As the years go on, graphics in video games are evolving just as much as gameplay itself. All of these advancements are being made towards one lofty goal: realism.
The realer a game looks, the better, right? There are plenty of perks for further pursuing the world of dedicated realism in game graphics, but stylization can also be a suitable route to follow. The aesthetics of a game, whether realistic or stylized, are as important to the game development process as the aspects of the gameplay itself. Careful design choice can help your game excel in ways unimaginable, so it’s important to review your choices and consider what would fit your game best.
(Left to Right: ARMA 3, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto V)
Realism: Merit and Immersion.
Let’s face it: realism is a challenge. Perfect photorealism-that is art that attempts to reach a level of realism almost indistinguishable from a photograph-is a hurdle for an artist of to master.
Let’s say this isn’t an issue for you, you can perfectly sculpt a human model without a single detail left obscured, every pore and every hair is present. Now just accompany that with detailed animations, accurate facial movements for dialogue, hair physics, the list goes on, not to mention the compression all that work will have to go through within your engine.
And if even just a small detail looks off? Congratulations, my friend, you’ve fallen into the uncanny valley. What’s the uncanny valley? It’s a natural reaction we give out to things that don’t necessarily look human enough to be human, but aren’t far away enough to be recognized as exaggerated and ‘toony’. This gives us a feeling that something is a bit off, which will make us either fear the subject or laugh at it. That’s the little reason why Mass Effect: Andromeda’s characters look so wonky, they didn’t quite hit the mark.
(Mass Effect: Andromeda)
Any game that can create realism that is believable yet not off putting is pretty impressive, and the amount of work that goes into it is generally respected. We can’t stop hearing about those new and hip “4k 60 FPS GRAPHICS” that work to support our lofty goals of stepping just a bit closer to making our games feel like reality. Well, a reality where you’re free to live out your wildest dreams with little consequence, reality by itself is pretty boring.
But escapism? That rocks. With a stylized world, as believable as it builds itself up to be you still feel that visceral feeling that the world isn’t authentic. Realism by default can take you by the hand into the familiarity of the way our own world actually looks, and in turn immersion is achieved swiftly.
Games at this level of immersion tend to also deal with their story in a realistic and grounded way, taking itself as seriously as it’s art style. Of course exceptions always exist, games like Saints Row come to mind where the realism factor is there, but taking themselves seriously definitely isn’t, but generally games with grounded styles go for grounded gameplay. If you feel worthy enough to step up to the challenge of taking on realism, and are prepared to reap the rewards of your player’s immersion and awe, by all means steer dead ahead.
(Left to Right: Overwatch, Splatoon 2, Team Fortress 2)
Stylism: Memorability and Individuality.
But what happens if you aim to exaggerate reality rather than to copy it? Stylism is a broad term I’m using to describe any art style that isn’t afraid to step out of the bounds of replicating what’s real and leans more towards amplifying certain features to make them stand out. It’s kinda the same thing carnies that do when illustrating ugly caricatures, except these are imagined by game developers, but the kookiness still lingers. I only kid, come on.
Stylization, when treated as carefully and detail oriented as one would treat realism, can lead to some appealing and memorable designs. Sure they’d look more or less like freaks if you saw them walking about on the street, but they fit pretty cozily into their own realms. The disconnect can actually aid with immersing players into a world. They understand it’s not like their own, but seek to find the familiarity as well as diving into what puts it apart.
The lack of restrictions, when compared to by-the-book realism really, gives designers full control over the look and feel and what you can tell about a design from looks alone. An awkward mix of many fundamentals such as color, anatomy, use of shapes, can lead to the same mess you’d get by not nailing realism.
The designs for this game came off as pretty clunky, which affects its memorability.
Designs that don’t take the art of stylism seriously tend to look unbalanced and awkward, which can really put a dent into the appeal. The appeal is an extremely important factor in any design and should not be taken lightly, an appealing design should be enjoyable enough that an audience can look at it for long periods of time gameplay time without any feelings of uncanny surfacing.
Stylism definitely helps with memorability- and leaving a lasting impression, even if just with a unique design, sells well in today’s industry just as much as heavy realism. If you seek to make a game’s design that stands out but breaks the laws of reality a bit, head for a stylistic approach!
So, what’s your choice? Will your game perform better with detailed realism, or do you prefer a bit of style? Let us know in the replies!