Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Graphic Worries

News has been spreading across the blogosphere that every one's favorite 800 lb. gorilla will be eventually updating its graphics engine. That's not to say there will be giant graphics update though I'm sure some fans would love it. Instead it looks like Blizzard will be rolling out the improvements slowly over multiple expansions. I'm not sure if this is what most hardcore fans want, but I know it should help keep the older computers that can run WoW from suddenly crashing. I've never really been able to decide if people like the exaggerated graphics of World of Warcraft or if they just like the fact it can run on a 7 year old computer? I'm personally a fan of the huge shoulder armor and stylistic use of color in the game. Lord of the Rings and Vanguard both seemed to have a unhealthy obsession with gray and brown by comparison.

Leaving the issue of color usage behind its obvious that World of Warcraft is starting to look a bit dated especially compared to games like Age of Conan. Yet if WoW is already scheduling a graphics overall, what does this mean for Warhammer? I only have my experience from the preview weekend, but I wasn't that impressed with the character models. I did mostly play as the Greenskins so that might be the reason. I've also been told that the preview weekend might not have had high detail textures turned on which would make a difference. Still I wonder if Warhammer is going to have problems pulling in new gamers a couple years from now because it looks ancient. I mean I still pull out my copy of Master of Orion every once and awhile, but I know a lot of newer gamers are turned off by older looking graphics.

I think what we really need is a game to come out with very stylistic models and landscapes, but done with a high attention to detail and animation. I know that gameplay mechanics are the number one quality you should look for in a game. Still I don't think its impossible that a good MMO might come out with top of the line graphics. I mean if Age of Conan had simply waited a few more months and debugged its dungeons and PvP systems it could have been that game. If Warhammer is as successful as I think it will be initially then it should reinforce the notion that stylistic and exaggerated graphics are the way to go. As more developers try to emulate the market leaders someone is going to make a game that uses the same style of graphics but with much more impressive water, shading, and textures. That game will make a lot of money.



Shalkis said...

I agree that it's less about the technology and more about having a consistent, appropriate art style. Dark and gritty may be in fashion, but it doesn't fit every game.

But having a new graphics engine doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as striving toward photorealism. For example, cel-shaded games required relatively new graphics cards back in the day. The programmable shaders helped a lot, and can be used to implement many unique effects. For example, Okami's shadows act with a slight delay to movement, imitating wet paint. Implementing that effect before might have required a nontrivial amount of extra processing power.

Personally, I like both. I like the eye-candy-filled and detailed-to-the-brim Unreal Tournament 3, and I adore the unique woodblock-painting style of Okami. Even the "sacriledge" of Wind Waker eventually grew on me, and I began to appreciate the art.

Green Armadillo said...

I could be proved wrong in the next month, but I think graphics aren't as big deal a deal as the blogosphere would have you believe. If the underlying game doesn't have content and/or staying power, it doesn't matter how good the graphics are. If the engine slows to a crawl every time there are 20 players on the screen, it doesn't matter how good the graphics are.

Now sure, before people have actually played the game, the canned screenshots are all you have to go on. But once the game is live and actually being played? I say it's the game that matters.

Adam Leszczewicz said...

I'm glad they aren't doing a huge graphics overhaul. I personally don't mind the graphics whatsoever and would rather they focus on content... but that may be me just being cheap and not wanting to buy a new computer. haha. I play on a laptop, so I don't have the best fps now, so I'm glad they are doing it slowly so I can save up money. Oh being a poor college student... haha.

Relmstein said...

There are a decent amount of players who have older computers and appreciate graphics that look good and don't required a 300$ video card.

On the other hand as the average age of MMO players increases there's going to be a larger number of players who can afford high-end machines. I found myself enjoying the way Age of Conan looked even though I prefer style to realism in my graphics.

Tesh said...

As an artist in the game industry, I love making high end graphics. I trained for Pixar quality, in straight visuals and animation quality. As a game player, I love the WoW graphics.

I love how stylistic things are. I love the use of color. I love that the world has a distinct feel, and that each race has a visual personality. I really, really love that it works on any of my machines, even with my relatively spotty internet connection.

The way to my heart as a gamer is through my wallet, and through good game mechanics. Game mechanics are independent of visuals. Inasmuch as high-end visuals require lots of money to develop, and lots of money to play with (graphics cards, etc.), I will never support the bleeding edge of graphics.

It's just not worth it.