Ash Gomez investigates whether stunning graphics and new technology actually produces better games.
Technology continues to advance to the point that it can be difficult to keep up with it. In terms of video games, technological advances have contributed to exponentially better graphics. It is easy to see the difference in quality between a title released this year and one from a decade ago. But do these graphics make for a better playing experience?
The newest title in a game series will always be the most aesthetically pleasing one, as is the case for Breath of the Wild and Red Dead Redemption 2. It makes sense that the game studios behind these titles want to show improvement from the previous release, and these differences in appearance act as markers to exhibit how far gaming technology has come.
good visuals cannot save a bad game, but a good game can overcome bad visuals.
However, big-budget titles are not always the most popular ones. With the amount of games on the market that have stunning graphics, it is interesting to note the cult following of games with more simplistic designs. Titles like Undertale and Celeste boast relatively simple graphics, but are some of the most popular games of the past years. Of course, simple design still requires hard work, and the artwork behind these games are definitely impressive. There is a clear difference between the graphics of these games and the quality found in titles with huge budgets.
Next there’s games with objectively bad design, like Minecraft. The designs are so jarring that most players will download a texture pack to override every single feature of the “vanilla” game in order to make it appealing to look at. Yet Minecraft is one of the most popular games of all time.
Games can also feature incredible design but are ruined by lackluster gameplay, as is the case for Alice Madness Returns. This dark spin on a classic children’s story is visually stunning, but the mechanics are shallow and boring. This just shows that good visuals cannot save a bad game, but a good game can overcome bad visuals.
Furthermore, the games market is constantly rushing to find the next facet of technology that will take off. When the Nintendo Wii introduced the use of a player’s movements to facilitate gameplay, the market wrongly assumed that the technology itself was responsible for the success. The Wii simply paired this new play style with fun titles, which cannot be said for the failure of the Xbox Kinect.
A similar situation seems to be happening with virtual and augmented reality. Studios assume that the novelty of the technology is enough to sell it. While there have been some interesting virtual reality (VR) releases, nothing has been fun enough to make VR technology a household occurrence. The VR gaming scene serves as little more than a gimmick for the players who shell out enough money to purchase the technology. Typically, the players who can afford VR headsets are the ones who have impressive gaming collections, and they will usually go back to their other games after the novelty of VR wears off.
Until AR is integrated into a fun title and completely necessary for the overall mechanics of the gameplay, it serves as little more than an interesting but undemanded technology.
In a similar vein, augmented reality (AR) was popularised through Pokemon Go, which resulted in many awful knock-offs attempting to capitalize on the concept. These releases were the result of a misunderstanding about why Pokemon Go was such a hit. Most of its players turned off the AR settings in order to preserve battle life, making the technology unnecessary. The truth is that people liked the idea of an accessible Pokemon title, and the use of AR was just a bonus feature. Until AR is integrated into a fun title and completely necessary for the overall mechanics of the gameplay, it serves as little more than an interesting but undemanded technology.
Sometimes it seems that gaming studios are searching so desperately for the next technological breakthrough that they forget to make games fun. It is a shame that these companies have become so far removed from the one aspect of games that all players truly want. This lapse in judgement can largely be attributed to the competition between gaming studios, wherein the first company to successfully introduce new technology tends to be the biggest profitter of it. This causes companies to become so hyper focused on what could take off, that they forget that entertainment is the most important selling point for a game. If only studios could recognize that many players are still satisfied with a glorified Lego simulation like Minecraft, maybe they could realize that the fancy technology and graphics don’t matter.