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

Left 4 Dead 1: Zombies Galore Part 1 of 3(?)

I know I said I’d get a Portal 2 co-op review out, but since I haven’t managed to get a capture card for my Xbox yet, how about a game about zombies instead? And survivors. Though mainly lots and lots of zombies. 

L4D is a co-op action horror game with 4 game modes: single-player, co-op campaign, survival and versus. My focus is on the 4-person campaign mode, which is essentially the same as the single-player mode, except that for single-player the other characters are AI-controlled. The game uses the Source engine and is available on the Xbox 360, PC and Mac. As you can see, I’ve titled this Part 1 of 3, because I’m planning to play L4D 2 and 3 if it comes out (it has been promised by Valve, but you know… it’s Valve) and do a comparison. L4D came out in 2008, so it’s not new, but I’ve only just got round to playing it at last and my verdict? I wasn’t disappointed.

l4d SC1

Someone got up on the wrong side of bed this morning…

I must confess, I’m a huge zombie fan. Zombie games, books, fanfic, movies, anything to do with zombies I’ll devour (pun intended). However, that also means I’m generally pretty picky about what I consider to be quality. After all, there’s a lot of rubbish out there. The question then is, what makes a good zombie game/book/movie anyway? It’s certainly not complexity. I wasn’t particularly impressed by Dawn of the Dead, despite generally loving Romero’s Living Dead series and that covered some pretty heavy themes including the effects of excess consumerism on American society. On the opposite side of the spectrum, one my favourite zombie games of all time is actually a simple little Flash game called Rebuild 2, which you can and should check out here. That game was incredible and even though it’s only a simple turn-based strategy game, it somehow managed to hit all the right buttons for me. There was less focus on gore and action and more on characters, plot and the deeper societal issues that we all know lie beneath the surface of everyday life and that an apocalyptic setting is often used to bring out in full colour. That’s what really draws me into the zombie genre I think; the dark, gritty atmosphere and way that all your human flaws are reflected back at you in an unforgiving light, forcing you to examine what it means to truly be human. To an extent, L4D has all of these elements and more.

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