Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Way of Visual Appeal and Longevity

"Good games are not marked by their visual appeal, but rather their depth and ability to please gamers as participants of interactive media." - Yours Truly.

Chances are, if you are a gamer, you know at least ONE person in your circle of friends that has said something along the lines of the above. In this case, it is myself. As much as I wish this was 100% true, I do have to make an appendage to the stated claim - despite how much we may try to deny or overemphasize graphic's importance, it is the graphics (sometimes mainly the visual style/appeal) that can hook and sometimes keep gamers' attention. I am going to chronicle the Street Fighter series in juxtaposition to popular and competitive audiences reacting to the visual appeal of the games.

Street Fighter 4. The latest installment of Street Fighter is looking pretty good - not because of a high-end graphics engine, but because of a slick style and sharp presentation. Bright colors, vivid character expressions, flashy Ultra combo animations - all of these lend to a very satisfying visual experience. Because of this success in presenting the Street Fighter essence, the game is a hit with both competitive players and casual players. But it goes a little deeper than simply stating the game looks pretty. Gamers with HD televisions are lucky to have the full visual experience, as it is comparable to the arcade set up arcade players experience. Here, we see a congruency in the visual representation - both games look the same.

Let's take Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, a 15 year old stalemate in the SF2 saga. It has stood the test of time because of its depth in competitive environments, not through casual popularity. In fact, most casual SF fans or fans of fighting games in general believe Street Fighter 2' Hyper Fighting is superior. While arguments of balance may come into play in this debate (this writer takes the viewpoint that SSF2T has the most varied gameplay which takes precedence over balance) what is important to note is the common casual complaints of the visual design of the game. The announcer's voice is always on top of the list, with more sophisticated complaints stemming at mixture of dated visuals with enhanced backgrounds, while others even going further to claim Hyper Fighting was a better looking game altogether. Jeff Gerstmann, slightly renown video game guru and reviewer, is a represenative of these complaints.

What is important to note here, and I apologize for not finding a better seque into this chunk of information, is the difference between an arcade setting, which is mostly dedicated to the competitive audience, and the console/home setting which is aimed at the casual audience. Arcade monitors display colors very differently from a regular tube TV - Colors tend to be brighter and any pixelation is "blinded" by the inherent scanlines on the arcade monitor. So we can possibly assess that SSF2T looks very different from arcade to console, no matter how perfect the port job or emulation is. Also note the atmosphere of the arcade - mostly dimly lit with loud music in the background and usually a substantial amount of games being played at once. Through this we see that it is more than likely arcade gamers won't even be able to hear the annoying announcer's voice and the brightly lit screen comes as even more vibrant against the dark shadows of the arcade cabinet. What we have are two clear illustrations of two different ways to experience the same game (save me the specifics, ST nerds), which brings about two different viewpoints on the game - casuals don't like ST while those who grew up in the arcade still play it today.

From SSF2T to SSF2T:HDR. To save on length of this article and time reading on development issues, HD Remix is a redrawn version of SSF2T with a new soundtrack, a pretty good netplay option, and a rebalanced mode catered to the hardcore fans. HDR fixes the problems casual gamers had with SSF2T's visuals and suddenly everyone is a fan of this dated classic. Even Jeff Gerstmann, although he is not saved by claiming his astonishment comes from smart balance changes (no one can say that the week a FG drops). HDR looks good for the casual audience and now it is a hit. Some might say it is the balanced mode that sealed the deal, but I'd wager that the casual players wouldn't care - a redrawn version of a Street Fighter game nobody played will seem like a new game regardless.

Lastly, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. A lot of people love this game. There is no denying the complexity, execution, and guessing-games in it that keep the game wildly popular among both casual and competitive fans. It does have complaints - many can be articulately stated by this man - which range from imbalance to nullification of SF-trademark fireballs, but it constantly builds in popularity. My proposed reasoning behind this phenomena - SF3 also looks really good on both arcade and console.

Fliud animation, big characters, vibrant colors and detailed stages (though not as much as 2nd Impact) all lend this game to being a showstopper. The first time I saw this game I was stunned; as a heavy player in ST, I still sometimes look at the game in awe in comparison to other fighters. Few 2d games look so good. Sure, GGXXAC has a more balanced, more vivid visual flare and a few new games (BlazBlue, KOFXII) might trump SF3 even more, but the balance between animation, ease of use (6 buttons as opposed to 4,5) is truly unmatched. Not only that, but despite a heavy anime influence in SF3, 3s is mature looking in theme and has a bad-ass announcer, which can't be said for SSF2T:HDR's dumbed down color scaling and autistic-sounding announcer. This isn't your brother's SF2 - this is SF3.

So, before closing, I want everyone to know that it was very hard for me to recognize these differences in graphical prowess and cultural semiotics - I am usually blind to that sort of thing. However, I don't think many people can argue againts my points, unless they have more confirmable data than I do. In that case, I fold.

Otherwise, happy gaming.

1 comment:

Rakae said...

Nice post.

I agree, as a gamer graphics come second to game play. I think that it is this way for most hardcore gamers. I guess that is why you don't see many DOA beach volley ball tournaments.

The one thing I think SF4 balances is that it is visual pleasing to watch and yet not over the top.
Even if you dont play the game you can still understand whats going on. Unlike marvel or TVC. (I just got teliported to subspace where a big bucket of ocean gets poured on me.)

I am not saying they are bad games just from a spectator view they got no idea what just happened.