Sunday, August 24, 2014

High Graphic Expectations and Development Limitations

Technical aspect discussion is something that has been present in almost every console generation since the 90's. At first it was the bit wars (or who's cpu was better), then came the early 3D wars in which gamers were judging the power of a console based on how blocky/blurry or not the models looked. After that came the polygon count wars with the Dreamcast vs PS2 drama and since the middle of the previous generation we have been in the resolution and frames per second war. It is nice to have a technical aspect to discuss (especially if you are a technology enthusiast), but if you over do it and turn it into a petty complaint, then you are causing the gaming community more harm than good.

Conference Room

Let's begin by having a little mental game in order to visualize how a game works inside your preferred machine. Imagine that you and 7 other contestants accepted a million dollar challenge. You are all in a special conference room that that has some kind of limitless temperature regulator built in. You are all surrounded by 100 different objects around you and each of you has a headset on. Now people that are outside the room will begin asking questions about these objects at a rapid pace. Each time any of you gives a right answer the room get a little hotter and if the answer is wrong, ambiguous or not answered fast enough it will get colder. If the temperature gets too low, you lose the challenge (and the money), but if you all try too hard, the room will get too hot and it may become hazardous. The challenge will last 4 hours so you all have to keep it steady until then in order to win.

Game Loop
"Update Game" is where all the magic happens. It is what keeps the game alive.
If we compare this example to how a game works, the room itself is the console and the challenge is the game. The people outside the room asking the questions would represent the game loop, which is programming cycle that is always "asking questions" about each and every element that's in the game at any given time. You and the other contestants who are in the challenge represent the hardware and the objects in the room represent everything that a game has like maps, characters, sounds, commands, etc. You may now be asking yourself what does this example has to do with graphic demands and the answer is simple. In technical aspects,making  a video game is a test of balance. As a developer you have to make a game that looks good, but at the same time make it balanced so it doesn't overwork the machine in which it is been played or cause unintended issues. This is a principle that some gamers need to understand before demanding to have the highest graphical output on every single game.

Evolution of Lara Croft
Graphical evolution in gaming comes with time, not complaints.
Why does these demands hurt our gaming experience?

We need to be aware that everything in computing comes with a price so always having the maximum graphical output means that developers may be sacrificing other features like the size of maps, the variety of things the player can do on the game, chunks of story line content, drawing distance (how far in the distance can you see), the implementation of some game mechanics,etc. Also add to that equation some non-technical aspects like time constraints, market demand, publisher demands, funds, competition,etc. With all these problems in place I think we now have some idea of how hard this process is. To make matters worse, if we make the mistake of giving marketing people the idea that we just want games that look pretty that is what we are going to get, but only by sacrificing game play and innovation. Do we really want that?

We also need to take into account the type of game we are talking about. There are simpler games (like some 2.5D platformers) that run in a perfect 1080p resolution at 60fps even with nice graphics. They work flawlessly, but that doesn't mean that it is an easy thing to do. They managed to do it because the game itself doesn't need that much processing power to run. Now if the game we are talking about is a current-gen open world or sandbox game there is a chance that the "perfection" some of us demand may not be there. Still that doesn't mean that the game is bad, the console is weak or that the developers are been lazy. It is like that because the game makers balanced it all out considering the time, resources and situation they had.

Tales of Xillia 2
Exhibit A: A game that doesn't need cutting edge graphics to be epic...Tales of Xillia 2.
Wrapping it up

The bottom line is that people who like to judge a game because its graphics weren't next-gen enough for them need to think again because they are not only been unrealistic, but they are also contributing to the development of shorter and less innovative games (especially if marketing people are involved). They should try to get into a new mindset and enjoy games for what they are. This way they give designers and developers a break, so they can create masterpieces instead of finding themselves forced to pop up games from a template as if it all were an assembly line. It is better to have a normal, but great game rather than a pretty one that feels uninspired and bland. I leave with you with that folks, game on.

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