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GoatLord

Graphics versus gameplay

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I'm not going to be either dogmatic nor dualistic and assume one is innately more important than the other, as though there is an objective measuring stick for apples and oranges. However, I will say something I don't see mentioned in this sort of debate: The significance of suspension of disbelief. Whether it's a game that came out last week, or a 30-year-old DOS title, suspension of disbelief can occur, and this is due largely to strong art direction. When I think of all my favorite video games--Doom, Katamari, Tetris, Sonic, Mario, Twisted Metal, Spyro, Blood, Quake, etc.--they are all games/franchises which have a very distinct visual style.

I would say this is perhaps the single most important element in any game, save perhaps text adventures which are rarely a thing anymore. When you see video footage or screenshots, you want to instantly feel like you want to be a part of that world. That draws one in before gameplay does, because you only learn so much about mechanics and control from seeing, since the doing only really comes with buying the actual product (being that demos are kind of dying out).

Therefore, while fundamentals such as mechanics, tightness of control, overall depth and level layouts all matter greatly, if that immersion factor isn't there, if you don't feel pulled in by the graphics, however primitive or next-gen, then the game fails. So while I won't claim it's more important than gameplay, graphics pull you in before anything else does, so the enjoyment of the experience is hinging largely on whether those graphics are capable of generating that suspension of disbelief we often take for granted when reading books or watching films.

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yeah, but the thing is, there's still a plethora of great games that don't have a completely distinct visual style. look at cod4 and battlefield:bc2. thay're both great games, but they look like all the rest of the shooters that were coming out at the time. as a matter of fact, they're a bit grey and dull with their art direction. but they're still great games, because of the gameplay.

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It's certainly possible for a game to be so ugly/cluttered visually that it directly hampers gameplay. There's also a lot of games I enjoy for their atmosphere and charm that have rather poor gameplay (LSD, Yume Nikki, Resident Evil). I probably wouldn't have bothered with Doom in the first place if it was like, generic untextured shapes as opposed to the dark, intriguing techbase mazes it is.

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actually, a great example of how gameplay is and always will rule over graphics is Dwarf Fortress. it's completely in ASCII, yet it's an awesome, fun game.

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IMO both should go together.
The graphics should fit the style, the gameplay shouldn't be hard to learn and too convoluted. 'Nuff said.

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These two multiply each other in action. Atmosphere, which usually depends on graphics and sound, always makes a good addition to the gameplay (if there is one).

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Although I'd like to say gameplay trumps all, some games are so abysmally ugly in either their graphic tech or art direction that they hurt the eyes if stared at for too long. Quake as we know was a hella fun to play game. But looking back, it's incredibly ugly looking for the most part. Despite some nice vistas and atmospheric levels, enemies and weapons animated, looked, and sounded like complete ass. As mentioned, CoD4 was rather fun and innovative at the time, and while the models and maps tended to look good, the general art direction was poor, creating a rather bland looking shooter without much too look at that wasn't dull in color (Recent entries have been trying to amend this, apparently). I mean, neither game is completely ugly, and neither one has a style that mars the gameplay. But the general idea stands.

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Good gameplay is no excuse for bad graphics. Good graphics are no excuse for bad gameplay.

Edit:

Good graphics doesn't necessarily mean it requires an advanced GPU either. Low-resolution graphics, can be considered "good graphics", if they are done right. So its more of a matter of taste, which is undisputable.

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I don't care how good a game looks if it plays bad... Gameplay is most important. If I wanted something to look at, regardless of "gameplay quality", I'd watch a movie and be done with it.

And in regards to one thing being no excuse for another: There are smaller studios out there, with smaller budgets, which sell their games at a lower price than AAA publishers do. Those "Indie games" better play fucking good, and look less detailed than the other way around.

When it comes to value for money, and we're talking games, gameplay matters above all else. If anything, a game that plays well shouldn't look utterly hideous, but that's about as far as my personal demands go. I mean, holy hell, most people here play (or have played) the classic DOOM extensively up until this day. And that's most likely not the case because classic DOOM is the most beautiful looking game ever made, it's visuals are functional and simplistic, it just does not look hideous and plays fucking great, right?

And speaking of AAA games, well fuck, look at how many games there are, available at 40$ and upwards, and look at how few of them you actually feel like spending hundreds or thousands of hours on. Why is that, I have to wonder.

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roadworx said:

actually, a great example of how gameplay is and always will rule over graphics is Dwarf Fortress. it's completely in ASCII, yet it's an awesome, fun game.

Don't mind the ASCII at all, but the user interface is utter garbage. It really cripples the game.

It's all very well abstracting graphics, but if I need to press a sequence of seven separate keys to find out if that fucking cat is dead yet, then you have a problem.

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darknation said:

Don't mind the ASCII at all, but the user interface is utter garbage. It really cripples the game.

It's all very well abstracting graphics, but if I need to press a sequence of seven separate keys to find out if that fucking cat is dead yet, then you have a problem.


i might be in the minority, but i've always found the interface to not be that bad.

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"Gameplay" elements and aesthetic elements aren't separate things, and it's high-time people stopped acting like they are.

The way a player behaves in-game is going to depend on the atmosphere the art establishes. They will naturally gravitate towards their most aesthetically pleasing options (weapons with the coolest audio-visual effects, etc). Certain games require certain graphics technologies to function at all (for instance, the Thief games require lighting and audio systems more complex than what 1996's FPSs could do, Far Cry 1 requires the ability to render dense vegetation and have incredible draw distances, and DMC 3/Bayonetta style 3D brawlers require the ability to render smooth, detailed 3D animation at high framerates). Using darkness to set up ambushes is a classic FPS trope.

Meanwhile, a player's perception of the aesthetic is going to depend on the game's mechanics. Resident Evil is a mostly pretty bright game, and contrary to how it's remembered, doesn't have many jump scares (or, really, many scares at all). It's tense because its mechanical design leaves the player trying to avoid enemies, and creates anticipation for those moments where the player knows he's going to have to cross a hallway full of enemies (or, in the Remake, when he knows that the hallway he didn't think was going to be important that he now has to return to is probably full of Crimsonheads). As such, it's remembered as being a terrifying and visceral game aesthetically, when it's really just an fancy-looking mansion for the most part.

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Rocket League's success over its predecessor, Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, was an awakening for me about how important the graphical element can be (and.. uh, naming). I've always been a gameplay advocate, but not without realising that truly great, transcendant, art can hold hands with gameplay, even affecting it. Original Starcraft's a good example, where telling where each hand painted tile's game mechanic ends and the next one begins can be a delightful challenge, while racing for that pixel perfect reach. Some games look so sickly good as to turn me off though, especially if they look too sweet. Same with too yucky. Gotta hold mystery.

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Gameplay is the most important, once gameplay is "perfected" to standard, then amp up graphics.
But that also depends on the game. If sandbox styled, then hey, graphics arent the best but it's enough to tolerate when gameplay is often highest.
If it's something Story based like Uncharted, then graphics will tend to hit the high points.
Sadly this doesn't always work. Most moddable games will often have the best of both, but not alls the case in console wise.

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It's weird to think people are so quick to separate all the different bits of game design like it's some kind of RPG stat pool, and rate one above the other like some kind of unfaltering law. All these things feed into each other, sound, visuals, mechanics, levels, for one to fall short undermines the rest. The SSG could have the exact same stats, but if it looked and sounded like piss people would be less likely to use it, as a quick example.

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Jaxxoon R said:

It's weird to think people are so quick to separate all the different bits of game design like it's some kind of RPG stat pool, and rate one above the other like some kind of unfaltering law. All these things feed into each other, sound, visuals, mechanics, levels, for one to fall short undermines the rest. The SSG could have the exact same stats, but if it looked and sounded like piss people would be less likely to use it, as a quick example.


I can agree to some extent, however there are limits to that sort of logic, as far as I'm concerned. Sticking to classic DOOM, it's a game about killing demons with weapons, mostly guns, while navigating the environment. Firing a gun should "feel" impactful, killing something should feel satisfying, and navigating should be rawarding in some way shape or form. So that's where I think that a certain degree of quality in terms of visual/audio assets is required in order to turn mechanics into a compelling experience. So far I'm OK with what you said.

But when you look at how simplistic these effects are (regardless of how state of the art they were back then), it's safe to say that the art assets do what they need to do, but they are not doing anything more than that. And that's where I think the somewhat murky space of personal preferences and priorities begins.

Yes, it would have been nice if everything looked "better", or more detailed, potentially enhancing the experience further. But was it necessary to make the game what it is? I daresay no. Look at stuff like "smoothDOOM", does it make the game look better? Yes, it does (for some). But does it change the game as to how engaging and fast paced it is? I think not.

EDIT: It's at this point that one could argue certain stances change in validity depending on the genre of any given game. Looking at "The wolf among us" which is sort of an interactive graphic novel, the visuals are more important than in classic DOOM. However that does not put the argument in question that art assets need to pass a certain baseline in order to turn mechanics into an experience for the player.

At the end of the day, the gameplay, the storyline the mechanics are the basis on which everything else is put. When you come up with an idea for a game or just a map, you want a theme, but you most likely plan encounters and evironment in a way that works gameplaywise, before adding details. So that's why I think people, such as myself, tend to rate gameplay higher than visuals.

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I don't think it should be treated as an A vs B thing. Obviously gameplay is the most important but in 2016 we should expect good asthetics too. Doesn't mean it has to be the next ground breaking visuals with dynamic fish AI and sweat particles. Good graphics no longer means the next ground breaking photorealism engine that shits on your computer. A good example of a modern game wth good visuals is Overwatch, crisp, cartoony and compliments the gameplay because there isn't a visual clutter (targets are easy to see, very important for its style of game)

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For me, gameplay is infinitely more important than graphics for having fun while interacting with a game, which is how I measure a game's quality. Graphics do affect gameplay by influencing the player's thought processes during making decisions as he plays the game, but in 2 distinct ways. For lack of better terms, I'll call them aesthetical and informative. "Aesthetical" is when the graphic's aesthetical appeal (nice, ugly, original, generic, interesting, boring, neutral...) affects how the player plays. "Informative" is when the graphic's informative value (the objects/concepts they represent, how they relate to happenings in the game, and the clarity of both) affects how the player plays.

Both of them affect the player's perception of the game, especially his initial perception of it. But I'm convinced that it's possible for the player to fully overcome both influences once he gets familiar enough with the game and its mechanics, and his enjoyment of the game becoming unaffected by the game's graphics. Of course, few players ever get to this point. Getting to this point usually requires a strong enjoyment of / dedication to the pure game mechanics, otherwise the player would quit the game instead. Which makes me go back to my initial statement that gameplay is more important than graphics. For me, that is.

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The two are intertwined in so many ways that people seldom discuss. Suspension of disbelief is a good one. Another one is that graphics also need to serve a functional purpose and not just an aesthetic one. I need to know what the hell is happening on my screen. Modern AAA games have often regressed in this regard, with the art direction often not accounting for the fact that you need to easily distinguish things like enemies and important objects from the surrounding environments (which also partly explains why those games increasingly rely on bullshit like "detective vision" as a sort of band-aid solution).

With regards to suspension of disbelief and graphics, this is one of the primary reasons I just can't get into the newer Fallout games. Because the graphics are worse. Yes, I sincerely mean that Bethesda's modern first person 3D visuals are worse than the old 2D isometric ones. The complete switch in style of presentation they did also raised the stakes exponentially on production values, and that's where they simply can't keep up. The main problem is the awkard, sub-par character animation quality, which is way less of an issue in the 2D games. Things like the gore effects also regressed significantly, since it's way harder to do gore on real-time polygon characters than the pre-rendered/hand-crafted 2D gore which was much more gruesomely detailed by comparison. They even have to hide the energy weapon kills behind a thick layer of cloud particles to account for that they're just instantly swapping models since they can't depict someone melting/turning to ash in real time.

The other big problem with suspension of disbelief in the newer Fallout is how the switch to a seamless 3D world space also resulted in an unnaturally compressed scale, which directly contradicts the wasteland atmosphere the games are trying to depict and really makes it feel more like a theme park than an actual world. The old games had isolated zones split up via a world map traversal system.
There seems to be this underlying notion in the industry that a single seamless world is a natural step forward making the world map system antiquated and that all open world games should move in that direction, which I definitely don't agree with. Both of these methods are heavily abstracted in their own ways (well, there's nothing that inherently says you have to compress the scale of seamless worlds, but that's what the vast majority of developers end up doing anyway). The difference is that one is implicit, asking you to use your imagination to fill in the missing gaps, while the other is explicit, and is constantly asking you to turn your brain off and not think about the fact that towns are literally 5 minutes from eachother.

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