Looks or personality?

We were having a chat in the office about art in games, and it sparked off a couple of tweets from @Escape_Studios last week. Basically, we were wondering how much the visuals, or game art, matter in the whole gaming experience. Does a game really need to look that great for people to enjoy it, or can how it looks be the difference between good and great?

From what we saw on Twitter, opinion is as divided as it was in the office. In the ‘nice to have, but not necessary camp’ was @I_AM_DAVE_COX with ‘Gameplay take about 65% so looks will be 35% if my math serves me well’ (it does, Dave), and @danlefeb saying ‘Art in games is similar to art in CG movies. e.g., Pixar movies look great but the story is what makes it (re)watchable’. In the ‘must have' corner was @ZOMGitsBC ‘If the art is good, you may play it purely for that reason, you think many people would play LIMBO if it wasn't for it's art’, and @DaveyMillar ‘I think gameplay and visuals are an equal in my decision to purchase a game. But I would purchase a game if it's a looker!’.

For my part, my love of art should scream it’s all about the look, but I’ve always felt that there’s got to be some meaning, some depth, in all art to make it great, and that’s the case with games as well – making it look good helps create a world gamers can get sucked into, but if the game play is clunky and the story is boring there’s only so many times you're going to try and play it before getting frustrated and stopping.

As usual what constitutes great looking art can be subjective and sometimes a simple game with basic vector graphics can as engaging as a tiltle such as Naughty Dog's Drakes Fortune. Having said that, as a huge comics fan as well (I basically run the gamut of most nerdy interests), I find it difficult to read a good comic if the art is bad, so I guess each medium has its tipping point for each individual.

Are you all about the look or do you need a game with some personality as well?

6 Comments Simon Fenton

Posted by
Simon Fenton
Wed 8 Sep 2010: 5:17pm

Tags: , , ,


  • Ross Garfoot:

    I'd argue that looks can imbue a game with personality just as much as the gameplay experience can. Simon mentions vector graphics for example, there are games not technically impressive but which have an aesthetic that appeals to you. Visuals are more easily able to make a game unique than gameplay (just see video game rocks for tongue-in-cheek example http://imgur.com/qNjir.jpg), and those games where you find both have a uniqueness to them are the rare gems.

    If it came down to a simple choice then I'll say I'd have a hard time playing a game for the imagery/story alone if it felt a chore to actually play through. But if the game was fun and engaging I would be willing to accept more technically simplistic graphics for it (though not poor quality graphics of any grade). This is one of the reasons indie games are able to carve out their own niche and that a some old favourites don't become dated as fast as others.

    So is gameplay more important? Overall I don't think either is, but it seems people just have more tolerance for different levels of graphics than they do for gameplay.

    Art however (story included) is much easier to market and sell than the concept of gameplay experience.

  • David Cox:

    @I_AM_DAVE_COX here:

    I would like to add that it also depends on what type of game I am playing. I play Battlefield Bad Company 2 online and when playing that, the game must perform well. I have even turned down the graphics on my more than capable machine just to make it run faster.
    But when I play something like FEAR 2 or Crysis, I like to visually stunned.

    So I guess what I am saying is when it competitive multiplayer, I want good solid gameplay. When playing solo Graphics become more important.

  • simon fenton:

    Hey Rich

    Like so many forms of entertainment one's mood can dictate what you play. I really enjoy angry birds on the tube but it is very much a time filler .

    Dead space on the other hand is immersive, enthralling and achieves what I am looking for in videogames, pure escapism.

    Although the graphics and lighting are amazing in dead space, it utilises some of the most modern graphics rendering, it's the sound that really transports you.

    Very, very scary


  • Rich Gregory:

    "You can roll a turd in glitter, but you just end up with a shiny turd" I think this is a very apt quote for this discussion. You can dress up a game to be as beautiful as possible, but great visuals in no way make up for poor mechanics or story.

    What makes a great game? The answer to this is wildly subjective as everyone has their own opinions, but I think the common variable is a well rounded package that checks all the main boxes (art/mechanics/story).

    A game with great visuals will grab attention. Generally people are like magpies, attracted to shiny things. With the current state of the industry I think great or strong visuals need to be pretty much a given for a game. But, they must must must be backed up with fun mechanics as they are an interactive experience. If you can get in an enthralling story line in as well, then you know you've hit the big time (for me, Red Dead Redemption has all of these, but hey, everyone likes to pretend to be a cowboy... right?).

    Portal - Not so stunning visuals, but superb mechanics & story
    Alone in the Dark - Looked great, played like a dog
    Dead Space - Brilliant styling and story/atmosphere

    Whether it be Angry Birds or Gears of War, the really great games, however you define 'great', will have a good balance of strong visuals, mechanics and story (usually a large marketing budget too!)

  • simon fenton:

    Hi Christophe

    Perhaps the saying "you can never go back" is true.

    There was a game called Star Fighter 3000 on the PS1 that I played for way too long. The flight mechanic was great, I dont think I could play it today. It's just too crude graphically.

    That said, I love simple vector graphics. I remember a scene in the film Escape from Newyork where Snake pliskin is piloting a glider and I always wished that could be a game.


    Half life 2 is knocking on a bit now but I still enjoy playing it from time to time. I guess if the right mix of style and gameplay are there, then maybe there are a few games that do stand the test of time


  • Christopher Dyke:

    I think visual can play a huge factor in today's game, but there has to be game play and a storyline to go along with it to make it the whole package, id say it goes 55% game play 45% graphics. There also seems to be a market for games where they are based solely on graphics and people will buy it just for that reason.

    I can find it really hard to go back and play some of the older games that I used to call classics, they just don't seem to have the same appeal and I think that has a lot to do with the graphics.

    I'm a big MMO player, and for me Everquest will always have some of the better aspects of game play, but ill always play EQ2 just because it looks better.

    Saying that, I really enjoy games such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea, some great game play in them! And the graphics in them isn't really anything to write home about.

    I also think it can be very difficult to enhance or develop game play that much. I mean, cant you really say all FPS are the same in essence from doom3d to half life to COD?

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