Wednesday, August 19, 2009

EXP Podcast #39: Gritty Realities

When it comes to videogame art design, is reality over-rated? In an industry constantly creating and mastering new technologies, game creators have always wanted to show off. For many developers, showing off means aiming for the bountiful land beyond the uncanny valley. For Sean "Elysium" Sands of Gamers With Jobs, the "Gritty Realism" aesthetic has lost its appeal. This week, inspired by Sean's article "Breaking the Mirror", we discuss realistic sweat, humble art design, aging graphics, and the phantom of realism. You can find the article in the show notes and, as always, we love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Some discussion starters:

- Do games that show off their visual realism appeal to a wider audience?
- What is the most excellent looking game you have ever played? Did it fit with the gameplay and narrative?
- Which games age best visually?

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Show notes:

- Run time: 25 min 19 sec
- "Breaking the Mirror" by Sean Sands, via Gamers With Jobs
- Music by Brad Sucks


  1. Another good podcast guys. I find it interesting the parallel that arises between the point made about developers feeling the need to take advantage of and push the latest technology to have a "successful" game on any given platform and part of your previous podcast that pointed out the need for developers to use the Wii motion controls just because they are available. It seems that the industry as commercial entity requires obvious examples of improvement in quality of product which are separate from improvements in the medium.

    To answer the question about the most excellent game visually I would like to pick a lesser known gem that has recently been rereleased on Steam, Sacrifice. This game was holding all the cards in my book. It had a very impressive graphics engine for its day which was backed up with a truly unique art design. What made this work perfectly is that it fitted with the outlandish narrative and experimental approach to gameplay. The game is not without its gameplay issues but coming back to it now on Steam I have found that the both the art style and gameplay remain fresh and enjoyable despite the obvious aging of the engine. I think that this ability to age well is linked to the unique qualities of the game. I have not played a game since Sacrifice that I would consider similar on the grounds mentioned and thus it cannot be considered old/aged is comparison to anything.

    To put it more broadly I feel that the capacity of a game to resist aging is dependent on what follows it. Call of Duty 2 feels aged because we have had the same style of game updated that we can compare to it, and the same can be said for a plethora of other games. In 20-30 years we might be able to recognize broad trends and cycles in gaming art design, nothing that 'gritty realism' was just a phase that made certain games forgettable in amongst a larger movement.

    I would also be interested to hear you thoughts on Borderlands, a game I feel has seen a benefit in rethinking its visual design. I feel that people are anticipating this title much more as a result of the new direction they have taken, even when it has occurred independent of any game design decisions, to my knowledge.

  2. @ Gerard

    I think we are in agreement with the aging of videogames. It's ability to resist aging depends on what comes after it. But then I'm uncertain about the role of spiritual successors if not direct sequels. Does the newest Prince of Persia make the Sands of Time harder to swallow visually? I don't think so.

    As for for Borderlands, I know my interest was piqued because of the visual change. I think we also expect a tonal, or even gameplay, adaption to accompany visual changes. Therefor, if it looks new and spiffy, it must play new and spiffy.