Immersive Worlds Without Photorealistic Graphics- by Anjum Razaq

With E3 over and the next generation of consoles imminent, the message being trotted out is that more photo-realistic games will lead to more emotional connections between players and the onscreen characters. Christoph Hartman, boss of 2K Games said

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."

The theory that if the computer characters looks more realistic then more emotions will be elicited from the player is a fallacy in my opinion. Humans can elicit emotions through other means; for example music, art and animation can all touch us individually. For example take the claymation Frankenweenie, this is a beautifully created animation that shows the relationship between a young boy and his dog. When the dog dies and the boy mourns his loss it really is touching, even though the characters portrayed in the film are not photorealistic but merely clay models. I felt more of a connection to Victor (the young boy in Frankenweenie) than any number of 80’s action hero films starring real people. In part this was due to the well crafted characterization and storytelling but it was also due to the cinematography, music and dialogue.

Frankenweenie, a beautiful film which will make many a grown man cry... including this one! 

Scott McCloud in his seminal work ‘Understanding Comics’ wrote about the ‘Power of Abstraction’ the idea that simplicity is great as you project yourself onto the character. To help you understand his concept look at the image below, which simply outlines his idea.

Projecting ourselves according to Scott McCloud

In my opinion photorealism in games is not important to elicit emotion; books can do it through description and illustrations, art through use of colour and composition. We don’t need the uncanny valley like Polar Express, we need pathos and humanity like the dead colossi in Shadow of the Colossus or the mysterious figures in Journey. In my opinion there was more emotion in Toy Story 3 than in Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within because the characters were more relatable, even though the Final Fantasy people looked more human!

Tom Hanks looked scary in the Polar Express, the uncanny valley strikes again!

For games great developers know that a great game begins with a great vision, and the technology is only a means to achieving that vision, never an end in itself. Game technology can express a story without a game getting in the way, but through interaction games can add to a sense of involvement in the world.

Hidetaka Miyazaki, the Game Director at From Software has said that,

“The greatest tool for narrative is the world you create for it to exist in, a well designed world could tell its story in silence”.

Here are some of the worlds which I feel act as a great writing stimulus, have a look and see what you think: