January 30, 2006
Over the weekend, my wife and I chanced to see an advertisment on TV for Dead or Alive 4 on the Xbox 360. I asked her for her thoughts.
"Looks like another boring fighting game," she said.
"What about the graphics?" I asked.
"They're alright, I guess. Not Resi good," she replied, referring to Resident Evil 4, which we recently completed on the GameCube.
The GameCube didn't (quite) have the graphics power of the original Xbox, let alone the 360, and yet all this power failed to produce any sort of positive response from my wife. In fact, the 'inferior' (in terms of power required to produce) GameCube graphics were being lauded as the superior graphics!
We shouldn't be suprised. With the Xbox, Microsoft's marketing announced to the world that "this is the point that photo-realism begins." When you have photo-realistic graphics, all that better hardware provides is longer draw distances and more objects (both welcome, but not necessarily impressive to the eye of someone not extremely clued up on games). When you are telling people that if you don't see your console's graphics on a HD screen you won't notice the difference, you are admitting you've just built an expensive boytoy for tech-heads.
We have already reached the point where the use of the graphics in a game are substantially more important than the raw power of the machine used to create them. The PS2 is long overdue for an upgrade, but the Xbox 360 is an anomaly: an overpowered upgrade to an already overpowered machine. It's purpose: to duel with Sony over market share.... and personally, I can't see anything in Microsoft's current strategy that will grow their share significantly in this generation of machines. Perhaps the Xbox 4000 will have something new to offer.
I have my 360 and am absolutely loving it. I am a bit of a high-tech junkie though, so I am certainly swayed by the impressive graphics arguments. The odd thing, however, is that on an HD TV, the graphics are SO good that you become used to them quite quickly. The net effect is that if you go back to previous generation hardware, they just look really bad, rather than the new stuff looking really good.
I could wax lyrical about the in-car view of Project Gotham Racing 3, though, and the way the dappled sunlight through the trees reflects off the CD player's LCD display in the TVR, but I won't. Oh no, I just did.
However, for me, the absolute killer app of the 360 is the new Xbox Live functionality which is very tightly integrated with the platform itself. Getting notifications of friends coming online, regardless of what I'm doing, and being able to pop open a private chat window even while a game is loading, is a significant step forward in my opinion.
For those of us with geographically separated friends who can't just arrange an impulse 3-player game on the sofa, Xbox Live is an immensely satisfying way of arranging multi-player gaming. Add to that the Xbox Live Arcade micropayments system, and the almost perverse pleasure of playing online 4-player Gauntlet on a machine with a million times the processing power of the original arcade unit, and I'm very highly impressed.
Posted by: Gorgon88 | January 30, 2006 at 02:34 PM
While I wasn't so much impressed with the gameplay of Resident Evil 4, its graphics were astounding. Not in some "wow-so-hi-def-and-so-real" way, but in an evocative way. That's the tack I'm taking with graphics now -- do they evoke the tone/theme of the game? If not, I couldn't care less about how many polys are getting pushed. Playing Shadow of the Colossus, my gripe wasn't with the graphics at all (not even the stunning lack of antialiasing), but rather that the game didn't always flow smoothly. Graphicswise it was like entering a Cezanne.
The graphics arms race seems to demand more of everything - polygons, texture, resolution, draw distance - while sacrificing performance (just like, y'know, the last generation, and the one before that, and the one before that . . . ).
The 360 hasn't offered anything yet that you couldn't get on the earlier generation, and all you'd sacrifice was a bit of fidelity. Best game on the system so far: Geometry Wars. That should really tell Microsoft something.
Posted by: Johnny Pi | January 30, 2006 at 03:29 PM
Having played Shadow of the Colossus recently, I don't think we need the next generation yet. And I certainly don't need an Xbox 360... the only games for that console that I'm interested in are some of the Xbox Live Arcade games (Mutant Storm Reloaded, Geometry Wars). All the other stuff that looks interesting is out for (or coming to) the PC as well.
Okay, PGR3 looks hot. But when I want a racing game, I just play one of the TrackMania games.
Posted by: fluffy bunny | January 30, 2006 at 07:53 PM
Thanks for the view from the reverse of the coin, Fred! I've no doubt there are many people who are delighted with their 360s, I just don't think there will be significantly more such people than there were for the original Xbox. :)
Regarding Shadow of the Colossus, it launches in Europe in *three weeks*. Boy, they've made us wait.
"Graphicswise it was like entering a Cezanne."
I think I just salivated. :)
Posted by: Chris | January 31, 2006 at 07:20 AM
I think the big issue raised, especially when we talk about the exquisitely crafted RE4, is emphasis on overall image quality vs. focus on particular assets.
To wit, the visual difference between Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 is often invoked: while Doom 3 has arguably a more advanced graphics engine, the game renders a fairly narrow set of environment/light conditions, whereas HL2's graphic technology is geared on a wider overall image fidelity. When asked many gamers considered HL2 to be vastly superior graphics-wise.
Similarly, RE4 (while individual art assets are exquisitely crafted as well) shows an uncommon attention to the overall look and feel of the game basically at all times. Attention to lighting and particularly changing color temperatures make RE4 a constant visual feast. And that's what your wife is responding to, Chris. Casual and non-gamers especially will respond better to a game that is visually more arresting in a more traditional manner--ie, things that impress everyone instead of features that just impress hardcore gamers.
I'll never forget playing Shadow of the Colossus at home during the holidays with all the family together, and my elder sister (31 and completely indifferent to gaming) actually stopped and watched the television as I was playing the game. To have not mentally screened it out entirely was one thing, but for her to stand there and remark how interesting the game looked and watch it for a few minutes was a complete surprise... but given how beautiful virtually any given segment of that game looks, maybe it shouldn't have been!
Posted by: Jack Monahan | February 01, 2006 at 03:09 PM
I'm always surprised that in game journalism, reviews tend to judge a game's "graphics," but not it's "visuals." It seems a lot of game reviews out there tend to confuse "good graphics [technology]" with "good art direction." Doom 3 may have wonderful whizbang technological trickery, but id's art design is terrible. Despite that, it still gets 9.0 ratings on its graphics...
Posted by: James O | February 01, 2006 at 07:57 PM
I completely agree with everything said here! There is a marked distinction between the visuals and the graphics technology of any given game, and it is one that is often lost on reviewers (but rarely lost on Casual/non-gamers).
This is hardly suprising when you look at the typical games reviewer. In terms of Myers-Briggs, games reviewers are mostly Thinking, which correlates to a broad Sciences bias (versus Feeling, which relates to a broad Arts bias). This is a crude approximation at best, of course. :) (Not surprisingly, programmers share the same bias).
My original point - that how graphics are used has become substantially more important than the power of the technology used to create it - seems to have been met with broad agreement.
Posted by: Chris | February 02, 2006 at 06:58 AM
It seems a lot of game reviews out there tend to confuse "good graphics [technology]" with "good art direction." Doom 3 may have wonderful whizbang technological trickery, but id's art design is terrible.
Posted by: wow powerleveling | September 06, 2006 at 04:20 AM
I don't know about terrible, but it certainly doesn't appeal to me. :) Anyone like id's art design?
Posted by: Chris | September 06, 2006 at 09:20 AM