Graphics Vs Gameplay

An Editorial by Figboy

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves - Playstation 3

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves - Playstation 3

It’s kind of funny to me these days when I hear people touting the amazing graphical prowess of a game like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves on the PS3, because, just a few short years ago, the banner being waved about by gamers and gaming media everywhere was “Gameplay over Graphics.”

On the surface, it’s an excellent slogan. I mean, we’re playing video games. It’s always been about the gameplay, and it is paramount to the whole experience in the same way that enjoying a film or song is dependent on the quality of the story/acting, lyrics/melody.

Being a long time gamer (been playing since the NES days in 1985), I’ve seen the progression of the gaming industry for over 25 years. Graphics have matured from little squares on the screen trying to emulate real objects, to character models so detailed you can’t help but gawk at the fact that they are not real people.

Killzone 2 - Playstation 3

Killzone 2 - Playstation 3

And yet, when it suits their fancy, the gaming media, and many gamers, love to throw out the mantra that graphics don’t matter, and it’s all about the gameplay. In my mind, I don’t see them as being mutually exclusive. Some of the best games of all time were lauded for their amazing graphics at the time. Super Mario Bros. 3, for example, was praised for having “spectacular,” “amazing” visuals on top of it’s expertly designed gameplay. Games like Metal Gear Solid 3 and Shadow of the Colossus were praised for their visuals as well as their tight gameplay.

Super Mario Bros. 3 - NES

Super Mario Bros. 3 - NES

Shadow of the Colossus - Playstation 2

Shadow of the Colossus - Playstation 2

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater - Playstation 2

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater - Playstation 2

In truth, there are very, very few games that have put graphics over gameplay (The Bouncer springs readily to mind). A game like Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, and it’s sequel, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, are visual showpieces. The vistas, texture detail, and character models are hands down some of the best we’ve seen on consoles. Uncharted 2 may very well be the best graphics so far on any console on the market. Clearly, if it was gameplay over graphics, then Uncharted 2 can’t possibly be an amazing game, right? Not so. The game is being touted as not only one of the best games this year, but one of the best games this console generation thus far. The marriage of gameplay and graphics is so intertwined in everything that is Uncharted 2 that you couldn’t possibly have one without the other.

The Bouncer - Playstation 2 - Sora, is that you?

The Bouncer - Playstation 2 - Sora, is that you?

The graphics compliment the gameplay in a way that they simply wouldn’t be the same if one was lacking. Would the gameplay in Uncharted be any worse if it featured, say, Playstation 1 visuals? Maybe not, but the immersion would be lessened. Maybe even the connection us players have with protagonist Nathan Drake and his motley crew of supporting characters would be weakened. It’s much easier to relate to a character that, visually, is closer to ourselves than, say, Pitfall Harry from the Atari 2600 days.

Pitfall - Atari 2600 - Nathan Drake, is that you?

Pitfall - Atari 2600 - Nathan Drake, is that you?

Even non-realistic games like Ratchet and Clank Future feature astounding visual fidelity that people compare it to Pixar films. The gameplay of the Ratchet and Clank series has remained fundamentally unchanged since the PS2 iterations, but the added horsepower of the PS3 has helped the series ascend beyond what it was on the previous consoles due to an added level of polish and immersion not possible before.

Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time - Playstation 3

Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time - Playstation 3

Sucker Punch, for example, released their first PS3 game this year called inFAMOUS. Graphically, it’s heads and shoulders above most of the other sandbox games available out there (ie, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, and Prototype), but can’t compare to games like, say, Killzone 2 and Uncharted, which aim for a more realistic setting to their games this generation.

inFAMOUS - Playstation 3

inFAMOUS - Playstation 3

Sucker Punch, however, is known for their quality gameplay design thanks to the superlative Sly Cooper series on the Playstation 2. inFAMOUS is an amalgamation of what they accomplished and perfected in the Sly series – controls, level design, art design – and married it to an open world, super hero sandbox mold. The results are wholly unique and visually striking. Gameplay and Graphics.

Many other games, from Mass Effect, to Bioshock, to Metal Gear Solid 4 all accomplish similar ends: providing a rich gameplay experience and highly detailed environments and character models.

Mass Effect - Xbox 360

Mass Effect - Xbox 360

Bioshock - PC, PS3, Xbox 360

Bioshock - PC, PS3, Xbox 360

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots - Playstation 3

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots - Playstation 3

Should we judge the fact that those games are gorgeous negatively because there are other games (and other systems), that are not capable of producing the same visuals? No, is the easy answer. As an industry, we have evolved to the point where we can push visuals further than we’ve ever had before. We can combine them with excellent game design to produce an experience wholly unique to our medium, and capable of touching the player with a myriad of emotions. Games like Heavy Rain and The Last Guardian are further examples of developers with a history of creative design meshing their upcoming games with state of the art visuals. It is an HD era we live in now, as gamers. I think it’s time we accepted that the standards have been raised, and don’t just dismiss a game because it sports pretty visuals and a high polygon count, or view the two elements of a game as separate.

Afterall, when we eat a good stew, we don’t dissect it’s ingredients and separate them. We take in the whole experience. The same goes with gaming. Gameplay and Graphics are part of the stew that makes a game enjoyable, immersive, and entertainment. When we try and look at them as disparate elements, we miss the point of what the developer was trying to accomplish. Some developers do well with simplistic design and visuals (see games like Braid, Castle Crashers, etc), and others excell at more complex and detailed design (see, Metal Gear Solid 4, Killzone 2, etc). In the end, all that matters is that the stew turns out good.

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