Don’t See What’s There, See What’s Not There

I often hear (and have said myself in the past) that good graphics don’t make a good game. Recently, I have used games such as Proteus and Minecraft as my examples. “ Look”, I say, “they look like throwbacks to the 8bit era and yet they are amazing games”. However, recently I got to thinking. What if part of the reason these games are so good, is because of the graphics?

Take Minecraft. If you made the world photo realistic, would it be as engaging? The thing is, we already live in a photo realistic world.  I can go and dig the garden if I want to move realistic looking lumps of grass around. I want to be placed in a world that is exciting and different. I want fantasy.

When I played games as child, back when we had BBC Micros and Spectrum ZX’s, graphics were rubbish by today’s standards. You didn’t have solid 3D, there were limited colour pallets, animation was often dubious and resolution was dire. However, there are games from that era that still play just as well now as they did then, despite the graphics. The games worked, because the clever developers worked within the limitations of the system (often pushing them as hard as they could) and created graphics that were right for the game.

One of the reasons a game like Call of Duty works so well is because of how good it looks, there is no doubt about that. The graphics are right for the game. The thing with that is, you don’t need any imagination to play Call of Duty, your hand is held tightly throughout the game. You always know what you are going to have to do next – probably shoot someone in the face with a big gun.

Minecraft, Proteus, Terraria and games of that nature all require imagination. You have to think about what you are doing, what you are going to create, what you are seeing. The fact that the worlds which they create are less than photo realistic actually helps with this. You are not seeing a world that looks like the one out of the window; you have to fill in the spaces that the visuals leave for you with your imagination. Walking around the world of Proteus throws images of alien worlds, that in my mind look as real as anything that AAA games can create, all in my mind’s eye.  That is where the magic is and it is often lost when the developer takes full control of everything you have to see in a game.

As the great Miles Davis once said “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there”.

So next time you look at a game and start to say “It plays great, even if the graphics are a bit old school”, or “This just proves that good graphics don’t make the game”, how about saying “This just goes to show, the right graphics help to make a great game”.

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