Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Hit Game Designer Speaks Out on Ever-Improving Graphics, Reduced Innovation

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 26, 2011

Here is a great quote from a game designer with several games (including a couple of hits) under his belt:

“I’m afraid that what I see in the future is a heckuva lot more mundane than what most people come up with. I think that imaging will become a lot more realistic; that’s been the trend all along.”

Yeah, visual quality is going up, but innovation is decreasing as games become more expensive. That’s just how things are these days…

Oh, wait. This quote was from (approximately) 1982:

Tim Skelly Interview, Circa 1982

I enjoyed reading this 30-year-old interview on several levels. It was interesting to hear about Skelly’s path to becoming a video game designer in the early days of the industry. And I enjoyed his insights into the art of game design when video games were still more of a novelty and “amusement machines.” And – well, Reactor and Star Castle are a couple of old favorites of mine, and Starhawk was perhaps THE game that started my addiction and changed my life, as lame of a shooting-gallery game as it was.  And I’m one of those weirdos who likes to learn more about the people who create my favorite works of entertainment.

It was a very different time. But while a lot of things change, it’s fascinating to see how much stays the same…


Filed Under: Interviews, Retro - Comments: 7 Comments to Read

  • jzoeller said,

    Makes me think about how you go back and play some old games that you remember having unbelivable graphics but just can’t see it anymore.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Oh yeah. You can’t tell how much things have changed until you go back. Heck, I remember telling people how awesome Starhawk was (it was a somewhat rare game), and then finally finding another one and playing it… and thinking, “This is it? This is the game that got me addicted to video games?” I guess my tastes had gotten more refined.

  • Calibrator said,

    “But while a lot of things change, it’s fascinating to see how much stays the same…”

    Much of it thanks to the constantly fuelled progress of hardware – because companies *can* only go forward (or die).
    Mainstream games *will* (have to) continue to get closer to photorealism (not necessarily to realism) but there’ll always be a market for less elaborate graphics.
    Just like there’ll always some sort of animation movies even if the tech doing it has advanced (computers instead of pencils & inks).
    People like to escape from to time to time into a more abstract and simplified world.

    The question is when graphics tech will be evolved to a level I’d like to call “good enough”.
    While hi-fi stereo sound could be considered as the base line for audio fidelity (especially by audiophiles) it wasn’t the end of it. We now have high quality multichannel audio with every new movie and pretty much any game. Still, stereo sound is perhaps the standard for many things for several decades now.
    We’re not anywhere near this when video is considered. Games aren’t near it. Even if the textures are high-res the animations and facial expressions leave a lot to be desired and will continue to do so in the next years. Computerized “persons” in entertainment products like games don’t look like real persons – you can always tell.
    This is a quality gap – and while we hit the uncanny valley effect with the first Final Fantasy movie we aren’t there yet with games.
    Hi-fi sound on the other hand “maxes” out human ears as far as sound quality is concerned (especially frequencies). Surround sound really is only an extension of it but doesn’t change the quality per se.

    So when will graphics rendering approach a level that will be considered “good enough” for the future? In five, ten or more years?

  • McTeddy said,

    I think the answer to that question is “When the technology people stop wanting more money.”

    What I’ve found about advancing technology is that even when we ARE good enough… we are told that it needs to be better by marketing.

    Nobody asked for 3D television… nobody wants 3D television… but according to marketing 3D Television is the future! Even worse… it’s sad how many people believe marketing campaigns.

    Nothing with ever reach the point that marketing will accept their profits and be satisfied.

  • Hajo said,

    “Mainstream games *will* (have to) continue to get closer to photorealism”

    I’m not sure about this. An old painter once said “a painting must be better than reality” – which also means that is does not necessarily be “true” to reality like a photo is – actually reality around us looks pretty boring most of the time, so I don’t really understand why photorealism is praised so highly in games.

    I’d rather think that the growing graphics capability finally allow the designer more free choices about style. If graphics are flat-colored, it’s no longer a graphical limitation, but a design decision. You can now choose comic-style graphics, photorealistic, surreal, abstract, and whatever comes to your creative mind. So while marketing tries to tell people that photorealism is good, I would expect that finally people will see there are more, and more expressive styles possible than photorealism, and that different games can make good use of different graphical styles.

    There always has been a place of animated movies besides real movies. No one complained that they are not “photorealistic”. Some were comic-style, some were made with play dough figures, some featured quite different styles. I hope people will see that there is more than photorealism in presentation styles, and it can still be nice to watch.

  • Maklak said,

    I’ve heard people complaining, that new games are all about graphics, while old games didn’t put so much emphasis on graphics (as evidenced by all those pixels :), but needed great and innovative gameplay instead.

    I’ve thought over it, and came to following conclusions:
    1) Game authors always tried to make good graphics, but were limited by hardware capabilities. Well, most commercial game authors anyway.
    2) There are like a 1000 games per year, but only a handful are memorable. This creates a bias when someone remembers many good old games from nineties, but falls for marketing hype, gets some contemporary crappy games, and complains.

  • Calibrator said,

    Re: Maklak
    1) I think that this is true. Back then the capabilities of the platforms was the major restriction (=differences between platforms) but now the hardware is pretty universal (PC/PS3/X360), some options like anti-aliasing etc. left aside
    2) Also true. However, there were 1000 games for each year in the 90ies, too, and you remember only the really good (memorable) titles – or the ones you actually played and enjoyed. You also remember Daikatana and other overhyped stuff but completely forget countless titles in the boring middle.
    Then there’s also Sturgeon’s Law which basically says that 90% of everything is crap. This is probably the most important thing an SF-author has ever written.