Who Needs Graphics?

Every new game that gets released seems to come with a new graphics engine, and is flashier, faster, and prettier than the last… but do games need all the fabulous graphics and all those buttery-smooth framerates? Is it necessary for the whole game to look like they’ve transplanted the entire thing from real life? Is it really that important to watch your enchanted pixie swordswoman disembowel an orc in glorious 1080p? I’ve recently come to the realisation that, for me, personally, it isn’t, and they don’t.

It was a game that brought this fact to my attention. When I saw Beyond Good and Evil on the Xbox Live marketplace, nostalgia immediately took hold. It was at a price that I couldn’t resist, and over the next few days I found myself heavily engrossed in a deep, intricate, fantastical sci-fi fantasy world. It was filled with interesting characters and a fascinating storyline. I fell in love with Hillys, with Jade and Pey’j; I felt their sadness, I shared their joy. Sure, I raged at the awkward camera, and flinched occasionally at the voice acting, but not once did I think: “I wish this game had better graphics.”

Personally, I would prefer my game was fun to play than a joy to look at, rather than the opposite. A great example of one which is great to look at but not a joy to play is, in my opinion, Final Fantasy XIII. Now, call me crazy, but I’ve always been an advocate of playing a game rather than watching it. Final Fantasy XIII is, to me, more a film than a game – wonderful to watch, but not particularly interactive which, again, to me, is not enjoyable. The Last Remnant is another beautiful game that is not exactly very entertaining. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time exploring the world, because it’s interesting and a bit different, but I got bored. The battles were all the same, the cutscenes were endless and, after a while, the world just couldn’t tide me over any more.

The thing is, it’s not like games aren’t successful if they have less-than-fantastic graphics. After all, Minecraft is little more than exaggerated pixels – it’s almost harsh to call them graphics – and yet there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of players obsessively building fantastical creations. In fact, it was so successful that it spawned a wave of imitators and even a console port for the Xbox 360. Millions love the game, regardless of the lousy graphics, because it’s fun to play, and I know people who have spent hundreds of hours in Minecraft and have enjoyed every minute of it.

There are a few games that I have spent hundreds of hours playing, all of which are various incarnations of Pokemon. I am an unashamed hardcore fan of Pokemon, and since I first started up Red Version on my GameBoy Pocket I’ve been hooked, pumping endless hours into each and every game, playing through all of them multiple times. The Pokemon series is one of the most successful game series of all time; it’s sold millions of games but, even now, as one of the most successful franchises in the world, the graphics still aren’t all that great.

I’ve no doubt that GameFreak could put together a game that has the graphical quality of Monster Hunter Tri, and I’d love to see that game… so long as it doesn’t play like Battle Revolution, because that game was awful. Although it was great to see Pokemon rendered in decent graphics, there was no story; it was repetitive and it wasn’t fun to play. I’d much rather play Pokemon White, with less-than-amazing graphics but a great story to enjoy.

As game developers flog their software programmers to produce higher framerates and even prettier worlds, as they beg console developers to give them more power, I find myself somewhat ambivalent. Don’t get me wrong, I love the gorgeous worlds that developers have created, and was lucky enough to play Skyrim on an HD projector, which was a fantastic experience, but I got bored of Skyrim. It never held my attention in the way that Beyond Good and Evil did, and after I played it on and off for a week or two I found myself almost falling asleep as I walked around the beautiful environment that Bethesda had built.

So, by all means, build those beautiful worlds; create these awe-inspiring universes, but make them enjoyable to play in. Please.

Last five articles by Keegan


One Comment

  1. Simonjk says:

    I couldn’t agree more, I’ve seen it all from the birth of the LED handheld games though the Vic 20 and the start of home computing, via the brith of modern console gaming with the PS 1 all the way to today with the afore mentioned Skyrim. most of todays developers are in the mind frame that eye candy sells and lets face it most of the time if the graphics don’t match up, there will be scores of people on the internet complaining about it, among other things. As a result they tend to try to max out whta they think is the hardware capabilities at the cost of the gameplay and game length. But at the end of the day nothing ruins a game more than during the larger battle heavy action….. than …. the…. game…. starting …. to …lag! Unfortuately the seven year old Xbox and six year old PS3 is no long a hardware match for an upto date PC and the console user doesn’t have the option to turn the graphics down a little to compensate, which is an option I would actually use.

    My other problem is, due to the increase of wowability with more recent games I have a problem with the lack luster look of some of the older games lovingly held onto from Xbox and just cannot bare playing them – stuff like San Andreas, Morrowind and Fable; Lost Chapters.

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