Escapist Editorials

Escapist Editorials
Waypoints: The Worth of a Screenshot

Adam LaMosca | 16 Sep 2008 21:00
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Games that break from genre norms, or incorporate design ideas from multiple genres, also produce screenshots that are more difficult to read. Take Flow, for instance, which yields screens that look like they were pulled from the lens of a microscope aimed into a drop of primordial ooze Or Okami, whose brushtrokes and hand-painted textures would be more at home in a classical Japanese print than on a video screen. And there's the upcoming MadWorld, whose screenshots show black-and-white scenes awash in red blood that look more like something you'd see in an artsy animated short than in a videogame.

Although they're more difficult to decipher, screens from these games are certainly beautiful to look at. In fact, they resemble those staged faux-screens more than they do traditional screenshots. And as a result, they tell the viewer a good deal less about how the games they depict will actually play.

The tradeoff, though, is that they tell a good deal more about how these games will feel. I actually have no idea what sort of things I'll be worrying about or keeping track of as I play MadWorld. The same is true if Flow's upcoming successor, the equally concept-driven Flower (pictured). But think I have a good idea of what both games are about on an entirely different level, owing to the powerful thematic visions that their screenshots present.

The term "Art direction" seems to pop up in gaming discussions and critiques with much greater frequency than in years past. I'm sure it's a response to the medium's evolving maturity, driven by developers keen on exploring the relationship between artistic content and gameplay design. I don't think it's coincidence that the least decipherable screenshots I've seen lately have often been the most visually powerful. Developers intent on delivering unique, potent experiences are reimagining the ways players experience their games, and when necessary tossing out old ideas.

It's a bit disconcerting to discover a game whose screenshots yield few clues to its underlying game design. On the other hand, it's exciting to see more and more screenshots that wouldn't look out of place as framed artwork. Assuming that such screens are evidence of a given developer's emphasis on artistic vision is, I admit, a leap of faith. But it's one that I'm increasingly willing to take.

Adam LaMosca is a researcher and writer in Portland, Oregon, who probably has more digital images of his journey through Half-Life 2 than he does of his trip to Paris.

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