A House is Not Held Up by Paint and Trim

These blog posts are turning out to be rather long. I am having to spend 10 minutes writing instead of the 5 I had anticipated.

When you build a house, naturally the first thing you do is pick out the paint colors and what type of moulding is going to line the walls. That is the foundation of a good house. Isn’t it?

Of course not. But when it comes to games these days, players think that graphics are what sells. Pretty avatars and dazzling special effects can help draw someone in, but they won’t stay if the floors are sagging and squeaky because the plywood under sheathing was not fastened correctly.

I am mixing too many metaphors in here. Let me just stick to gaming. Ever since Everquest came on the scene, there have been heated debates over whether UO should upgrade graphics to be more “modern”. People advocating a more modern style usually point to the game released that week (Everquest, World of Warcraft, Crysis, etc). Can you imagine how great it would look to stack 10,000 explosion kegs and let them blow up with the Crysis game engine? Of course only 5 people in the world would be able to run it on their computer, but still it would look pretty!

The graphics for a game is the outermost part of the structure. Like paint on a wall, it displays the story and creatures and objects. It is not necessary for function (as proven by early games which had no graphics) but it helps define the experience. If you stripped out all the graphics from World of Warcraft and Everquest II, what would you be left with? Move north. Move north. Attack orc. Loot gold.

If a developer expects to make up shortfalls in their game with eye candy, 9 times out of 10 it isn’t going to work. You might trick some people into buying the game but experiance will quickly spread through word of mouth. The movie industry does something similar when they know a film is going to bomb. They don’t have advanced showings and just cross their fingers that they make back what they paid to produce the movie on the opening weekend. After that no one goes to see it because word spread how terrible it is.

Where is all this going? Let me try and spell it out. If you have a good game, it does not matter what it looks like. You just need to make it as solid and fun as possible. If you can afford nice graphics, then do it. But don’t bite off more than you can chew and end up with inconsistent, cheesy and just plain bad looking art. UO has tried this twice now with Third Dawn and recently with Kingdom Reborn. The quality just wasn’t there due to a rushed product and obvious budget constraints.

When I see people talking about how great Ultima Online used to be, they don’t mention the art. They talk about additions or nerfs or expansions. If someone has seen a comment that stated “oh I would play UO but the graphics are just so bad!” please link me to it. Plus the people who chase after games for their art are just going to leave when the next game with jaw dropping visuals arrives later in the month. Chasing after these people for your game is futile.

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