I’m a regular listener of the MassivelyOP podcast. I enjoy the years of gaming insight that both hosts bring to the show, as well as their down-to-earth style of communicating. However, one term (or concept, really) continues to be brandished about during that podcast that tends to rub me the wrong way. The phrase “graphics snobs” has been used several times as of late in describing those who dismiss a game purely on graphical presentation and without any other basis. While I understand the hosts’ objections, the idea sometimes comes across more like “graphics really aren’t all that important to a game, anyway.” It’s with this implication that I take issue.
Look, I’ve been around the block a few times, and my history of gaming goes all the way back to the Atari 2600/Commodore 64 days, so I know that you don’t need mind-blowing graphics to make a fun game. Spy Hunter, Star Wars: The Arcade Game, Super Mario, Punch Out….the list of fun games with (by today’s standards) silly little graphics goes on and on. At the same time, I view those games kind of like I view an 82 Cutlass Supreme (my first car). It would be a blast to jump into one and take it on a summer drive, but with its uncomfortable seats and cassette tape deck, I wouldn’t want to use it every day.
I understand that, especially for small, independent studios, that resources are limited. John Smedley called flashy graphics a “conscious trade-off” when describing the need to divert resources to developing game systems for his current project <em>Hero’s song</em>. If there’s a choice to be made, I would also certainly support depth of systems and interesting mechanics over the somewhat shallower, albeit catchier, top-line graphics.
But let’s be clear, good graphics are important. They influence game purchases. They influence class choices (haven’t you ever chosen a magic user at least partially for the whiz-bang animations?). They make organic advertising easier (shared screenshots, videos, live streaming). And, they make things more fun. A very simple example of this is to consider an old-school progress-bar crafting system. Let’s face it, there is no practical reason to spend good company resources on developing a forge hammer-swing animation. The sword gets crafted when the progress bar fills up whether your character is beating on an anvil or standing there staring into space. But, which one is more fun? Which one feels more “right”?
Skyrim is a great example of a game that really nailed both the gameplay and visual aspects. Would taking a dragon soul feel as epic if the animation was a little sparkle above your head instead of the massive, screen-filling, soul stealing, aurora-borealis-in-motion animation that Bethesda implemented? Hardly. Granted, there is a LOT more to Skyrim than good animations, but I, for one, still get a little adrenaline rush every time the game slow-motion follows an arrow I’ve shot right into the eye socket of some evil foe. Modding, community and general gameplay are all major contributors to the success of this title, but you can’t deny the contribution of the amazingly immersive graphics that still hold up nearly five years later.
All else being equal, I’d just as soon play a deep game with an interesting story and graphics that wow me. A game with pixels and sprites is at a distinct disadvantage when trying to catch my attention in today’s market. Been there, done that. I’ll just be over here in my Bluetooth compatible, smooth running, gas efficient hybrid, reminiscing about the days of driving a car that died if you didn’t constantly keep your foot on the accelerator. Snobbery, indeed!