BioWare Talks Next-Gen Graphics and Art

BioWare Talks Next-Gen Graphics and Art

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Next-gen graphics "will be a big leap, but it won't be as obvious," says BioWare.

After making some of the most iconic sci-fi and fantasy games on the market, BioWare knows a thing or two about strong art design, and how to leverage graphics engines to serve it. With the next generation of consoles already underway, the Canadian developer will have another chance to experiment with more powerful visuals. According to BioWare, the next-gen graphics jump won't be as noticeable as the previous generation's, but it also won't drive development costs up the same way.

Neil Thompson, director of art and animation at BioWare, has both praise and criticism for graphics from the previous console generation. "I like the fact that the medium is being pushed to the point where the player now has a genuine emotional response to the characters and the story," he says. "It's an experience, rather than 'I'm just going to play this for half-an-hour and shoot stuff.'" However, graphical fidelity is a double-edged sword, and Thompson was quick to point out how building bigger teams increased development costs drastically. "I think the main thing is that the industry doesn't get itself into a corner where it becomes economically unviable to make a game. The last technology iteration caught folks by surprise - especially the number of people you needed and the skillset jump that was required to do the work that people expected."

In terms of Thompson's own projects, he cites the upcoming Dragon Age III as a showcase for some exciting visual ideas. This time around, BioWare is using the Frostbite 2 engine, which debuted in Battlefield 3. "Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II were both done using BioWare's own Eclipse engine, and it was starting to creak a little bit when Dragon Age II came out," he explains. Specifically, Thompson has been very impressed by the game's environments, and reminds his audience that fantasy does not have to embrace a drab color palette, Game of Thrones-style.

Finally, Thompson offers a little advice for up-and-coming game artists: "It's also really important that students critique their own work by industry standards, so if you've done a character in 3D, hold that up to what you see professionally done, and be hard on yourself, because the industry certainly will be." Screenshots for Dragon Age III should surface soon, so hopefully, students will have a strong basis for comparison.

Source: Official Xbox Magazine

Permalink

inb4 this turns into a Bioware hate thread.

But yeah, we're coming to that asymptote of photorealism really quickly. At least we'll always have aesthetics to keep things looking better.

Uh, Mr. Thompson, we dont' get genuine emotional responses from just good graphics. Sure they do help, but if the games don't have decent writing backing up the pretty looking characters and world, then I highly doubt your game will elicit much, if any, emotional response.

Also, Bioware's art direction of late has been... less than great. Hopefully Dragon Age 3 has a lot more contrast, and isn't rammed through a color filter. And doesn't rely on teal and orange for all its contrast.

Marshall Honorof:
"I like the fact that the medium is being pushed to the point where the player now has a genuine emotional response to the characters and the story,"

Welcome to the 90's, Neil Thompson?

Marshall Honorof:
"Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II were both done using BioWare's own Eclipse engine, and it was starting to creak a little bit when Dragon Age II came out,"

Err... Dragon Age II looked fine in Eclipse. The issues it had stemmed from unfinished art assets and bugs.

And, of course, questionable design decisions, but that's entirely subjective.

Next-Gen Artistic Integrity

Really, that's all I can say.

Irridium:
Uh, Mr. Thompson, we get genuine emotional responses from good characters and writing, not from graphics. Just want to make that clear. Also, Bioware's art direction of late has been... less than great. Hopefully Dragon Age 3 has a lot more contrast, and isn't rammed through a color filter. And doesn't rely on teal and orange for all its contrast.

Hear hear!

I find it highly foolish that Bioware is held to the very same standard as the games in its past when so few, if any, of those employed by them were those who were truly responsible for the classics Bioware created.

They do not deserve rose-tinted nostalgia, these are not the same people who created the classics we all know and loved. Every single shred of criticism they get is not just worthy, but justifiable, and should be yielded out with every bit the disconnected criticism that thinkers of the genre have levelled out on them.

what I wish is that devs would stop trying to outreal the real world and try some new art styles.

"I like the fact that the medium is being pushed to the point where the player now has a genuine emotional response to the characters and the story," he says. "It's an experience, rather than 'I'm just going to play this for half-an-hour and shoot stuff.'"

...
Wut? Is this guy even aware of the reputation his company has? Or had?

Marshall Honorof:
This time around, BioWare is using the Frostbite 2 engine, which debuted in Battlefield 3.

Seriously is there a mandate by EA that the studio must use the frostbite 2 engine, and i would to point out that yes the frostbite engine is very powerful but i don't think its that amazing that every game should use it. Suppose though it just EA trying to compete with Epic and there unreal engine.

Gammayun:

Marshall Honorof:
This time around, BioWare is using the Frostbite 2 engine, which debuted in Battlefield 3.

Seriously is there a mandate by EA that the studio must use the frostbite 2 engine, and i would to point out that yes the frostbite engine is very powerful but i don't think its that amazing that every game should use it. Suppose though it just EA trying to compete with Epic and there unreal engine.

Honestly what is really disconcerting here is the continued notion that better graphics=more emotion. I can understand how a know-nothing publisher executive would come to that conclusion, but a prolific employee of a company renowned for it's exploits in delivering a quality narrative?

Phlakes:

But yeah, we're coming to that asymptote of photorealism really quickly. At least we'll always have aesthetics to keep things looking better.

And there's another obstacle before we get there, the uncanny valley.

Irridium:
Uh, Mr. Thompson, we get genuine emotional responses from good characters and writing, not from graphics. Just want to make that clear.

Indeed. It's not how shiny something is, but how wholesomely presented it is.

For example, some dude getting killed by having his head sniped...photorealistic graphics convey the blood spatter and every twitchy muscle in his body a lot better than older-generation graphics, I agree.

But, why was he shot? Who shot him? Who's going to be outraged about it? Who's going to be happy about it? What was going through his head (apart from the bullet) when he got shot? Why should I care?

Those are the questions that have to be answered if we want a genuine emotional response. And graphics simply can't answer those questions.

Next Gen Graphics aren't the only thing that can take a "big leap".

Wake me when they can write a story and create a world that is as good or better than Star Control 2.

What is funny is the one "action" game that I can think of that came out of BioWare MDK2 was pretty damn awesome for its time.

infinity_turtles:
"I like the fact that the medium is being pushed to the point where the player now has a genuine emotional response to the characters and the story," he says. "It's an experience, rather than 'I'm just going to play this for half-an-hour and shoot stuff.'"

...
Wut? Is this guy even aware of the reputation his company has? Or had?

Which is also funny since they said they wanted the Call of Duty audience before DA2 came out.

rembrandtqeinstein:
Wake me when they can write a story and create a world that is as good or better than Star Control 2.

What is funny is the one "action" game that I can think of that came out of BioWare MDK2 was pretty damn awesome for its time.

Wait MDK2 was Bioware? MDK2 was awesome.

Agreed graphics aren't everything, however the next gen machines (well the PS4 anyway) will be so much more powerful than current generations in terms of AI behaviour, objects on screen (crowds) and larger areas that we will see games that are more engaging to play despite the consumers obssession with graphic fidelity. I can't wait to play a next gen Hitman game that marries Absolutions crowd AI with some large open play areas and open solutions unlike the locked off corridor game Absolution was.

So..... DA3 will be a FPS and all the darkspawn will be brown?

I honestly would take the game more seriously if EA would stop trying to hype it. It only gives the sense that there is something they are trying to hide behind glitter and fog machines.

captcha: Check your work

Damnit captcha! How did you know i was procrastinating?

-_- it's never been about graphics...

Phlakes:
inb4 this turns into a Bioware hate thread.

Oh, hell yes.

Marshall Honorof:
"... rather than 'I'm just going to play this for half-an-hour and shoot stuff."

I thought this was about graphics, not Mass Effect 2. *ba-dum tish*

OP: We've had good graphics/aesthetics for years, just check out Beyond Good and Evil. I wish people would stop making excuses about technology and development costs and just start making their games look good already.

...oh great. Bioware's turend into Square Enix.

I'm pretty sure the industry has already painted itself into a corner, it's just that nobody has stopped giving them money for expensive largely superficial design decisions (as such that nobody would have noticed if they hadn't pushed too far) that lead to overcharging for small chunks of additional gameplay.

Now I find it funny seeing a thread were biowere ( yup they were...) talks about graphics..... at least the dragon age series looks awfull and always did , DAO it's an amazing game but damit the moment I got to Morrigan's hut i stopped playing and searched away looking for mods cause every character looked awfull..... same happened with DA2.
The success of DAO was the story and the deep characters, and that was also why DA2 was so ucking bad, as long as they let me mod DA3 and they get some decent writing done I'll buy.

Irridium:
Uh, Mr. Thompson, we get genuine emotional responses from good characters and writing, not from graphics.

Now I just want to get in there that this isn't an "either/or" thing here. It is an "and".

Now I want to come with one of the simpler examples of where the graphics helped with an emotional response because it always seems to be hammered into the ground how wrong that is.

Witcher 2
When you meet Dethmold for the first time he wants to shake your hand. Now I did not know the char of Dethmold yet. I think I knew his name (yeah that is a bit of a give away as well) but otherwise nothing besides the graphical. Now I saw his face and I looked at him and I did not trust him. I chose not to shake his hand on that premise alone. I later told by my friend who did shake his hand that he was an empath who could read minds if he touched people. The thing is the game presented me with an opportunity judge a mans character on his facial expression and even gave me the ability to act accordingly. Now I am not arguing this cannot be achieved without an attempt at photo realism, but at the very least it would not have been the same without it. There are opportunities the higher graphical fidelity opens up for that has until now has often been filled entirely by stuff like writing, mood music ect. That however doesn't mean that the application of greater graphical fidelity doesn't exist.

Draech:

Irridium:
Uh, Mr. Thompson, we get genuine emotional responses from good characters and writing, not from graphics.

Now I just want to get in there that this isn't an "either/or" thing here. It is an "and".

Now I want to come with one of the simpler examples of where the graphics helped with an emotional response because it always seems to be hammered into the ground how wrong that is.

Witcher 2
When you meet Dethmold for the first time he wants to shake your hand. Now I did not know the char of Dethmold yet. I think I knew his name (yeah that is a bit of a give away as well) but otherwise nothing besides the graphical. Now I saw his face and I looked at him and I did not trust him. I chose not to shake his hand on that premise alone. I later told by my friend who did shake his hand that he was an empath who could read minds if he touched people. The thing is the game presented me with an opportunity judge a mans character on his facial expression and even gave me the ability to act accordingly. Now I am not arguing this cannot be achieved without an attempt at photo realism, but at the very least it would not have been the same without it. There are opportunities the higher graphical fidelity opens up for that has until now has often been filled entirely by stuff like writing, mood music ect. That however doesn't mean that the application of greater graphical fidelity doesn't exist.

This... is very true. And something I forgot about. Edited my first post.

Draech:

Irridium:
Uh, Mr. Thompson, we get genuine emotional responses from good characters and writing, not from graphics.

Now I just want to get in there that this isn't an "either/or" thing here. It is an "and".

Now I want to come with one of the simpler examples of where the graphics helped with an emotional response because it always seems to be hammered into the ground how wrong that is.

Witcher 2
When you meet Dethmold for the first time he wants to shake your hand. Now I did not know the char of Dethmold yet. I think I knew his name (yeah that is a bit of a give away as well) but otherwise nothing besides the graphical. Now I saw his face and I looked at him and I did not trust him. I chose not to shake his hand on that premise alone. I later told by my friend who did shake his hand that he was an empath who could read minds if he touched people. The thing is the game presented me with an opportunity judge a mans character on his facial expression and even gave me the ability to act accordingly. Now I am not arguing this cannot be achieved without an attempt at photo realism, but at the very least it would not have been the same without it. There are opportunities the higher graphical fidelity opens up for that has until now has often been filled entirely by stuff like writing, mood music ect. That however doesn't mean that the application of greater graphical fidelity doesn't exist.

I have a hypothesis that the reason why hardcore gamers are so well-known as stereotypically anti-social, socially awkward, or even mildly autistic, is because in the earlier generations, the low quality graphics only attracted the kind of people who didn't have the normal ability to pick up such small non-verbal clues as what you just described, so for them (or us), it was really literally true that realistic facial expressions don't matter (in fact, they (we) might have even preferred cartoonishly stylized visuals), but Bioware is also right in the sense that there was a wide mainstream who couldn't take gaming seriously as long as it wasn't entirely realistic, because for them, that would have been in the uncanny valley.

(By the way, the same logic would apply to the similar reputation of the comic book and anime fandoms).

Entitled:

Draech:

Irridium:
Uh, Mr. Thompson, we get genuine emotional responses from good characters and writing, not from graphics.

Now I just want to get in there that this isn't an "either/or" thing here. It is an "and".

Now I want to come with one of the simpler examples of where the graphics helped with an emotional response because it always seems to be hammered into the ground how wrong that is.

Witcher 2
When you meet Dethmold for the first time he wants to shake your hand. Now I did not know the char of Dethmold yet. I think I knew his name (yeah that is a bit of a give away as well) but otherwise nothing besides the graphical. Now I saw his face and I looked at him and I did not trust him. I chose not to shake his hand on that premise alone. I later told by my friend who did shake his hand that he was an empath who could read minds if he touched people. The thing is the game presented me with an opportunity judge a mans character on his facial expression and even gave me the ability to act accordingly. Now I am not arguing this cannot be achieved without an attempt at photo realism, but at the very least it would not have been the same without it. There are opportunities the higher graphical fidelity opens up for that has until now has often been filled entirely by stuff like writing, mood music ect. That however doesn't mean that the application of greater graphical fidelity doesn't exist.

I have a hypothesis that the reason why hardcore gamers are so well-known as stereotypically anti-social, socially awkward, or even mildly autistic, is because in the earlier generations, the low quality graphics only attracted the kind of people who didn't have the normal ability to pick up such small non-verbal clues as what you just described, so for them (or us), it was really literally true that realistic facial expressions don't matter (in fact, they (we) might have even preferred cartoonishly stylized visuals), but Bioware is also right in the sense that there was a wide mainstream who couldn't take gaming seriously as long as it wasn't entirely realistic, because for them, that would have been in the uncanny valley.

(By the way, the same logic would apply to the similar reputation of the comic book and anime fandoms).

Like "social interaction for beginners" attracting an audience of beginner lvl social skills.

It is a very interesting idea, if you weigh in how games moved culturally compared to how their original audience moved forwards in generations it sounds even more plausible.

It is a very interesting idea. I think just the outside looking at the overacted expressions could have reinforced the idea regardless of the actual audience composition.

Irridium:
Uh, Mr. Thompson, we get genuine emotional responses from good characters and writing, not from graphics

I agree with the rest of your post, but think about this: Romeo and Juliet is a good story. It's thought-provoking and elicits emotional responses. Now how about a sock puppet version? Would you still be able to get emotionally invested when the "actors" aren't human-looking and the character designs are kinda atrocious due to the limitations how the sock puppet? I wouldn't; I'd be too busy laughing at how they drew the faces.

OT: So what Mr. Thompson is saying is next-gen graphics are going to make a leap toward photo-realism? I'm kinda ok with that so long as devs take Extra Credits advice and remember it's not the graphics that matter, it's the asthetic.

I've never really thought that any of BioWare's graphics, either from Mass Effect or Dragon Age, were jaw-dropping amazing. That's not why I play their games. Okay, they've got the facial animations down better than anyone else, but that's all they've got in my opinion.
Still, hopefully this means we'll start getting info on Dragon Age III soon. I'm looking forward to that. I want to see if they really do just turn this into a civil war, or if they take a smarter route.

kael013:

Irridium:
Uh, Mr. Thompson, we get genuine emotional responses from good characters and writing, not from graphics

I agree with the rest of your post, but think about this: Romeo and Juliet is a good story. It's thought-provoking and elicits emotional responses. Now how about a sock puppet version? Would you still be able to get emotionally invested when the "actors" aren't human-looking and the character designs are kinda atrocious due to the limitations how the sock puppet? I wouldn't; I'd be too busy laughing at how they drew the faces.

True. However, when there are games that use minimalist graphics or even feature nothing more than simple blocks that incites emotional reactions that shames nearly every single big-budget game that released that year, the argument that you need good graphics to get people emotionally invested doesn't hold up. I'm not saying people don't get emotionally invested in the big-budget games, if you do then good on you, but you don't need good graphics to form an emotional connection.

deathbydeath:

Phlakes:
inb4 this turns into a Bioware hate thread.

Oh, hell yes.

Marshall Honorof:
"... rather than 'I'm just going to play this for half-an-hour and shoot stuff."

I thought this was about graphics, not Mass Effect 2. *ba-dum tish*

OP: We've had good graphics/aesthetics for years, just check out Beyond Good and Evil. I wish people would stop making excuses about technology and development costs and just start making their games look good already.

We have had good graphics for years...

image

Not that you would know it from some of Biowares art department :P

Irridium:
Also, Bioware's art direction of late has been... less than great. Hopefully Dragon Age 3 has a lot more contrast, and isn't rammed through a color filter. And doesn't rely on teal and orange for all its contrast.

How many times can Bioware make the same mistake, really? Odds are they'll wise up for their next game.

Wait so if the origina Mass Effect 3 original ending would hawe better graphics we would hawe liked it or something like that... I miss the times when you sold your game as a piece of art(story, great gameplay) and not as an interactive bad movie(24(last four seasons)) that looks photorealistic but doesn't makes sence... Yeah then not looking forward to RGB dragon age 3 ending...

I have nothing against pushing graphics to the next-generation.
Graphics are tools for design. Essential for video games to possess, for what I hope are obvious reasons.

I have everything against games that prioritize graphics well ahead of gameplay.
The PS3/360 generation of games is full of polished turds.

Peel back the dozens of layers of veneer gloss and shine off of something like Black Ops 2, and you find a faux-Counterstrike mod running on the Quake 3 engine with some RPG stats duct taped on.

 

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