The Tyranny Of Graphics

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by Davaris, Sep 4, 2006.

  1. badjim

    Original Member

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2005
    Messages:
    17
    Likes Received:
    0
    I don't think games need much graphical splendor either. Super Mario World was fairly crude looking for a SNES game, but was also somewhat popular if I recall.

    I think it's down to this: in big budget games, you can rush art. If you have the money for 200 man-months of art production, you can have 100 artists doing it in two months almost as easily as you can have 10 artists doing it in a year and a half or so. Most of it can be split into small tasks that won't take very long.

    Gameplay on the other hand, requires a feedback process between testing and programming. It's an iterative process and you can't run it in parallel. It's also harder for upper management to evaluate gameplay changes than to look at art.

    Result: Such games may or may not have good gameplay but almost always look good. But this doesn't have much to do with what gamers want. It's just that graphics are easier for large studios to get right. People will play ugly games. How many people played Dopewars?
     
  2. RinkuHero

    RinkuHero New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2006
    Messages:
    673
    Likes Received:
    1
    Fathom, for the Atari 2600:
    http://pics.livejournal.com/rinku/pic/0008s6dw
    http://pics.livejournal.com/rinku/pic/0008tk93

    Filler (on Manifesto Games, which is a good criterion of being an indie game):
    http://www.manifestogames.com/files/images/fillerbig2.preview.jpg
    http://www.manifestogames.com/files/images/fillerbig1.preview.jpg

    Which one is more pleasing on the eyes? Indie games may have individual sprites or images that are okay, but they often clash in style, clutter up the screen, and aren't pleasing to look it.

    Also I disagree that the 2D techniques of the NES and SNES games have been lost. There is a community of people who make pixel art, there are huge forums for people who do it, some of it even better than the pixel art of the SNES days. The games on my site make use of those techniques. Aveyond uses it. It's hardly lost.

    Also, Super Mario World isn't really crude either:
    http://pics.livejournal.com/rinku/pic/0008wfdq

    Look at the little detail of the way his hat comes a little off him as he jumps, or even the color arrangement of the entire screen: a basic rule of 2D art which virtually no indie game uses, but virtually all SNES games use, is that the background should use more saturated colors than the sprites/foreground, and that the sprites and foreground should be outlined in darker colors (usually black) than the background objects are. Some indie games don't even outline in a darker color, let alone make the distinction between outlining in black and outlining in a darker version of the object's colors.
     
    #62 RinkuHero, Sep 13, 2006
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2006
  3. woo

    woo
    Original Member

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2006
    Messages:
    135
    Likes Received:
    0
    I think you've got a bad screenshot there for one. Have you seen it in action? It's much closer to the one from the developers site, but that's still not doing it justice really: http://www.tamestorm.com/games/filler_puzzle_game/images/big1.jpg

    It's "chaotic" starting out, but purposefully. Is it the best art I've ever seen? Obviously not, and doesn't really reach the level of polish I think would yield the best sales for it (the background is very nice but some of the flowers could use some work, for example). It definitely has untapped potential in that regard. The gameplay is actually quite good in that game, which is why a distinctly "casual" game is on manifesto to begin with, so I think it does prove my point to some extent as I've not seen Filler topping the charts even though it has good, original game play... it doesn't reach the quality of graphics bar of the highly polished games that sell very well. It's definitely not "grungy" though :)

    But I'd still have to say that the graphics are strictly "better" than your atari 2600 image. Now, if you want to try and move away from "better graphics" and say "more artistic", we could probably have an easier time agreeing. :)

    -Andrew
     
  4. soniCron

    Indie Author

    Joined:
    May 4, 2005
    Messages:
    3,664
    Likes Received:
    0
    It's all about color

    To the contrary: If anything, I'd say the foreground should use more saturated colors and at a higher contrast.

    Why outline at all? Donkey Kong Country seems perfectly attractive. (And the critics agree.)


    While I disagree with your arguments - especially that Atari games are more attractive. (?!) Can you find me an uglier palette? :) - I agree with your general sentiment. I was going to save this for a post when the final version of Jeweltopia was released, but here goes now:

    There is one important (and simple) thing that can take okay graphics and make them great: Color grading. This is the process of "equalizing" the color hues and values to blend harmoniously. Take the time to manipulate each background, sprite, and particle so that they mesh into a cohesive whole. Sound producers equalize their audio tracks so each element doesn't "step on the toes" of its peers. They limit and enhance specific frequencies of each element to bring them out, and again with the final mix. Graphics are no different. They're a collection of frequencies that interact to produce either pleasing or displeasing effects.

    Compare these before-and-after shots of Jeweltopia:
    [​IMG]

    They're the same jewel graphics! Notice the pleasing appearance of the color-adjusted shot. (Try covering up one side or the other.) After designing a few backgrounds, I adjusted the colors of each to find a pleasing middle-ground. From there, I formed a palette that all other graphics in the entire game use. Any "red" elements are the pink you see, green uses the lime, and so on. I then simply adjusted all existing graphics to adhere to this color scheme. This allows me to create both a cohesive and attractive environment for the player to play.

    It's all about color. Anything else and it's just programmer art!
     
  5. Dan MacDonald

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

    Joined:
    Jul 26, 2004
    Messages:
    1,424
    Likes Received:
    0
    I was going to say... .the only thing saturated about the background in the mario screenshot is perhaps the blue sky. The mountains and clouds are very desaturated. Still as you and sonicron say, color is very important.
     
  6. badjim

    Original Member

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2005
    Messages:
    17
    Likes Received:
    0
    I know Mario looks nice enough and animates well, I love the dinosaur, and the graphics are clear about what is scenery and what you can jump on. But I don't think that screenshot stands up well against the Donkey Kong Country one. The plants in DKC look like plants. In the Mario screenshot you get two green blobs that really don't look much like bushes.

    Also there colour banding on the pipe and on those strange blue constructions in the background. There is a technique called dithering which makes such artifacts look better but they didn't use it.
     
  7. Rainer Deyke

    Indie Author

    Joined:
    Jul 28, 2004
    Messages:
    380
    Likes Received:
    0
    Strange... I find the Donkey Kong Country screenshot painfully ugly - no clear color separation, blurry details, dark areas where you can't even tell if there are details there to see or not, etc.. Graphics aren't everything, crappy graphics can still ruin a great game, and based on that screenshot, I would never play Donkey Kong Country no matter how good the gameplay is.

    Super Mario World, OTOH, looks fine to me - not as good as some of the later stuff on the SNES, but definitely better than the average AAA 3D game, let alone the average indie game. BTW, that SMW screenshot looks blurry, but the actual game isn't (unless you play it in a crappy TV). See http://www.mobygames.com/images/shots/original/1088592767-00.png for what the game ereally looks like.
     
  8. soniCron

    Indie Author

    Joined:
    May 4, 2005
    Messages:
    3,664
    Likes Received:
    0
    I won't contest your opinion that DKC has "crappy graphics" (even though I think you must be insane!) but I do find it odd that you've never played it. You really do need to check it out if you haven't. Regardless of your opinion on the graphics, it's one of the classics - without question the highest rated SNES game of all time. And I'd go so far as to suggest that anyone who has played it would agree that it's at least worth trying once. Don't let the "crappy graphics," turn you off of this gem! :)
     
  9. Ricardo C

    Original Member

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2004
    Messages:
    1,349
    Likes Received:
    3
    DKC tends to look crappy on computer monitors because the low-res graphics stand out more. But on the 4x3 standard definition TVs it was meant to be played on? Its graphics were nothing short of revolutionary. I remember a Nintendo ad that read something like "32-bit graphics on a 16-bit console. Who needs a new console?"
     
  10. Sharpfish

    Original Member

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2005
    Messages:
    1,309
    Likes Received:
    0
    I remember picking up DKC on the SNES on the day of it's release in the UK. I had seen screenshots of it and thought it looked good, I had also read plenty of hype.

    When I played it my jaw hit the floor. It *was* revolutionary from a graphics point of view and felt like nothing else... ever. That screenshot Daniel posted (or any screenshot viewed on a monitor) is not a good representation due to the low resolution and the background, but to see it in action (even on the GBA version release a year or two ago) it looks 100 times better. There were no problems with sprite/backdrop seperation and it played well too (if a little frustrating and standard fare in some places). The music also was top notch (very atmospheric).

    Seriously you have to play games like this to realise how good they were!

    Gameplay is another issue, though the rotating/firing barrels were always fairly addictive. ;)
     
    #70 Sharpfish, Sep 14, 2006
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2006
  11. RinkuHero

    RinkuHero New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2006
    Messages:
    673
    Likes Received:
    1
    I think I mixed up saturated and unsaturated, sorry. I tend to do that.

    Donkey Kong Country (like Starcraft, Baldur's Gate, etc.) is a different issue -- the sprites are pre-rendered 3D objects drawn in 2D, it's not "pixel-art" 2D in the sense of most SNES and NES games. So the principles underlying that type of graphic style are different from the principles underlying pixel-art 2D.

    I tend to agree that DKC doesn't look very good. But it has some good aspects. When you play it in comparison to only having played SNES games, it looks interesting -- innovative, somewhat attractive, more fluid (due to the higher frame number per sprite and the larger differences between each frame) but not actually "pretty"; the screen is cluttered and it's taxing on the eye after awhile.

    I agree that that second screenshot of Jeweltopia looks better, and that it's about color. That's probably my main complaint about the looks of indie games actually -- it's like the games just don't even *care* about color, especially about which colors conflict and contrast with eachother.

    If you look at the commercial "AAA" games, they often are very careful about what colors they emphasize in the game, they don't use all the colors equally. Final Fantasy 7 used a lot of green, Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy 12 use a lot of brown and tan, Paladin's Quest used a lot of pastel blue, and so on. There's a central color and the other colors are selected to contrast favorably to that color. It isn't just a rainbow where every color is used equally. The only indie games that I can think of that have that type of color focus are Introversion's games: Uplink, Darwinia, and Defcon. There are probably others as well, but those stand out the most in my memory.

    And those Introversion games are (as far as I know) selling pretty well, probably in the top 1% of all indie games. A lot of people explain that as being due to superior marketing -- I think it's actually due to superior graphics (especially color selection).
     
  12. Christian

    Original Member

    Joined:
    Mar 22, 2005
    Messages:
    769
    Likes Received:
    0
    Colors are used on branding, so colors are about marketing too, graphics are about marketing, you just have to use them to communicate "consiously" a specific message to your target audience, and also, use the graphics to have an unique identity.
     
  13. Olivier

    Indie Author

    Joined:
    Mar 18, 2005
    Messages:
    469
    Likes Received:
    0
    I must agree with you soniCron, nice post. We follow about the same process when it comes to touching up and finding the RIGHT tone for each graphic element. From 1st prototype to final release we produce between five and ten visual versions.
    BTW I also think your 2nd screenshot looks better, I see color harmony in that one. But I think it may even look better without the blurry black outline around the playfield. Just my two cents.
     
    #73 Olivier, Sep 15, 2006
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2006
  14. Olivier

    Indie Author

    Joined:
    Mar 18, 2005
    Messages:
    469
    Likes Received:
    0
    Yes Andrew it was very funny to see the graphic evolution of your title, thank you for sharing. It's pretty amazing how your game looks now, it's much much better now! Those graphics make me want to try it, that wasn't the case with your early screens.
    The visual style is very interesting, makes me think of Tingle RPG an upcoming title for NDS. Maybe it's because of the black color used here and there. Kudos to your graphic artist!
     
  15. woo

    woo
    Original Member

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2006
    Messages:
    135
    Likes Received:
    0
    Thank you very much. I'm glad you got a kick out of it. I was starting to worry it had fallen flat (and had chalked it up to the fact that I hadn't shown it at full resolution or with the animations/special effects... in order to save my sanity :))

    Anyway, I will definitely pass on the very kind words (I'm trying hard not to focus on just how bad my original programmer art was :)). Thanks again!
    -Andrew Douglas
    http://theoreticalgames.com
     
  16. RinkuHero

    RinkuHero New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2006
    Messages:
    673
    Likes Received:
    1
    Just to be helpful: one problem I have with that second Jeweltopia screen which I forgot to mention is that the "brown" blocks are very hard to distinguish from the black background, they're pretty dark, and I actually missed them (thought they were holes) until i looked closely. It might be a good idea to increase their brightness.
     
  17. soniCron

    Indie Author

    Joined:
    May 4, 2005
    Messages:
    3,664
    Likes Received:
    0
    Thanks for the heads-up! :)
     
  18. RinkuHero

    RinkuHero New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2006
    Messages:
    673
    Likes Received:
    1
    Welcome! -- Though, I should also mention that I've a darkish monitor (about 8 years old or so, so it's dulled in brightness with age) so it may not be a problem on most monitors.

    Speaking of that, a good idea is to test your (or any) game on different monitors; just because a game looks great on one doesn't mean it looks great on another. The difference between LCD monitors and older monitors can be particularly big. When I played my games on an LCD monitor for the first time, they seemed very different.
     
  19. Codete

    Codete New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 15, 2016
    Messages:
    4
    Likes Received:
    0
    I remember reveiw of Demise: Rise of the Ku'Tan and there was a warning that the game is addictive and it sounded like a serious thing. And its graphics was oooh. Awful. Even in comparison with games at that time. At look at MMORPGs. These don't requie great graphics as well. So... I'm not really sure if that's a correct diagnosis.
     
  20. litex

    litex New Member

    Joined:
    May 12, 2017
    Messages:
    4
    Likes Received:
    0
    I agree. The CGI and stuff is not that important, I hope that two trends will develop in a parallel manner - the one dwelling on sentiment, 90s , early 00s internet, post-human tumblr aesthetics and another one - well, towards duplicate reality, really.
     

Share This Page

  • About Indie Gamer

    When the original Dexterity Forums closed in 2004, Indie Gamer was born and a diverse community has grown out of a passion for creating great games. Here you will find over 10 years of in-depth discussion on game design, the business of game development, and marketing/sales. Indie Gamer also provides a friendly place to meet up with other Developers, Artists, Composers and Writers.
  • Buy us a beer!

    Indie Gamer is delicately held together by a single poor bastard who thankfully gets help from various community volunteers. If you frequent this site or have found value in something you've learned here, help keep the site running by donating a few dollars (for beer of course)!

    Sure, I'll Buy You a Beer