Alright to some of you, this issue might be old hat but I keep seeing this issue come up, even in professional game reviews, So, we decided to just go ahead and talk about it. Graphics and aesthetics are not the same thing. For instance, Katamari Damacy is a game that has terrible graphics and fantastic aesthetics, whereas, say, Killzone 2? I’d say that’s a game with fantastic graphics, but a pretty lame aesthetic. The problem is that when both reviewers and consumers talk about how much they love the game’s graphics, or how important graphics are, this leads the industry to pumping more money into graphics, when really most of the time, all people really want is for their games to look good, and — that’s not what graphics do. Graphics are simply the technical rendering techniques that allow us to display images in a particular way on-screen. Graphics are things like self shadowing, Graphics are things like self shadowing, normal mapping, Graphics are things like self shadowing, normal mapping, subsurface scattering Graphics are things like self shadowing, normal mapping, subsurface scattering or tessellation. Better graphical capabilities allow you to display more polygons or, do fancier shadowing and lighting effects. More simply put, better graphics allow for more fidelity. Fidelity is a word you hear bandied about a lot, But basically it just means more detail. Over the years and the console cycles, We’ve been able to add more and more detail to our models, use higher resolution textures, and put in touches like bloom lighting effects due to increased graphical power on both the hardware and the software side. And don’t get me wrong, this additional detail is great. It lets us do all kinds of things we couldn’t do before, but here’s the thing; Graphics doesn’t define how good a game looks, that’s aesthetics. Loosely put, aesthetics is the style of the game. Aesthetics are the emotional context of the experience. Aesthetics encompass every aspect of the game, from sounds to the mechanics to the music, but today We’ll just start by talking about them in terms of visuals. Take a game like Golden Axe Beast Rider and set it side by side with something like PaRappa the Rapper. Now Beast Rider literally has a thousand times the graphical capabilities of PaRappa, and yet, Parappa still looks better. Why? Because PaRappa the Rapper has a unified, visual aesthetic. The color palette has been very carefully chosen, and every moment is set up with that Visual Vibrance that sets the tone of the entire piece. All of the characters’ proportions are stylized, and the character designs themselves are all rigorously chosen to give the player a sense that the outlandish is commonplace in this setting. Beast Rider, not so much. The palette is almost entirely brown, with a little effort put into setting up moments of contrast, which is Particularly evident when you’re comparing it to a game like PaRappa the Rapper. On top of that, there’s very little attempt to find a consistent theme for the enemies beyond Generic Human. And don’t tell me it can’t be done. If Final Fantasy and Gears of War have taught us anything, It’s that you can create semi-realistic humans with a consistent, stylized theme if you put your mind to it. This all really hits home when you play the game. Aesthetics and mechanics work together. Like I said, aesthetics give the player the emotional context for the experience. It helps them enter the right frame of mind to suspend disbelief and become completely immersed. PaRapper the Rapper’s visual aesthetic sets the player up for wacky, ridiculous fun and a unique gameplay experience. Well, it was unique at the time anyway. As for Beast Riders’ aesthetic, I don’t know about you, but that imagery doesn’t prepare me for high action and over-the-top violence. The game’s aesthetic actually clashes with the core mechanics by muting the action. Bad aesthetic design. So why are we picking on Beast Rider so much? Because if you look at the original Golden axe, it did none of these things wrong. In fact, Golden Axe was aesthetically the opposite of Beast Rider, even though it was so incredibly inferior graphically. There was a clear template for this franchise, but value was placed on graphics over aesthetics, And we were left with a semi realistic looking game that was nowhere near as engaging, even visually as the original. We’ve seen this happening a little too often in this generation of games. I also really want to reinforce that aesthetics are holistic. You ever been playing, say, a samurai game and suddenly get jarred out of the experience when an electric guitar started playing a heavy metal riff? You ever hear a character in a medieval game say something and had your feeling of immersion completely killed because it sounds like some guy down the street? Think about how much Mass Effect sounds and feels like sci-fi space. It’s because they carefully fit all of their aesthetic components together. Look at the structural designs, the character design, the music, even the voices and the speech patterns of the aliens. A lot of time went into making sure that all of those elements set the proper tone, Reinforcing the player’s immersion and allowing them to easily slip into this radically different universe as they took on the role of Commander Shepard. But how come Mass Effect could do this, while Haze could not? How come Black Isle Games still look somehow better than Two Worlds? How can Bioshock, Fallout 3, Team Fortress 2, Okami, and Borderlands look great, while Medal of Honor, Crackdown 2, Divinity 2, Knights Contract, Rogue Warrior just look bland and forgettable? It’s because games that look good are made by teams who know that graphics exist to serve a e s t h e t i c s. Sure, all of these teams spent a lot of time and money increasing their graphical capabilities, But not just for the sake of having better graphics. They did it to be able to better deliver on a firmly established aesthetic In several of these cases, the developers had actually started out charging forward without a firm aesthetic, only to find that the result was completely unappealing Learning their lesson, they started from scratch and centered their development around a specific, carefully crafted aesthetic. And I think we’re all glad they did. We, as an industry, simply have to realize that while nice graphics are hugely important, And there’s a lot you couldn’t do without that sweet graphics engine, Graphics alone aren’t the answer. We have to realize that you can have all the graphical tricks in the world, And it’ll never make something look really, truly good, unless you’ve thought through the aesthetic you’re using those tricks to achieve. And for that to happen, everybody, consumers and press alike And press alike, has to start separating the way a game looks from its graphics, and the sooner we start focusing our discussion on aesthetics Instead, the more games you’ll see that actually look really, truely, good, Rather than just throwing a big number of poly’s and high-resolution textures at you. See you next week.