Graphical Snobbery

Graphics CardI’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.

Mike Tyson's Punch Out

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.

Skyrim Dragon Killer

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!


Graphics Card by Sean MacEntee on Flickr Creative Commons

Glass Joe getting pwned by Charles Williams on Flickr Creative Commons

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11 thoughts on “Graphical Snobbery

  1. Izlain April 9, 2016 / 3:35 pm

    I feel like graphics snob is an appropriate term if you simply won’t play a game because its art style doesn’t appeal to you. You might just be missing a gem of a game. I’ll play anything, regardless of how shitty the graphics are, and as a result have played some fantastic albeit crappy looking games. Sometimes the pixel art is part of the appeal for me, particularly if the gameplay/story that goes along with it is good to boot.

    However, implying that using crappy graphics was a design “choice” is dumb. It’s not really an artistic direction, it’s more of a development cost cutter. There are too many recent titles though that I’ve loved the shit out of that have pixellated graphics and I’d be disappointed if I never tried them based on the graphics alone.

    But I do love me some max settings 60 fps glory. I’m just a game whore, what can I say?

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    • Braxwolf April 9, 2016 / 3:42 pm

      I guess one thing that bothers me a little about the pixel graphics trend is that, yeah it starts out innocently enough with indy studios trying to compete with fewer resources, but what happens when the big studios figure out that they can turn a bigger profit/more games with a reduced emphasis on eye candy? Now you’ve got studios who can afford to push the envelope choosing not to in the name of higher profit margins.

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  2. Faeldray April 9, 2016 / 5:18 pm

    Unless we’re talking about a text based game, graphics are indeed an important part of a game. The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” exists for that very reason. When I went to college for web design, my professor spent half of the time talking about how colour, shapes, and lines can affect someone’s perceptions of a subject. They convey so much of the experience, one of the more famous examples being Limbo and its gloomy black and white palette. If its graphics had been done in colorful pixel art, the mood of the game would have been entirely altered. I’m not saying that graphics have to be amazing in order for people to enjoy a game, but to dismiss them as arbitrary completely undermines what they do for a game.

    Besides, if someone doesn’t like a certain type of graphics, others trying to browbeat them isn’t going to make them enjoy the game any more. I myself am tired of seeing all these “retro” pixel games trying to cash in on nostalgia but if others like them, all the power to them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Syl April 9, 2016 / 9:41 pm

    I am an out and proud graphics snob and I make no excuses. 😀
    Naturally there are small budget titles that can be a lot of fun to play, but even then there’s such a thing as a graphical aesthetic that fits (stardew valley) and comes with careful detail – versus one that’s plain ugly and inconsistent.

    Graphics alone don’t make a game but they sure as hell add a lot of enjoyment to it. If a new big title doesn’t bring the visuals, that’s a big minus in my book and I won’t bother.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Azrael April 9, 2016 / 10:24 pm

    I agree with you. Better graphics do help “put you there”. Coming from the same long and storied background (Although, I go a smidgin further back. Hunt the Wumpus, on a Control Data mainframe… =)) I agree that graphics are vital to presentation. That said, I still plan to come from the opposite end of the spectrum here.

    I think better graphics have, in fact, made AAA lazy to varying degrees. I think in some cases, there have been games more “written for the GPU” than for the game play. You can have the best damned graphics in the world, but it won’t make a spit of difference if the game play leaves something to be desired. When it comes to graphics & game play, I apply the old contract and sales advertisement maxim: The big print giveth, and the small print taketh away. The graphics are often the Big Print for a lot of the games coming from the AAA houses. The small print, the game play…comes up short sometimes.

    It’s not that I think graphic consideration should be on the bottom of the list of things to consider. It’s that in my experience, the prettier the game, the more the game play tends to be lacking. Purely anecdotal. But, all I hear from friends playing BDO is, many of them are bored with it, and it’s been out for some time now.

    I think, by and large…a better argument to make here is: right tool for the job. Not every game should be done with an eye toward photo realism. Not every game should be dropped down into pixel art. I think it was Raph Koster who said, as you begin to develop your idea for a game, an art style may start to suggest itself. I think this is a method lost upon the bigger names in the industry.

    But believe me, I’d rather see more innovation in game play these days, than trying to see how far we can push tessellation, or shadow rendering…or god rays…

    Anyhow, just my $0.02.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. C. T. Murphy April 10, 2016 / 12:55 am

    Punch-Out!!! was probably a poor choice. There isn’t a single better boxing game, and that includes a long history of graphic-intense EA titles. Graphics aren’t everything nor are they are nothing. They are just something.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Draculetta April 11, 2016 / 11:33 am

    So, we had the very same first car… how odd is that???

    I remember thinking when Pitfall came out on the Atari 2600, that it would never get better than this. Then Pacman came.. and was like, oh my gosh, this just like I’m at the arcade!

    Then I moved up the Commodore 64 and 128 and was amazed at the graphics.

    Kids these days will never knew what it was like….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Braxwolf April 11, 2016 / 2:33 pm

      That’s crazy Drac, I’ll never forget that car. The first time I can ever remember being truly blown away by graphics was when I played Wolfenstien 3D for the first time. I had dreams about those brick walls flying past my peripheral vision!

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  7. Spirit Eri (@ausj3w3l) April 13, 2016 / 6:32 am

    this is so the opposite of me haha – while I will agree that a certain amount of graphical fidelity can help gain intial appeal but after that it will always be the game that grabs me. I feel a lot of people at the moment put far too much importance on graphics as well, to the point of stupidity. The debate around the divisions apparent downgrade were ridiculous – so what if it isn’t a 4k experience.

    Often times it is the pure graphical beauties that bore me as it seems to me like they have placed so much effort and resources on getting to that stage that they don’t have the time and resources to develop the actual game. Most of AAA seems like that a little right now – MAke it pretty, but recycle gameplay.

    Some of the best games I’ve played for ages were these indie games with different aesthetics, pixel and otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

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