Syndicate and our Lens Flared Future

Posted by Alphazero (1536 posts) -

Syndicate is the second game I've played recently taking place in The Lens Flared Future, and I'm worried about it.

Lens flares boil down to being an optical mistake in cameras. When photons travel through a lens, depending on the lens itself, you might get extra light from an unexpected angle. Photons inside the lens itself could also bounce around in unexpected ways because we, as humans, cannot yet manufacture optically perfect physical lenses. Another source of problems is if multiple lenses are in any way misaligned.

My eye shoots out light because robots.

Instead of just showing what the camera is pointed at, these imperfections could result in a bright multicolored ring, or even other shapes with the crazier lenses. You see it in movies filmed with real cameras, say when a camera pans past the sun, and with virtual cameras we've been aping it ever since. It looks cinematic! It looks like a real camera! Never mind that it's a (perhaps artful) optical mistake, we've been trained that this is what high quality images look like.

Both Syndicate and Mass Effect 3 are set in The Future, with a very specific look. Shiny surfaces, bright lights, and oh my christ are there lens flares. One could argue that with Syndicate being a first person game, in this lens flared future you're nominally looking through the eyes of the protagonist Kilo, so you shouldn't get lens flares consistent with an older 70mm lens, but he's had work done, man. Lay off. Robotic parts and shit. You don't know! Same goes for Commander Shepard in Mass Effect. Although, as a third person game, we view the action from a camera behind him. Who knew that during the reaper threat this cameraman would use the same camera setup as they did in Easy Rider.

J.J. Abrams went a little bit nuts with it in a similar fashion in his version of Star Trek. I'm not saying it doesn't look slick, because it does, but I think someday in our own shiny futures, this affectation is going to look more than a little ridiculous. John Carmack compared it, along with film grain, to adding horse shit to your car to get the authentic horse and buggy experience. As lenses and technology improve we'll be able to shoot the same scenes with less lens flare, not more. The problem is, if we're all wired to equate lens flare with The Future, we may not collectively want to.

Personally I want to see more of the things the camera is pointed at. I want more frames per second. Less lens flare. Even more dimensions if they ever figure out a way to do it right. I want more real in my pretend.

Art directors of the video game world, take note. Working together we can form a new high tech aesthetic. Join me, won't you?

#1 Posted by Alphazero (1536 posts) -

Syndicate is the second game I've played recently taking place in The Lens Flared Future, and I'm worried about it.

Lens flares boil down to being an optical mistake in cameras. When photons travel through a lens, depending on the lens itself, you might get extra light from an unexpected angle. Photons inside the lens itself could also bounce around in unexpected ways because we, as humans, cannot yet manufacture optically perfect physical lenses. Another source of problems is if multiple lenses are in any way misaligned.

My eye shoots out light because robots.

Instead of just showing what the camera is pointed at, these imperfections could result in a bright multicolored ring, or even other shapes with the crazier lenses. You see it in movies filmed with real cameras, say when a camera pans past the sun, and with virtual cameras we've been aping it ever since. It looks cinematic! It looks like a real camera! Never mind that it's a (perhaps artful) optical mistake, we've been trained that this is what high quality images look like.

Both Syndicate and Mass Effect 3 are set in The Future, with a very specific look. Shiny surfaces, bright lights, and oh my christ are there lens flares. One could argue that with Syndicate being a first person game, in this lens flared future you're nominally looking through the eyes of the protagonist Kilo, so you shouldn't get lens flares consistent with an older 70mm lens, but he's had work done, man. Lay off. Robotic parts and shit. You don't know! Same goes for Commander Shepard in Mass Effect. Although, as a third person game, we view the action from a camera behind him. Who knew that during the reaper threat this cameraman would use the same camera setup as they did in Easy Rider.

J.J. Abrams went a little bit nuts with it in a similar fashion in his version of Star Trek. I'm not saying it doesn't look slick, because it does, but I think someday in our own shiny futures, this affectation is going to look more than a little ridiculous. John Carmack compared it, along with film grain, to adding horse shit to your car to get the authentic horse and buggy experience. As lenses and technology improve we'll be able to shoot the same scenes with less lens flare, not more. The problem is, if we're all wired to equate lens flare with The Future, we may not collectively want to.

Personally I want to see more of the things the camera is pointed at. I want more frames per second. Less lens flare. Even more dimensions if they ever figure out a way to do it right. I want more real in my pretend.

Art directors of the video game world, take note. Working together we can form a new high tech aesthetic. Join me, won't you?

#2 Posted by NTM (7280 posts) -
#3 Posted by The_Laughing_Man (13629 posts) -

I just finished the game and it really did not bother me or seem like a massive issue. 

#4 Posted by therealminime (233 posts) -

I love lens flares a whole lot, but what Syndicate suffers from is bloom. Bloom is not great most of the time, but lens flares, I have never really ever been bothered by them. I'm quite fond of them.

Bloom:

#5 Posted by Grimhild (721 posts) -

With you. Not because, like you say, they don't look slick at times. But it's not how the human eye processes light. I was skimming for more Skyrim mods and happened across one that added a lens flare to the sun... Is my Dovahkiin making some found-footage "Skyrim Hagraven Project" movie with a camcorder? Why would I see a lens flare at all? Silliness.

#6 Posted by JasonR86 (9611 posts) -

I thought it looked cool. Syndicate is one of the best looking games I've played in a while. The look fit the mood of the game.

#7 Posted by Tim_the_Corsair (3065 posts) -

This is akin to telling an oil painter not to bother because their paint will be imperfect compared to something done in photoshop, or telling an author not to use slang in a story because it isn't the Queen's English.

"Mistakes", as you put it, can have an artistic value all of their own. Lens flare assists with that futuristic vibe, as well as aping the feel of cinema, which can add to the experience (just like grain, camera bob, motion blur, etc). That isn't to say that it can't be presented a different way, but nor does it mean that there is anything inherently wrong with lens flare either.

Sure it can be dumb if used incorrectly, but that applies to everything.

#8 Posted by Alphazero (1536 posts) -

@Tim_the_Corsair said:

This is akin to telling an oil painter not to bother because their paint will be imperfect compared to something done in photoshop, or telling an author not to use slang in a story because it isn't the Queen's English. "Mistakes", as you put it, can have an artistic value all of their own. Lens flare assists with that futuristic vibe, as well as aping the feel of cinema, which can add to the experience (just like grain, camera bob, motion blur, etc). That isn't to say that it can't be presented a different way, but nor does it mean that there is anything inherently wrong with lens flare either. Sure it can be dumb if used incorrectly, but that applies to everything.

Artists being artists can do what they like, of course.

I think it's more akin to telling an oil painter you have the option of no longer painting as if you were using charcoal on a cave wall. You've got new tools, let's do something new with them. I agree that the future aesthetic is heavy on the lens flares, which we can trace back to movies like Blade Runner and the like, but I feel in the real future viewed with real eyeballs it will look silly. That cinematic look that comes from 24fps chemical film, and the grain and motion blur that come with it, is over one hundred years old at this point. Let's make the future look futuristic.

They shot some stuff for The Hobbit at 48fps and by and large people that saw it rejected it because it didn't look like a movie. I think it looked better than a movie, but we've been trained that the more limited cinematic look is better. (And maybe other things contributed, like maybe we still need to learn how to light, build sets, costume, and do makeup for 48fps.)

It's an interesting intersection of perception and futurism. We think the future will look like it was shot with some old ass anamorphic lenses, whereas I think it will look like looking at something with your eyeballs.

#9 Posted by Sarumarine (2181 posts) -

I wonder if lens flare will become the film grain effect of the future. Like the way sepia tone and scratches on movie reels is short hand for "this is old" nowadays.

#10 Posted by GERALTITUDE (2961 posts) -

To me the most interesting thing you mention is the problem of camera vs. eyes. Lens flare is caused by cameras and in an FPS we're ostensibly looking through the eyes of the character. The lens flare just calls attention to the fact that you're a chest camera.

You also gave me an amazing idea for a game: it's a 3rd person game, but when you go into 1st person to look around the room/aim closer, you can see a cameraman and sound crew behind you. Awesome, right?

#11 Posted by Ubersmake (754 posts) -

Reading this made me think of this blog: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/paleofuture/

Silly future interpretations aside, it's very easy to identify Syndicate (and Mass Effect) in screenshots because of how they did lighting.

#12 Posted by RIDEBIRD (1230 posts) -

Syndicate is an incredibly awful looking game without bloom and FXAA turned off via external software (there's a advanced configtool) and gamma turned down. I hear ya though, but I think ME does it much, much more stylish.

#13 Posted by falserelic (5334 posts) -

Im playing syndicate and it doesn't bother me. I'm having more fun playing this game then starhawk.

#14 Posted by Alphazero (1536 posts) -

@falserelic said:

Im playing syndicate and it doesn't bother me. I'm having more fun playing this game then starhawk.

Don't get me wrong, I loved, loved, loved the game itself. Highly recommended. I just think the lighting effects are silly.

As we get more powerful hardware I'm hopeful that we won't have to rely on flare and bloom so much as a crutch for "this looks amazing". Maybe it will just look amazing.

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