Video game graphics are a ticking time bomb – the industry needs to focus on the art instead of the technology

It’s no secret that video games are intrinsically linked to the technology that allows us to experience them. However, as the industry continues to evolve, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve gone too far. It’s gotten to the point where graphical complexity is seen as the ultimate indicator of quality, making the game development process infinitely harder and longer. It seems like people will completely ignore an experience if the game’s graphics don’t hold up, or absolutely tear down a game if it looks like it could have been released 10 years ago. To me, that seems absurd: the graphics are immensely overstated.

Of course, the graphics aren’t actually “overrated” in the literal sense. They are the visual gateway to the video games we play. Without them, we would have nothing to do. But when I say the graphics are overrated, I’m referring to the overwhelming attention the video game communities and marketing give to graphical prowess and modernity. Sometimes it feels like the quality of a game’s art and style is pushed aside just to analyze what something “new” and “shiny” looks like.

Some sincerely believe that any game released over a decade ago is “outdated and ugly”, and it really makes me wonder, how did we get here? Why are people so obsessed with graphics?

The technology race

There are many reasons why these advancements are such a fundamental part of the industry. Perhaps most importantly, gaming is ultimately a technology medium: you need hardware to play games.

No hardware company will survive selling you the same specs if the games don’t keep up with the technology. If I bought an RTX 3080 and the industry decided that we had reached the ceiling in terms of hardware requirements, with the RTX 3080 being the last piece of the puzzle, then what would Nvidia sell us?

RTX-3080

(Image credit: Nvidia)

Yes, they could still make RTX 3080s. But every time someone buys one, they will have lost a customer for many years, because you can make a GPU last a long time with proper care. When a PC gamer decides to upgrade their tech, it’s usually because their old tech is struggling to run modern software, not because it’s broken.

My Nvidia GeForce GTX 970, a graphics card released in 2014, still works. It’s a working GPU, but the reason I upgraded to an RTX 3080 was because I was tired of games going on without me. If my GTX 970 was running perfectly every software I threw at it, I wouldn’t need to upgrade. Essentially, Nvidia needs to innovate to sell new hardware. This is how they make a profit and continue to be a financially successful business.

Console makers have the same goal. How would PlayStation sell you a PS5 if the hardware specs were the same as the PS4? What good reason could they have to convince you to move? The only way to do that is to impose exclusivity on games, but in this fantasy world that would be extremely problematic.

The PS5 sells 7.8 million consoles

(Image credit: future)

And of course, when the industry has this technology, they will evolve their game engines accordingly. It is a technology medium and many brilliant engineers who work there find themselves able to do more when better hardware is in their hands.

It’s also important to note how damaging this obsession with progress is to game developers and their work cycle. The games are getting more and more complicated to make every year. It’s harder to make games now than it’s ever been; development times are longer than they were 10 years ago and the amount of effort we’ve seen developers endure to get the biggest titles released is alarming. What we talk about The Last of Us Part II Where Cyberpunk 2077, so many overtime hours went into putting these huge games together. How bad do things have to get before we realize it’s not worth it?

And when the players themselves are so used to this cycle, they expect it and get upset when it doesn’t continue. It is common for players to criticize a lack of technological modernity. If character models, animations, textures, or other types of assets appear outdated, they will be flagged and criticized. This is a trend that I absolutely despise.

It’s not just technology in art

The gaming industry’s obsession with graphical fidelity has only made me more aware of the flaws in the technology. The more a game tries to be advanced, the more I am aware of its real lack. The stark contrast between an engine’s best moments and the parts that don’t look right is a rude awakening, making me realize how much progress the industry still needs to achieve the goals it is striving for. reach.

Ghost of Tsushima review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

For example, in Ghost of Tsushima, there are visual setbacks that make it harder for me to hold on to his world. Flying over a beautiful field of flowers on horseback is an inspiring sight, but when I stop next to a collection of rocks that look blurry or the sun reflects light against the mud unrealistically, it quickly pulls me away from this moment.

When a game attempts to mimic reality, my brain often treats the times when it doesn’t feel “realistic” with a weirdness. It ends up feeling fake, and every time I think back to the game, my brain is hyper-obsessed with that flaw. On the other hand, my brain doesn’t process older games the same way, as I never had room to consider it “realistic” to begin with.

Super Mario 64

(Image credit: Nintendo)

There is very little chance of confusing Super Mario 64 with an attempt at realism. When I look back on it, I don’t address its technological flaws, because this technology has been used to present a certain style that cannot be considered something close to reality. Your brain may process these “flaws” as artistic intent, whereas if you try to make a glass of milk look realistic, your brain will latch onto the flaws that make it clearly different from what a bottle of milk should look like.

That’s not to say that modern games don’t have visual styles, of course they do. I’m specifically referring to how my brain processes it. And if you think your brain is similar, then you probably have the same problem as me.

That’s not to say games look ugly these days, either. Obviously, modern games can be absolutely breathtaking, just as much as they could be twenty years ago. I just don’t believe in the idea that graphical complexity or modernity determines whether a game is visually compelling or not.

Dusk

(Image credit: New Blood Interactive)

You don’t decide whether an illustration is beautiful based on the tools used to bring it to life; different tools simply offer alternative styles. Dusk uses a graphical style that mimics the first-person shooters of the late 1990s, and this style has no bearing on the quality of the art itself. This style is only a tool to express the intentions of the artist.

That’s not to say you can’t have style preferences. Everyone does it. I can’t fault anyone for preferring the modern, realistic look of AAA games released in recent years. This is a perfectly understandable preference, but it’s important to keep in mind that a game doesn’t look good just because it has high-quality textures. There’s so much more to the art form than that, and I wish people had more leeway for games when they’re not as graphically complex as others.

Ring of Elden

(Image credit: FromSoftware)

Elden Ring, an experience that features some of the most stunning visual showpieces in gaming this year, has been (and still is) frequently criticized for its outdated graphics by gamers who believe technology is the end game in determining the quality of visuals. . Yes, Elden Ring suffered from pop-in and its foliage and textures are nowhere near as advanced as Demon’s Souls (2020). But I sincerely believe that Demon’s Souls 2009 is infinitely better than its remake, and yet this game came out 13 years ago.

In fact, the most beautiful game ever made was and still is 2005’s Shadow of the Colossus. Technological prowess can’t make up for a bland aesthetic or an uninspired world. There’s so much more to art than progress, and the industry needs to reconsider this greedy obsession.

At the end of the line

When do we realize that constant advancement isn’t worth it? How long should development times have? How much harder does it have to be to make a game? AAA development is a time bomb waiting to explode, and as the industry continues its obsession with progress, the art form will suffer.

I hope I’m wrong. But I really believe that this cycle has a time limit. There will come a time when expectations will be so incredibly high that it will no longer be financially viable to continue making games of this complexity.

About Douglas Torres

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