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Games Entertainment

The Onslaught of Photorealism 72

Ant writes "Shacknews mentioned an article entitled 'Videogame Aesthetics: We're All Going to Die!'. In it, the author considers the pros and cons of the neverending push toward absolute reality in video game graphics (or at least the weird plastic look that people get confused with reality), and comes to the conclusion that all in all it's probably worthwhile. In the process, the author takes a look at several games that employ unique visual styles that are extremely successful without attempting any sort of photorealism." From the article: "The photo-real push is obviously important to many people within and surrounding the game industry, as demonstrated not only by the persistent trend in commercial development, but also by work such as the System Shock 2 mod Rebirth, which replaced some of the models with curvier versions, designed for more powerful machines than the original game."
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The Onslaught of Photorealism

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 09, 2005 @05:24PM (#13752461)
    Personally, I'm not that interested in photorealism in games; for me it seems to detract from the entirely fake world that game developers have created. I also think that what is starting to seperate the good game developers from the worse ones is their unique artistic style, and I have noticed that the more realistic games look the more generic they look. I think that you can add a lot of stlye to a game by adopting a nontraditional art style. As an example of what I mean, consider the works of Blizzard and Free Radical; neither company really pushes the latest and greatest in photorealistic technologies, but through the use of unique art direction have produced very interesting and beautiful games.
  • by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Sunday October 09, 2005 @05:48PM (#13752623) Homepage Journal
    Thing is, quite often the choice is not between "realistic" and "unrealistic" but "nice" and "ugly". Pixellated textures break the immersion. Squarish hair make girls unattractive. Plain Phong shading makes fake plastic effect instead of nice metal. The problem is that what could be solved with better concept art and design, is often solved by push towards more polygons per model or normal maps on the walls. Authors look at the screen and say "Ick, that's ugly!" and go about fixing that - not by scrapping the ugly design but by adding details, trying to make it less ugly.
    Good games are art. Bad games are showbusiness.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 09, 2005 @06:10PM (#13752744)
    Maybe if all applicable and feasbile games soon become photo realistic and it becomes just damn impossible to produce a better graphically immersing environment recognizable by any human sensory system, and we actually manage to resist the urge to whip out those brain stem interfaces, developers might just, maybe, possibly, one day, start putting as much investment into game play, style, challenge and originality as they have been trying to get as many polygons as possible on screen into their products...

    LOL Nah.
  • by thegrassyknowl ( 762218 ) on Sunday October 09, 2005 @07:40PM (#13753204)

    and I have noticed that the more realistic games look the more generic they look

    I have noticed that the more realistic games look, the more the same as other crap games they tend to become. Game programmers must think we're really really stupid. They're repackaging the same old shit week after week and adding "better" graphics (where better is subjective).

    Their push for "better" graphics means that those of us who cannot afford to or don't want to upgrade our PCs to the latest and greatest (WTF? I just want to look at pr0n, download my email and compile a few small applications; my current PC is already overkill for that) can't play the games in all their glory anyways.

    I think new laws should be passed to force game makers to either:

    * Innovate and make something new
    * Fuck off and die

    Rather than wasting our time with remakes and rehashes of old, tired themes with nothing better than "photorealism" to add.

  • by patternjuggler ( 738978 ) on Sunday October 09, 2005 @07:47PM (#13753225) Homepage
    The problem is that what could be solved with better concept art and design, is often solved by push towards more polygons per model or normal maps on the walls.

    I'm always a little suspect of solutions that suggest trading the quantifiable and readily obtainable to the more abstract. It's usually a false dichotomy anyway: good art design is going to benefit you at any level of detail.

    More polygons and normal maps make the characters and surfaces look more realistic under a wider range of lighting and viewing conditions- where previously that information was encoded more statically, it looked okay at first but then the illusion fails as soon as the light changes or you walk around an object or get close-up and it gets a lot less convincing. The inadequacies of phong shading are solved by reprogramming the GPU, not better concept art and design.
  • by bigman2003 ( 671309 ) on Sunday October 09, 2005 @08:10PM (#13753321) Homepage
    I think that photorealism and reality are different. Yes of course 'photorealism' has 'realism' in it, but that doesn't mean it has to portray real things, just LOOK real.

    What about a completely realistic looking planet, that isn't our own. It has totally different animals, plants, geology...but it all looks like it could be real.

    The closer to 'real' looking that racing games get, the more real I want them to look.

    And don't forget...there is one thing that people never tire of looking at: people.
  • by ForteMaster ( 844937 ) on Sunday October 09, 2005 @11:14PM (#13754043)
    I don't care about increased polygon counts, vector shading, whatever they're using in the Lost Coast thingy for Half-Life 2. Okay, I DO, but mostly from a technical standpoint and an "oh wow" factor.

    I've said it time and time again. I'd rather play a game with beautiful hand-drawn sprites rather than crappy (but beautifully rendered) 3D characters. That said, I'm also a realist-if you can make something that looks bad in 2D better in 3D, then do so. There's also the limitation of genre. Most adventure genres don't need 3D rendering (and a few fringe subgenres absoulutely DEMAND hand-drawn art). However, racers and FPSes just don't look as good with Mode 7. Of course, there's always games that can only work in 3D but look crappy because of tech (read: Starfox). I could go on all day about it, but I won't.

    That said, I believe that environments, done well enough, look far better in fully interactive 3D. Or maybe that's just me :P

    For those who want good art direction AND visuals, pick up a GBA and get some of the higher-rated titles (and Sigma Star Saga, because it's underrated), and virtually every half-decent RPG. Almost all of the best GBA games have stunning art direction, and pixel-pushed goodness.
  • by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Monday October 10, 2005 @12:19AM (#13754294) Homepage Journal
    Photorealism is good for certain types of games, but will never replace more stylized art. It will just add another choice to those telling the stories. Take the analogy of cartoons - there are stories you can tell with modern animation techniques that would have been far less effective when the animation medium was in its infancy. Try to picture a "Ghost in the Shell," "Lion King," or "Ice Age" produced at the technical level of "Steamboat Willie." Or compare games to films. (Stop groaning and let me finish, dammit.) Film as a popular medium has only been around for a little over a century. Video gmes as we know them have only had about a third of that time to evolve, but in both cases as the medium advances, so does the choices of ways in which it can be used to tell a story. There will always be a place for black-and-white films, video without CGI effects, 2D cartoons, and games in which the characters don't look like a photograph.
  • by DingerX ( 847589 ) on Monday October 10, 2005 @02:56AM (#13754769) Journal
    The article features this in the concluding paragraph:

    The saleability of such fruits in game form is a complex and erratic proposition, but it seems scarcely relevant

    No offense, but it reads a bit like an undergraduate essay; perhaps an honors project, complete with a "hall of fame" for various aesthetic styles.

    The point (as I understand it) is that visual representation and the drive towards "realism" detracts from the exploration of the wide range of visual styles available for game development. The author uses many examples, a few from film, but mostly from comics for his argument.

    The problem with the article (besides its rather pretentious linguistic exuberance) lies in the incomplete realization of a very interesting thesis that lurks in the subtext, which betrays the failure to properly conceptualize the field of inquiry, viz. videogames.
    Alright, time to cut the pretentious babble: at times during the author's exposition, the issue of limitations creep up. Mostly, these are (as is not surprising for most videogame freaks, given historical development) limitations in technology, and remarks made in passing do indicate that game development has to take this into account (with a salient example being Katamari Damacy). But there are other limitations, the biggest one being money, whether expressed in development time, anticipated sales, or the burgeoning arts budgets of big-ticket games. In other words, aesthetics does not merely consider formal aspects, but rather formal aspects as expressed in the proximate matter that we call "the medium". A painter can't paint on moonlight, but needs a canvas (of some sort). A filmmaker without film (chemical or digital) is not a filmmaker.
    So at the heart of it is the computer, and its capabilities. But the problem here is not just material; it's formal. The Author assumes the essence of a computer game; that is he never defines his subject. As a result, he injects ideas and categorizations that are completely foreign to video games.
    When I was younger, and even more pretentious, I once declared that if cooking were an art, I'd have slipped motor oil into the compote. I'm glad there's someone following in my footsteps and suggesting a matisse-like (as opposed to 1920x1280 matrix-like) pointillist video game. "Computer game" is not a monolithic concept: games belong to specific types, and those types have their proper artwork. Puzzles (like tetris) do not need photorealistic artwork; in fact, a pure puzzle works best with an abstract and unambiguous semantic scheme that communicate the salient information immediately to the player (imagine how much fun tetris would be if the blocks were photorealistic bricks of nearly identical size). A narrative can play with representation (like the author's beloved comic books) and explore some of the more fantastic representational schemes. A simulation, however, needs to give the user the cognitive experience of the reality being simulated. That doesn't rule out art altogether; rather it establishes rules within which the art operates.
    Within these rules, "photorealism" is a dead end, or at least a misnomer. Few photographs convey the feeling of "being there". Extracting 2048x2048 textures from photographs, and slapping them on 100,000-poly models doesn't result in a realistic-looking model: any photographer will tell you the same object, photographed, will be entirely different from one part of the day to the next, and that the camera does not function identically to the eye. Making a "photograph" means putting something in focus, and directing the player's eye along.
    But the idea of "imagistic realism" itself, complete with complex graphics and lighting effects, is quite valid for games with a heavy simulation element. The largely narrative-driven ("sandbox") series Grand Theft Auto, when it shifted to a "first person" (or nearly) perspective with GTA3. went from an exploitational sidewalk-driving game to a blockbuster monument of game development with "Vice

  • by porttikivi ( 93246 ) * on Monday October 10, 2005 @09:37AM (#13756083)
    There is a chinese wisdom about arts: "If it looks real, it is not art." I think the "mimesis paradox" is also known in western art philosophy: that striving for realism is kind of futile, because absolute realism would be in no way more beautiful or fun than the reality already is.

    Of course, it might be better to differ from reality by the ways of the artists all-powerful mind, and not because of limitations of our tools. So photorealism here and some fantasy somewhere else makes sense. But if you insists on photorealism, realistic chracter AI, a working realistic environment and complete freedom of storyline, what is there left as the "art"?

I owe the public nothing. -- J.P. Morgan