Graphics Matter

You can fight it, but you can't deny it.
Graphics Matter - XBox One X Witcher 3 Wild Hunt

Don’t judge a book by its cover. We’ve been taught this at an early age. Of course, we all know what it means. Don’t let appearances fool you. Don’t let first impressions influence your full opinion. Now that’s all well and good, but what this idiom really implies is those first impressions are based on appearances. Hence, the cautionary tale involving books and covers of said books.

So…how does this at all relate to games?

Perhaps the single biggest reason why I love video games is because of technology. Technolgy is everything. Without technology, human beings wouldn’t have bothered inventing spears to hunt. We’d still be in caves, too terrified to move forward, to explore, to advance.

Technology has allowed man to walk out of that cave, to drive industry, to set foot on the moon.

Technology has amplified man’s own ability to do in ways never before possible. It is the constant force that propels man forward, the persistent carrot which we happily chase.

My critics (of which I have many) will be quick to point out that this is all hyperbole. Typical me being me. Making something out to be greater than it really is. I simply ignore them.

Fortunately, in the games industry, technology boils down to something very tangible and simple to understand. Of course, I’m talking about graphics. If I were to be more specific, I’m talking about the technology driving graphics.

Image via Nvidia

So revisiting the question I posed at the top, how does “don’t judge a book by its cover” relate to games?

Whether we like it or not, and more importantly, whether we realize it or not, a game’s visuals are the first thing we notice whenever starting up a game for the first time. This isn’t some outlandish statement to make.

Some people, like me, are consciously aware of this realization. Pretty much everyone else, like most of you, aren’t. You take in the visuals at a subconscious level before continuing past the main menu and playing the game.

Now, I’m not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing. It just is. There’s no right or wrong way to initially perceive a game. But what I will say is that for me, graphics are the single most important thing about a game.

Of course, this does not mean that graphics are the only thing I care about in a game. I love a game with a fantastic story, for example. It just so happens that I prioritize graphics above a good story. If graphics were the only thing I cared about in a game, why would I play and enjoy games like Limbo, Superhot, and Firewatch?

Image via Firewatch

For those who don’t know me very well, let me be even more transparent so as to provide this whole thing with more context. I used to be a huge console gamer but now, I’m now primarily a PC gamer.

Before I even knew what graphics were, I remember playing Tomb Raider on my PS1 and wondering why it didn’t look better. The gameplay was fun, yes, but why didn’t it look better? Even back then, before I even understood what the word “graphics” even was, I knew that the game didn’t look good enough for me. Without me even realizing it, graphics were clearly my priority.

As I grew up and understood games and the industry more and more, I realized that graphics were my real passion. Graphics were why I loved video games so much. And so, in 2012 after watching my friend play (an unmodded!) Skyrim on his PC, running at a fluid 60fps maxed out at 1080p, I knew I had to switch to PC gaming.

Today, I can chase this passion unfettered. I have a PC equipped with an i7 6700k, 16 GB DDR4 memory, and a GTX 1080 Ti. All of this is in the pursuit of the highest fidelity graphics and smoothest performance.

For me, photorealistic graphics are the ultimate goal. Graphics genuinely do affect my enjoyment of a game.

And it’s this fact that drives my passion and love for video games. It also allows me to distinctly know whether or not I’ll enjoy a game. For example, I know for a fact that I would hate Persona 5. Visually, it looks absolutely awful. It looks like complete trash. Why would I subject myself to that, regardless of how good the story or soundtrack may be?

This is why I will never play Witcher 3 on a console. The degradation in graphics is something I definitely do notice and am legitimately bothered by. That degradation will and has negatively affected my enjoyment of a game and thus, my gameplay. I just won’t be as immersed. The game world just won’t seem as real. It just won’t be as fun.

It’s the reason why, despite how much I do love Horizon Zero Dawn and how I do find it pretty, it still remains a disappointment. The Decima engine’s true potential (the engine powering the game) is shackled by the lack of power on console, and I dream of how good that game could look and run if it were allowed to run on PC with the latest industry-leading hardware unleashing it. In other words, the technology driving the game is inherently compromised because I can see exactly what those compromises are whenever I boot up the game.

Image via PlayStation

To many, if not all, of you, this will all seem very petty, completely irrelevant, and elitist.

“Who cares about graphics? Graphics don’t matter. Gameplay is what really matters. Story matters. Real gamers don’t care about graphics. After all, Minecraft has very simplistic graphics and has a massive player base.”

Yeah, I’ve heard these “arguments” all before and have dismissed them just as quickly. I do have to chuckle whenever these “points” are brought up because people who state these things simply don’t understand their own hypocrisy.

If graphics don’t matter, then why aren’t we all still playing games on an Atari? Why are Microsoft and Sony selling consoles on the promise of 4K, “spectacular graphics,” and “life-like detail?” If graphics don’t matter, why are people then buying these consoles in droves?

The question isn’t whether or not graphics matter. Graphics and graphics technology do matter. The question is, how much do graphics matter? This is, of course, an entirely subjective question. Graphics will matter to each gamer differently.

Remember, graphics and graphics technology are simply just another facet of a game, just like the sound design, story, gameplay, writing, etc. Graphics, then, are just one of many components that comprise the total package.

The difference, I believe, is this. You can create a game without sound design. You can create a game without any real story or writing. In my opinion, these would be somewhat boring video games, but it can be done.

But what you can’t do is create a video game without technology. Even in a visually simple game like Minecraft, that game exists because of the technology it’s built upon. Without technology, there isn’t a video game.

Again, people will scoff at this and claim I’m petty for dismissing a game because of how it looks. But, remember, graphics are simply another facet of games. I may dismiss a game because of the way it looks, but others may just as easily dismiss a game because it has microtransactions, or if the game audio in a Japanese game is only English, for example. These things, microtransactions, and audio language, are just another facet of what comprises a game, just like graphics.

We can sit here and argue again and again. But at the end of the day, I simply don’t care. My passion, my love for this industry is borne by a love of technological progress. Graphics and the technology driving graphics are what push tangible innovation forward in this industry.

For example, a game from 1998 could have brilliant writing just like a game from 2018. But what it inherently cannot have is the same graphical fidelity and technological underpinnings.

Graphics and graphics technology are the one thing that can be constantly improved, constantly progressed. It’s this unrelenting unapologetic progress that I love. Without advancing, without pushing the limits, there is no progress. There is simply stagnation.

No matter what, graphics matter.

Written by
A highly opinionated avid PC gamer, Poorna blindly panics with his friends in various multiplayer games, much to the detriment of his team. Constantly questioning industry practices and a passion for technological progress drive his love for the video game industry. He pulls no punches and tells it like he sees it. He runs a podcast, Gaming The Industry, with fellow writer, Joseph Bradford, discussing industry practices and their effects on consumers.

7 Comments

  1. One needed read past the subhead before dropping straight down here to the comments section. “You can fight it, but you can’t deny it.” Challenge accepted. Graphics LITERALLY don’t matter. You know those things you play pon your precious personal computer (lawlz)? Those things with bits and boops and flashy things? Those are called games. Know what you’re doing when you’re playing them? That’s right, say it with me. PLAYING GAMES. What’s another way to say that? Game playing. What’s a way to shorten that? GAME PLAY. And in this industry sonny, we call that GAMEPLAY. So please tell me where in that word do you see “graphics”? I’ll help you out – NOWHERE. The old adage is “Gameplay is king.” But I’d like to argue that it should be “Gameplay is the royal family. It’s king, queen, princes, princesses, lords, ladies, jesters, knights, templars, magicians, wizards, witches, and dukes.” Do I need to explain that for you? It means that gameplay is EVERYTHING. It’s a game! It’s all that matters!! Graphics just make it look pretty. If I wanted pretty I’d subscribe to Better Homes and Gardens or something (which I do, and it IS beautiful). Your assumption that gamers actually care about graphics makes as much sense as your assumption that review scores don’t matter. You say one thing matters and one thing doesn’t, like, you;re the most inconsistent “journalist” I’ve ever read! I really hope you can sit down and enjoy a game today for what it is: technical mastercation that you can’t possibly understand because you don’t have any sort of technical education or experience, all you do is write words criticizing the art that developers have lovingly created for you to have fun with, to play with – GAMEPLAY!!!

    Look, I’ll be nice and help you out once again. Go home right now and play Her Story. It’s an absolutely GORGEOUS game (I’ven ever seen characters look more real), but that’s not what makles it good. It’s the methodical clicking you do with your mouse to advance the story and actions that make this game so fun to play. Do you sense a trend here? Game. Play. GAME. PLAY. GAME PLAY. GAMEPLAY!!!!!!!

    I REST MY CASE. I’m going to go play a game now. (Play. Game. – Game. Play. GAME. PLAY. GAMEPLAY!!!!!!)

    • OK Matlock, you rest your case. Now let’s punch a hole right through it.

      You picked Her Story to try and show how gameplay is more important than graphics. Yet, at its core, the gameplay is very simplistic. You are merely watching video clips of a woman being interrogated, and then interpreting those videos to figure out what really happened. No need for a computer game, I could have achieved the same thing with a VCR on a Friday night.

      One only needs to look back at the FMV games before 720 and 1080p ever existed to realize that video quality does make a difference. You could even go further back and go all Zork on this. Imagine trying to play Her Story in a full text setting. You would lose all the visual clues that are needed. You could add audio, but that still doesn’t give you what you need. Only through video are you able to decipher the mystery that is set before you. It’s not the gameplay at all, as most of the “real” gameplay is you interpreting what you see, not the clicking of videos in a database.

      Now that we can move on from your paper thin argument, let’s pose a new one: Graphics don’t matter. Wait, what? Wasn’t I just saying that graphics were what made Her Story a good game? Not at all.

      What I am saying is that artistic style matters more than just pure graphics power. Poorna stated that photorealistic graphics should be the ultimate goal. I assume this is why he doesn’t like the idea of Persona 5. The technology behind the graphics is still there, so why choose the cartoony graphics over a photorealistic game? I would argue that Poorna still wouldn’t like the game even if it left it’s cartoonish style behind.

      Although crisper, cleaner graphics can improve a game, it’s all for naught if the artistic style doesn’t fit the content. Let’s use one of the games Poorna mentioned above: Limbo. Imagine if it was done in a Super Mario Brothers color palette or with a photorealistic background. The game would lose everything that makes it good, regardless of whether the gameplay was good or not.

      The same goes for Her Story. Make it in a cartoon world and it loses the immersion and familiarity we have with it. Most of us have never been through a real murder interrogation (hopefully) but we all come in with a preconceived notion of what those videos should look like (thanks to the millions of real crime shows on TV), and making the game with anything other than the graphics style used would make it a flop.

      4k be damned, style is king!

  2. You’re getting too good at this indeed, Brian.

  3. Beyond taking the poke at Brian, I really do believe that style is more important than overall graphics quality.

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