By Andrew "Pook" Collins
ast week I found myself in a very brief discussion with loonyboi about the aesthetics of games, and he provided me with a forum where I can write my ramblings, thoughts, and an occasional point about artistic style. So I felt Iíd give a shout out to the gaming community, and whoever else wants to listen to my philosophies about where games could be headed under the shadow of technological advancement. As computers are able to handle greater demands from developers, games may fall prey to the lure of photo-realism creating a game devoid of artistic style.
Weíve had a great year in 1998 with Grim Fandango receiving its well-deserved awards, and other notables such as Starcraft, Abeís Exoddus, Metal Gear Solid, and countless others games which have proven themselves worthy in artistic style. Style meaning that which is distinguishable from the rest, something that allows the game its own individuality and the visual ability to stand on its own. The fear comes with current trends that push towards reality. To create worlds and characters that are as real as you or I - something indistinguishable from reality.
Just as desktop publishing brought with it a slew of instant graphic designers and page layout artists in the late 80ís, the invention of scanners and digital cameras brought in a new breed of computer artists. Artists which can scan, cleanup, and deliver artwork into video games. Itís not the use of photos that bothers me, as I am known to work with photos from time to time, but the lack of vision that can come with it - the lack of control over what an artist produces and the control the photos can gain over what the product will become visually. Photos are great for reference and in some cases can be used for the gameís needs, but they are only one of many tools the artist has for creating. Letís take for example an area that needs a valve texture. Suppose we scan through our myriad of photos and find a few valves that look good. We then decide to settle on the one that is closest to what we want. We shouldnít have to pick something that is "close", we should be able create what we want. Worse yet would be to pick any old valve, or even to pick at random!
Besides their lack of personality, photographs are messy, especially when scalability is an issue such as in a true 3D game. Getting up close to photographs can be a traumatic pixel experience! A good example to illustrate the use of a photo vs. well-drawn artwork, as well as a good style example would be the Quake series. By taking control over every pixel that is drawn, noise that a photo would ordinarily produce is minimized, and at the same time allows the artistís style to show through.
So what happens when we find out that we are supposed to recreate San Francisco for an upcoming project? It seems going on a field trip would not only be entertaining, but could also provide an assortment of possible textures for the game. Letís become even more hypothetical and say that the target system can handle any texture size, unlimited polygon count, and real-time lighting. We could theoretically create an exact digital replica of San Francisco. The day that this goal is achieved I, for one, will be first in line to give congratulations for such an impressive technical feat. But is this the pinnacle of achievement? If this were to be true, every game company might as well start wearing uniforms as they wade into the waters of non-stylized mediocrity. Strictly believing that we have to use photos to create San Francisco is limiting to our potential as creators. Unless we are creating a virtual tour, we have room to play. We are game creators, and with that comes a little flexibility. We do have an option to go photo-realistic, but we also have the option to create in our own artistic style. Kingpin is a good example of a game set in a real world environment. Looking at the screenshots one can marvel at the realism achieved, but thatís not what I noticed. The character designs are what drew me to look more closely. The stolid beefy characters do well to exert a feeling of artistic style, as well as stand out in a 3D environment. Just take a look at that Doberman!
As time moves forward rapidly in this industry there will be many boundaries pushed. One day we will be witness to a game that looks so real that we could step into it. We also will still have the glorious art of Capcomís fighting games in one form or another. We will always marvel at the worlds of Final Fantasy and the spectacular games they create. There will always be developers that create impressionable artistic games such as Earthworm Jim and Heart of Darkness. As long as we maintain our control over what we create we should be fine. Who knows, perhaps after weíve achieved the ultimate realism in games there will be an 8-bit revival, but letís do it with style.
- Andrew Collins is an artist on the upcoming game Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K. 2 for Ritual Entertainment.
|Credits: Guest Editorial logo illustrated and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. This Guest Editorial is © 1999 Andrew Collins. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited and not nice.|