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Your favorite game looks like shit

posted on May 10th, 2007 by jay

Something’s been on my mind recently and I can’t make sense of it. Not “why are we here?” or “what’s after this life?” Those are easy questions to answer. I’m talking about something deeper, something video game related.

I consider myself a hardcore gamer based on the amount of gray matter I’ve dedicated to storing information on video games (F, D, F, HP — YOUR HEAD IS MINE!) and for the fact they occupy my thoughts whenever possible. I’ve played hundreds of games on a dozen or so consoles, and here’s the important part, besides the joy of bragging — my favorite titles are spread throughout time and hardware.

I have favorites on the C64 (Archon 2), NES (Contra), Master System (Phantasy Star), Genesis (Shining Force), SNES (Secret of Mana), PS1 (Twisted Metal 2), N64 (Golden Eye), Saturn (Panzer Dragoon), Dreamcast (Bangai-O), PS2 (Guitar Hero), Xbox (Chronicles of Riddick), Gamecube (Eternal Darkness) and PC (Baldur’s Gate 2). As a hardcore gamer I’ve witnessed a revolution in graphics and sound but played enough titles to understand that my favorite games aren’t awesome because they’re pretty.

Which brings me to why I’m so confused: Who are these hardcore gamers who the PS3 is built for, and for whom countless articles on the Wii’s lack of power are written for?

Are they new gamers who have dived directly into their obsession — people who have no scope or view of the industry? Amongst game snobs (me), nouveau gamers are mocked as the “PlayStation generation”. We expect them to be graphic whores who have little concept of what actually makes a game good.

Or are they people like me and you who are incapable of reconciling the fact that most of their favorite games now look like shit with their endless hunger for faster processors and more RAM? In our desire for new classics, it’s sometimes easy to get swept away in console pissing matches. Against all logic, so many of us still cling to that old belief that if only this game just looked better, it would BE better.

So many people seem to agree with me, I know I can’t be merely an oddity. From the guy wearing a “Don’t forget your roots” shirt, the forum posters still arguing over if Final Fantasy VI or VII is the pinnacle of the RPG genre, to the Pac Man and Space Invaders competition, there is a legion of hardcore gamers who understand which elements make a game good and which are ephemeral.

I anxiously await the day our chosen medium matures to the point where technology barely matters. Just how movie goers hardly care if what they’re watching was filmed digitally, one day gamers will be beyond arguing over bits. Gears of War is awesome and probably will be a classic one day, but right now I’m going to go play Culdcept because it’s as fun as hell. Assuming hell is as cool as people make it out to be.

Oh, and ten years from now, Gears of War will still be awesome, even if new games make it look like crap. And the hardcore gamers who cherish graphics above all else will still love the game, and still not see the absurdity of their ways.

7 Comments

  1. christian said on May 10, 2007:

    So it seems your thesis is that a lot of “graphics whores” might actually be good knowledgeable gamers that can’t accept that the kids don’t like their favorite classics, so they approach modern graphics with fervor in order to keep up with the crowd and to maintain some sort of elite position in the community. Or something like that? I know I’ve often been frustrated when people I talk to believe some moron gamer’s rumor mill stories when my own facts are straight from Gamespot, Cnet or even CNN Money. I still remember being told I was wrong about Sega going 3rd party, when in fact they were bought out by Sony…. yeah. Anyway, to combat this I’ve often had to react differently than normal in public gaming conversations, though on the ‘net I’ve always stayed pure, as there is no reason not to.

  2. jay said on May 10, 2007:

    Graphics whores may be knowledgeable gamers, yes. I don’t think they want good graphics to keep up with the crown necessarily. It’s more like they are unable to realize that the fact that old games they love look bad today implies graphics aren’t ultimately that important.

  3. jarrad said on May 10, 2007:

    christian, I’ve heard some really dumb things in conversations as well. After a momentary blank stare, I just say, “Oh really.” I don’t always have the time and energy to correct someone.

    With many new games, you’ll come for the graphics and stay for the gameplay. And jay is right. It’s easy to forget that. It seems that many games that opt for a stylized look are able to retain more of their graphical appeal, but only to those who were attracted to the style in the first place.

  4. christian said on May 10, 2007:

    Jarrad makes a good point; when stuck in that kind of conversation its best to just drop it and move on. You’ll never win, and you’ll never actually change their minds. As for graphics, one thing I’ve personally had issues with is going back to some of my old favorites and thinking to myself “This is still fun to play, but with a couple of graphical touch ups or a framerate boost it’d be even better” There isn’t anything to do about it, nor does it stop me from playing a game, but I’ve certainly had times when I felt a bit of a facelift could help. Ultimately, it seems this issue is the least problematic in those games that have a good style to them. There’s something to be said about craft and attention, because it makes it so that I can still look at Castlevania 1 to this very day and not cringe.

  5. jay said on May 10, 2007:

    I agree that good art design makes it easier to look at old games. Perhaps it’s a tinge of hypocrisy, but art direction is moderately important to me. I don’t mind playing fun games that look generic, but a game that is visually creative can withstand time much better than a game that isn’t. It is the photorealistic games of today and yesterday that will look terrible and already do look terrible. The irony is that millions of games are being sold based on having real looking graphics and the newest systems usually show off how amazingly awesome they are by rendering real looking things.

    Painters already tried that. They got bored and moved on, and I suggest game designers and game players do the same.

  6. jarrad said on May 10, 2007:

    Some great games have become damn near unplayable. Ex. Goldeneye 007.

  7. Stefan said on May 11, 2007:

    One important concept with regard to graphics is the idea of aesthetic completion. Essentially, graphics look good to us when they achieve the concept that the artist was going for – or at least come the closet to achieving the concept that we’ve seen to date. In stylized games, the concept is often chosen in such a way that graphics of the day can achieve it competely. Pac-man, for instance, is pretty much impossible to improve graphically. Photorealistic games, however, rely on being the closet to completion that we’ve yet seen, which unfortunately only seems complete until next month when we see a new game that’s even closer.

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