Idly flicking through my staple forum of choice this morning, I checked out some of the new posts on the universal Left 4 Dead thread. One simply states “Meh, bad graphics. Half-life 2 engine in 2009? Seriously?” Is that really how some people see gaming? A constant battle of geeky men swinging their penises because their engine can render per-pixel polymetric nasel hair shading? Well of course it isn’t. I think we all know that “gameplay” trumps graphics any day. But to what extent are “old” graphics acceptable?
Certainly, I don’t think that Left 4 Dead constitutes as being on an “old” engine, because Valve have demonstrated time and time again since the days of GoldSrc that they are the masters of engine futurification. The stylistic touches briefly approached by Steve earlier this week demonstrated that Valve clearly know what they’re doing to make the old girl keep going. The animations are simply stunning in action. Everything moves and reacts just as you expect it would. The lighting is superior to anything else I’ve seen in games, with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. coming in at a close second.
Gabe Newell is entirely justified as I see it, in claiming that graphics are reaching their limit, ironically I think, because Crysis surpassed that limit. In delivering simply stunning environments, they actually went too far. It’s not realistic to be able to bring that kind of fidelity to the table when game designing – yet. Why push the hardware when it’s just not up to the task? The emphasis should really be in creatingcredible environment’s as opposed to “realistic” ones. After all, don’t we play games to escape the mundanity of life? So what areas do games need to advance in instead? Physics is a big one certainly. But I think the main one is style. It doesn’t really matter if a game isn’t technically the greatest and most graphically realistic ever so long as it defines its stylistic parameters.
This is why games like Team Fortress 2, Thief, Bioshock, Multiwinia, or Farcry 2 achieve a sense of graphical immersion without technical superiority. Think about it. Can you ever see Team Fortress 2 every really becoming outdated graphically in any major way? I doubt it. Essentially, PC gaming wants to reach a point akin to Terminator 2. A point where it doesn’t really matter how old the film is, but where that shimmering, deadly liquid metal menace never looks its age. I’m sure the technology behind that effect is horribly dated by todays standards, but the fact is, stylistically it never looks it.
And that’s why Left 4 Dead can use an engine nearly 5 years old and still look cutting edge. Because Valve have given it style. Thus the argument is not really “gameplay over graphics”. The two aren’t really that related, since I think you can have both given the capital resources. More important is the use of the resources at hand.
And you know what I’m happy about? Developers have recognised this. Not one developer is even trying to beat the Cryengine 2. Keep it up guys.