Some say beauty is in the eye of the beholder; others say it’s all in how you hold your rifle.
Technology is pretty freakin’ amazing when you think about it. There aren’t’ many guarantees in this life besides death and taxes as they say, but I could probably add advancing tech to that list as well. It’s pretty much a lock that the hardware our children will run in 10-15 years will be vastly superior to what we own today, just as ours is head and shoulders above the Walkman’s and VCRs of our childhood. Gaming is no different, as you can literally chart the positive influence that technological breakthroughs have had on our industry. From 8-Bit Mario to photo-realistic Forza Motorsport (and all points in-between) we’re always assured that time will indefinitely bring bigger and better visuals.
But have you ever asked yourself just how important that kind of thing really is?
Take the upcoming Call of Duty for example. Advanced Warfare will not only move the franchise in a very different direction, it will also have the benefit of being built on the latest next-gen consoles from the ground up. Sure we’ll still see slightly stripped down versions for the old standards like the 360 and PS3, but overall the game promises to look like nothing you’ve seen in the series’ past. The additional horsepower is an extremely valuable resource to the team this go ‘round, as they are able to pour efforts into making this game look more like a real-life battlefield than ever before.
In a recent behind the scenes video, Sledgehammer touted a level of realism they hope will blur the lines between where the game ends and your living room begins. “…we're kind of peering into the future, we did whatever it took to make the game look as photorealistic as possible. The first thing the gamer's going to notice when they see our facial performances, they're going to wonder, like 'It looks like it's on TV!' And then they're going to realize, 'Oh my god, that's a game…We're building a whole separate character skeleton on top of the character animation to be able to see all those articulated parts and things moving as he's running. It's really going to let you feel like a badass, which is something that everybody needs to feel like playing Call of Duty…It's not an experience like you're used to from Call of Duty. It's going to blow people away!” says the development team.
Frankly, I find myself a bit torn on the matter. There are some games where graphics absolutely make or break the overall experience. Racers and sports simulators are visual dependent (meaning the more lifelike things are, the more immersed you become). However, some of the most popular titles out today (like League of Legends and Dota 2 for example) don’t attempt to push any boundaries when it comes to their graphics, yet they have two of the biggest install bases around!
This leads me to the inevitable conclusion that graphics are only important some of the time. It’s very “circumstantial” isn’t it? While I can appreciate Call of Duty’s campaign mode with bloom lighting (or even a few extra polygons rendered into the muzzle of my Type-95), in the end I’m not sure I really care. Now I admit freely that visuals are one of the first things that appeal to my eye when scoping a new title. Having said that, when I’m chasing my prey down a back alley desperately trying to get a red-dot fix on them for a much needed headshot, I’m not thinking about how pretty things are. Of course I’m not suggesting a return to an N64 / Goldeneye era, but I do feel a focus on pushing the envelope of photo-realism in a game like Call of Duty might be a slight mismanagement of resources.
Don’t get me wrong, I want my entertainment to look good just as much as the next guy. I suppose I’m more in keeping with the classic arcade gamer mentality. Many of those that cut their teeth on titles with simple vectors and pixelated sprites prefer them to the current-gen. While I personally love how our industry has evolved (and more importantly where it’s headed) I look to things like the Oculus Rift when pondering advancements in visual technology. FPS on the Xbox…not so much.
When it comes to Call of Duty, just get the mechanics right and give me something to shoot at. Throw in a few well-designed maps and I’m good. Save the eye candy for a rainy day.