GamerSushi Asks: Photorealistic Graphics?

LimboOver the weekend, I’ve been dabbling a bit in a couple of newly release titles. One is, obviously, StarCraft 2, but the other is Limbo, newly up for purchase as part of X-Box LIVE’s Summer of Arcade. I didn’t really follow the story of Limbo that closely, but I knew it was a side-scrolling platformer with a unique look. I tried the demo and immediately bought the full game, mostly because of how much the art style appeal to me. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Limbo, check out the trailer. Among other cliched terms, I’d call it hauntingly beautiful and very atmospheric. In addition to looking as gorgeous as a game that dark can it also features some slick puzzles and grotesque punishments for failure (seriously, you get messed up).

The game’s visual presentation got me thinking, though. The farther into the future we get with game consoles, the closer to life everyone seems to want their graphics. While some big-budget titles stretch the limit of what is acceptable by our real-life standards (Gears of War’s improbably bulky protagonists come to mind), video games are getting closer and closer to emulating what we perceive through our own two eyes. Games like Limbo, Braid and many similar titles show us that we don’t have to constrain everything to an Earth-bound package. Perhaps one of the barriers to the “games as art” argument is that this visual medium doesn’t add anything that movies have already done in this respect. That’s probably why Braid got tossed around a lot when this issue got brought up the first time; it looks like a painting come to life, much like Limbo. So I ask you guys this: do you want more games to stretch the graphical barrier and start using different ways to interpret what we see? Or do you think that sort of experimentation is confined to downloadable titles? Fire away!

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mitch@gamersushi.com Twitter: @mi7ch Gamertag: Lubeius PSN ID: Lubeius SteamID: Lube182 Origin/EA:Lube182 Currently Playing: Stardew Valley, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords, Battlefield 4, Tom Clancy Double Feature: Rainbow Six Siege and The Division

6 thoughts on “GamerSushi Asks: Photorealistic Graphics?”

  1. Games are a different form of art than movies, and pretty colors or a cool style is not art. That’s not what it means. If the visual style represents something integral to the story or the interactive experience, then it’s actually art, and more specifically game-art.
    That said, Limbo’s art style is very well-done and emphasizes the eeriness of the world. It’s an excellent example of simple graphics having an advantage over photorealism when it comes to being able to express a theme or augment the atmosphere.

    Photorealism isn’t bad, and for games like Shadow of the Colossus – in which the visuals were meant to be more realistic; they weren’t stylized or cartoony – you can still have an artful and powerful story and interaction even with a realistic visual style. Photorealism can enhance the story and make it seem more understandable and serious, even when dealing with magic or mythic creatures. Stylized art can offer a different message, making mundane things more exaggerated and embodying the story’s themes more obviously. Both photorealism and stylization have their pros when influencing a story, but at the same time, a game attempting to be carried only by its graphics – photorealistic or pretentiously “artful” or “stylized” – can turn out to be a waste of time and ineffective in using its art style, not to mention making the whole game…well, pretentious.

  2. ^ what Anthony said.

    I like gory games, but I can’t stomach gory movies. Once video games become too “photo-realistic”, I won’t be able to play some of them.

    In racing games, sure, pump up the graphics, but I’m a little nervous about having super computing power.

  3. I think the push for realistic graphics is changing. early on in the life of games there was not a lot you could do artistically to interpret what we see in the real world, however graphics are now at the point where we can start experimenting with different ways of portraying reality, or non-reality. Games like Bioshock with its intriguing Art Deco, Borderlands/TF2’s art style, anything by Tim Schafer, and even the Monkey Island remakes show this interest in using what might have initially been intended to power “realistic” graphics to explore a creepy atmospheric world of Bioshock, or a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle. I would love to see more games stretch the graphical barrier, however given the risks involved in stepping out of the norm I don’t think this is going to happen as much as I would like.

    On a side note, the whole industry is starting to get more creative as a whole. While there are a lot of cod’s and other yearly titles that don’t reinvent themselves as much as I’d like there is a much wider variety of games available, even in one genre, then there ever has been before. When Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake first came out every other shooter for the next couple years was just another clone, however fast forward to 1998 and you have a game called Half Life, ever since then the industry has been more open to experimenting with narrative and gameplay. The fact that RPG aspects are starting to show up in different games is another example of how games are starting to incorporate other genres, something that could not be done with the technology of yesteryear. I think that the reason there was such a big push for “realistic” graphics was that we, gamers/game developers, felt held back by limitations. I feel that we are finally getting to the point where good graphics are almost secondary to a consistent and unique art style.

  4. You didn’t follow Limbo? Shame shame shame. (Kidding) Really, though, it’s an amazing game that everyone who owns an XBOX and is a fan of side scrollers should play at least once. I think that games should always go above an beyond, however, most of the graphical expansion I’ve seen has been in the RPG realm. Borderlands was a step in a good direction. I don’t want to see every game that is graphically innovative also have a cast of spiky/long silky haired men with blue or purple eyes, narcissistic depression problems, and overly powerful weapons that they seem to come across for no other reason than they are “the one”.

    Photorealism is great for certain games, and I also believe that bringing realism to the fantasy realm would be a great innovation where that is concerned. I liked colorful and cartoonish games when I was younger, but I’ve lost the desire for them now. That, however, does not mean that there is no nostalgia for them sometimes. A balance has to exist.

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