N'Gai Croal on video game realism - talks Killzone 2 and more

#1
http://www.edge-online.com/blogs/the-eye-of-the-beholder

The Eye Of The Beholder

One of the most overused words in the videogame writer’s lexicon is the word ‘realistic’. I’m as guilty of it as the next person, but I always feel slightly, um, guilty whenever I use it, especially in reference to graphics. Because even those titles which are widely seen as exemplars of game realism, be they Crysis or Mass Effect or Grand Theft Auto, are themselves stylised in some way. So what is it that we mean when we say that a game is realistic? Are we talking about verisimilitude? Detail? Atmosphere? More interesting to me are the conventions that games have amassed over time – from double-jumps to infinite depth of field to lens flare – that end up creating a type of videogame reality that we rarely have reason to question. Until some development comes along that forces us to do so.

I had a moment like that when I first received my Xbox 360 review unit in 2005 along with a slew of launch titles from various publishers. From Perfect Dark Zero to Condemned, from Project Gotham Racing 3 to Need For Speed: Most Wanted, each game made me feel as though my eyes were being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of onscreen visual detail. It was as if I didn’t know where to look, or even how to look at what I was seeing, so different did those titles seem to me from their last-generation counterparts.

In hindsight, a good deal of this is probably due to overdone, poorly implemented effects like normal mapping and depth of field, and in fairness, it takes developers time to master their new tools. But what I blamed at the time on ‘too much realism’ had, in fact, been caused by the gap between what I’d come to understand as ‘videogame realism’ from the previous six years of games and what I was now playing. But after several months of playing Xbox 360 titles, followed by those that launched with PlayStation 3, I became accustomed to this generation’s adjusted standard for videogame verisimilitude and never looked back.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when Killzone 2 elicited a similar sense of visual disorientation. After all, when I went hands-on with the game’s opening mission at E3 2007, I distinctly remember feeling as though there were something oddly unnerving about the texture of Killzone 2’s imagery, only to have Guerilla’s leads explain how each of their post-processing techniques could help take what looked like a sunny mid-afternoon and transform it into an environment that looks as though all of the hope has been leached out of it. But at the events leading up to E3 as well as E3 itself, I all but ignored Killzone 2 to focus on other titles that were making their debut at the show. So it wasn’t until late last autumn and early this year, while playing the first 30-40 per cent of the game, that I had the chance to reflect on the various ways in which it calls into question our notions of what constitutes videogame realism.

Cliff Bleszinski described one of Gears Of War’s aesthetic premises as ‘destroyed beauty,’ the way that the environments combine the splendour of Seran architecture with the detritus of the planet’s ruins. Gears 1 and 2 have their share of slimy surfaces and gruesome killings, but the images themselves are by and large appealing to the eye. That’s because for all of the additional graphical details that Gears may have when compared to last generation’s titles, people still expect to derive a certain amount of visual pleasure from the games that they play, whether it’s Halo 3’s gleaming green-purple-chrome colour palette or the saturated deep blues and nightvision greens of COD4.

Killzone 2, by contrast, consistently denies us those pleasures. Yes, its graphics engine is unquestionably stellar. Yet based on the creative and technical art direction for Killzone 2, the guiding principle for Guerilla’s PS3 debut must have been ‘decrepit ugly’. Helghan’s grimy environments clearly weren’t much to look at before the Vektan invasion, but the way that the war has chewed them up further isn’t helping matters. All of this is subtly reinforced by Guerilla’s penchant for supplying a single hint of beauty – lapping waves on a beach; the barest glimmer of sunlight peeking through Helghan’s thick cloud cover – that only serves to augment the game’s overall gloom.

It might be churlish of me to say so, but I’ll do it anyway: Guerilla may have succeeded in its aesthetic aims a little too well. For while all of its visual effects are impeccably implemented, in contrast to the clumsy attempts at the start of this generation, I could have done with the suggestion of devastation instead of a meticulous recreation of it. I’d have preferred a more distanced, iconic representation of Helghan’s scorched surface rather than the flawlessly dismal illustration in the finished game. Four holidays into this generation’s titles, the last thing I expected was that I’d find myself clinging so hard to my long-held assumptions about what defines videogame reality. But if wanting a little more beauty in my games is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
 
#15
I understand what he's saying. People were saying it about Fallout 3 too. When a game is too realistic in it's ugliness and destroyed earth, it becomes somewhat depressing. I'm not saying Fallout 3's graphics were realistic, just that the wasteland in the game was realistic in it's sparsity, and it was depressing.
 
#17
Yay, Ngai is onboard the blue skies in games campaign I see. For the record, this is what games should look like, the more Sega blue skies the better:











Whilst not every game needs to be nice and colourful, its really hard to have enough Sega blue skies, screw the brown.
 

Musashi Wins!

FLAWLESS VICTOLY!
#19
KZ2 is probably the best looking game technically I've seen.

But c'mon, my fellow fans, you secretly want some prettier downloadable levels too? Let that engine flex some colors!

Not that I'm motivated in the least about what he says about it.
 
#20
Zzoram said:
I understand what he's saying. People were saying it about Fallout 3 too. When a game is too realistic in it's ugliness and destroyed earth, it becomes somewhat depressing. I'm not saying Fallout 3's graphics were realistic, just that the wasteland in the game was realistic in it's sparsity, and it was depressing.
Sure I agree with that, Fallout 3 was pretty nasty looking, but it was also much larger in scope. So undoubtedly sacrifices were made in visual fidelity to achieve what they wanted in game design. With Killzone 2, there is a huge difference in the overall render, despite them both going for a similar war torn wasteland look. Killzone 2 looks glorious by comparison.

Also, its to be noted that I found Killzone 2 be much more visually diverse in terms of color than Fallout 3 was. And the Cruiser level in KZ2 is one of the most colorful levels I've played through in any game this generation.
 
#22
I'd hoped he'd have crawled into a games job by now so we could be spared his bullshit.

From Perfect Dark Zero to Condemned, from Project Gotham Racing 3 to Need For Speed: Most Wanted, each game made me feel as though my eyes were being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of onscreen visual detail.
I mean seriously? The 360's starting off point was one of the weakest "jumps" in a generation we'd seen yet, with up-rezzed Xbox stuff mainly ready for launch. It wasnt until the later titles that "next-gen" provided a clear visual difference.

This is why someone that jumped half-heartedly into games "when they became cool" shouldn't attempt to command such verbal authority in his prose. The effects of launch hype for many games journalists (now mostly all departed) are necessary for not getting swept away.

Anyway, I sure wish the Helghan's polluted homeworld was more like a bright sunny holiday in Ibiza! That would really drive home the fucking point of their race's very depiction.
 
#23
Killzone 2 is beautiful and has great use of color. And when I'm done with it, I can turn it off and play a game with brighter colors. It's nice. I like having options.
 
#25
SecretBonusPoint said:
I'd hoped he'd have crawled into a games job by now so we could be spared his bullshit.



I mean seriously? The 360's starting off point was one of the weakest "jumps" in a generation we'd seen yet, with up-rezzed Xbox stuff mainly ready for launch. It wasnt until the later titles that "next-gen" provided a clear visual difference.

This is why someone that jumped half-heartedly into games "when they became cool" shouldn't attempt to command such verbal authority in his prose. The effects of launch hype for many games journalists (now mostly all departed) are necessary for not getting swept away.

Anyway, I sure wish the Helghan's polluted homeworld was more like a bright sunny holiday in Ibiza! That would really drive home the fucking point of their race's very depiction.
Kameo and Condemned were a huge leap forward for consoles and whilst PDZ was all over the place it still used effects and had texture quality that very few games match today.
 

Brimstone

my reputation is Shadowruined
#27
Killzone is what it is. There is nothing wrong with that. No game can be all things to all people.

The realistic inclination of Rainbow Six games is well done. The visual and audio effect are spot on.

On the other side of the spectrum, I love the aesthetic choices in Shadowrun. There are plenty of visual cues to help navigate and interacte with the world. Your eyes don't fight the game. Plus the sense of "flow" is just right. It fits between simulation and arcade.
 
#30
Musashi Wins! said:
Is that Crysis above, the colorful shooter?
Yes that's Crysis, it proves that you can have a beautiful, coherant art style and best in field technology without falling in the trap of laying on thick the ugly, brown, dull locations. Some real eye candy in that game.

The Faceless Master said:
so basically, KZ2 looks depressingly realistic.

ok.

i suggest he play Sega Rally.
Sound advice, who can't help but raise a smile with views like this?

 
#32
brain_stew said:
Yes that's Crysis, it proves that you can have a beautiful, coherant art style and best in field technology without falling in the trap of laying on thick the ugly, brown, dull locations. Some real eye candy in that game.



Sound advice, who can't help but raise a smile with views like this?

have you ever played killzone 2? do you have any clue as to why the game looks the way it does?
 
#33
That's the thing I love most about Killzone 2. The harsh and gritty realism. I adore the art style as well. I'm sure Killzone 3 will have it's fair share of colour for those wanting it though, what with being (prediction) partly or fully based on Earth as oppose to Helghan.
 
#36
SecretBonusPoint said:
I'd hoped he'd have crawled into a games job by now so we could be spared his bullshit.



I mean seriously? The 360's starting off point was one of the weakest "jumps" in a generation we'd seen yet, with up-rezzed Xbox stuff mainly ready for launch. It wasnt until the later titles that "next-gen" provided a clear visual difference.

This is why someone that jumped half-heartedly into games "when they became cool" shouldn't attempt to command such verbal authority in his prose. The effects of launch hype for many games journalists (now mostly all departed) are necessary for not getting swept away.

Anyway, I sure wish the Helghan's polluted homeworld was more like a bright sunny holiday in Ibiza! That would really drive home the fucking point of their race's very depiction.
secretbonuspoint detracting from the 360 again? big surprise.

have you played need for speed most wanted (at all or recently).

i did having picked it up on the cheap about 2 or 3 months ago and felt that it was visually on par with burn out paradise.
 
#38
mujun said:
secretbonuspoint detracting from the 360 again? big surprise.

have you played need for speed most wanted (at all or recently).

i did having picked it up on the cheap about 2 or 3 months ago and felt that it was visually on par with burn out paradise.
And while NFS:MW and BOP look pretty damn good, PGR3 was a launch title and it still looks as good as, if not better, than most games out there.

But he seems to be on something of a rant, so I'll let him rant. ;)
 
#42
Killzone 2 is a graphical beast but I myself think some of the architecture in the game could have done with some better aesthetic design. I understand the need for graphical representation to be on par with the vision of the story but I would have loved to see that engine create more ornate and elaborate building designs instead of the industrial heavy look it got.

The game definitely had a lot of detail; from the flowing cracks on the cement to the sprawling wires overhead. Despite that it managed a sterile look and captured the imagery of war torn militarized complex.

The graphical artists were amazing. I would love to see those people work with better visionaries.
 

HK-47

Oh, bitch bitch bitch.
#44
brain_stew said:
Yes that's Crysis, it proves that you can have a beautiful, coherant art style and best in field technology without falling in the trap of laying on thick the ugly, brown, dull locations. Some real eye candy in that game.
I guess, if you want to ignore the fact that Crysis thats place on an island and Killzone 2 take place in a war torn city.

Seems like the right aesthetics to me.

The setting maybe overused, but that doesnt mean they didnt nail the feel they were going for.
 
#46
HK-47 said:
I guess, if you want to ignore the fact that Crysis thats place on an island and Killzone 2 take place in a war torn city.

Seems like the right aesthetics to me.

The setting maybe overused, but that doesnt mean they didnt nail the feel they were going for.
Sorry, but the locales in Killzone 2 are far more unique than Crysis. I'd also imagine beach/Island has been done more in games as well. As much as Killzone 2 does lack colour, I actually found the art direction and design very unique. Was like a war torn darker version of Neo Tokyo (Akira style) meets Tekkonkreet meets Baroque meets Mad Max.
 
#49
Take note kids: if you cover up simple ideas with fancy words, you too can be mistook for insightful!

Verisimilitude? Get the fuck out of here. :lol