Graphics Matter

Two days ago I decided to play some GTA: San Andreas to get in the mood for GTA 4’s release.  I was really looking forward to enjoying some relaxing sandbox gaming when I was met with a very shocking realization… San Andreas graphics are awful!  Maybe it was because the game is being played through a PS3, since our PS2 hasn’t been used in over a year, or maybe it was because the game was being blown up onto a big plasma tv; whatever it was it was bad.  So bad in fact that I had to stop playing about ten minutes in.  Graev shook his head in disgust and declared “Doug, you are a graphics whore”.  Am I?  Well, I guess I could be… I’ve always known that I can’t stand bad graphics… maybe I am a graphics whore — sorta.  Let me explain.

Note: This is not about what graphics style you or I prefer.  It’s about graphics in general.

The line between “bad graphics” and “good graphics” isn’t cut and dry/black and white for me.  It’s a very gray area.  Different types of games age differently, at least in my mind.  Donkey Kong Country for example was made back in 1994 yet the game looks fine!  San Andreas was made in 2004, a decade later, but looks HORRIBLE only four years later.  Graev helped walk me through the “3d graphics do not age well” and I’ve decided that must be partially it.  I can play the original Mario on the NES and think nothing of it.  If I try to sit down and play EQ, GTASA, or other older 3d games — I can’t do it.

[singlepic=22,320,240,,left]Certain graphics age better.  I think World of Warcraft’s art style is almost timeless.  It will age beautifully over the next ten years.  Similarly, if you look at Counter Strike vs. Team Fortress 2, it’s clear that TF2 will age way better than CS.  Maybe it’s the “realism” that kills the graphics after a certain point.  Games that try to mimick reality but just can’t do it will always fall short once someone else manages to do it ‘better’.  That could be why games like The Realm (one of the first mmorpgs), after 13+ years, looks great.  Games like Vanguard, EQ2, and even Conan will age horribly over the next few years as more technologies lead to more “realistic” looking games and it’s sad, but true, that they lose their charm.

While I’m on the topic, part of the reason why it was such a shock to see the San Andreas graphics so horrible looking was because in my mind I envisioned perfection… yet how could I have?  I saw the game back in 2004.  The same thing is true about the original Everquest.  In my mind I’m seeing it play out in perfect Anti-aliasing with shadows and shaders and all that great stuff.  But when I look at it … it’s flat and dull and so bland that I have to forget what it truly looks like and hold on to that perfect image in my mind.  It’s this way for almost all games.  I remember the graphics being way better than they were.  Graev made this point abundantly clear to me when he told me to go look at the original Super Smash Bros graphics on the N64… it was a shocker.

Graphics matter to me a lot and if that makes me a graphics whore then I guess I am.  No amount of gameplay can recover from the devastating impact poor graphics have on immersion and feel.  But I do recognize that there are people out there like Graev, who can play the original Metal Gear Solid game where the graphics are jittery and the people look like they are made of squares and triangles, and think nothing of it.   I’m definitely not one of them.

  • Yeah, I went to try EQ1 to see what all the fuss was about but I just couldnt do it. I didnt care if it was the second coming I wasnt playing anything with graphics that shite.

  • Visual interpretation is all relative.

    If you have nothing to compare it to, how can it look bad? Just look at Super Mario 1, 2, 3, 64, and Galaxy. At the time you played each of those, you were thinking “Wow, these graphics have revolutionized Mario and I couldn’t picture it being much better!”

    But then the next version comes along and usually puts the previous generation to shame because it just doesn’t compare well.

  • I hear ya Keen, I can play really old games for nostalgia’s sake but theres only a couple like Stronghold and the gold box d&d ones that I can play for very long 🙂 Even the original mario bros. (man that game was hard)

  • …and yet (so my CS-addicted friends tell me) most people have stayed with CS 1.6, and not moved to CS:Source (the sexy updated graphics engine).

    Sometimes gameplay and functionality are remarkably resilient to the New Pretty.