Monday, December 26, 2011

Graphics vs Imagination

I've been playing a bit of Project Zomboid recently, which has me thinking about the nature of graphics, and our brains way of interpreting presented information. Anyone who has read a book and then watched the movie knows how much of the experience is lost purely by having the visual input catered for. Characters on screen are vastly different to the ones in our heads. I think it's the same with computer graphics and our experience of them.

Project Zomboid (by The Indie Stone) Is a 2d, pixel sprite based isometric zombie apocalypse game cum simulator. The graphics look like they could have been made in MSpaint. Surprisingly this doesn't detract from suspension of disbelief, but enhances it.

I had a gun, but no bullets,

and the gunshop was locked. A tight spot. After scrounging around in someones kitchen I managed to find a few shells, and that brought a real feeling of relief. On attempting to exit the kitchen I found the lounge room full of zombies, and the games awesome fright mechanic (gives a little orchestral blast on sudden encounters) made me shit. Blasting off a few of my newfound shells to clear a line through the horde and racing out onto the street really got my heart pumping.

What is this? All these emotions and not a single 3d model to be found? How am I so roped into this experience when the graphics are so far removed from anything remotely frightful?

I think the key is

that the graphics aren't realistic. They don't force an experience on you. They leave so much out that your brain has to fill in the gaps, which forces you to consider the game as an experience, rather than a game.

I recently also played Dead Space 2, and although it is beautifully made with some real pant stainingly scary moments, I found myself powering through it without mind to my characters life. Death was a mere hindrance, a respawn timer. The convincing models and atmospheric levels had presented all my brain required on a nice platter, I needed no input to the situation.

This got me thinking

back to other similar experiences. I used to play a lot of Wurm Online (before Notch was big, awwww yeahhhh) and it had good-gravy-why-don't-they-get-someone-with-half-a-clue bad graphics. Nothing was animated, models were terribad and the terrain was a series of triangular peaks and valleys. Yet when a blocky misrepresentation of a wolf was chasing me down the 128*128 resolution road and I had no weapons to defend myself, I would panic! My heart would race, I would lean in so close to the screen that my nose would almost touch it, and I'd make little whimpering sounds every time I risked slowing to turn and see if it was still there.

It contrast, when oblivion came out and I was being chased by a normal mapped moss troll through the beautifully rendered Lleyawin foothills I was hardly phased. Big whoop, he's a furry monkey man.

Is it the supply of information

that causes our brain to rope us into the less-embellished graphical games, while distancing us from the realistic ones? I think so, and I think it's something developers should consider when they are deciding on their visual direction. Awesome graphics aren't the be all and end all of great games.

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