How much do graphics matter?

Is it just me?

Since the dawn of electronic gaming, I’ve been on a quest for better graphics in my games. I don’t think I’ve been alone in this quest. Games have continually improved, graphically speaking, from 4-bit color to 8-bit color and on up to whatever bits we have now. More than enough, I’d say. Marketing hype for new consoles is based on graphics quality while on the PC, new video cards are coming out all the time offering better resolution, higher frame-rates and more realistic imagery.

But suddenly, I don’t seem to care as much. Yes, I still take some pleasure in seeing a graphically impressive game, but I no longer buy a game just because it looks amazing. I thought about this when I realized I’d been playing Sonny for about an hour this morning, totally sucked in. Here’s a flash game with simple 2D graphics that I’m finding compelling. (Thanks to Tesh for bringing it to my attention, btw.) Last night I spent a good deal of time playing Mount & Blade, another game with graphics that are “fine” but certainly not stunning. And perhaps most significant, I recently was trying Star Wars Galaxies out again (free period for ex-players). I remember the last time I tried going back to it, I couldn’t get past the graphics since the game had “aged” since its initial launch. But this time, the mediocre graphics just didn’t factor in to whether or not I was enjoying the game.

Now normally I’d just assume this was totally a personal thing. Our values change a lot as we march through life from cradle to grave, after all, and I’ve been doing this gaming thing for closing in on 30 years now.

But what about this rebirth of “Indie Gaming” that we’re seeing?  Most of these smaller games don’t have cutting edge graphics. Remember, I’m not talking about style here. I’m talking in terms of technically advanced graphics. And what about the Nintendo DS? That system still sells like crazy and the graphics it can push are mediocre at best. People don’t care. I could arguably throw the Wii in here too, but I think it sells on the strength of its “fad” quotient in a lot of cases. People who don’t buy games run out and buy a Wii, play it for two weeks and put it in a closet… but that’s another post altogether.

So *is* it just me, or have we, as “Gamers” (is that even a relevant tag anymore?) broken through some graphics barrier where, sure, cool graphics are nice, but what *really* matters is cool gameplay?

11 thoughts on “How much do graphics matter?

  1. Nice graphics attract me. Crappy performance as my average, couple-years-old machine struggles to keep up turns me off, and I’ll stop playing.

    Making great graphics is really good for impressing those venture capital guys. Making “nice-enough” graphics that work on almost any system for 4+ years… is how you get 12 million subs.

  2. I dont really care either to be honest. My MMO is WoW, which looks good in the special effects dept but cartoony (yes I know thats the art style) but in wargames and RTS’s I want GAMEPLAY.

    I still play The Operational Art of War by Norm Koeger because it is one of the best wargames ever made, and it is not pretty to look at.

  3. Well, maybe we are getting older and wiser… 😉

    I am 32 years by now, and I can remember that I overclocked my graphics card, my CPU and cranked up every game to maximum detail and if I did not get 25 fps, I was totally down. Note that 25 fps can still cause choppy gameplay, but I was probably obsessed with hardware and pushing it to the max. The only thing that I never loved from the very beginning were brownish textures like in Quake 1,2,3. Probably the main reason why I loved Far Cry and Duke Nukem. 😉

    I also still love to play Panzer General for Windows – the graphics are still acceptable. 2D games with style and proper art direction age with more grace than 3D games. And yes, I am all with Hudson. Medieval 1 has much deeper strategic and tactical layers than the newer Medieval 2, which plays much more like an arcade game with some strategy.

    I do not upgrade my system as often as I was younger and dad paid the bills… I still feel guilty…^^ 🙂

    Maybe we have reached a level of detail were graphics are so good that they are in general always acceptable to us. Basically the point, were fluent animation, sounds and the gameplay itself gain more value than technical aspects of graphics. Art direction and style win over high pixel count in our times!

  4. I work in the game industry, and my training is in high level graphics. I love well done Pixar movies.

    That said, game play rules all in my little world. Graphics and gameplay intersect, but pretty visuals can’t save poor game design.

  5. Oh, and I love good 2D/isometric tactical games. One of my perpetual game designs that I’d love to produce is a hex based isometric tactical game. Agian, gameplay trumps shiny visuals any day.

    Sonny is very cool. Simple, but fun. 😀 Glad you’re enjoying it!

  6. I wish there was more attention paid to AI in games. Years ago there was talk about “AI” cards that would take a lot of the AI process off the main cpu ala what fancy video cards do. Nothing ever became of this and AI in games really has not progressed much over the years IMO.

  7. Yeah, and I fear now that multiplayer gaming seems to be the main focus of the gaming world, there’s no incentive to advance the AI. And as we know, it isn’t an easy problem.

    It warms my heart to know there are still wargamers out there!!!

  8. The great thing about games today is that we are seeing more and more that have great graphics and excellent game play. Bioshock, Assassins Creed and Fallout 3 would be my examples for that.

    The question of graphics vs gameplay is really dependent on generation and genre. Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale and the Diablo series have great gameplay, but by today’s standards have really bad graphics.

    Speaking of wargames, I love Hearts of Iron 2 and TOAW III, neither of them are pleasant on the eyes but they’re fun to play!

    Sorry if this sounded nit-picky.

  9. Actually, I think you’re responding to industry development. Graphics in the beginning sucked. Primitive graphics are fine for some games, but detrimental for others. The higher the industry bar is raised, the more sorts of games that can succeed with standard or slightly-substandard graphics and the fewer games that require top-of-the-line graphics. At this point, the bar has been raised high enough that most game concepts are viable at the standard graphical level.

  10. @Mikejl — If you pick up Kings Bounty, I’d love to hear what you think about it. Not sure if I have you in my RSS reader…I’ll add you now.

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