I know what you’re thinking, you predictable sods. You’re going to ask how I can spend so much time slagging off The Conduit’s graphics for being ugly and outdated, when I usually claim to overlook that in favor of gameplay and story mechanics. Well, shut up and listen to this.
Sometimes I wonder if the whole ‘3D’ thing was a huge mistake on the games industry’s part. I can see how it must have been very appealing, not having to stink up the place with so many 2D artists and animators, but I’m starting to wonder if 3D will pass the test of time.
Because with the possible exception of porn starlets, nothing ages faster than standards for full-3D graphics. I once said that I thought Super Mario Sunshine and Zelda Twilight Princess were better than Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time. This was because I’d missed out on the N64 era due to poverty, and had to catch up on the big titles some years later with emulators. But this was well into the late PS2 era, and at that point I just couldn’t get past how hideous everything looked. Paper dolls running around unadorned boxes resembling the results of a 12-year-old’s first day at architect school.
As graphics improve, our personal standards get higher and higher, whether we realize it or not. I remember being gobsmacked by my first glimpse of PS2 graphics back in November ’00. Now they all look like ethereal shadowless realms populated by jaw-flapping balloon people. Even today’s most advanced 3D has a way to go before it climbs out of the Uncanny Valley. Ten years from now I’ll no doubt be saying “God, I just can’t get into GTA4 anymore, it looks like total arse. How did we ever put up with characters that look like they’re made out of sweaty modeling clay?” And no-one’s yet found a way to make two 3D models interact realistically. You ever see game characters trying to kiss each other? I find myself listening for the clonk of wood on wood.
Conversely, really good 2D graphics still look really good, and probably always will. Think of Metal Slug, or the lovingly-painted backdrops of old adventure games like Beneath A Steel Sky (now available as freeware, retro fans). And the resolution might have been slightly lower than a fucking Lite Brite but it’s the colorful 2D monsters from Doom that have remained pleasing and iconic far longer than their samey greyscale 3D equivalents from Doom 3.
This may seem like flipflopping all over the place but I can honestly support the idea of the Wii. For the first time since the first generation, a console has abandoned the race for the best graphics technology in order to concentrate on controller and gameplay innovations. It must have made sense to Nintendo, whose signature franchises traditionally embrace simplicity. The hardware isn’t up to scratch, but at least they’re trying to fix that with the Motion Plus, and maybe the whole idea of motion sensors is flawed, but let’s face it, we could only have figured that out through practice.
Wait for it, I’m getting ready to advance upon relevance. It seems to me that the Wii was founded on the basis that it wasn’t even going to try to compete with everyone else’s visuals, and instead encourage new thinking in game design. A lot of Wii games have embraced that: look at 2D stuff like Super Paper Mario and Wario Ware, and cel-shaded 3D like No More Heroes or Madworld. But other third party developers didn’t get the memo.
“We needed to develop our engine so that it is as competitive with the 360 and the PS3”. That’s a direct, grammatically iffy quote from the lead designer of The Conduit, Rob Nicholls, from an interview with That Video Game Blog. They pushed the graphics to the limits at the expense of everything else, and it still wasn’t as good-looking as games on the other consoles. OH WELL.
I’m not saying we should give up on realistic 3D altogether, I’m just saying one should consider the alternatives. I still like a lot of by-today’s-standards ugly 3D games. But any game that sells itself on its top-of-the-range graphics is going to seem hopelessly quaint and boring within a year or so (see Quake, Quake 2, Quake 3 and come to think of it pretty much everything by id). I guess The Conduit does deserve some kind of prize for having aged poorly at the very moment of release.
Just to clarify, yes, with the Call of Juarez video it’s officially 100 videos discounting the 2008 clip show and the repeat of Console Rundown. We’re only counting videos I had to do some actual work for. So stop arguing about it, you idiots.
I’ve got to say I’m looking forward to seeing what’ll come out of the Stonking Great game design contest. I’ve seen a couple of people attempt ZP-based flash games, but it will be doubly interesting to see some that we’ve actually sanctioned. Someone made a ZP level in Little Big Planet, actually, and here’s a video someone else made of it. Obviously we’re only accepting Flash games but take a gander if you need inspiration, I guess.
Besides that, here is the only assistance I will give you. If your game includes absolutely any reference to the cake being a lie, you automatically lose a billion points.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.