A Focus on Graphics

Over at Nerfbat, Blackguard has posted about the need for good graphics in games and its gotten me thinking…

I am one of those people who says that the graphics of a game shouldn’t matter. And to a point, its true. For a really good game, the gameplay should be compelling enough that enjoyment of the game shouldn’t be affected by the graphics. However, as Blackguard points out, graphics are how most people get their first glimps of the game, and advertising is based almost entirely around screenshots with game features coming later more through word of mouth than actual ads.

Where my issue comes in is that I feel that too often the graphics lead the game instead of suppliment or compliment the gameplay. Too many games spend so much time working on realism or fansy shaders and animations, and push the envelope on system requirements, that they lose track of making a game worth playing and that a large enough portion of the public can play. At the rate technology moves, and the fact that game developers keep right up on the bleeding edge most of the time, if you are at all serious about games you probably need to buy a new computer every year, or at least a few hefty upgrades. Of course, not everyone can afford that.

I think one of the major successes of World of Warcraft is that they game runs well on moderate, even low end machines. Personally, I’m running a 1.2GHz Althon with 1GB RAM and a 256MB ATI 9800 video card. It runs very well, except in Ironforge and in open PvP with a hundred or more people running around. I play Half-Life 2 on it also, another success. I tried to play EverQuest 2 on it, and it just died. I got the game to finally run smoothly by turning down the graphics so far that it wasn’t worth my time. 8-bit or Nintendo style graphics I can handle, but fuzzy blobs running around fuzzy blobby landscapes I can’t. City of Heroes ran fairly well. I didn’t have all the highend particles turned on, but not many people do. City of Villains upgraded the graphics engine just enough that I had to tune down the graphics just below the threshhold of “playable”. When the faces lose their eyes, its actually borderline disturbing.

And that leads into another issue I’ve got… why haven’t any companies made a game that actually tunes down? Why isn’t there a slider to reduce polygon counts and use “flatter” textures? Instead, as the sliders move toward the low end, you lose definition and the world begins to look like you forgot to put on your glasses, like a bad runny watercolor painting as things blend and smear into each other.

Perhaps I just need to accept the fact that I need to put in my budget a thousand bucks a year on computer upgrades… no wait, two thousand because I have to upgrade the wife’s PC as well. I can’t imagine having a family and needing to keep three, four, even five PCs up to date. Five grand a year just so the family can continue to game together. It makes you want to go buy some board games

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