Learning Game Design

with Arcade Berg

Pretty Art

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The graphics and art in games have continually changed over time. One way of saying it would be to say that games are becoming better looking. I’ll exclude the discussion about how beautiful pixels are for now.

If nothing else, at least the games nowadays are more technically impresseive and complex than ever before. With games like Crytek’s Crysis and Ubisoft’s Far Cry 2 leading the train of games with “realisting looking graphics”, developers continue to race towards the absolute photo realism in games.

I’m not all that interested in working towards that goal. Today games have severe problems with the uncanny valley. When things are getting too close to getting real we can see all the small problems much more easily and our suspension of disbelief is shattered.

The uncanny valley is based on a Japanese fellow called Masahiro Mori.

The uncanny valley is a hypothesis that when robots and other facsimiles of humans look and act almost like actual humans, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The “valley” in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot’s lifelikeness.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_Valley (avaliable 9/11-08)

The things that may break the feeling of the game being real can vary, it can be poor lip sync (Bethesda’s Oblivion, anyone?), “dead looking” eyes, an otherwise realistic environment being empty of objects, animations looking unnatural, a human taking a sniper bullet in the head without even falling down.

And one more thing (oh, some of you are gonna hate me for saying this), if I want to look at the reality, I can just look out the window.

Personally I prefer games working with an artistic style that allows the developers to create anything they want without ruining my immersion. I know not everyone is a fan of this, but I’m a huge fan of cel-shading. Of course, not all cel-shaded games look great just because of it but some games… Oh man… Some games just look astonishing!

A truly great looking game that’s not cel-shaded is DICE’s Mirror’s Edge. If you haven’t tried out the demo yet, do it right after you’ve finished this. It’s available on both the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3.

What DICE has chosen to do with Mirror’s Edge is giving it an artistic style. It’s clean, futuristic, interesting and it’s cognitively brilliant! They use strong colors to get the players attention and if you ask me, every frame of the game is a great screen shot. It’s mainly the environments in this game that impress me. The enemies you meet aren’t spectacular in any way but nor does the game focus on enemy encounters. It focuses on avatar navigation through the surroundings.

Though, let’s go back to cel-shading.

There’s been quite a number of cel-shaded games and I’m glad to see that the amount seems to increase. Just look at Gametrailers.com (available 9/11-08) for example; pretty many of the games shown there are using one or another form of cel-shading. The new Prince of Persia-game from Ubisoft for example; cel-shaded.

One of the games making the best use of the cel-shading technology isn’t new though. In fact, it’s six years old and has had several sequels since. I’m talking about Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Today, six years after its making I can still look at it and say; “Damn, that looks good!” There is not one thing I feel could be done better thanks to today’s tech. It’s amazing how expressive and communicative they’ve managed to make Link. Show me a game using “realistic looking” graphics that old being that impressive?

Another gorgeous game that recently caught my eye is SEGA’s Valkyria Chronicles for the Playstation 3. As far as I understand it’s using their new engine making it possible to render the game looking like it’s painted with water colors. I don’t know anything else about the engine but as far as I can tell, it does its job. The Valkyria Chronicles demo is available for download right now. With an interesting and anime inspired design the developers manage to get every screenshot to look good. It’s far from perfect and unfortunately some textures on the ground etc. seem very plain. But I still really like the art.

(Same video but on Gametrailers, in HD http://www.gametrailers.com/player/37800.html?type=flv )

Imagine a drum whirl, please, for I will now present you with the best looking game… ever? It’s by far the best looking game right now with its release in February and a Must Buy for many. I’m talking about Street Fighter IV. For me, Capcom does everything right with this title when it comes to the artsy stuff. Really, go out and do some YouTubeing and Gametrailersering (?) and watch the trailers and gameplay-videos if you haven’t already.

With a great sense of style, they use some form cel-shading technology along with superb animations, clear and exaggerated expressions on the characters accompanied by some great effects (the ink! The ink!) and use of strong colors. It’s bold and it’s beautiful.

(Same video but on Gametrailers with much better quality: http://www.gametrailers.com/player/40556.html available 18/11-08)

All these games are free to roam about with creativity, using super moves, quirky beasts, bazooka-carrying knights while we as players suck it all in; completely immersed. There is nothing wrong, for within the context established by the art-style, it’s just as plausible as anything.

I don’t want a photography, I want a painting.

When looking at this, I see great things in the future. 


Written by Arcade

November 18, 2008 at 11:17 pm

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