft are going to sputter out... Perhaps I'm just idealistic in thinking customers don't WANT the complete dominance of a single appliance M$ and Sony are aiming for.
    • Interesting point here. This morning I watched some video interviews with Gabe Newell, and it sounds like making games for the PS3 is going to be a nightmare, with the asymetrical cores. Also you can't make XBOX360 games hard drive dependant at all, because of Microsoft's stupid decision to make the hard drive optional. The Revolution looks to be the easiest to make games for at this point, since the programming method is supposed to be very similar to Gamecube.
  • Very general? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Epistax ( 544591 ) <epistax@gmai l . com> on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:24PM (#13491687) Journal
    Every game is different. The mood that is being established dictates the drawing style. Beyond that, it's not a matter of drawing style preference, it's a matter of mood preference. Serious will be realistic. Funny/comic will often be unrealistic (that's not to say low quality). This realistic/unrealistic is obviously JUST THE GRAPHICS. Everything else is quite variable.
  • I didn't play Zelda with the cell-shaded graphics except for about 10 minutes at a Best Buy, but I have to admit the control was phenonminal; I just hated the graphics.

    With games like Resident Evil 4, and now Twilight Princess, Gamecube appears to be finally trying to break into the 20-something market that Playstation and Xbox have had in a death-grip.

    I know I finally wanted to play Zelda again (having stopped at SNES) when I saw the previews for this one.
    • You guys all missed out. Wind Waker was an excellent game to play. I have to admit that I stopped short of the end, but I really enjoyed the game.

      Why are you guys so set on having a more realistic graphic style since you are older? When I want realism, I sit in my cube here at work. When I want fantasy escapism, I play a video game.

  • Cell "Shading"? (Score:2, Informative)

    by crabpeople ( 720852 )
    Well if your like me, you had to look that one up.

    Sense you already looked it up ( [] ) that link was redundant to you. Perhaps some are more lazy.

    Basically, cel shading is like commander keen but with more gamma.
  • by mcc ( 14761 ) <> on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:27PM (#13491724) Homepage
    I think the graphics for wind waker looked totally awesome. It was the most beautiful video game I had ever played.

    I think the graphics for twilight princess also look totally awesome.

    I think I may like the art style of wind waker better.

    However, it seems reasonable to me to be able to like more than one thing!

    When I see them doing something one way the first time, and another way the second time, and find that some people like the first way and some other people like the second way, my response here isn't to think "huh. we should figure out which way is 'better'." My response is something closer to "yay for variety". Doing it this way means that the people in group one get what they want in the first game, the people in group two get what they want in the second game, and I get exactly what I want in both cases-- because, much as I think both art styles look awesome, I think it could get a little tiresome to look at the same art style all the way through two games in a row, even if it was the one which I preferred (Wind Waker's). I think it's much neater that they are mixing things up, and thus satisfying my sense of artistic ADD.

    It's just funny, Nintendo gets frequently accused of making the same game over and over but then on the other hand there's a huge contingent of people on every single game complaining about the things they changed.
  • by Zunni ( 565203 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:27PM (#13491725)
    I'm not sure what the issue with the other graphics were. 8 bit Zelda was rather cartoonish, as was the 16 bit SNES Zelda.

    Zelda was never touted as a "realistic" game, and was instead a fun RPG romp. Splinter Cell and the myriad of FPS games need to have realistic graphics in order to convey a sense of place and time. Zelda was never about being in a real world, it was the land of Hyrule where sticking out your sword in one direction was the name of the game. I'm not saying Zelda can't grow up and take advantage of the new graphics, but why push the game in a more realistic vein?? It's like making the new Street Fighter and using actors for Ken/Ryu. It worked for MK, but SF was about that cartoonish feeling.
  • by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:29PM (#13491751) Homepage Journal
    Is that it isn't realistic enough. One thing that has been pointed out, by more than one person, is that when graphics reach a certain level of realism, the brain looks for characteristics that would occur in the real world. Reflections, muscle movements, etc.

    It is utterly impossible - at this point - to reproduce each and every pattern the brain is looking for. In consequence, realistic graphics often look slightly ghoulish. They aren't what the brain is expecting, so the brain signals that something isn't right. This is actually a part of why Gollum, in the Lord of the Rings movies, was so effective.

    In consequence, the games that are labelled "realistic" are often deliberately unrealistic enough that the player can be comfortable. It's also often less demanding on the computer and the programmer.

  • This is pointless (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ekman ( 60679 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:30PM (#13491764)
    Who cares what it looks like. Is it fun?
  • by orangenormal ( 728999 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:32PM (#13491787)

    So the graphics in Twilight Princess "realistic" and not stylized? Would anyone confuse them with reality?

    The fact is, Twilight Princess, which embracing a darker style, is still heavily stylized. I do like the style, but I do not believe it's any better or worse than Wind Waker's style. (Wind Waker's graphics, in my opinion, were absolutely stunning and held a charm perfectly suited to the storyline.)

    The problem with "realism" is that it's very difficult to get right. The closer to reality you get, the more grotesque the imperfections seem to the human mind. It's called "The Uncanny Valley," a term coined during the development of human-like robots. People have a much stronger negative reaction to graphics that look almost, but not quite, real than ones that approximate features.

  • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:32PM (#13491788) Journal
    FTA: "Is the point of gaming to recreate reality, or should it go beyond realism, into the realm of art?"

    Realism and art are not opposed; rather, realism is one method of creating art.

    IMO, the point of games such as the Zelda franchise is player immersion. Some people can feel immersed without realistic graphics; others have a harder time making the leap.

  • by ivan256 ( 17499 ) * on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:32PM (#13491790)
    Wind Waker is a perfect example of why games are polish over substance these days. People bitch about how there's no focus on gameplay because the industry is too busy pushing more polygons, and this is why.

    There were plenty of things wrong with Wind Waker, but the graphics weren't one of them. They successfully conveyed the mechanics and story. If you're one of the people who didn't by Wind Waker solely because of the graphics, you're part of the problem. How can game makers focus on good gameplay when financially everybody makes graphics king?

    Worse, maybe we could have had a few more Zelda games this hardware generation with new plots and content... But instead they had to waste time writing a new engine.
    • by nekoes ( 613370 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:54PM (#13492006) Journal
      There were plenty of things wrong with Wind Waker, but the graphics weren't one of them. They successfully conveyed the mechanics and story. If you're one of the people who didn't by Wind Waker solely because of the graphics, you're part of the problem. How can game makers focus on good gameplay when financially everybody makes graphics king?

      This is exactly how I feel. I originally was confused by the change in graphics, but understood that Cel shading had some potential after playing JSR for a bit. In the right hands, Cel Shaded games have the potential for an incredible amount of style. Nintendo didn't let me down - they made Wind Waker have one of the most animated worlds ever created for a video game. Often times while watching a roommate play it, I'd confuse it straight up for a cartoon. The animation in the game is just so fluid, and the visuals are dead on for the type of story they are used to convey.

      Every time I read or hear someone saying they didn't play Wind Waker because of the 'kiddie' Cel Shaded graphics, I want to slap them. What the hell is kiddie about it? Link is still in there, kicking ass, and looking better than he did in all the rest of the games up to it. Especially now after seeing the screen shots for the new games, I'm annoyed that they switched to a more realistic style.

      It seems whenever developers opt to make the game as realistic looking as possible, it ends up looking off and lifeless. Morrowind, Everquest 2, and other games come off as looking good in the screenshots, but seeing the game in motion really breaks the experience for me. The characters and backdrops seem dead and bleak. The Soul Calibur series has been the only one I've seen that doesn't seem to suffer this problem, probably since the character's motion plays such a huge part in the game.

      At least it is heartening to see that for Twilight Princess they are keeping some of the stylized aesthetics and tying it in with the dry looking realistic stuff. The trailers had some nice footage of a stylish looking wolf running through a black and white castle, controlled by a character that looked partially remeniscient of a Wind Waker character...

      Either way I guess it's good to know that at least it will play as good as any other game in the series, that is, it will be yet another Zelda game.
    • I'm not much of a gamer, though I was at one time. Part of it is that I just don't have the spare time I had when I was younger and didn't have kids of my own, but a most of it is that every game I see in the stores looks like every other game. I guess some people just can't get enough dimly-lit, grim, gritty, post-apocalyptic scenery, but I can.

      The available types of games seem to have shrunk as well. There are first-person shooters, real-time strategy, resource-management (often combined with RTS), and ma
  • Arguments like this are stupid. Artistic choices (i.e. photo realistic, vs. stylization of varying sorts) should be used to further the story & representation that the artists/creators are trying to get across. They should choose what they want to express, and everyone else should shut the hell up.

    You can complain that you like style x over style y, but don't tell people what they should use to tell their stories.
    • BTW, i loved Windwaker, and i'm waiting for the new game with baited breath :)

      And a further note, people can express what styles they like or don't like, i just don't think they should compell creators to do what they want, solely cause they like one style over another.
  • This newer title also seems very stylized. I certainly wouldn't mistake it for a video and the context (sword, elfin outfit, monsters) is obvious fantasy.

    This isn't a conflict between realism and anime. It's a choice of ghost in the shell anime over hello kitty.
  • by Skasta ( 594110 )
    One thing I have to say with windwaker is the fact that it has a Timeless look, just like A Link to The Past before it. Both of these Zelda games took what the console hardware gave them, and rendered a style that as time goes on, does not lose graphic appeal. I feel like Ocarina of Time\Majoras Mask and maybe Twilight Princess, do not have this effect. I look at Ocarina of Time today and it looks ugly compared to todays games, yet I can still pop in my A Link to the Past cart and not have a problem with
    • Of course last generations games looked ugly. It's when the industry adopted 3-D.

      Look at the first years. SNES games look a lot better than NES games because the perspective (2-D) remained, but the hardware and comfort level programming improved. This is why GameCube games look better than N64 games. 3-D was new to Nintendo with the N64 (aside from StarFox, I think), and they got it right and polished it up with the Cube.

      Whatever sparkly innovation comes next will wow us in the next generation and be perfec
  • Japanese gamers are less concerned with appearing "masculine," at least in the American sense of reveling in games that flex their graphical muscle. The comments of U. S. gamers, especially those participating in forums, are influenced by the need to protect a certain macho image, one in favor of "grownup" realism instead of "childish" stylization.

    This rationalization is just asinine, and is demeaning to both Americans and men. Why is it so hard to accept that the appreciation of different styles (yes, re

  • by sycomonkey ( 666153 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:38PM (#13491843) Homepage
    Realism is entirely overrated. It's just one of many styles, and one that's been used way too much lately. Twilight Princess looks to be very very pretty and cool, but I'd be sorely dissapointed if every zelda game for the rest of time looked like it. I don't dislike realistic graphics as a matter of course, but they have their place, and there's room for all kinds of expression. For example, what in the world would have been as appealing about Rez if it wasn't wireframe? Would Mario 64 have been nearly as fun if it was animated like Ocarina of Time?

    The article is pretty much right on the money. The realistic look is popular, but I don't think that it should be to the exclusion of other forms of expression and style. Game designers are artists, and they should be able to paint their picture with less concern for what sells and what doesn't. But that's not the enviroment right now, so...
  • I feel cheated. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sakusha ( 441986 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:40PM (#13491863)
    The article's first paragraph promised juicy discussion of sexuality in gaming. But there wasn't one single mention of sex, it's just a stupid, boring discussion about rendering styles.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:41PM (#13491871)
    They fear that anything that is not dark and realistic is calling them a "kid". That is why they get so upset. Americans would be embarrassed to play a game like Wind Waker because they fear that people will perceive them as not adult or not mature. Sure, the game may be FUN as hell... No, wait... it can't be fun... if I enjoyed it, that means I must also be a kid... No... Musn't play fun Ninja Turtles game... must maintain respectable mature, macho adult persona... :)

    It's really sad, because many of the "dark and realistic" games are mediocre, at best, and yet they will become best sellers here because they re-inforce the player's ego as an "adult gamer" who has "adult needs". :)

    I can see the reason and market for making a dark and mature game, but I think the game's "world view" should be what decides that, not a need to make players feel better about themselves. This is a real bummer because I like fun games, and yet they're being driven out of the marketplace by insecure gamers with lots of money to burn. Developers spend so much time making sure the sweat drips off the CG player's face so realistically that gameplay is almost an afterthought. I used to go to a video game store struggling over which game to buy, now I go and say "meh." Once I decide I don't want an FPS or sports game, I'm about ready to walk out of the place.
  • by unfortunateson ( 527551 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:42PM (#13491890) Journal
    I'll take style over realism when the style contributes to the storytelling and enjoyment of the tale.

    I started reading comics in the late 70's/early 80's, and realism was big then. Artists such as Neal Adams (all over Marvel and DC), John Byrne (X-Men), Jim Layton (Iron Man), etc. had taken over from the 60's stylized art of Kirby, and Ditko (Aparo, Swan, Steranko and others sort of spanned the fence between aping an old style and trying for the new realism).

    Then, suddenly, there were stylists that blew my mind: Bill Sinkiewicz' wild line style (Moon Knight, Stray Toasters), Mike Mignola's world-devouring blacks (Corum, Hellboy), Walt Simonson's angular structure (Thor), Howard Chaykin's zip-a-tone (American Flagg!, Black Kiss)... I could go on and on... oh, yeah, Frank Miller too.

    But for every thing there is a season: sometimes the realistic style works better: Art Ross' painterly style works well for grand epics. Brent Anderson's realism works for Astro City's interaction with the real world, and sometimes a Jim Lee crisp and clean can be a relief.

    But this is gaming we're talking about. Sometimes a 64-pixel sprite makes a fun game. Certainly the original Zelda can't be considered realistic. I thought that games such as Wind Waker and Paper Mario were innovative in their use of graphics, and should be applauded.

    But the market does rule this sort of thing. If *everybody* wants realism, that's what will be made. If 10% of the market wants some cool style, well, sometimes, they'll get ridden roughshod over.
  • by RUFFyamahaRYDER ( 887557 ) <`slashdot' `at' `'> on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:42PM (#13491894) Homepage
    I'm not sure how many others are with me on this, but I am getting tired of realistic games in general.

    It's cool to have physics that work like real life but then again, that's not why I play games! I play them so I can see things that can't be done in real life. Remember in Virtua Cop when you shot someone they flipped around like the bullet was 20 times powerful than it should be? That was cool! I loved it when RUSH came out because it let cars drive with semi-realistic physics but they could fly off cliffs and float in the air unrealisticly - but it was awesome and fun! I want the physics to be a little warped. I want characters to be huge compared to normal humans. I want them to be able to do things not possible in real life... I want to see things I've seen in a few games to be extended upon - such as jumping off walls, or small explosions that make characters bounce really far into the distance... I don't know! Just something new and crazy that isn't supposed to happen in our laws of physics!
  • Style is fine by me but make a new game, dont take one as loved as Zelda and turn it into some saturday morning cartoon. I grew up playing the series and with OOT it seemed maybe the series would grow up with me but in standard Nintendo fashion they made it with a childish look that just didnt apeal to me. I bought Wind Waker and I liked it but graphics aside it was not as good as OOT, it was filled with so much boring sailing and BS tasks it was just a snooze fest for most of the game. Im glad they are

  • The larger question at hand, however, is perhaps unanswerable: Is the point of gaming to recreate reality, or should it go beyond realism, into the realm of art?

    Yeah... Right.. IS IT FUN TO PLAY??!?!
    • True. I can't remember ever playing a game and thinking, "Wow, this game SUCKS but the grafix are so awesome I just can't stop playing it!!"

      This is the biggest problem in the gaming industry today. Screenshots of eye-popping graphics might sell games, so developers spend a lot more time on the graphics than they do on gameplay.

  • I don't care what they try, they will never surpass the level of realism of the original NES Legend of Zelda.

    Everyone knows that in REAL LIFE, a young elf like Link is exactly as wide as he is tall, can only move in the four cardinal directions, and goes "beep beep beep beep beep" when he's not feeling well.
  • I don't see how gamers' rejection of Wind Waker's specific look could possibly be interpreted as a rejection of stylized graphics in all videogames.

    Everyone loved the use of heavily stylized graphics in games like Grim Fandango [] and Parappa the Rapper []. These games were also huge critical successes.

    When executed well, heavily stylized graphics can make a game far more compelling, and increase its emotional impact. When poor decisions are made, the use of heavily stylized graphics can be an annoying distractio
  • Representing this conflict as one of stylized representation versus realism is highly misleading. It was not *that* wind walker was stylized that made wind walker bad but *how* it was stylized. Wind walker was done in a particular style that in the US is reserved for very young children's cartoons and hence associated with childishness and a lack of substance. Conversly the new zelda is hardly trying to maximize realism. I think many zelda fans would be just as disappointed if the game was rendered in a
  • It's not like the new Zelda isn't stylized. It's just differently stylized. Zelda isn't about to look like an animated photograph, it's going to look like an animated illustrated storybook.

    There are game designers out there who simply push polygons and pixels in an effort to look realistic for no apparent game benefit, but this doesn't look like the case here.
  • I really don't care if Zelda comes in cell-shading look or with a more realistic look, I think both look fine. What I however care about is gameplay and the world in which it plays and seriously Zelda couldn't grab me on that one for a long long time.

    Each Zelda game so far felt the same, basically like a set of script-triggers and dungeons hold together by some duct tape. Running through a town in Zelda doesn't feel like running through some town in a fantasy world, but more like running through a town full
  • I'm of the belief that it was far less the art style of Wind Waker which irritated people, and far more the fact that the Link incarnation was all of eight years old. Anyone with a passing familiarity with anime knows that most of it really isn't childish at all (or, at least, the Japanese versions aren't - Sailor Moon was made for teenage boys in Japan, but the American adaptation is geared for 4-year-old girls, for example).

    When the main character is a little kid, however, that'll suck the macho out of t
  • Real life is, on the whole, boring. Games are there as an escape from it, some would say that's their entire purpose. Now while interest can be gained from an accurate simulation of a real but rare event, e.g. a formula 1 racing sim or a flight simulator, with a completely fantasy game like Zelda the point is to throw out the real world and make one where you can be a hero and save the world, because you're really just another boring person. With that established, the graphics should be those that are most
    • By that argument, Twilight Princess still doesn't look realistic. When was the last time you saw a green-tinged wolf with a statue thing on its back. Those creatures look fantastic, but they certainly don't look real.

      Assuredly, the new installment looks darker, but it looks no more "real" to me than Wind Waker did. Nintendo decided to go someplace new with the art style again, and good for them. If it conveys the mood of the game better, so be it.

      Cel shading worked for Wind Waker. It looks like dark "realis
  • Really, there is no "debate", there are:

    Those that apparently cant handle a game that doesnt look like all the others.
    Those that were able to enjoy a fun game.

    People can debate the graphics all they want, it doesnt change the fact that they are missing out on a great game because they feel threatened by bright colors.
  • Personally, I liked the cel-shaded style of The Wind Waker, but I hated the actual art. It looked ugly; the characters and the environment features felt lopsided and misshapen. And when they didn't look lopsided, they just looked bland. If The Wind Waker used a more photorealistic engine, it wouldn't have made any difference.

    Ultimately, it's not important what superficial style you use -- cel shading, cartoons, photorealism, 2D sprites, whatever. What does matter is that you get actual artists, with actua

  • Realism vs style should actually be realism vs illustration. Or even beter, representation vs illustration.
  • by greyjoy ( 912923 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @03:26PM (#13492342)
    Similarly, the gender expectations that are so rigid in mainstream America are not as clearly defined in Japanese culture. Japanese gamers are less concerned with appearing "masculine," at least in the American sense of reveling in games that flex their graphical muscle. The comments of U. S. gamers, especially those participating in forums, are influenced by the need to protect a certain macho image, one in favor of "grownup" realism instead of "childish" stylization.
    Come on. American gamers prefer realistic graphics to grotesquely caricatures, and she blames it on the male ego? I grew up watching Batman: The Animated Series. It's not realistic -- if anything, Miller's film noir styles intentionally distorted dimensions and lighting -- but it's among the most brilliant cartoons I've ever had the privilege to watch. Pokemon, less so. It's not (just) the difference between the IQs each cartoon markets to, it's simply smoother, better graphics which look as though they took more than five minutes of effort and three years of age to create. If you'd rather do an apples-to-apples comparison, try Pokemon vs. Yu-Gi-Oh. The richer colors and more talented voices of the latter interest me more than the choppy five-frames-per-show style of Pokemon. I prefer Batman to both, but that's simply because it's a far more intelligent and mature cartoon, just as this coming Twilight Princess may be superior to Wind Waker. Also, it's not as though Americans are opposed to unrealistic games. Grim Fandango is quite possibly the best game I've ever played, and its main character is an Aztec-styled skeleton in a suit. Is my love for this game based on my comfort with my masculinity, or with the quality graphics LucasArts employed to make it a beautiful, brilliant, mature world? I'm a feminist myself, but blaming taste and maturity on male insecurity is ridiculous.
    • It's not (just) the difference between the IQs each cartoon markets to, it's simply smoother, better graphics which look as though they took more than five minutes of effort and three years of age to create.

      The graphics in Wind Walker are brilliant. They're smooth, fast, and technically demanding. They're not trying to emulate Pixar or the latest SIGGRAPH output, but they used the latest technologies in a whole new way. The sylized smoke and simulated cels are just as hard to do right as the painstakingly rendered dirt and grime in Half Life.

      These aren't "low quality" in any sense. They're just a more subtle kind of quality than you're used to. Yes, it's "toony", but it's compellingly toony... it's not "toony because it's all we can do", it's "toony because it's hard to do well".
  • by DroopyStonx ( 683090 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @03:40PM (#13492511)
    When it boils down to it, the game needs to be challenging and fun.

    Wind Waker wasn't kiddie because of it's graphics, IMO, but because there wasn't any challenge to it compared to its predecessors. It felt very dumbed down.

    I didn't mind the cell-shading at all. To be honest, I don't care WHAT the game looks like, hell, it could have the 16-bit overhead style - just give it some worthy CONTENT.

    Games these days focus too much on eye candy, which ultimately ends up taking away from content.

    In the end, the success of the new Zelda won't be on how it looks, but whether or not it's an ACTUAL sequel that fits what Zelda really is: tons of dungeons filled with CHALLENGING puzzles that get progressively harder as the game goes on.
  • by thesandtiger ( 819476 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @04:13PM (#13492886)
    I play many different games, and one of the main things that bugs me about games today is that, in essence, they all look alike.

    Why? Because the development houses are going for a "realistic" looking game. Oh, sure - the atmosphere in a Half-Life 2 is different from a Halo is different from Doom 3 - but the fact remains that they are trying to make things look like they "really would" if you were in any of those situations.

    A rare-ish exception is World of Warcraft. I *like* that it doesn't look real. I *like* that the fantasy world looks, more or less, like a dream. I enjoyed XIII as much for the game as for the aesthetic, and I enjoyed Wind Walkers unreal style as well.

    In my opinion, "realistic" graphics often wind up wrecking the concept of suspension of disbelief for me: Doom3 had "realistic" graphics, but the whole damn point of the game was that it was a nightmare scenario - in the "real" world, the undead don't walk around trying to eat you (except in Congress) - so for me, the realism really made it hard to immerse myself in the story. World of Warcraft, however - when I'm there, *anything* can happen exactly because the world doesn't look like the one I am familiar with, and therefore there's no expectation that gets violated when I see something strange.

    Personally, I have one hope for games, and that be that eventually the rendering engine come with controls that let the user change the render option. Want Cel shading? Go for it! Want it to look like water colors? Stained glass? Real? Tweak your settings and change it on the fly.

    Real is good for some things - sports games, I suppose - but when you're trying to sink into a world that is as unreal as it gets, I think it hurts.

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