I prefer good bad graphics

| Monday, February 7, 2011
Stunning visuals! Amazing scenes! Visually stunning scenes of amazement!

At 10 fps.

Here is one part of WoW that I think it has gotten down almost perfectly, better than any other game I've tried, and with absolutely no unintended consequences: cartoonish graphics.

Depending on the area I get somewhere between 20 and 30 fps in WoW, excluding heavy magical events such as everyone in Stormwind casting everything they can all at once thank you very much elemental invasion. I know that's not amazing, but it's definitely in the playable range. My eyes can handle it. My brain can handle it. The simplistic graphics work wonderfully to keep system requirements, and therefore performance, in a good range.

Recently I tried Pirates of the Burning Sea, which has a bit more realistic graphics than WoW. But not too realistic. It isn't going for perfect sunlight reflecting off water reflecting off a drop of water on the hull of a ship which is splintered and burning, so don't forget the particle effects!. I like the style of it. It works for me, and for my computer. Though due to my level I've not been in any really massive sea battles, I have had some fights involving a dozen or so with no performance issues.

Not recently I tried Lord of the Rings Online, before it went freemium. It seemed fun, or like it might have been, and I've heard that the graphics are very nice, if it didn't run like crap. It goes for the realism angle with pretty shiny everything. I'm sure that's lovely for people who can run it.

Most recently I've been trying EQ2 with some friends, the sort of friends who can get me to try EQ2. It's nice and all, but 10 fps makes it a bit visually painful and really hurts the fluidity of movement. Still runs better than lotro did.

If my own experience is any guide at all to a game developer, let's try this: don't waste your budget on pretty graphics. Find a style that works, both for the theme and for the computers of your target audience. If you make a game that won't run for everyone, don't expect everyone to play your game. No level of polish, social ties, or gameplay will get people to play a game that runs like a 1920s film reel.

It won't make anyone sign up, but frankly I think devs spend too much time trying to get people to play their game. They need to spend more time avoiding the things that make people not play their game. Create a good world and people will populate it, maybe not as many as you'd like, but if you don't blow your budget on graphics, that might be fine anyway.

WoW didn't attract 11 million players with cartoonish graphics, but it did allow 11 million players with cartoonish graphics. That's one idea you can steal without being labeled a WoW clone, because it's sometimes the part that people don't even notice, until it isn't working.


Nils said...

I agree. This is one of the things you can learn form WoW, and I think most AAA developers have learnt it by now. It is not even limited to computer games.

What comics do (did) you like best? The obviously comic comics or the ones with more 'realistic' drawings?

Cartoonish doesn't mean childish, btw. You can have a very dark theme. But as long as your MMORPG cannot look 100% like a movie, go with stylish graphics, not 'pseudo' realistic ones.

Nat said...

I agree here also. Additionally I think we're fast approaching a situation where realism will reach it's current technological limits and plateau for a while. I'm hoping this will make way for more stylised games, letting them show their charm and ending this love-affair with realism. I'd love to see more games in the stylistic veins of Grim Fandango or XIII.

Caramael said...

The last time I spent way too much cash on a videocard was about 8 years ago so I could play half-life 2. I even think that videocard was faster than the one inside my macbook pro currently. Still, the best multiplayer FPS experience I ever had was QuakeWorld, which could be played on any pc, regardless of videocard (hell, I even played it in 320x240 software mode because it gave a competitive advantage).
It's all in the gameplay. Amazing graphics are nice, but not worth the hardware requirements if you ask me.

Klepsacovic said...

@Nils: What is childish is culturally and personally subjective, so I doubt the specter of cartoon = childish can ever be fully escaped.

@Reala: I'd not seen XIII before. That's a neat look!

@Caramael: I've found that once we can reliably tell what we're looking at, graphics have pretty quick diminishing returns. Though better graphics do allow for greater flexibility and at times realism is better. I think of things like smoke in a FPS where being able to partially obscure visuals is a useful tool.

Me said...

I've actually read that this is one of the reasons that WoW surpassed EQ2. Those who played EQ couldn't run EQ2 on their computers and the player-base shifted to the game they could play.

As for diminishing returns, I enjoyed the graphics in EQ2 a lot more than in WoW. I loved the fact that my avatar would actually turn it's head and not it's entire body to look at an NPC or quest giver. The only reason I didn't stick with EQ2 is I couldn't see myself trying to solo to lvl 90 or 100 or whatever it is now. So yes, I went back to WoW shortly after my experiment there, but I was never as happy with it somehow.

As for cartoony, I've noticed a complaint about DCUO being cartoony, but I find it fits with the idea of the game since it is based on comics.

Anonymous said...

If you get too realistic, you end up with uncanny valley problems. Many modern MMO avatars creep me out, but I seem to have a wider uncanny valley than most people. I've never had that issue with a WoW character.

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