Thursday, May 17, 2007


Graphics Versus Gameplay Steel Cage DEATHMATCH

OH NOES! People who work for Nintendo said the Wii is "Gamecube 1.5 with some added memory"! SHIT! The seven million people who own a Wii are DOOMED!

But wait, here they come! It's the Nintendo fanboys to the rescue! "Graphics don't matter (unless the current-generation Nintendo system is more powerful than its competitors)! It's all about TEH GREAT GAMEPLAY!!!!!"

Blah blah blah. Why are we still having this conversation?

There's this long, tedious non-debate that gamers seem to get off on perpetuating regarding how powerful game systems are, and the relative value of subjective quantities called "graphics" and "gameplay".

And I get kind of sick of it. I get sick of seeing the perception of my fellow consumers being swayed over stuff like this.

So, once and for all (unless I feel like doing it again), I just want to weigh in on how I feel about this whole mess with a few inalienable truths:

A Good Game Needs to Look Good

There are people -- presumably real, human people -- who will argue that a video game doesn't have to look good as long as it plays good. It's like arguing that a car doesn't need to have wheels as long as the motor runs well.

Video games have a visual component to them. That's why they're called video games and not audio games. If it's painful to watch the game, then how the hell are you going to play it?

You want to argue? I'll give you two Atari 2600 games. One of them has great gameplay, but the game sprites flash like strobe lights because the hardware is limited to how many sprites it can display on each television scanline. The other has mediocre gameplay, but it doesn't make your eyes bleed while you play it. (Understand, of course, that if you pick the flashing game, I'll have to turn you in to the proper authorities for being an alien under human guise. Just so you know.)

You can't just discount visual appeal like it's a perk, something optional that the player can live without.

Most Games Look Good

The NES was probably the last system where developers had an excuse for making their games look like crap. Starting with the Genesis and the Super NES (and hell, I'll even throw the Master System in there for grins), developers had the raw power at their fingertips, available for the asking. Games became less a matter of what the developers were capable of squeezing out of a system's shortcomings and more a matter of what they actually wanted to display.

And yeah, we're always going to have developers who try to overreach the capabilities of the current generation's systems. That's probably a good thing. But flashing sprites and clashing colors have effectively become a thing of the past. Even the problems of the first generation of 3D systems have been washed away. Remember them? Remember the days of fog? Remember those low-polygon models that looked like living chainsaw sculptures?

No, of course you don't, because you're busy bitching about bumpmapping or some crap like that.

I'll never forget all of the ravings about how gorgeous Zelda 64 supposedly was even though it didn't look appreciably better than any other Nintendo 64 game. Are the people who wrote those reviews nitpicking about the Wii's graphics even now? (Of course not, most of them are still Nintendo fanboys.)


The point is, hardware has gotten to the point where developers no longer have an excuse for making an ugly game. And as a matter of fact, not many games are ugly anymore.

Of course, it's quite possible that there are a lot of games that are created with a visual style that you, personally, don't enjoy. This is understandable, because you're an idiot. But there's a difference between going for a visual style that people don't like and completely botching the way a game looks.

Every Console Has Good Games

It's a fact. I have sampled at least a dozen video gaming systems, from the Atari 2600 to the Nintendo DS, and I have yet to encounter a system that offered exactly zero entertainment value. Yeah, even the Virtual Boy came with Mario's Tennis.

So don't give me that line about how your system of choice is "all about gameplay" and the other ones aren't. Don't tell me that developers will always try harder to make their games fun when they're dealing with a more limited game system. Bullpies. Every system is all about gameplay. Every system has something fun going for it. If you can't find something entertaining in any given video game system's library, then maybe it's time you found a new hobby, because you're never going to be happy at that rate.

If You Only Own One Console, You're Not Going To Miss Much

As much as the gaming companies try to distinguish themselves from each other, video gaming as a whole is becoming ever more homogeneous. During any given generation of game systems, you're not going to see much appreciable difference between the libraries of the competing game systems.

The first reason, of course, is because the biggest titles on any game system tend to be extensions of an established genre. Adventure, first person shooter, platformer, sports, whatever. You may not see a particular game from a given genre, but chances are good that the one system you have will see something sufficient in that genre.

And when a genre-busting game becomes successful, it usually isn't long before it becomes an established genre, and you start to see variations on the familiar theme popping up on the other systems. Maybe the Gamecube didn't get a Grand Theft Auto game, but it got a fair share of games in a similar vein.

So what's the conclusion here? If every system is capable of making a game that looks all right and every system has fun games available for it, then there are a few questions we should be asking ourselves. On what should we base our decision to purchase one console as opposed to any other? Why do we need multiple consoles from the same generation? Why, indeed, do we need to buy a new generation of consoles?

I think these are some good questions that we should all be asking ourselves.

But "what's more important: graphics or gameplay"? It's a moot point.


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