One thing that makes a great game is a great atmosphere. It’s music envokes the emotions and the visuals create the gamer’s investment that keeps the game going. The visuals cannot exist without graphics (the game couldn’t exist without graphics), and with every generation they increase in definition and smooth out the edges from previous generations. Now I am gonna say that graphics are not the most important thing, a developer doesn’t need a very powerful engine to make great visuals and a great atmosphere. That has been proven many times over by past generations, but for the purpose of this article graphics are the main focus; I just wanna make it clear that it is not the most important thing. Basically there are two types of graphics, Real World Graphics and Non-Real World (or Cartoon) Graphics. I find that when facing these two types of graphics head on Non-Real World Graphics are the winner. When there’s a great atmosphere to a game I simply prefer if its Non-Real World.
Now to start with I have absolutely no problem with Real World Graphics. There are times when it is necessary and it creates a great atmosphere because of it. Some great examples are Metroid, the Batman Arkham series, Skyrim, The Legend of Zelda, etc. These games make it work with real world graphics. What do these games have in common that makes real world graphics work for them? It is the fact that these series are based on fictional universes. That is the absolute main reason why I put the Non-Real World Graphics over the Real-World, in Real-World Graphics there is simply no imagination being put in and no creativity within the game’s design and art direction. However, games like the examples listed above have plenty imagination within its fictional world. It is clear games like these have creativity in its atmosphere, and when creativity is in this game a whole universe pops up and makes gamers want to play these games for the imaginitive and fun game play and fascinating world.
Imagination and creativity (which doesn’t just describe graphics in a game, but every aspect of a game) whether gritty, lively or adventerous are what make a game’s universe and the games hook that keeps a gamer coming. With graphics just the sight of a game can attract you to it if it has the right atmosphere and person to give details about it. I remember when The Legend of Zelda: The WIndwaker came out, this was describing the beginning of a whole new branch in the Zelda timeline, and it was very appropriate to change the whole graphical design in order to show the new timeline branch and new world in the game (for those who don’t know Hyrule is not the setting of this game). One look at Toon Link people thought “What?! Thats not Link!,” but a look at the game play and closer look at its design people said “Thats Link allright!” To put it bluntly Real-World graphics (unless in a creative setting that people can enjoy [which is no easy task!]) is just boring and lazy design for your game. If you want to be a developer remember that if your gonna make things look realistic, make sure you have creativity and imagination within them, which again I wil say is not easy. If not the games alure can wear off very fast.
Here are two examples that’ll show you what I mean. In the development process of Okami, the game was meant to have a real world look. I still think it would’ve worked because of the games vast world, unique gameplay, and characters, but switching the game’s appearance to the Japanese painting design made the game’s atmosphere and flow so much more potent. The game’s look created the elements that assissted in the story telling aspect of this game. It just fit well with all that the game was, and I’m sure those who’ve played the game can agree with me on that. Now an opposite example is a lot of the more recent Sonic the Hedgehog titles. The prime example is Sonic ’06, lets take the rushed and glitchy game play out of the picture and just focus on the look. It was a Blue Hedgehog that runs past the speed of sound in the real world. Now before you say this was a fictional place, that is not true. This was also done in Sonic Unleashed where yes they were fictional places, but clearly these were just lazy and stereotypical remakes of existing places. This is one of the reasons these kinds of Sonic games didn’t work. Now I love Sonic, I am a big fan, but the new game direction ever since Shadow the Hedgehog just doesn’t work. What made the original games, the Adventure series (even though they push it in this series), Generations, and Colors work was they put Sonic where he should be, in an environment where he belongs. (On a sidenote I would put down the Sonic the Hedgehog 4 series on that list, but the problem wasn’t the look, it was the boring and repetitive level design).
If you don’t want your game to look a boring or uninspired use the non-real world graphics, it simply takes a lot to use real-world graphics and still have a creative and imaginative game (even if it did have great game play, if the game play was most likely done before the game will grow stale). The atmosphere and environment are an important part of a great series that can develop into a whole universe. Gamers will want to keep coming back to learn new things about this series, get to know the characters more, get a new look at what the game’s about, and reliving the experiences the past games gave you. Thank you for reading and I am very happy to be part of the Geek Life team. I hope you can check out my videos on video game analyses and more at my youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/NaismithBilly