In the Absence of Color - Cru Hunter Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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In the Absence of Color

More emphasis today in triple-A titles is put towards pushing polygon counts than, arguably, even gameplay. The proof? Games that look great but still don't deliver the gameplay punches required to make them win in the profit-oriented game industry arena. The ever-close Uncanny Valley (where simulation graphics are just short of realism) and the idea of a Graphics Wall (where realism has been achieved, and producing more realistic graphics is impossible) are two main subjects that developers deal with, and are ones that gamers continuously speculate about. Each generation of consoles brings gamers closer to the aforementioned graphical Valley which is supposedly surrounded by that pesky Wall.

Yet, when I think about these technological achievements, it should disappoint gamers, shouldn't it? Developers have the ability to create simulations about pretty much anything, simulations that bend the laws of physics and break away from reality. But their efforts are more focused on creating realism: realistic faces, animations, and worlds that look like our own. Developers and gamers can create and play in vastly different worlds, yet by looking at sales and reviews alone, it seems the gaming world is perfectly happy with staying here on Earth, ravaged by aliens, consumed by zombies, or torn apart by World War III, all with Earth's variety of humanoid figures and realistic physics.

The most annoying part about these shackles we are content to stay in, is the lack of color we allow to be breathed into the worlds in which we create and game. Bigger developers and publishers are scared to take risks, to the point where even the color palate is a risk.

Modern Warfare. Notice how, aside from the signs and the night sky, almost everything is a shade of orange.

Even Borderlands, which prides itself with its unique cell-shaded art style, is often bland in its color.

Gears of War 3

Uncharted 3. A little bit better?

It's only in smaller, riskier, and thus more innovative, projects like Bastion and From Dust that we see rich reds, soft sands, and shimmering blues.

 

Bastion (top), From Dust (bottom)

Reality isn't wrong. Elaborated upon a bit more, that statement means this: it's less risky to keep to the art style of our world that everyone recognizes, since everyone (hopefully) knows that reality is the end-all-be-all of 'correct' graphics. Gamers game with their eyes, and pick up on the visual effects of a game first. So, if developers and publishers really want to provide a new experience, something original, try messing around with the art. And no, that shouldn't be restricted to simply the style, since Borderlands proves that cell-shaded art styles don't necessarily bring vibrant environments. Take From Dust for example: the developers wanted a game that focused on nature and the earth, thus they gave everything in the game, every natural object, vibrant hues that stand out from the tribesmen's small, pitiful wooden structures. Bastion wanted to focus on the fracturing of a world, so clashes of colors are common, as in the picture above.

Oddly enough, the most innovative parts in games today would have to be their soundtracks. The sounds that reverberate through each game is much different from one another, even when art styles, animations, and physics stay pretty much the same. The differences in music that accompany Portal 2's experience is much different than that of Halo: Reach or Dead Space 2. People never talk about a sound-wall, or at least, I haven't heard of an argument yet about what we'll do when we reach realistic sound quality. I for one would say that statement doesn't make sense: how do can you have realistic sound quality? Some people argue that Modern Warfare's gun accoustics surpass that of Battlefield's. It's all up for debate.

Why not approach graphics in the same way? Everyone focuses and interprets the same objects differently; have two people draw the same person and you'll see differences regarding what each artist focuses on. So why should there ever be an Uncanny Valley or Graphics Wall?

For one, there should be a distinction between graphics that are 'good' and graphics that are 'realistic.' Art has this similar problem: in the same field, artists like Monet and Van Gogh are well-known for their work, yet artists are often praised for how realistic their paintings are. Gaming shouldn't fall into that same trap. To do so would serve to vastly restrict the creative capabilities of the developers working on a game.

To the point: maybe developers wouldn't have such a hard time figuring out how to make something original if they would simply allow more color to be injected into their projects. Start with a color palate: what would happen to the likes of Modern Warfare 3 if its colors were amplified, the guns becoming a charcoal-black and fires a deep ember-red? If the sky's blue was mixed with a green haze? Sure, you wouldn't have a realistic modern shooter. Why not welcome those changes when the gaming industry is inundated with war simulations? What would happen if a shooter on par with Battlefield 3 were mixed with the artistic style of Okami?

 

Why the heck not? Gaming's all about playing around with simulations to make them fun and entertaining. If all you do with the freedom digital simulation gives you, is tinker around with how to make everything you already know as realistically as you can, what's the point of you messing around with the tools meant for more creative exploration? I view it as counter-productive.

Of course, this is just a gaming hobbyist talking. I'm no developer and no publisher; I understand that gaming's all about profit nowadays, but I don't know much else than that. Still, if developers and publishers don't want to take risks in terms of gameplay and plot, why not at least inject some extra color into the worlds? When I see trailers about Battlefield and Modern Warfare, all I see color-wise is blue sky, some green shrubs, and everywhere else is full of faded and dull warm colors like yellow and orange. I don't think it's just me.

Don't get me wrong, I love the games that are coming out: this coming year presents Skyrim, probably the most anticipated game of the year. What does it look like?

Skryim

You've got a larger variety of color in that picture than in the ones featured by Modern Warfare 2 and Borderlands from above combined. And it's coincidentally highly anticipated by every gamer that's not hiding under a rock.

Yes, gaming is all about the experiences, a cohesive narrative, good script and voice acting, and a great collection of sound bytes. First impressions make a big difference though, as that helps an advertising campaign, and these first visual experiences are what draw the gamers in. Color is the first thing we see. I'm surprised not as many triple A titles showcase more of it.

This blog is mainly about the colors developers use, or the lack thereof, and if developers could stray away from realistic graphics and physics to achieve the same means. Do you think developers need to include more color into their works to draw gamers in? Do you think it's possible to achieve 'realism' by using non-realistic graphics?

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