Quickies: Hope for the future slightly restored
People who read this blog will know that I do not believe in any way shape or form that graphics are greater than gameplay, so when I read the article excerpt from this interview with Christoph Hartmann, (Despite there being some things I agree with, especially on the future of consoles) I immediately had a problem with what was being said.
Here's the statement taken in context from the interview
Since I last read this article there was a really nice editorial that discusses Hartmann's words while making some interesting points. It's called The Fallacy of Photorealism.
Q: What's your reaction to Warren Spector and his talking about how today's games are overly saturated with violence? Obviously, a lot of games in the 2K portfolio have plenty of violence in them. Do you think developers should be working to make other types of games not steeped in violence to help the maturation of the medium?
Christoph Hartmann: It's something that comes up internally a lot and in product development. What's the difference between the movies and gaming? Movies you just watch. You get emotional involvement in both, but in gaming you interact. That limits you already in what you can do, as certain emotions can't be recreated. Recreating a Mission Impossible experience in gaming is easy; recreating emotions in Brokeback Mountain is going to be tough, or at least very sensitive in this country. It's limiting. Comedy is already very hard in video games. You can't have a game simply built around comedy. It has to be part of an overall vibe. So there is only a certain area that you can use [to create games] and then you look at technology, you can kind of maybe make people look right, but it will be very hard to create very deep emotions like sadness or love, things that drive the movies.
Until games are photorealistic, it'll be very hard to open up to new genres. We can really only focus on action and shooter titles; those are suitable for consoles now. If someone comes up with a video game where it's all about you falling in love, where you have the emotions and you don't need a lot of interaction from your device, that's great but what happened to those interactive movies from the '90s? They were boring. It was like a movie that gave you three endings.
Q: So to your point about photorealism, that's kind of why we need next-gen to push things forward sooner than later right?
Christoph Hartmann: Every new platform changes video gaming because it is able to do certain things. When you look at how many open-world games are out there, that was not doable for most people 20 years ago. Other huge games like Skyrim simply weren't able to be done. Every time the technology advances, new things will open up and be created. To dramatically change the industry to where we can insert a whole range of emotions, I feel it will only happen when we reach the point that games are photorealistic; then we will have reached an endpoint and that might be the final console.
It will then be all just about the content, and no longer about the technology. Right now, this industry is about the content but also about the technology. We're still a tech industry and driven by programmers. Once you get to where it looks like real life, you can focus on doing other things, and it won't be about technology as much as it is now. Until then, I think there will always be new tech, consoles, devices or whatever to drive the industry.
I'll post an excerpt, but I encourage you to read it for yourself and establish your own conclusions.
I symphathise with his idealistic vision of the "final console" and a time when games will be "all about the content and no longer about the technology". But he also must realize that it is already a reality for many developers operating outside of triple-A. Similarly, ILM is in the business of pursuing ever more realism in rendering on the grandest scale. But LucasArts must also know that knocking out an Uncharted clone using next-gen tech won't be enough to beat Naughty Dog at its own game.Stay tuned as I'll be posting more and more as the weeks follow on some pretty interesting things I'm rediscovering.
To be fair to Hartmann, he's right that improvements in console tech have facilitated massive gameplay innovations in the past, such as the open-world genre, as he is in pointing out that an interactive medium cannot trigger emotions in the same way a passive one can. But in suggesting photo-realism is an answer to this he's sending out exactly the wrong message.
Only one video game has ever made me cry: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Never mind photo-realism, that's not even in HD. And it's irrelevant either way. It reduced me to a pathetic, sniveling mess as an act of catharsis: relief at the climax of weeks of engrossed play, triggered by the irresistible sweetness of the epilogue and its familiar musical cues straight out of the Richard Curtis school of emotional manipulation.
Of course more powerful tech will provide developers with tools to improve the experiences they craft, particularly those in the 'Hollywood action' category: the performance-captured drama and majestic cinematic sweep of Uncharted could hardly have been achieved on earlier hardware. But it's the special combination of great storytelling, gameplay, acting and direction that makes the series a success, not the verisimilitude of the stubble on Nathan Drake's face.
To go back to the movie industry, each new Pixar release usually ushers in a dazzling graphical innovation that makes its creation possible, but no-one in their right mind would attribute the success of Monsters Inc. to its realistic depiction of fur. Movie makers, though, are a lot more comfortable in their art. This is, after all, an industry whose greatest work, we are assured by Sight & Sound, was made in 1958.
Technology, as ever, should be the means not the end, and the longer games companies believe the opposite, the longer they will continue to spit out the type of blandly generic, box-ticking filler already boring consumers, and the deeper their troubles will become.