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It’s a crappy economy we’re in these days. Unemployment rates are still painfully high, numerous corporate bailouts, a gi-normous oil spill in the gulf. Yet the world of video games powers on undaunted. With the plethora of titles coming out these days, it leaves one to wonder why some big name titles have it, and some lesser known don’t? Well wonder no more fearless readers, I’m hear to explain to you how it’s all in the details!
Let’s face it. When it comes to video games, a large piece of what makes or breaks a game is it’s look. We’re all suckers for cool, slick looking protagonists with an attitude. Or some cutesy girl with big, bulbous, bouncing breasts and a mini skirt. And with the technology available to developers these days, they’ve got the power to create some pretty impressive looking characters. Obviously, with better tech, comes the ability to make models more finely detailed, and that’s great. But another key factor in making characters believable is their animations. Thankfully, developers seem to be noticing this fact, and with every game they improve more and more on this. It’s almost shocking how detrimental to a game’s immersiveness animation can be, but it makes sense.
When it comes to real world communication, body language is very important. When you converse with someone, you’re perception of them is influenced by everything they do, from looking you in the eyes to subtle hand gestures. If someone is fidgety we assume they’re more agitated. If they’re waving their hands around, we assume they’re excited(or a bit crazy). Since this is how the real world works, it’s important to translate that over to a game in order to correctly convey a character’s emotion. Let’s take Uncharted 2: Drake’s Fortune for example. Arguably one of the best looking games to date, Naughty Dog’s Indiana Jones-inspired adventure is well known for often being mistaken for a movie (which is the only reason your girlfriend lets you play it instead of watching The Notebook). One could easily attribute this to Naughty Dog’s over attention to details, most notably in it’s character models. When protagonist Nate Drake became nervous, his eyes would get a little bigger.When he was flirtatious he’d suddenly have a bit of a swagger. All these extra little details in movement, facial expression and body language greatly helped to immerse players in the game. I’ll admit, I found myself so engrossed, I would actually leap out of my seat at a sudden explosion, or find myself misty eyed at all the lovey-dovey crap. Developers may want to start looking towards Uncharted 2 as a new standard in character animations.
One detail that is regrettably, often overlooked (and possibly my biggest gaming pet peeve) are running animations. Far too often do we find ourselves in control of our surly protagonist who is able to commit extraordinary combat maneuvers and death defying feats, only to look like a fool when we start running him around a level. Case in point, Dante from the ever loved Devil May Cry series. Now no one is saying Dante isn’t one of coolest, white haired surly action stars to date, but the way in which he gallops around evil castles, and demon infested sewers is laughable. Go ahead, pop in your copy of DMC, see for yourself. Sword wielding, half demon super badass, yet runs like a moron. His slow, methodical gait is totally in contrast with his badassness (sadly Ryu Hayabusa of Ninja Gaiden suffers this ailment as well). Frustrating? Yes! Still don’t believe me? How about Spider-Man in his somewhat recent Spider-Man 3 movie tie in appearance? Swing ‘ole Web head around NYC and he looks fabulous, really in his element. Multiple presses of the jump button will even get him to pull off some crazy-neat acrobatics between web swings. However, earthbound Spidey runs like a pansy! Flubs like this may be a bit nit-picky, but come on! A super hero running like a pansy helps to take gamers out of the reality of the game. And that’s a total bummer!
One major detail that can be often overlooked is the environments. Too many times developers have you looking at the same small, brick textured tile, running over and over down a wall, making it appear to be the computer generated model that it is. And with today’s tech, I daresay this is unacceptable. Perhaps developers don’t realize how much the look of an area effects a game. Lush, real looking environments, even the inaccessible ones that are just for show (see Final Fantasy XIII), really help keep us rooted in a game. Cue dynamic, dramatic lighting and the stage is perfectly set for our exceptionally rendered characters to start acting out their melodramas.
So yes, sometimes developers run out of much needed time to address these fine details. And other times they just simply don’t have the budget. But what would you rather have? A game released on time that looks a little clunky and perhaps unfinished? Or a game that’s slightly behind schedule but makes your jaw drop when you finally get your hands on it? Call me crazy, but I’ll take the latter option any day. And please don’t really call me crazy, it hurts my feelings.
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By now, I’m sure we’ve all heard about Roger Ebert’s accusation that video games are not, and never will be, an art form. Naturally, this has sparked a pretty heated debate, with everyone throwing their opinions on the table. So I figure, what the hey, I’ll toss mine in too!
First off, let’s define art. Now if you go search in online dictionaries, you’ll come up with several definitions. Wiktionary itself has 10, which I won’t list, but video games definitely falls under most of them. Ebert himself plays around with the definition of art, trying ever so hard to use the ambiguity to his advantage. However, since Webster’s Dictionary has been the go-to guide for English definitions for I don’t even know how long, let’s look there shall we?
If we look at Webster’s Online, searching for the word “art” comes up with a few definitions. Though only one seems to really fit the bill:
4 a: the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced b (1) : fine arts (2) : one of the fine arts (3) : a graphic art
Hmm, I don’t know about you, but that seems to describe the process of making a game. Which brings me to another of Ebert’s key points. He says games can never be art because, in a game, there are rules, goals, and a way of winning. Okay, to be fair, we really have to concede this point, but only partially.
The act of playing a game is definitely NOT art. When you’re playing a game, you are engaging in the world the developers have created for you. And yes, you do have a goal, which is to win the game. And winning is possible. Therefore, playing a game couldn’t be art. However, let’s apply this idea to, say, the Mona Lisa. In this case, the designer would be DaVinci, and the player would be the person viewing the Mona Lisa. Is simply looking at and enjoying the beauty of her considered art? No most definitely not, because you’re not actually engaging in creating her. You’re just simply enjoying her, much like a player enjoys a game. Sure there’s no real goal in viewing her and no way to win (unless maybe you steal her), but essentially, you are enjoying them both in the same way. So then if the act of DaVinci creating the Mona Lisa is art, and the Mona Lisa herself is art, then by definition you would have to say the same about video games and their creation. Being that the process, fundamentally and psychologically, is the same.
In his blog post, Ebert continually says “my notion” and “my opinion” and the like. Which is exactly what his post is: HIS OPINION. In his opinion, he forgets that art is relative to the artist and the audience to which the artist intends to reach. Perhaps Ebert has realized the flaws in his ridiculous claim, and that’s why his most recent post on the matter (that I read anyway) seems to have him floundering and back peddling by spewing utter nonsensical jargon in an attempt,perhaps, to prove his intelligence and keep his ego somewhat intact.
Ebert’s blog post is quite simply a foolish, uneducated remark from an individual of an older generation, who perhaps has suddenly found himself rapidly losing touch with the mainstream. And whom now struggles to redefine his place in society while reminding us of why he is important and why we should care. Which is exactly why we, as the gaming community, should simply ignore him and his opinions. Because we don’t really care.
We all know exactly what video games are and why we find them to be important and valid. They are a compilation of many artists using many mediums to create a collaborative work of art. What’s important is that we appreciate and love video games, not attempt to convince the naysayers. And the more we do, the more our art form will grow and evolve. And that’s the beauty of it. So this I say unto you, Mr. Ebert: “STFU and stick to the cinema“. We don’t care about your opinions, you old fuddy-duddy.
For the original article written by Roger Ebert, click here. It was originally posted on April 16 and not surprisingly, is STILL receiving comments to this day.
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