Friday, 23 May 2014

Graphics are abundant.

Graphics. Graphics graphics graphics. Graphics graphics graphics, graphics graphics. Graphics.

This is a rant about graphics. This is a rant about the gaming community. I am not gonna tell you that graphics don't matter or graphics don't matter that much as gameplay does. You've heard that already and some people surprisingly don't like it! But I want to review a bit the craziness about graphics, how insane it became since the last gen (PS3, Xbox360 era) and rant about how it affects the game industry.

You would argue: "But hey dude, wasn't it always like this? Didn't we have the same discussion since the 8bit era? Wasn't this always what some gamers craved for?". Yes. Although in the past things where more pure, graphics never reached the kind of realism that is a game changer in the industry. Graphics have become so amazingly good that people are blinded by them more than ever. Unless because there are a lot more gamers and game forums and everyone is whining about this, then it's easy to see the absurd.

I was curious about the new Wolfenstein game (which I preorder just for the Doom 4 beta btw :). And so I was looking at various gameplay videos and at one point I dreadfully decided to read the youtube comments and see what people think about the game itself. Did they liked it? Was it too short or too linear or too much of the same typical FPS? And in my surprise, a lot of the comments where like "Why aren't the graphics next gen? Why are they so bad? Bad graphics = bad game!". I was like "What the hell are you talking about? Did you like the game? Would you suggest someone to buy it?" and the replies where graphics, graphics, graphics, graphics. Whole paragraphs whining about how bad the graphics are (which they weren't, they were not something extraordinary not seen before (aka nextgen), but where really really good (more than enough, abundant) and did the job) and concluding that the game is bad, without a single mention on gameplay (or even sound, story). Maybe those graphics whores always existed, we just didn't have youtube then. But it just strikes me. People are getting crazy about not being 1080p (I guess they bought the PS4 or Xbox One just for the graphics) and at the same time making fun of the WiiU with it's "cartoonish" graphics. It's all that matters to them.

But you know, I was thinking, how does this affect the gaming industry? More development time spent on perfecting the graphics and less on gameplay. You will argue that it was always like this and I wouldn't disagree. But things have evolved and now in order to aim for the state of the art you need more effort and resources. I was reading a discussion that maybe games focusing on multiplayer are killing the single player experience because devs are focusing more on the MP part. And you have "campaigns" (as they call them now) that are 4-8 hours of gameplay. But I think the reason is the huge amount of work a team needs to do to make a level map. Think how much easier it was for a game modder to make a Doom map (even better a wolfenstein 3d map) and how much more time and effort a level for a modern engine needs (unless you want to do something blant that looks like PS1). Hell, some of the games are even like hollywood movies! Notice some trends that got popular since the PS3/Xbox360 era. Quicktime events. Games that are basically interactive movies, beautiful graphics yes, but you just have to press X, O, square or triangle to proceed. Heavy Rain, Two souls and such. Some games have partially short action gameplay and at frequent intervals quicktime events. I fucking hate that! But it's perfect for graphics whores and people who bought one of these two consoles just to stare at the graphics. That's why we don't get a really good, challenging or lengthy single player experience (besides few exceptions) but most gamers are sattisfied by half-ashed interactive movies with glorified graphics. I don't see many people crying about this, and maybe that's what sells.

But at the same time I realize. Graphics are abundant. This is an important realization. Just right now, chose a random game of five years ago. Serach for the best games of some year in the past. 2008? 2005? I don't care. Some of you might think that the graphics are outdated but I digress. They are more than enough. Graphics have progressed so much that if you go back two generations they are still really lovely to stare at and do their job more than good! Yes, you might not see nextgen, they might be outdated by today's standards, but they are not dated. Maybe the first few generations of 3D graphics where too crude to look at (but I will still appreciate and play some) and you can see that now if you go back, wondering how you were playing with such low detail (especially evident in N64 with the really lowres textures and filtering was making them more blurry and hard to see at distance). But I can stare in a later generation few years ago and marvel. And that is beautiful and nice, how much we have progressed. So much that maybe few gamedevs will decide to focus more on the gameplay content since the engines we have now are really doing a good work. But will they follow this road? The problem with game whores is that they want to see more and more of the progress. They bought PS4 not to see what we already can see on PC, but something new never seen before. But graphics are there at the edge and sometimes they are so loaded, like you have games with tons of DOF, glow, bloom, HDR, smokes, particles, shadows, whatever that you can't see anymore what's on the screen. All this drowning of the visuals in graphics seem like more and more heavy high tech shit to bat shit crazy graphics hogs.

And I am not even sure if most of them know what lies behind these engines. Most of them have learned to stare at visuals and argue whether they are better or not by single glances and intuition. They don't know the underlying algorithms and tech behind what they see (and since modern engines are drowned in too much features, even I can't tell you if one engine is richer than another) and so they haven't learned to appreciate and understand how amazing current engines are. They crave for more and more and appreciate less and less.

Hell, the funniest thing is that I am a graphics programmer and yet I don't get crazy about that stuff and I may even enjoy old games with "horrible" graphics. How is it possible? I should be the one becoming nuts about graphics! Yet I don't. Another joke, I recently met with four programmer friends and I realized again that most of us carry an outdated mobile phone (some of them are not even smartphones) and it seems counter-intuitive to the common person. How are you such a great geek and yet don't crave for the last gen? I see mostly non-programmer friends of mine speaking about the latest fad in mobile phones, while I get bored of the discussions or can't relate. See facebook. Someone would wonder how am I not really into facebook, since I would be the first person (as a geek) they would expect to be into it. Most of my geek friends despise facebook. Why do we differ? Fed up that these things that once where our world became so mainstream? Are we just hipsters that want to be different again? Or do we appreciate even the old technologies because we have a better idea of the internals? I am not sure. If you asked me, I wouldn't deny that I sometimes feel like a hipster, because everyone gloats about his mobile phones, but only me can program some good stuff for it (something that seems magic to most). But I also don't feel the need to really hook to the latest next gen fad for whatever reason. I will not feel like a lamer if I play some retro game on Amstrad CPC with "horrible" graphics, since I have an idea about the hardware and restrictions of the machine and thus I can enjoy playing it, being amazed on how they succeeded some of the stuff, even looking at it historically. A waste of time for some. As if they count good times with whether they were the first to play the most next gen possible, looking at the future, gloating at their star trek device (mobiles) and feeling modern.

I won't hide it. I feel like a hipster sometimes. I feel like they invaded my world. I stare at the mainstream and despise it. I think I am better because I code. At least I know my shit. I can appreciate the technology. I was there! And sometimes I cringe at their reactions. "Games are not mostly about graphics? How can you say that! Graphics is the first thing about games, it always was..". I laugh at their general direction.

p.s. Most of all I laugh at the new generation of consoles. PS4 and Xbox One, they are basically PCs if you check the specs, both AMD and at par with my current PC. And check most of the titles of this or the last generation. Titles ported from PC. I wasn't interested in PS3 or Xbox 360 at the time (except for some exclusives that never came to PC, maybe good reason to get a cheap ass used PS3 just to play these) because they were basically what the PC had to offer. It seems the same today. At least the Wii-U offers a unique hardware, a controller that many hated but may give a unique experience to some games using it well and the usual Nintendo exclusives I can't find on PC (Can't say it's original, yet another mario, yet another mario kart, Zelda, etc) so it's a lot of incentive for me to buy (when it drops, lol). Hell, the older generations of consoles where more interesting (even if I was never a serious console gamer, besides handhelds). I am collecting them for fun now. Each of them have a unique hardware, some had just a quad rasterizer (Saturn, 3DO), others more complete 3d hardware (PS1, N64), Jaguar had it's obscure programmable chips, even PS2 or Dreamcast had unique architecture, not a generic PC put in a box as of today. And much more of the games were exclusives. Each hardware was unique in the past (also home micros), something that is missing today. Console gamers are ranting about graphics, so I ironically become a hipster and tell them why don't they just get a PC?

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