Thursday, March 22, 2012

Art In Video Games

I'm apparently an 80-year-old man.

When I was looking through pictures of the video games the Smithsonian American Art Museum is honoring in an exhibit, the first few pictures made me smile.

The bright colors and charmingly archaic visuals...

Wonderful childhood memories of hours upon hours spent with a controller in hand...

But mostly, I was just amazed at how good they looked. The graphics were basic, but all these years later they still look sharp and crystal clear. They make me want to dust off my old Nintendo and see if I can get it working again.

Then I saw this mess...

...and it happened. Get...


For those of you who don't recognize it, that's the original "Tomb Raider."  And when that game came out, it was huge.   It helped make the original PlayStation the biggest videogame consol on the market.  And the buzzword on everybody's lips was, "graphics."  32-bit graphics!  Which made gameplay more dynamic and the visuals more realistic than ever before.

But look at those visuals now.  They're just an ugly smattering of greyscale cubes, blocky and unappealing.

Now go back up and look at "Super Mario Bros. 3" again.  And "Pitfall" - that's an Atari game, and it looks great!  It's when videogames started going for realism that they started to look bad.  Back in my day, we didn't need video games to look realistic.  If they were fun to play, that was all that mattered.

I know.  I'm an old man.  I already said that.

Look, I'm no luddite.  My entertainment center is up-to-date with the PS3.  Videogame technology keeps advancing, and I'm enjoying keeping up pace with it.

The point is that fads go away, and they look silly in retrospect.  Chasing realism in videogames is faddish.  They have yet to make a game that looks photorealistic during gameplay.  And the games that have tried to look photorealistic end up aging faster.  Meanwhile, the cartoony stuff from the old days still looks appropriately cartoony.  And fun.

So, to all the videogame makers out there: we're not there yet with realism in videogames.  If you want your game to have a longer shelf life, program to the consol's strengths, not what you wish it could do.  Because right now, looking at the visuals on "Doom 64" versus "Marble Madness," I'd rather play me some "Marble Madness."

Now where's my Sega Master System?...


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