Aug 2, 2012

Rant 2 - about emotions (and having something to say)

I read the other day this quote from some 2K bigwig: "Until games are photorealistic, it'll be very hard to open up to new genres. We can really only focus on action and shooter titles; those are suitable for consoles now." It made me so sad.

His point, going a bit deeper into his comments, seems to be that emotions in CG characters won't be believable until there's photorealism, and that somehow impedes the creation of new genres. How can so many things be wrong in just one statement? First off, new genres, or at least new gameplay experiences, many of which cannot even be fit into a genre, are being constantly born. Needless to say, that's not happening in the AAA side of the industry, and most likely won't any time soon. The problem is not lack of emotions, but what burdens the creation of new genres is lack of risk.

You won't reach much emotional investment with a hyperrealistic ex-marine called Jason Slade, whose wife has been killed by a merc team hired by the Syndicate, and now has nothing to lose as he craves for vengeance and gets framed by his best friend from the Army days. But guess what, you CAN get emotional investment with the vulnerable, handpainted character in Braid who admits his mistake, and even with the robots in Portal 2. Let alone movies like Up or Wall-e. How does a character have to be visually realistic to be able to empathize with him?

An audience will relate to something that they can mirror from their own experience. The moment you've achieved that connection, they will be very likely to follow you in your rollercoaster experience as long as you don't break the link.

Over time, audiences also tend to get "burned down" with some cliches that they might have empathised with at some point, but its overuse forces authors to later come with less obvious connections between their story and the people they're telling it to. That's how the corny scene of the father not arriving on time to his daughter's theatre play won't work anymore. The same is true for the soldier who sees his mate die in slowmo with sentimental choirs singing in the background. Why would I empathize with that scene if you didn't care to develop those characters in the first place? They're just textured polygons to me.

When listening to this Christoph Hartmann's words, it seems as nonsensical as if someone asserted you can't achieve visual beauty until you integrate real-time radiosity rendering and displacement mapping in your graphics engine. It is such an ignorance-based comment, and so unfortunate that the industry is being ran by people with that kind of frame of mind, that it would make me lose the love for this industry if it didn't just gave me an extra burst of desire to continue and prove him wrong.

They rather invest millions in perfectly hyperreal graphics than a bit of extra talent in the writing. What about saying something meaningful with your story instead of a series of generic, premade plot twists? Does every story need to have the depth of a Justin Bieber hit to "appeal to a broader audience"? You might be either dangerously underestimating your playerbase's IQ, or even worse, letting the guys in the suits mess with the writing process.

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