#1 Posted by shivermetimbers (888 posts) -

Title says it all: Should games try and achieve photo-realism?

What do I mean by photo-realism? Simply put (though perhaps not the best definition), I mean trying to achieve the closest possible representation of reality by means of a graphic (non-reality....Be it painting, drawing, animation, etc ) medium.

So this is topic is made with a visual interest in mind....but can we ignore the fact that games are interactive? I feel that would be disingenuous.

Games are cartoonish in the sense that they can be a representation of reality without actually being reality. Meaning that games can never be more than a simulation of the real world. Our mind recognizes what an apple is in a game and thinks 'food' and 'I can eat that!' or the even the more gamey 'this can restore my health!" In reality you can use the apple as, say, a door stopper if you're creative, but the systems in place in a simulation make it so you can only interact with the apple in the way the simulation says you can.

This may seem that I'm against photo-realism in games. In actuality, I'm quite neutral on the whole 'issue'. Well, neutral leaning towards the positive side of things.

While some may argue that photo-realism is bad because, as mentioned above, technology can't replicate reality without it being reality and therefore shouldn't try, I look at photo-realism as a whole and what people have done to trick the eyes, via wax sculptures, paintings, etc and I can see that there's a place for it because there's a moment where we can be fooled and the uncanny valley can be shot back up to a place where our minds can be in awe knowing that what we see is fake, but so close to the real thing that we forget.

There's a lot of negatives as well. Including money, time, effort, and so on. And that so far, games that look real often have blemishes that can ruin one's illusion and that cartoonish games often look more pleasing to the eye and can give us a good representation of reality as is without the need for such time, money, effort, and so on. Some may say that it's impossible to replicate the visual aspect of reality through a game and there's something to be said about that too.

And there's the side that's going to say games have achieved photo-realism already. While this is a good argument in a sense, it's one I can't agree with. As games are more a technological medium, there's always going to be more ways as technology grows to help us better achieve photo-realism and as such, what we perceive as photo-realistic now probably won't be considered such in the years to come. That's not to say games haven't tried their hardest to copy reality, but the sense of animation, visuals, and attention to detail hasn't quite gotten past the uncanny valley stage, in my opinion.

So what do you think? Should games keep trying to achieve photo-realism?

#2 Posted by CornBREDX (6462 posts) -

It depends on the game. I think it works for some games (for instance, that was the goal in Silent Hill 3) and for others it doesn't (it wouldn't work for a game like Sly Cooper).

So, it's kind of a complicated question, but really it just boils down to developer design choices and what the game is and what not.

#3 Edited by ravingham91 (116 posts) -

I'm all for it! I still have never seen any game that looks as good (in terms of photo realism) as crysis 2 with blackfire and maldos HD textures. It looked absolutely breathtaking.

#4 Posted by NTM (8286 posts) -

I think it should try to do what it wants to. If a developer strives for it, then sure, but if not, then no. Pretty obvious :P.

#5 Edited by Giantstalker (1873 posts) -

Some should, like simulators or anything going for a sense of authenticity. Others shouldn't, like more abstract games featuring exaggerated mechanics.

Not much of an answer but there it is. As a whole, though, I think photorealism is still an important industry target to push technology forward.

#6 Edited by SoldierG654342 (1863 posts) -

No, they shouldn't. Even if they can achieve the graphical fidelity in a still shot, things will take a nose dive into the Uncanny Valley as soon as you put it in motion simply because the movements things make are so complex and full of little quirks that they could never be accurately recreated in a way that's playable on consumer hardware.

#7 Posted by SomeDeliCook (2353 posts) -

Try all they want, games that try for realism will always get surpassed.

Games with a good art style are timeless.

#8 Posted by wrecks (2400 posts) -

Of course! Pushing the envelope is how innovation happens.

#9 Posted by Aetheldod (3914 posts) -

No .... as simply as I want an artist´s representation or his "style" for things , if I want realism I can just look out the window (also that being able to make a photorealistic representation of things and have it as the pinacle of artistic endevour to be a load of bull) I just like more imaginative stuff than 1:1 representation of reality. The one thing that I would like to be real is the scenery to make actual sense , as i could be habitable/practical i its usage , not a bunch of corridors that no one would actually make etc.

#10 Edited by Tom_omb (481 posts) -

There will always be people pushing the boundaries of realism in games. I'm fine with this, but I hope as we get closer we'll see more stylized approaches to art direction. I'm much more excited by the art in games like Guacamelee, Valiant Hearts and Puppeteer then those games pushing for realism.

It's also worth noting how universally relatable cartoons are vs realism. Although sometimes the cultural stigma of "cartoons are kids stuff" gets in the way. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud goes into this:

#11 Edited by Corevi (6794 posts) -

I think game designers should do whatever the hell they want. I love very stylized games but I also think Far Cry 4 looks stunning.

#12 Edited by probablytuna (4136 posts) -

Games have tried and have at times come close to producing convincing human faces, through the aid of 3D scanning (as seen in LA Noire or more recent sports games) but there's something about it that still feels fake. That's why a lot of developers choose to exaggerate or tweak it slightly to produce something that feels real in relation to the game world (see inFamous: Second Son or GTAV, among others).

For environments, they are certainly heading that way. For example when Kojima unveiled their new FOX engine they did side-by-side comparison shots of their office and replicated versions done with their engine. It comes very close to the real thing, but since they are inanimate objects, it's easier to fool. Personally, I don't really care either way as long as it fits the direction the game is going.

#13 Edited by crithon (3518 posts) -

You know.... I'm actually right now looking at the models of Silent Hill 2, 3 and 4. And they still look great in that whole waxy, desaturated style, but they were ahead of the curve when it came to character models, since back then they had those horrible lip animation and mitten hands in GTA games.

So yes, I'd love to see more just leaps in tech, even in 2001 I was so in love playing with HDR lighting with 3D programs. Of course it took 15 minutes to render out a ball in a room with a light in it, but but it took PC game maybe around 2005 to catch up and even then it wasn't as close as it looked in 3D programs.

#14 Posted by 71Ranchero (3139 posts) -

Sure why not. Crysis going for Photo-realism would have no effect on Okami going for cell-shaded.

#15 Posted by Slag (5474 posts) -

If it makes sense for the game sure.

I generally prefer games that don't do that though.

#16 Posted by Hailinel (25787 posts) -

@slag said:

If it makes sense for the game sure.

I generally prefer games that don't do that though.

Pretty much this. If it makes sense for the game and the type of game it is, then yeah, it's cool. But photorealism (or any singular art style) is not something that should be pushed for exclusively. Developers should use the art styles they feel work best for the games they're making.

#17 Posted by Corevi (6794 posts) -

Sure why not. Crysis going for Photo-realism would have no effect on Okami going for cell-shaded.

Okami isn't cell shaded, it's Sumi-e.

#18 Posted by StarvingGamer (9010 posts) -

Why not try and achieve stuff?

#19 Posted by RonGalaxy (3585 posts) -

I think if you want to make something you should go about making it in whatever way you like.

#20 Posted by Mortuss_Zero (545 posts) -

Hmm, in general I'd say no. A distinctive art style goes a lot farther than chasing the photo-realism dragon for me (also makes for smoother games usually) and would therefore be a better use of time and effort in my mind. A few genre's are well-suited for it I suppose, simulators as mentioned above seem the best fit. Horror and Drama(is that a good term for games like Heavy Rain?) may be as well. My biggest concern though, is that I really don't want to see the day that the wounds I inflict on my enemies are photo-realistic. I don't need every detail of the bullet hole rendered in loving detail.

Except in Mortal Kombat.

#21 Posted by shivermetimbers (888 posts) -

I'm not sure the argument "if we can build it, why not?" is one I can agree with. There's plenty of things we probably can build, but shouldn't. Things such as a submarine made out of bread (stupid example, but you get what I mean).

#22 Posted by Franstone (1209 posts) -

But that doesn't mean all of them have to.

#23 Posted by Splodge (2282 posts) -

For me, the following probably impossible formula is all that matters:

Photo Realistic 3D Models and Envrionments


Almost Godlike processing Power


Occulus Rift style VR set with some kind of fancy suit


The Matrix. Or whatever the hell you want.

Some day....

#24 Posted by DefaultProphet (594 posts) -

I want photorealistic sports and racing games.

I don't think I want photorealistic shooters though. That's just gnarly.

#25 Posted by mosespippy (4746 posts) -

Why not try and achieve stuff?

Maybe because the cost of generating the assets required for such a feat are insanely high and that is killing beloved AAA studios. Try to achieve stuff, but do it within your fiscal means.

#26 Edited by YukoAsho (2248 posts) -

I think the better question is "should games reach only for photo-realism."

The problem is this dogma that seems to permeate western game design, that realistic = better in all cases. There are a few awesome, stylish exceptions such as XIII, but for the most part, western games seem to go for a very generic, realistic look. Aside from the fact that it will always be surpassed in a few years, this has the unfortunate effect of making games look the same. By contrast, it's easy to distinguish, say, a Dynasty Warriors game, or a Tales game, or a game by Suda51, because they have a very distinct graphical style that is part of the games.

The pursuit of realism isn't bad in and of itself. It's the fact that realism has overridden all other concerns that is the issue, at least in western gaming design. We need more abstract graphical styles.

#27 Posted by StarvingGamer (9010 posts) -

@starvinggamer said:

Why not try and achieve stuff?

Maybe because the cost of generating the assets required for such a feat are insanely high and that is killing beloved AAA studios. Try to achieve stuff, but do it within your fiscal means.

Well, obviously.

#28 Posted by Dalai (7765 posts) -

Some games should push for photo-realism if they have the talent and power to do so, but there's plenty of room for more stylized, cartoonish, or even crude looking games. I don't need every game to look like Call of Duty or Crysis when there's games like Zelda and Borderlands who go against the grain and do things differently.

#29 Posted by hermes (1731 posts) -

It is a pointless pursuit. Let's say they can make it for faces (L.A. Noire), it will look weird when the rest of the body doesn't have the same level of detail. They can make it for bodies, and it will be weird when the bodies are in motion. They can make it for the animations too, and it will be weird when the environment around it doesn't look as well. They can make it for the rest of the world, and it will be weird when the physics don't match the expected results... The moment our mind notices that weirdness, its back to the bottom of the uncanny valley.

They can spend all the money in the world to make the game look, move and feel like the real world, but they are always going to be limited by the underlying technology. A few years from now, those games will look dated, while games that try to have more creative styles will look just as good (Parappa, Team Fortress 2, Okami, Wind Waker, Borderlands) with a fraction of the budget.

I get it, some styles of games don't lend themselves for abstract and stylized graphics, but the key is to know when it is enough, and not force everything into that style. Sometimes, going for a consistent, stylized style shows ton more personality than reaching for (but never quite getting) photo-realism. It is similar to how everything went 3D at the beginning of the PS1/N64 era. It looked like everything had to be 3D, from Mario and Sonic to Castlevania and Street Fighter, and 2D graphics was almost a cursed word. Some games looked pretty impressive back then, but they look like crap now... I would take Super Mario Bros 3 in the NES over half the platformers on the N64.

#30 Posted by awesomeusername (4524 posts) -

Depends on the game. When PT was announced, I couldn't tell whether it was a live action trailer or not. Hell, when I played the demo I still couldn't tell. So yes, some games should.

#31 Edited by Evilsbane (5018 posts) -

It isn't a question of should the try, its When, look at the Unreal 4 engine stuff, we are about to have some Crazy looking shit and it will only get better.

#32 Edited by LackingSaint (1982 posts) -

I think a more interesting question is when does that stuff become morally objectionable? Think about modern military shooters, games that are trying to in many ways game-ify real-life conflict. Because of the mechanical and graphical abstraction from actual reality, it's fine to shrug off moral criticism of it with "Well it's obviously not real life at all and if you can't discern that you have other problems".

I don't know how comfortable i'm going to be with watching my kids happily slit the throats and shoot the guts out of a photo-realistic human being.

#33 Edited by billymagnum (860 posts) -

...but...we already achieved photo realism