Guest Post: How Important Are Story and Graphics to Video Games… Really?

This week has been full of special posts for CTVG hasn’t it? First it was that Afrow Jow special and now I bring to you an awesome post by the lovely Ashley over at Roboheartbeat! As I mentioned in my last update, I thought it would be fun for us to a blog post swap and so that’s exactly what we’re doing! She’s not only a talented writer, but is also one of my favourite bloggers, which is why I’m doubly excited to be featuring her content on my blog this week. For her blog she writes on a range of geeky topics, but mainly science-fiction, fantasy and video games, so basically all the best things in life! If you haven’t checked her out before you really should, because chances are that you’ll find content to satisfy your geeky appetite. I hope you enjoy her post as much as I do. 
The world of video games must be competitive for developers, and lately it’s had me wondering just what makes a game good? Two possibilities are story and graphics, which happen to be what I look for in games most of the time.
Does Story Matter?
Some would say financial success is everything… and in that case, Avalanche Studios founder Christofer Sundberg — the developer behind Just Cause — has something to say about story-driven AAA games. A few months ago, he posed this question on Twitter:
Sundberg went on to say that “story missions are not important.” He backed this up, stating that Avalanche Studios spent 3 to 5 months developing the Just Cause 2 story missions, which only 18 percent of players finished. Although Sundberg appreciates good stories in games, “story-driven AAA games makes no sense commercially any more.”
He says this in spite of, say, Bioshock Infinite’s success — a game where the story and playing to the very end are absolutely key. Meanwhile, The Walking Dead episodic series by Telltale Games sold 8.5 million episodes as of January 2013. And I’d be remiss to leave out my beloved story-centric BioWare games. For instance, the Mass Effect series has topped 10 million in sales — certainly no Halo or Final Fantasy, but it’s in very elite company. I won’t even talk about The Last of Us, since I haven’t played it yet, except to say that it’s apparently in the company of these other fantastic character-driven video games.
These games are praised for their stories, which take players on emotional journeys — and yes, players do often play to the end to experience them to the fullest. In fact, some of these games are the award winners that become popular largely through word of mouth, because their stories are so good.
If that’s the case — if there’s a huge, hungry market out there for story-driven games — then maybe commercial success for this type of game revolves around whether the story is good or bad. If it’s good, it can be a huge turn-on for gamers.
Exploring Beautiful New Worlds
When I think of a game with a beautiful game world, I immediately jump to Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Its success hinged on a number of features, but one of its main attractions is its absolutely massive world and the seemingly endless exploration players are able to do in it. Skyrim’s world is even inspiring other game developers, such as BioWare as it makes Dragon Age: Inquisition.
With all the buzz lately about the next generation gaming consoles, plenty of emphasis was placed on the graphics, particularly in Sony’s press conference talking about the PlayStation 4 for the first time. As PC gamers are taking over and bragging about how awesome graphics are on their computers compared to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, next gen consoles need to have graphics that can compete with PCs. I mean, I was and still am an Xbox gamer… but since last fall, I’ve been playing on PC most of the time, and it’s not just because I prefer the clicky controls.
One of my most highly anticipated games coming out in the next year is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Developer CD Projekt RED wants to make its graphics absolutely stunning, just as they were in the previous Witcher titles. In fact, quest designer Pawel Sasko has even said the company wants The Witcher 3 to be the “prettiest RPG of all time.”
Even games I love for other reasons, such as the Devil May Cry series for the gameplay, impress me more when they have gorgeous worlds. Playing the new DmC, I found myself in awe of some of the landscapes and level design.
DmC hanging ledges
But for developers, can graphics ever get in the way of other, more important features? X-COM creator Julian Gollop thinks so. Speaking with PC Gamer, he talks about how in the 1990’s, he believed “the future of computer games was all about AI.” Instead, emphasis has been placed on graphics rather than AI, and he thinks this is a mistake:
“[Graphics is] the thing that immediately impresses people. As soon as you start interacting with a world of pretty graphics then you realise that actually it’s not really that interactive. It’s always bugged me about the way computer games developed over the years. Even if you take Assassin’s Creed, which is a phenomenally complex game with all these NPCs wandering around, it is nothing but an elaborate paper-thin illusion, to be honest.”
I think he’s right. Going back to the gorgeous Skyrim, you can see all kinds of flaws with the AI. It’s always bothered me that leaving a quest for a long time doesn’t have any consequences, that you can head up the Thieves Guild and hang with Mjoll the Lioness even though she hates the Guild, etc. Little things like that add up to a rather unrealistic experience, and makes an otherwise stunning game a little bit raggedy upon closer inspection.
Living in the Game World
There was a time when games were about pixelated platforming fun and beating those high scores. There are still a lot of competitive gamers out there who want to master games on the highest difficulty levels and earn 100% completion. I think that’s awesome, but it’s not why I game. I love the stories and graphics that allow me to sink into a game world and feel like I’m really there. It’s the same reason I read books and watch films: to be transported.
A game like Skyrim has great graphics and a just-okay story. Meanwhile, The Walking Dead episodic games are all about the story, but the gameplay is barely there. Yet they’re both fantastic games for what they are.
What I’m excited to see in the future are games that have everything. I don’t know that there will ever be that perfect game, but as engines become more powerful and developers strive for novelty — or so I hope — I would love to see a game that balances story and graphics with the other features that make video games so much fun to actually play.
— Ashley

12 responses to “Guest Post: How Important Are Story and Graphics to Video Games… Really?

  1. Awesome post Ashley! I totally agree with you – graphics and story are often what draw me to games, but it’s not enough if the gameplay or other elements aren’t good enough. It might still be a game I enjoy playing, but it’ll be very flawed if it’s just pretty, for instance. I think with the next gen, devs definitely have a chance at achieving greater balance between all those elements – as long they try. I can understand how they’re driven by commercial concerns, but I think you’re right that they might have taken the wrong implications away from some of the stats. It particularly bugs me when people say stories don’t matter, especially with games like BioShock Infinite coming out that people love mainly for their stories and/or endings. It’s all about whether the stories are good and I think it’s only been a recent thing that a lot of studios are stepping up their game in terms of writing and I think gamers have responded well!

    • I totally agree, a game with a good story — even without much else that’s great — can sell a lot of copies if the story is fantastic. So you’re right that gamers are responding well to the improved writing in games! I think that’s the future of gaming, really. Hopefully studios are hiring gifted writers rather than just throwing in dialogue whenever. I read that developers used to not hire professional writers, or they only did so at the very end of the game-making process. So it would be cool if that changes!

  2. hat’s true… it’s always good to have a reason for playing besides the game play. It would be very boring. I play to the end to know the ending. ha ha Good post !

  3. I definitely love a game with beautiful graphics, but I think the other elements like story and strong gameplay needs to be there. There are definitely games that have one or the other like The Walking Dead game being more about story and less about the action and gameplay. I think it’s a tall order for developers to come up with THE perfect game. As you said, if we’ll ever see it remains to be seen, but if the day ever comes then all the other developers will have to step up their game when they create news games players want to play.

    • Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see how more powerful engines enable better graphics and gameplay… while the stories in games also seem to be improving anyway. And now that I think about it, I suppose Mass Effect is pretty close to “perfect” in the balance of story, graphics, and gameplay, really! But the graphics coming out on the PS4 look so amazing, I’m excited to see how the next gen consoles appear.

  4. I don’t find that story is so much important for say for a hidden object game…but it’s definitely needed for an adventure game. I find my interest waning in a game unless there is a half decent story. Great post!

    • That’s a good point, not every game is about story at all. I’m very into puzzle games and don’t care so much about story for those… yet Trine and Portal are some of my favorites because they do have some sort of stories!

  5. “next gen consoles need to have graphics that can compete with PCs”

    Will that is not going to happen next gen if the official released spec for both Xbox one and PS4 stays the same. PS4 1.84 TFLOPS and Xbox one 1.7 TFLOPS have GPU which is equal to 7870 and 7850 respectiivly. This make them lower than 7900 series and rumored HD 9000 series and on Nivida side GTX 700 series . all those chip i mentioned are now cheap to get and going to be conisiered weak by next year. When Epic made their Unreal Engine 3: Official Samaritan Demo running on 3 GTX 580 which have 2.5 TFLOPS in 2011 they expected next gen console also to run 2.5 TFLOPS GPU but that did not happen. Next Gen console won’t be a big leap over ps3 and xbox 360 the same way they were over the ps2 and xbox.

    About about story and grahpic they are very important to me but it depends of the kind of game i want, if I want an RPG a vast landscape with alot of side quest I will not much interseted in the story but that is going to be different when I want a story driven RPG I will looking for Finale Fantasy and Mass Effect where is story matter. The same goes for graphic too it depends whether you want a fun inide game without minding the graphic or an tripl AAA title with great graphic. At the end of the day it is better to have a balanced aspect in any game

    • Thanks for the specs! I don’t know, it seems Sony has been emphasizing the PS4’s superior graphics, so I’m looking forward to them even if they’re not the giant leap in improvement some people want. I’m certainly not giving up my PC for anything though! =)

      Anyway, I totally agree with you that each type of game has its own emphasis that works for it, so I play Skyrim for the landscapes and Mass Effect for the stories, etc.

  6. A growing emphasis on story and graphics are the result of more people playing games. The fact of the matter is that there really aren’t more gamers, as some would have you believe. Instead, we have more and more people who want to play games without actually playing games. They want all the production value, visual spectacle, etc. that comes with a big budget movie with a little interactivity thrown in.

    Real gamers, and I hate to sound like a smug asshat here, find those things to be nice decorations. Gravy, but not the meat and potatoes. Games are meant to be played; that is their defining characteristic compared to other mediums. All those people who think graphics and story matter don’t really want a game. They want a movie with a few game-y aspects.

    • Yeah, I can see what you’re saying. I agree to an extent. I think games are meant to be played, first and foremost. But I don’t really subscribe to the idea that there is a “real gamer,” and if you’re going there, then would The Walking Dead Telltale games qualify as real games? I think games are definitely about interactivity — take that away, leave the awesome graphics, and you just have a movie — but there’s a place for visual novels and interactive storytelling. Maybe they should get their own genre, but for now, they’re games.

      So in that sense, I’d agree with you that it’s the graphics and stories that are drawing people in more than the actual “gaming” aspect. That’s a great point.

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