Are Graphics Finally Good Enough?

Posted: October 11, 2013 in Current Gaming
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I still remember it very clearly. It was during the Gamecube/PS2/Xbox era of gaming. Rumblings had really just started about the next generation. I was discovering the glory that was Resident Evil 4. I was having a rare discussion about video games with my wife and I posed the question: At what point are graphics good enough?

See, I’ve always felt that gaming moved into 3-D worlds a generation too soon. There were great games on the Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, and Playstation, but many of them are difficult to revisit now because, honestly, they are ugly. Even classics such as Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time suffer from a bad case of the uglies upon a revisit today. It doesn’t mean they aren’t good games, it just means the presentation is extremely dated. I’ve never noticed the same about Super NES and Sega Genesis games, but I feel it’s because they work on a 2-D plane, meaning that sprites were much simpler, but also seemed more detailed b/c they were viewed from only one angle. Donkey Kong Country is still a beautiful game. Super Metroid is still striking when I play through it. This all changed, for the most part, upon the release of the Nintendo 64, PlayStation, and Dreamcast. We were thrust into a new world. At the time, it was gorgeous, but that hasn’t lasted.

Back to my main point. I posed this graphical question to my wife for a good reason. Up to that point, a new generation was simply about power and graphical prowess, such as the move into 3-D I outlined above. Sure, there was some innovation with controllers or the medium (cartridges versus discs) but not too much beyond that. The Xbox really pulled in online gaming, and the PS2 dabbled in it. But those systems, along with the GCN, were beginning to age and everyone was anticipating E3 because we knew the new systems would be on display. At what point are graphics good enough?

I'd have been happy with this level of graphics, honestly.

I’d have been happy with this level of graphics, honestly.

I was quite happy with the graphical power of my GCN and PS2. Sure, they could be sharper, but that wasn’t reason enough for me to spend a decent chunk of money on a new system. There had to be more. To their credit, Microsoft and Sony innovated by marketing their gaming machines as media hubs. Both could play movies, stream music, play Netflix, etc… Online play was standard and extremely easy. These were no longer ‘just’ gaming machines. They were now media machines, and that’s not a bad thing.

The surprise of the three was Nintendo. Nintendo took a massive risk with the Revolution (and I still prefer that name to Wii). They were coming off a third place finish in the console wars with the GCN. What could they do to shake up the race? They gave us the Wii.

The buzz from E3 was almost immediate once Nintendo fully unveiled the machine and the motion controls. It was unlike anything else being presented. Power and HD capabilities had been sacrificed for pricing purposes (so they say). The buzz, though, was all about the input. No other console could do the games the same way the Wii could do them (six-axis controller doesn’t count). Upon it’s release, it was an immediate hit and was virtually impossible to find. I pre-ordered one, having shifted from my “why would I want to upgrade for graphical purposes” attitude.

Again, I still find this impressive, but I also grew up with 8 bits.

Again, I still find this impressive, but I also grew up with 8 bits.

You know the story from there. It sold amazingly well, but never achieved much of the promise many of us thought it had. The controller was eventually refined further with WiiMotion Plus, but only very late in the Wii’s life and not even required for most games. The Wii’s success eventually gave us Kinect and Move, the former being the more successful of the two (and now required for the Xbox One). Imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery.

Microsoft is now banking on the media center aspect of their next console, the Xbox One. The PS4 is pushing the same. The WiiU is more powerful than the 360 and PS3, but will probably be behind these new behemoths yet again, power wise. The thing I’ve noticed though, is that neither of these put a huge emphasis on graphics. As a matter of fact, it took Microsoft 30 minutes to ever touch on video games. It’s also worth remembering that both Microsoft and Sony say they’ll support their current systems for at least a few more years.

Maybe I’m old fashioned. I’m currently 31 years old, but I do try to stay “up” on my technology. Still, I’ve no desire for my gaming machine to be my media center. At the end of the day, I just want to play games, and I’m wondering if that isn’t being somewhat overlooked now. By Microsoft and Sony in their efforts to make their machines more than just gaming machines, and to some degree by Nintendo in their efforts to catch lightening in a bottle again with unique interfacing and controls. All three are searching to some degree for an advantage that games alone can’t give them. They can’t trumpet just power anymore, because I think we’ve finally gotten to the point where they have realized that graphics are good enough.


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