Is The Drive For Realism Making Games Less Fun?

virtual-reality-8When I was a kid, realism is all anyone wanted out of video games. Virtual Reality was the buzzword of the times. If an enemy acted realistically, that was amazing. If a character’s portrait in a cut scene looked anything like the real thing, we were in awe. As graphics got better, the dream became closer to reality. Games like Flashback and Heart of Darkness wowed gamers with photorealistic graphics, crude by today’s standards, but jaw dropping back in the days when Kurt Cobain was still smashing guitars.

Even though graphics were getting more real, the gameplay was still crazy. Cloud and Sephiroth may look like real people in the cut scenes, but obviously no human could really wield that giant sword. This was a happy medium, but it never really set right with me. I preferred the awesome summons animations and the scenes with WEAPON and other unreal events. You know: stuff I have never seen.

This was crystallized for me when I saw the preview for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Being a huge FF fan, I was so pumped…until I saw the preview. Sorry, but I was not that impressed to see CGI people. Because I know what people freaking look like! I haven’t ever seen a dragon or a giant robot destroying a city, why not concentrate on that?

This leads me back to video games and today’s dilemma. Let’s look at Grand Theft Auto IV. I have loved every GTA game, even the PSP versions. But GTA IV, I only liked. And I think it has to do with its new found, reality-based perspective. I like the story of Niko Bellic and I think he is a fantastic character. But in attempting to tell a story and show Niko as a sympathetic hero, the gameplay aspect was severely diminished.

gta-iv-eNiko Bellic would never join a gang and engage in turf wars, right? So that feature from San Andreas was gone. Niko’s appearance can’t be changed like CJ’s, as they might affect the story. There are fewer weapons and no buildings to buy, so money just sits in your wallet. The tons and tons of side missions present in every other game in the series are nowhere to be found.

In order to make the game more realistic, the cars all react as they would in real life, which caused even veteran GTA players to suddenly drive like a 15 year old girl with a learner’s permit. and those awesome crashes you used to walk away from are gone. The police are much tougher, which is fine, but if I draw my gun by accident, I suddenly have a whole SWAT team on my ass. Liberty City is larger and more detailed than ever, but there isn’t anything to do except drive around and look at the sights.

All the things I have just listed are ways that Rockstar attempted to make GTA IV more realistic. But you know what? None of those things are FUN. I play games for fun. And GTA IV, for all its shine and glitter, is too realistic to be fun.

Now take Saints Row 2, instead. Nothing in that is realistic, but it is all FUN. I can’t stop playing the game, I can’t stop doing side missions and I like running around and causing havoc simply because it feels like a giant playground, while Liberty City felt like a prison. Realism is not always the way to go.

pop_wallLook at the Prince of Persia’s new graphical style: it is gorgeous! I don’t really care for the gameplay, but I could look at those graphics all day long. On the other hand, take a gander at Fallout 3’s beautifully rendered and highly realistic landscapes. Lovely and horrible to look at, all at the same time, with realistic features, like drug addiction, but all done in a way that does not hinder fun.

So you see, there is no one right answer to whether games should be more realistic or more fantastical. Developers should take it on a case by case basis to decide what style fits their game. But when the developer’s drive for realism gets in the way of a gamer having fun while playing your video game, that developer needs to go back and play Donkey Kong, Pac-Man or any GTA before IV and remember why we play games: because they’re fun.

What do you guys prefer? Realistic graphics or wild, crazy stuff you have never seen before? Reality based gameplay or no rules/no worries, just fun?

Written by

Age: 34 PSN ID: Starkiller81. I've played games since before I can remember, starting with my dad's Atari and I haven't stopped yet. Keep them coming and I will keep playing them.

13 thoughts on “Is The Drive For Realism Making Games Less Fun?”

  1. I think it depends on the game. I like it that games at least LOOK realistic. I want lots of realism in what I see. Like oblivion. But for games like GTA and Saints Row, I agree with you that making only somewhat realistic is much more fun. Common no one would survive bailing out of a chopper at 300 feet into water. But its so much fun! Things like Mirrors Edge are based on somewhat realistic physics and whatnot. The game is the decider.

    I look at FPS games like W@W and GRAW 2 and I see fun games that look good. I like that FPS games get more realistic in terms of graphics and whatnot. In COD 4 I was amazed to see debris floating around in the air. So cool

    For the future…things we haven’t seen. We need new things to see, different game types and gameplay.

  2. Personally I prefer games that put you in an outlandish, impossible setting and go from there, mostly because those are the kind of games that disregard reality the most. Making games feel real is all fine and good, but there’s nothing wrong with sacrificing reality to make the game more fun – just look at games like Fallout 3. Could a 10mm round from a pistol make a person’s head explode in real life? That’s not to say that there isn’t a market for realism, though, especially in RPGs. Just look at the number of mods for games like The Elder Scrolls that add things like hunger, thirst, etc. to make the game feel more like real life. So it all comes down to preference in the end.

  3. I think TF2 represents a pretty good structure for fun, solid gameplay while running around with insane cartoons. I never thought GTA4 looked too special to begin with and still didn’t see it after playing it or hearing of its world renowned praise. Games like Gears two is a good example of graphics + fun-ness + craziness. Or unless it’s a WWII game (COD and such) there’s no need to make Russian battle gorillas or nazi’s with medieval armor. And Fallout 3 too (should I kill this guy with a shotgun or fire 5 mini-nukes at him) lulz of entertainment right their folks!

  4. Crysis Is a great example of realism. Shadows, physics, texture, AI, everything. I think thats one of the reasons that game was so popular. But the only realism you want, to have fun in a game, is physics. I don’t care how crazy or how lame the game is, if it has great physics, it’s always awesome.

    So, I don’t think realism really makes difference in fun. Whats in the game makes changes.

  5. I definitely think it comes down to the game you’re trying to make. I agree that the focus on realism hurt a game like GTA IV, which felt more like a single player MMO than a proper GTA game. It was almost like playing Oblivion, only without the awesome magic.

    However, that being said, the realism in a game like Call of Duty 4 is what makes the game so visceral and impacting.

    I do miss a time, however, when games went more towards the fantastic, and tried to show you things you could never see. I’d like to go back to that kind of time.

  6. Yes. It’s all about the kind of experience your trying to give to the player. I also liked GTA 4, but didn’t love it. It wasn’t as killhappy as the others.

    I’m sure many people agree that the half life series was a great example of combining these two aspects of games. It threw you into a glossy, fine tuned source engine, and gave you a story about a gun crazed scientist who saved the world from a manipulating alien overlord race.

    I think halflife is a pretty cool guy. eh kills aliens and doesn’t afraid of anything.

  7. You see, true realism will never work, at least from my point of view. The point of realistic graphics and physics is not to make the game realistic by science standards. They are there for, so you could believe that the things happening in the game could happen in the real life. Check any of the Source games, as much as I have played, it all looks good enough for me to actually fell like it is/could happen/ing. Like in HL2:ep2, where the bridge collapsed. It’s all good stuff.

    I haven’t played GTA:IV, but I usually hated GTA’s for their sense on analogy. I hate the 3rd person camera in a shooter, I didn’t “feel” the game, I actually felt like I am just pressing buttons to make the guy do stuff. But video games need to make me feel like I am doing the stuff I see on the screen, not seeing somebody else doing it.

  8. I hate to double post, but because of my lack of my English skills, I didn’t quite write the right word when I wrote about gta, the “analogy” is to be understood as virtuality, like a barrier between me and my character in the game.

  9. Wasn’t that from Zero Punctuation, Nick?

    Anyway, I honestly would HATE if video games evolved into virtual reality rooms or what have you. I’d rather READ BOOKS than trade in my controller for some gloves and a visor. Sure, it’s nice, but then video games would become…too powerful. It’s too much power for one thing. It’s…it’s not right.

  10. I like a point in the middle. I can’t stand to see JRPG’s that have characters with the spiky hair wielding two ton swords. Now if something is just a little unrealistic because doing so would allow more fun, then I’m fine with that.

  11. Cossack, that’s actually a theory called the uncanny valley. There’s a very funny scene in 30 Rock about it, too.

    Basically, it states that the more realistic something gets, to a point, the creepier it gets. I agree with this, and that’s why I love all things fantastical.

  12. Final Fantasy without the Fantasy would be lame, GTA without the realism ( interms of physics, human beings, etc ) would also be lame..

    The only thing I didnt like about GTA IV was that you could kill 40 people with hit and runs and so easily escape from the police, and yet during the missions, there were so many situations of “WE have to kill him.. But we cant just kill a man!” and Niko would make a big deal about it…

    When the Story is in conflict with the environment, it fails to develop in our hearts!!

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