"Graphic" Violence: Style Vs. Substance in Video Games
|Red Dead Gear Solid.|
So, that forced me to think. As a gamer, how do I feel about graphical emphasis and focus on cinematic storytelling in one of my choice mediums?
An Eight-Hour Movie
Firstly, it's probably a good idea to address one of the more poignant things she said during this conversation. It was a comment on how I have routinely criticized studios for attempting to make games that tried to compete with Hollywood, and how little actual gameplay said studios put in their games. Yet, she pointed out, I am avid fan of Hideo Kojima's landmark Metal Gear Solid series, which are known for their extensive cutscenes. For those who don't follow the series, it weaves a giant narrative web of political intrigue through its entries, spliced with moments of serious character study and giant diatribes of technobabble. As such, the cutscenes within the franchise are notoriously long. How long? Well, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots has about five combined hours of cutscenes in total. Yet, as I sat and watched these movie-length cinematics, not once did I feel like I wasn't getting my money's worth out of the game. What's with that? Isn't that the very thing I claim to hate?
Well, honestly, I'm not quite sure anymore, after having this single query throw me into a giant mental tizzy. While it's true that extensive cutscenes typically annoy me, it's also true that I love watching cool stuff unfold on the screen in front of me. When a long cutscene reveals the true identity of the killer in Heavy Rain, or when Ellie takes care of Joel through a harsh Winter in The Last of Us, or when Yuna is sending off the spirits of dead villagers in Final Fantasy X, I'm on the edge of my seat, or moved to tears, or both. Yet when I see gameplay of Beyond: Two Souls or Ryse: Son of Rome, I quickly condemn them both for having non-stop cinematics and barely any gameplay. Where do I get off doing that?
|Yuna sending off souls atop a gush of fans' tears... including mine.|
On that note, it's also important to point out what ultimately decides how much is too much when cinematics are concerned, and to me, that boils down to the gameplay. Metal Gear Solid 3&4, which have some of the longest cutscenes in the entire franchise, are games have intricate and complex gameplay which houses several nuances players have to grow accustomed to, to the point where it's not uncommon to sit around for a while and map out strategies for certain areas, or to intensely monitor resources. So, to use an overused phrase, "the ends justify the means." That is to say, the amount of effort put forth into creating an immersive environment which requires mastery over the controls in order to maneuver excuses, in my mind, the developers' desire to unveil narrative in a movie-like way. By constrast, games like the Uncharted franchise shouldn't have cutscenes that take up a lot of time, because it's much more a "pick up and play" type of affair. If a player isn't going to have to invest a lot of time in learning how to play the game, and it's a game focused on pure adrenaline, then it's for the best to minimize time spent sitting and watching Nathan Drake climb up a train that's dangling off a cliff, and maximize the time spent making him climb that train, letting them take in the scenery as they go along.
|The train's a metaphor for the PS3, considering that this game saved the system.|
Eye of the Beholder
This leads us into the biggest point of conflict for me, which is the graphical prowess displayed by a game. Now, I claim to hate games that hype up how great they look in HD, or whether or not the damn thing runs at 60fps, or what have you. Yet, I get excited for games like Killzone: Shadow Fall because they looking freaking beautiful on next-gen (well, I guess it's current-gen now) technology. Quite factually, my girlfriend seemed to be pointing out that my statements routinely conflict, and by all accounts, she's absolutely correct. A game like Deadly Premonition will come out, and I'll staunchly defend its horrible graphics thanks to its intriguing narrative and fun gameplay, yet I'll trash another game for having graphics that are of similar quality. It's a pretty contradictory cycle of behavior, really, and I don't blame anybody who talks to me about video games for getting confused by this. But it's time that real truth about my feelings comes out, and now that I've had some time to think about it, I think I can have a definitive answer.
There are certain genres that I have absolute, pure bias about when it comes to what I expect from them graphically. Not only that, but that bias fully extends to the entire visual aesthetic of the game as a whole. Using the 12 year-old bragging grounds of choice, the Call of Duty franchise, as an example, I can suss out what I mean by the latter statement more clearly. Allegedly, Modern Warfare 3 was the more impressive game in the visual department, and got incredibly high marks on the graphics from quite a few critics. I, however, found myself more drawn to the environments on display in Black Ops, as there was much more variety throughout the game. Flora and fauna vs. concrete and steel, rivers and valleys vs. streets and highways... the former parties always win out for me when comparing games, and despite the more jagged textures in the previous entry, it left me more impressed in the looks department.
|"Monster attacking? Better point my gun at the ceiling, Zach!"|
And as far as games on the new consoles out right now are concerned, my praise for their graphics is based on one thing: how much fucking money they cost, how much hype any given game is being given, and how much money is being sunk into them. For example, I want Killzone Shadow Fall to look fucking great if they can justify sinking that much money into yet another shooter; I want Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain to look photo-realistic if they're pitching beautiful, varied environments that I can sneak through, and if they're planning on showing the age of returning characters. Yet I can forgive the limitations Super Mario 3D World might face, so long as the environments are colorful and fun to look at, or the lack of polish on certain textures in Need for Speed Rivals, if the developer can manage to convey a true sense of breakneck speed.
But again, I must stress that this all boils down to my personal bias based on my preconceived notions of what I personally feel certain games should look like. My judgments on what X game or Y game should look like are uniquely mine, and while there are many people with similar views, they are not the same, and that's perfectly fine. So, the bottom line is that while I do care if a game is pretty or not, it depends on what type of game it is, what system it's on, how much have the graphics been pitched, the variety within the game, blah blah blah. You get the point.
Maybe my girlfriend's query to me, then, isn't completely solved. After all, it's steeped deeply in a lot of arbitrary standards, ones that I decide based upon my experience with games. But, ultimately, that's what all statements about video games, and what they ought to do, and how they ought to play, and how they ought to look, are in the end. While some might see the long cutscenes in Metal Gear Solid 4 to be extraneous, I find them to be excusable and necessary; some people may argue that I'm hypocritical for praising photorealism in one game but bashing developers touting it heavily in another, but to me, it boils down to what the game is and how it's used. I guess what I'm trying to say is that there's really no one standard to base games' graphics on, because it all ultimately boils down to personal preferences.
|"Sorry, Mario, the Princess is in anoth-... Oh."|
Man, again with the cop-out answers, huh?