Escapist Podcast: Is Photorealism Needed for Gaming to Advance?

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Is Photorealism Needed for Gaming to Advance?

This week, we discuss 2K Games' comments about gaming needing photorealism to mature. We also discuss game localization and the announced third Hobbit film.

Watch Video

No, it is not, in the slightest! I want scale to increase! The current visuals we have are fine.

art style is so much more important than graphically fidelity. Getting closer to true photorealism is awesome but there are other styles that don't need the same level of graphical power and give the same emotional experience.

Yes it does if only to make the game more immersive and appealing to a larger market, but the key is that photorealism = more power from the system, ergo the game can have more mechanics, physics, be larger etc.

MagmaMan:
No, it is not, in the slightest! I want scale to increase! The current visuals we have are fine.

That's just rubbish! Many games already suffer from a lack of graphical fidelity, be it mistaking a guy 100m away for being part of a pixelated blur, or just good art design going to waste.

DrRockor:
art style is so much more important than graphically fidelity. Getting closer to true photorealism is awesome but there are other styles that don't need the same level of graphical power and give the same emotional experience.

Such as?
Just remember that immersion =/= escapism thus photorealism and art styles will not give the same results.

Yes it is. These guys are way too focused on emotional involvement. Let's put the whole "what do games really need to be artistic and meaningful" thing and just focus on the fun interactive side of games for a second.

Photorealism is necessary simply in terms of what it will mean for the division of time and resources in game development.

You might hate the AAA FPS industry, and that's fine. But like it or not that's the genre that drives the industry. The best selling games are FPS, and they are what take up the largest amount of the industry's resources. I'm not saying that it's right, I'm just being pragmatic. The fact of the matter is that the entire industry benefits from the technological innovations produced to make the AAA FPS titles, e.g., the Unreal engines. It also drives the trends.

Developers spend these resources on photorealism because it sells. The reason it sells is because graphics are important for the gameplay mechanics of FPS games, much more so than other genres. Just think about realistic foliage and camouflage affects gameplay in an FPS. The graphics are usually a selling point for FPS games because it shows that the game is polished. It's the most obvious way to compare games.

What this means is that the majority of the industry's resources is put into making better graphics engines and not, say, better AI or an economic simulator. Take Skyrim, for instance. It could have really benefited from better AI, or maybe an economic system that allowed your player to build a business empire, or hell, better combat mechanics. Instead they spent most of their resources on making a giant beautiful open world because they knew that would be the selling point for a lot of their audience. Once they no longer have to spend most of their time and resources on painting plants and mountains the gameplay mechanics will start getting a lot more innovative.

It just comes down to the development process. Designers have finite time and resources, the more they spend on graphics, the less they spend on gameplay. Once game developers get design kits that allow them to easily build a photorealistic world they'll be able to spend more of their time on game mechanics. Games will have to compete in terms of gameplay mechanics, and this will cause a new wave of innovation.

To put it simply: when designers no longer have to worry about graphics, they'll have nothing left to do but put all of their effort into making the game fun.

You can complain that that's what they should be doing already, but that's just unrealistic. The fact of the matter is that people would have complained endlessly if Skyrim didn't look a lot better than Oblivion. Many of them would no doubt take it to mean that the game isn't very good. Are they ignorant basterds? Yes. But they drive the industry.

Of course it's not "necessary". Otherwise the video game market could have never emerged. Somehow Mario and Tetris were fun enough.

True advancements can only come from better AI. Smarter NPCs and smarter story-telling (i.e. more flexibility and freedom).

But GPUs have just increased their power so much over the last 15 years and it's so comparatively easy to use the parallel processing power of GPUs for improved graphics fidelity, that I understand why the industry is focussing on it.

Nobody knows how to properly write an AI.

It has to be said though, with all the money and effort they put into Crysis, for example, it's shocking how they cared NADA about the writing. The "screenplay" of that game seemed to be written by two 8th graders during lunch break. How expensive can a somewhat experienced writer from the video game industry be? I don't even think they'd make up 1% of a AAA game's budget. Is it really the place you'd want to cheap out.

Why yes, yes it is, what with the massive success of Farmville, Angry Birds, MineCraft, World of WarCraft and all those shooters who only live by their multiplayer-modes, it's not hard to understand why upper management thinks players give a crap about story.

I know its kind of pedantic to stop listening to a podcast and correct the speakers, but the children's book you were all thinking of is The Twits, which was about an elderly couple who constantly played awful tricks on each other(putting worms in the other's spaghetti, trapping birds to put in pies, etc). They were killed by vengeful crows who superglued them to the ceiling.

So...yeah.

Jimbo1212:
Yes it does if only to make the game more immersive and appealing to a larger market,

Huh, that's another point that I hadn't even considered. You're right. I think part of the reason why a lot of people see games as children's toys probably has to do with the lack of photorealism. They perceive them as being cartoonish. Sure, we can call those people ignorant but the fact of the matter is that the more people who buy games the more the industry thrives and the more we all benefit.

Jimbo1212:
but the key is that photorealism = more power from the system, ergo the game can have more mechanics, physics, be larger etc.

Well... photorealism is a result of getting more power from the system, not the cause. We improve the processing power of our hardware regardless of what we use it on. Thus far we've been spending greater and greater amounts of processing power on graphics engines. So I'd actually say that the pursuit of photorealism has hindered the power of video games by taking up too much their engines.

But you're right in that once we've reached photorealism each proceeding advance in computing power will have to be dedicated to something else aside from graphics. This will force developers to develop more and more innovative gameplay mechanics.

When we reach photorealism choosing video games will be like choosing between supermodels; they're all gorgeous so you might as well date the one who's the most fun.

(Hopefully no one will be overly offended by my sexist analogy ;P)

RubyT:
Of course it's not "necessary". Otherwise the video game market could have never emerged. Somehow Mario and Tetris were fun enough.

True advancements can only come from better AI. Smarter NPCs and smarter story-telling (i.e. more flexibility and freedom).

But GPUs have just increased their power so much over the last 15 years and it's so comparatively easy to use the parallel processing power of GPUs for improved graphics fidelity, that I understand why the industry is focussing on it.

Nobody knows how to properly write an AI.

That's because AI is incredibly difficult. In fact, there's still a lot of debate over what AI would really be and whether it's even possible by simply writing enough code. A lot of people think (particularly in robotics) that AI can only be possible by setting up hardware that is capable of rewiring itself and learning from its environment, much like an organic brain, and that trying to get true AI by writing software alone is futile.

However, the reason the industry is so focused on graphics isn't just because it's easier than writing AI. I think you underestimate the importance of graphics to the AAA FPS market, which is kind of the driving force behind the industry. Sadly, people who buy CoD and other such shooters do tend to focus on graphics such that it has become a major selling point. The people running EA and Activision think graphics will be the deciding factor that will get people to buy their flagship shooter instead of their competitor's (stupid though it may be.)

Another important thing to remember is that pretty much every game can benefit from improved graphics, whereas not every game utilizes AI, so it's probably a better overall investment. Note that you can make almost any type of game using the Unreal engine, but your AI is almost always going to have to be written to specifically fit the game your making. The AI from Deus Ex is completely different from the Radiant AI in Skyrim.

You're right in that the true advancements that will make video games better will come from better AI. The problem is that people won't focus the proper attention on writing better AI until this stupid graphical arms-race reaches its photorealistic conclusion.

I probably would have been afraid of your dog up until my teen years when I grew out of it. But for a time I was petrified of all dogs.

Also I find the translations of the persona games interesting because they are so immersed in Japanese culture. Japanese holidays, Relationships at Japanese schools (like upper class men and lower class men). Because it's meant to take place in modern day Japan. So it's tricky to try and bring across these things across that are very foreign to a western view point.

ReiverCorrupter:
Another important thing to remember is that pretty much every game can benefit from improved graphics, whereas not every game utilizes AI, so it's probably a better overall investment. Note that you can make almost any type of game using the Unreal engine, but your AI is almost always going to have to be written to specifically fit the game your making.

Very true.

There's another big problem with AI: it's difficult to test. The more you limit the freedom the player has, the better you can control how the game handles his interactions. If you incorporate a good AI and give the player appropriate freedom, it's hell to ensure your game mechanics hold up.

And if you'd write a relatively strong AI, you'd also face the problem that it will end up to be non-deterministic, i.e. you won't be able to test at all if it will always react appropriately.

But I'm not even talking about this kind of AI. There's a lot that could be done today, with simple scripting, but it's a lot of work and currently, the game design department isn't receiving the same budget as the tech department.

You're right, AI will not get the money and brains it deserves until graphics have a reached a point at which the John Carmackss of the industry decide it's no longer worth their time and join the Peter Molyneuxs.

RubyT:

ReiverCorrupter:
Another important thing to remember is that pretty much every game can benefit from improved graphics, whereas not every game utilizes AI, so it's probably a better overall investment. Note that you can make almost any type of game using the Unreal engine, but your AI is almost always going to have to be written to specifically fit the game your making.

Very true.

There's another big problem with AI: it's difficult to test. The more you limit the freedom the player has, the better you can control how the game handles his interactions. If you incorporate a good AI and give the player appropriate freedom, it's hell to ensure your game mechanics hold up.

And if you'd write a relatively strong AI, you'd also face the problem that it will end up to be non-deterministic, i.e. you won't be able to test at all if it will always react appropriately.

But I'm not even talking about this kind of AI. There's a lot that could be done today, with simple scripting, but it's a lot of work and currently, the game design department isn't receiving the same budget as the tech department.

You're right, AI will not get the money and brains it deserves until graphics have a reached a point at which the John Carmackss of the industry decide it's no longer worth their time and join the Peter Molyneuxs.

Agreed. (Although hopefully they'll join someone a bit more sane than Molyneux.)

But I wouldn't just blame impoverished AI for the increased linearity of games. The constraints placed on them by voice acting play a huge role as well. Just look at the depth of different options and conversations in a text based game like Morrowind and compare it to Oblivion or Skyrim.

Games won't even come close to passing a Turing test until they can generate original dialogue. And that not only requires an amazing AI that can respond intelligently to what the player says, but also some way to generate human sounding voices that carry the proper emotions and intonations. I'm afraid that both of those things are way further away than photorealistic graphics.

PureIrony:
I know its kind of pedantic to stop listening to a podcast and correct the speakers, but the children's book you were all thinking of is The Twits, which was about an elderly couple who constantly played awful tricks on each other(putting worms in the other's spaghetti, trapping birds to put in pies, etc). They were killed by vengeful crows who superglued them to the ceiling.

So...yeah.

Hmmmm....maybe, but I don't think I've heard of that.

Atlas, Disgaea, hells yeah. Nuff Said.

Nin nin nin.

OK, now they I've actually listened in, let me make a counterargument.

I think we need new mechanics, not better graphics. Heavy Rain should be more engaging, should be playable in a way outside of just multiple QTEs and pressing the x button at things. I'm convinced there's a way to make games like that, if not fun, at least less of a chore.

No, photorealism isn't necessary and never was. Too much focus is on graphics already, when what we really need to be catching up on is A.I, and storytelling for the games that choose to employ it.

oh my gosh. what is going on here? Graphics get money because developers think that if they make the game pretty for the screen shots (and the rest of the game) then players will not notice that the number of mechanics, and features is lacking (yes they are 2 different things any 1st year game design student, or novice game tester can tell you that).

and the argument that the game engine determines the amount of graphical quality. I have been working with game engines like Unity, Unreal, and so on for a few years now, and would like to ask the question "where is this button that makes my graphics better I keep looking for it and can't find it anywhere?" oh wait it doesn't exist the quality of graphics is based on the system that is running it (partly), and on the artist that is rendering, modeling, skinning, rigging, animating, placing the object into the game.

the reason art (interchangeable with graphics) gets so much money in a game is 2 fold. 1st its because developers are given tech specs for a system (this counts for PC to), and get all gitty like a kid who just got a new toy, and wants to see everything it can do. this leads to such a focus on art (because that's all they think all the processing power is good for) that whenever the subject of new features comes up that is just pushed to the back burner so it looks cool.

2nd because artists are expensive: that list up a little bit that's not an or list its the step process, and that process gets expensive quick. I will not give a break down here, but Master Chief probably costs a good million (severely low ball estimate for mediocre artists) every time he is redone, and that's not talking about any of the other characters that actually have faces which shoots the price up drastically. So the next time you hear about a games budget think to yourself that 70-80% of that went to various artists, and the rest went to the development of the actual game.

When it comes down to it games don't need realism. because Jim was right when he said the best looking game was Viva Pinata of this gen because for all that money that goes into "realism" while graphics continues to improve (after deep breath) those games will look like shit in less, and less time.

when people say that "the graphics arms race will end" this will only be true when companies like nVidia, and ATI say the words "we have enough money", and the big 3 say the same because tech demos of processor speed get developers thinking, but tech demos of poly count those make developers wet themselves with glee.

the big reason graphics gets the big focus in game development is because it take the least effort on the part of the company, and when it comes down to it its the most easily recognizable.

what I always find funny are those people who complain that "games are to short for the money" here's a fun one go, and look up the amount of space on a disk it takes for just one frame of "hi-def" video, and then think for complex (number of moving points on the object) animations that can actually be more. so if a game has alot of hi-detail-complex animations, and even an hour of video (opening, cut-scenes, ending, loading cinematics) you can quickly figure out why your game is only 8 hours on a DVD, or even a BlueRay

Team Hollywood:
Is Photorealism Needed for Gaming to Advance?

This week, we discuss 2K Games' comments about gaming needing photorealism to mature. We also discuss game localization and the announced third Hobbit film.

Watch Video

Interestingly enough, current research is showing that people more quickly recognize caricatures of familiar people than actual photographs. The hypothesis is because these exaggerated, "stylized" images might be actually more like the way the brain actually stores that person's image.

So... Can we get a picture of susans dog? we send er cute things all the time, she should post her cute dog :D

I'd like to response to the localization discussion. I'm sure I'm in the minority when I say this, but I would prefer my media to not be localized at all. When I used to watch a lot of anime, I really appreciated when the translater would write a sentence that may not be fully translated, then give a note explaining it.
For example, if a character makes a pun, the joke is very dependent on the language. If the pun gets translated, it either loses all meaning or the translation has some absurdly contrived sentence to reflect the fact that the character made a pun. I would rather have a more accurate translation followed by an explanation.

Though I'm not sure if this would work for games as much. I really wouldn't want to pause what I'm doing in a game to brush up on a culture's eccentricities.

Koshok:
...snip...

I kind of agree, but at the same time you do sight your own key counter point. I like reading, and enjoy reading, but I am one of those people that takes a little longer to read things (yes I know there are systems to increase speed, but they don't work for me, and I miss details), so when it comes to sub-tittles I can understand your point, but at the same time I would like it as an option not as a force. If the company has no intention to localize to another language then don't region lock the game, but I would much prefer that when a company does the localization on a title to give the option of the different languages.

though the counter point to this that you brought out yourself Koshok is some things don't translate, or even if they do translate they are purely cultural. like what Steve was saying about the game that used "gook" to refer to Latinos if that would have been released in the US, or almost any English speaking nation for that matter the company would have been slammed as racist/xenophobic. And the same goes with some tropes of other cultures like in American games where the Latino starts speaking Spanish "to prove they are Latino" I don't think that would do to well in any Latino centered culture, and I would hope the EU for that matter, but that's just hoping (I mean I'm not even Latino myself, and as an American I am offended when I hear those things)

Space. Muffins. T-shirt. All of my want. And, per usual, great podcast.

There are no white german shepherds (all are brown/black), that most probably was swiss shepherd

DrRockor:
art style is so much more important than graphically fidelity. Getting closer to true photorealism is awesome but there are other styles that don't need the same level of graphical power and give the same emotional experience.

Then why do next-gen consoles and PC games consistently require graphics upgrades?

The answer: they don't. The industry is a fucking quagmire of the futile struggle for visual perfection.

Photorealism is important for day one game sales. Photorealistic graphics look great in publicity shots and drive pre-orders. It becomes far less important after someone gets their hands on a game and can actually see how it plays. Photorealism isn't for gameplay, but hype. And we know what game companies are better at selling.

I really hope that Susan is right and that the 2K just really misspoke, because otherwise it would make no sense, believe it.

And I have the same problem with the Vita. There is nothing in their catalog yet that makes me want to by the system, believe it. I'd love to play some of those game, but there is nothing I'd buy the system for, believe it.

I agree that Atlus is very good at localization, believe it. It's amazing to see how much they've improved since their first foray into translation with Persona 1, believe it!

Dastardly:

Team Hollywood:
Is Photorealism Needed for Gaming to Advance?

This week, we discuss 2K Games' comments about gaming needing photorealism to mature. We also discuss game localization and the announced third Hobbit film.

Watch Video

Interestingly enough, current research is showing that people more quickly recognize caricatures of familiar people than actual photographs. The hypothesis is because these exaggerated, "stylized" images might be actually more like the way the brain actually stores that person's image.

Was that in Wired? I remember reading that factoid somewhere.

As for when to buy a new console: I have a games quota, and it's a bit steep. For me to buy a console, it needs twelve games that I can't already play on a system I currently have. Systems aren't guaranteed to have good first or third party support. Twelve games is enough to sustain me for a looong time, even if a lot of those games are four or more years old by the time I get to them.

I think people should have a quota. I really don't understand buying something at launch when it has a poor launch lineup and a library that looks to still be barren for the foreseeable future.

About the "Believe it!" (Dattebayo)thing, they stopped doing that past the first season of the anime I think. It was just omitted entirely later on since everyone was super annoyed hearing it all the time.

Graphics, just like the story/gameplay/...,are just tools.
If Photorealism is necessary for your game, go forward.
If it's just an excuse to not focus on the story/gameplay/... , go f**k yourself.
In the end improved graphics are an improvement after all.

ReiverCorrupter:
Yes it is. These guys are way too focused on emotional involvement.

Because that's what the discussion is about...

Listen to the podcast again or read the statements 2K made - http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/118839-2K-New-Genres-Impossible-Without-Photorealism. The very target of the discussion is the emotional connection and development of new 'emotional' genres. You're kind of arguing against a position we are not taking.

I love your podcasts but first...

Don't comment on something if you don't fully understand it. The whole bit about localisation and Naruto, it's one of the top anime at the moment and making a comparison and just saying, it's not like it's Pokemon... nothing is like Pokemon, that's like saying {insert game here} isn't Ocarina of Time. The point of Naruto having annoying sayings and a scratchy voice is that you basically start off hating him, he's a whiney twerp, but as the series goes on you are able to see this character persevere and develop into someone who has suffered loss but never gives up. If you do want to compare that to Pokemon... Pokemon is a static cartoon, the characters never develop beyond the token badges they collect, they hardly ever realize it's team rocket before the disguises come off and usually it's like they take off a pair of glasses. It's cute and for younger children who want to see the hero win each day before they go to school, Naruto isn't that sort of a cartoon on the surface it's bright and colourful but it is also pretty dark and gritty.

And the annoying voice thing, let me compare that to, I know people who wouldn't touch LoZ games because Link's rolling noise and things were annoying to them and, I really think that they missed the point focusing on that one negative it doesn't really detract from the game just like it doesn't really detract from the anime.

Linking that to photo realism, it really isn't necessary to convey emotional meaning. One of the odd times I cried was in Futurama when Fry finds out his brother named his son after him and they have his funeral and it's a really touching moment. Then there is Minecraft, possibly as far away from photo realism as you could get but it can have fantastic emotional depth. Crawling through dark caves trying to avoid enemies or saving friends in trouble, you feel that emotion you can feel scared or happy or even like you want to protect someone or something. The pvp servers (hunger games style) are that sort of a brutal pvp situation and it really feels epic, you really feel the intensity of fighting someone else in that game.

Some of the best and most expressive games use cell shading and are colourful and just have so much emotional depth where as the more realistic CoD games... I felt nothing when playing through what were meant to be brutal massacres, just because it had's really engaged me. It looked realistic, but I just didn't have any emotional connection to anything.

Man I really want to see the Space Muffin T-Shirts. Any idea when they might be coming out?

Two words: absolutely not.

gardian06:
like what Steve was saying about the game that used "gook" to refer to Latinos if that would have been released in the US, or almost any English speaking nation for that matter the company would have been slammed as racist/xenophobic.

They'd be laughed at because 'gook' is a racist perjorative for Asians not Latinos.

newdarkcloud:
I really hope that Susan is right and that the 2K just really misspoke, because otherwise it would make no sense, believe it.

This is the same Hartman who defended the FPS XCom by saying:

"Turn-based strategy games were no longer the hottest thing on planet Earth," Hartmann said. "But this is not just a commercial thing - strategy games are just not contemporary."

Which is a strange thing for the Publisher of the world's biggest TBS franchise (Sid Meier's Civilization) to say, let alone the fact that 2K had probably already green lit the Firaxis TBS X-Com game by the time he openned his yap.

In that context, I wouldn't hold out any serious hopes that the man can tell between his arse and his elbow.

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