Games must achieve photorealism in order to open up new genres says 2K

2K Games boss Christoph Hartmann believes real-life graphics is a very necessary goal

With Halo, Medal of Honor, Battlefield, Crysis, Call of Duty, and countless other shooters coming, the market is a bit inundated. Unique and genre-bending games like Journey, for example, aren't easy to come by, but in order for this industry to truly reach the next level and expand into new genres, pure photorealism is needed, argues 2K Games boss Christoph Hartmann.

Speaking in a soon-to-be-published interview with GamesIndustry International, Hartmann noted that the film industry still has an advantage over video games in the sense that movie directors can easily portray strong emotions, like sadness or love. Because that's difficult to do in games, many developers go back to the action and shooter games, which are safer bets.

"Recreating a Mission Impossible experience in gaming is easy; recreating emotions in Brokeback Mountain is going to be tough, or at least very sensitive in this country... it will be very hard to create very deep emotions like sadness or love, things that drive the movies," he said. "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."

He continued, "To dramatically change the industry to where we can insert a whole range of emotions, I feel it will only happen when we reach the point that games are photorealistic; then we will have reached an endpoint and that might be the final console."

Stay tuned for the complete interview in which we discuss next-gen gaming, 2K's portfolio, Wii U, and building up talent in the organization.

UPDATE: The full interview is now live. Please read it here.

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Latest comments (68)

Mark Venturelli Game Designer, Critical Studio9 years ago
My stupid-o-meter just exploded.
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Ruud Van De Moosdijk VP of Development, Engine Software9 years ago
I will agree with the point made about facial expressions, even the best of character models I have seen lack the total flexibility of a human face. Do you need to achieve photo-realism to get an emotional immersion in video games? I don't think so...I have always said Photo-realism is not a goal we should pursue, if I want photo-realism I will look outside the window. With this statement Christoph is basically saying there are no emotions in animated movies either since they are far from photo-realistic. I guess Simba didn't feel sad when he saw his dad die (and that was not even a CGI animated movie).

Besides that, I strongly feel that emotional immersion has nothing to do with the quality of your graphics but with the quality of your story telling whatever medium you use for it. Ico was a very emotional game for me, and how photo-realistic was that? The end of the book Matchstick Men made me incredibly mad at the author...and that was a book. With only letters. On paper.

And lol @ stupuid-o-meter unfortunately broke a long time ago thanks to political ads.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Ruud Van De Moosdijk on 1st August 2012 4:56pm

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Mark Hughes Software Developer, 4J Studios9 years ago
Looking forward to that "final console" sometime soon, so I can stop playing all these damn shooter games!
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Show all comments (68)
Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 9 years ago
2k games boss? this guy talks like he doesnt play games. What the hell is he talking about. Most idiotic thing Ive ever heard. I think there is a wide range of ways to achieve emotional responses in games without the need to be photo realistic.

i mean please... pixar has achived alot when it comes to telling an emotional story with 3D graphics and studio ghibli has made plenty of people cry with their animations.

i believe the visual style goes hand in hand with what the creator wants to achieve in the game. And often games with realistic graphics, result in a very cold lifeless expirience.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 1st August 2012 5:11pm

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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game9 years ago
+1 to top 2 comments. And very good point about books expressing strong emotion with only words.

Photo realism will reduce the risks taken on genre, because the budget required will be pretty large. So we probably will be treated to photorealistic visera. Meanwhile, you name heck journey, which isn't really photo realistic now, is it?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andrew Goodchild on 1st August 2012 5:05pm

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Richard Gardner Artist, Crytek9 years ago
Its got nothing to do with technology in my opinion, just look at all the emotional roller coasters that make up the animated world. Millennium Actress, Grave of the Fireflies... Its a very narrow minded look at things to believe emotions reside in facial technology.

It would definitely benefit a small part of the industry to have photo real technology and power. But honestly moving into the gaming generations to come its not simply about adding more polygons and having higher resolution textures and smoother animations. What will create new genres is harnessing the power of physics, fluids and gases. Making worlds more interactive and AI more intelligent. But most of all... simply thinking outside the box...

At the end of the day if you fail to make a story and character that portrays the emotions and drama you want then you really need to look at your execution, not how fast your processor is.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Richard Gardner on 1st August 2012 5:07pm

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Jay Weston Owner, Binary Space9 years ago
Indeed you can even read plain text and get an emotional response. If you want photorealistic movies/characters/stories, make a movie rather than <insert guns n violence gameplay> <now insert movie part here> <repeat>

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jay Weston on 1st August 2012 5:07pm

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photorealism will do squat!
Dont even get me started on uncanny valley issues + animation resulting in the breakage of the illusion of it all

stylised realism + good gameplay and UI + story wins!

Alternatively, film a movie and then reverse engineer the interactive experience
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Pablo Santos Developer 9 years ago
I do not think he meant it, but statements like those cast doubt about his team talent to create a good story.
It is sad to hear things like these from someone in a leading position.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 9 years ago
As gamers, we can agree on a "Walking Dead - Case Closed"

Non-gamers, however, lack a bit of visual tolerance and willingness to add imagination, I dare say. Games can be in the same corner as books when it comes to being judged by people conditioned to measure everything by visually overblown standards.

How many people praising the new Batman movie would really read the comic, or even consider the movie had the same script been made into an animated movie?

Hartmann might have a point, but photorealism will more likely open up audiences to games, not enable genres which were impossible before.
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He does have a point, only when we have reached this theoretical "endpoint" in technology advancement we can convey realistic emotion in a broad range of visual styles. Sure, most CG movies are cartoonish, but a different example is benjamin button. Wouldn't you play a game with a similar theme? Would it work if it was cartoonish?

Not everyone likes cartoons, and it would be wrong to limit gaming to this. There is also still the (unfair) notion that cartoons and cartoonish artstyle is for kids, the realistic look of heavy rain for example went a long way towards generating interest from adult audiences that don't normally play games.
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Greg Costikyan Senior Game Designer, Playdom9 years ago
The closer you get to photorealism, the higher your dev costs, ergo the fewer creative risks you dare take. If we achieve photorealism, this will not "open up new genres;" every move up the cost curve has reduced the number of commercially viable genres (in the conventional retail AAA space, at any event). Just dumb.
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So lets imagine a World of Warcraft style game, with a deep conversation system, where every character is photo realistic and facially responding to every single comment and inflection made in a way that you can really read their face and believe in every expression as if she were Michelle Williams. (Imagine if you can the situation where a man meets a woman and is reading every tiny facial movement in order to assess the way she is responding to him, imagine the amount of small movements this might involve and the coding need to recreate this to make different facial muscles twitch to each conversation line) Now lets multiply this by several hundred characters multiplied by several hundred different conversation settings and emotions (or combinations of the above). Then let's talk about the animations needed for moving across the environment, combat, weather systems, vegetation, horses etc, etc. and the way they respond to the control system(s)
This guy has obviously not been involved in the game making process before as he simply does not see the colossal amount of additional work he would be generating for his team by any part of the game setting its benchmark as being photo realistic, as when part of the game moves this way, the rest has to follow.
On the flip side I hope a lot of the AAA games companies follow this model and financially implode to leave some room for the rest of us again who are more focused on the game part rather than the visuals.
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Tyler Moore Game Designer & Unity Developer 9 years ago
I respectfully disagree. Games are phenomenal for taking specific pieces of our world, like physics and other systems, and providing a "good enough" simulation that communicates the experience of those systems.

Saying photoreal is required is like saying we need air resistance for a character falling in every game that has physics. If you're game is totally about falling, then sure, it's good to have. But, not every game requires the emotional fidelity of a hollywood actor in it's main character.

When Picasso got bored of photo-realistic art, he moved to cubism. Like painting, realism is not the zenith of the medium. Far from it, we should be exploring every facet we can. That is where you're going to find new genres.
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To everyone saying what a dumb idea this is, haven't you played heavy rain and L.A. Noire? They succeeded at pushing the cinematic, photorealistic look, and brought in new audiences with it. Many people like a cinematic look and buy these kind of games for aesthetic reasons even though they have zero interest in other games (my girlfriend for example). Not everyone likes cartoons/anime and thinks a serious story can appropriately be told by these means.
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd9 years ago
I really hope that this is a case of misquoting for the sake of a provocative headline.
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Ruud Van De Moosdijk VP of Development, Engine Software9 years ago
Felix, although I do respect your opinion and I do agree that Heavy Rain and LA Noire did marvelous things...both games are still incredibly stylized and far from photo-realistic. I am one of the people who enjoys both the abstract and the cinematic look (the Snake/Raiden/Otacon cinematic in MGS2 after Emma dies is for me a very strong emotional cinematic implementation). Nevertheless, the part of your response where you say that not everyone things a serious story can be told by these means (non photo-realistic) just means that those people are wrong. Like Christoph is wrong. Photo-realism should never be a goal...if it turns out to be the best tool to relay the emotion you want to, all the more power to you.
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I guess we have a different idea of photorealism then. I don't see how Heavy Rain and L.A. Noire are stylized at all. They may not be photorealistic in the sense that you can't distinguish it from a real photo or film, but even $500+ million hollywood movies aren't.

When heavy rain and LA noire fall short of photorealism, it's due to limited hardware and cost constraints, not for the lack of artistic intent. They do look good enough to achieve a certain level of suspension of disbelief, and to make they realistic scenario work.

Most people have certain expectations of the look appropriate for "serious" stories, as klaus says, the dark knight isn't an animated movie and wouldn't have had the same success as one. All I'm saying is heavy rain and LA noire have captured the interest of many such people based on their realistic art approach alone, just like quantic dream's new project will. It would be silly to limit games to stylized graphics only.
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Concur, true photoreaslism or frankly any move in that direction would significantly expand the potential range of genres and expand the complexity of the stories that can played out, and whilst Greg's comment above may be true currently, it ignores the rise of indie studios that have filled the gaps with lower graphical quality innovative games, and triple A market doesnt need to much variety the average gamer has only so much to spend a month on games, and an unncessary number of similar massive budget games competing for the same money pot, game numbers have been reducing in triple A because frankly there were plain to many a few years ago, hardcore gamers had to deliberatly miss games they wanted to play as they plain didnt have the time or money to play them all, I also think its a very short-term way of looking at things, ultimately once true photorealism or at least anything reasonable close is established for a long period of time is achieved this upward curb would plateau and then ultimately fall, I shouldn't have to explain why to anyone here, but costs fall as a generation goes on, and its questionable if the amount companies pay out for triple A titles is entirely necessary, but having come to a high spend high payout mindset, the idea of reversing the trend has become unthinkable.

Of course speculating very long term, ie the chances are all but the youngest of us don't need to worry about it in our lifetimes, games development will be entirely idea based, as the implementation side (programming, modelling, level design, graphics) will probably eventually be a replaced by some form of AI which will likely to do all the modelling stuff for you, even the vast majority of art will eventually be possible to extrapolate from existing data, and given computer's will computationally match the human brain within 30-35 years or so, its hardly a stretch to think within 30-50 years they may turn out to be better at the whole process then us, as for human achieved game design I suspect if technologies such as the somewhat brashly and no doubt exaggeratedly named Unlimited Detail Real-time rendering engine by companies like Euclideon pay off, real time photorealism may be appearing a great deal quicker then said AI's inevitable job replacing rise, not true photo realism, but its sure on the way to being close, but at this rate having seen quite so many false predictions by this point of when such things will actually occur, were I a cynical man I may suspect by the time TRUE photo realism is achieved we'll probably be asking our home AI's that have iq's greater than our average height in mm to show them to us, possibly from our hover car's heading to the local spaceport for a quick jaunt to the moon.

So sure it'll happen but I got more sense then to try to guess when and beleive I'm correct, alas looking similarly extremely long term I'm having a hard time working out what on earth human's will be doing as it wont be work as we know it, and frankly money will be on the out by that point if not already anyhoe, how can money as we know it survive if no one works?, but again, people have been predicting true photo realism by "Blah" year for quite a long time, and they've all failed graphics have improved greatly but in truth were still a long way from true-photo realism, much as we're likely 10-30 years off AI's that can rival us in any reasonable way, so if you want to look to true photo realism you need to look into the future, as frankly I suspect the mostly photo-realistic like technology and those similar to that mentioned above may produce is the best we need to be bothered about any time soon.

However the next-gen consoles which will probably be with us for another 10 years are no where near photo-realistic so if it's going to happen it'll be PC only for the next generation.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Alexander McConnell on 1st August 2012 6:08pm

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Pablo Santos Developer 9 years ago
@Felix - While I do understand (and respect) your point, that did not seem to be the point of the article. The way it is written, I felt like it implied photo-realism is a need, it is the only way to go - and that is what caused all the negative reaction. I think we all understand photo-realism as a "possibility", not a "necessity".

Sorry if the answer is not clear, english is not my primary language. ;-)
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Dan Lowe 3D Animator, Ubisoft Montreal9 years ago
"It would be silly to limit games to stylized graphics only."

I don't think anyone would disagree, but that's not really the discussion. The comment in the original story, and the reason why everyone is weighing against it, is the suggestion that realism allows for a greater degree of emotional impact.

The real issue here is the difference between realism and believability. Realism is about lighting, materials, style, proportions, etc. Believability is about staying consistent with an internal logic. I think this explains it better than I can:
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I don't see how it's not the point of the article. Photorealistic graphics were the decisive component that made heavy rain and LA noire work. A realistic, cinematic look is pretty much expected by mainstream audiences when it comes to adult-themed, serious stories and settings. I'm not saying it's a good thing but it's just the way things are. Most animated movies are comedy, not drama.

Saying these two games opened up new genres is exaggerated, but they certainly elevated their respective genres and opened up a new audience. Which is more or less what the guy in the article is saying.
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Craig Lupienski Editor-in-Chief, TV and Lust9 years ago
Link was able to convey a wide array of emotions in The Wind Waker, and that's about as far from real as it gets.
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Jay G Attorney, Perkins Coie9 years ago
Not buying it. Photorealism might enhance existing genres, but it's not needed for new genres. We saw how little facial recognition and minor motor functions mattered in a title that released recently and can't even remember the name of (that's how forgettable it was, despite it being a AAA title).

If you really want to break new ground and new genres, you're either going to need a fully immersive 3d experience or, preferably, a fully functional Virtual Reality experience. I'm not sure we even yet have the processing power to do fully functional VR though.
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"Photorealism is just a convenient measure of complexity." -
John Lasseter, founder and chief creative officer of Pixar (and now Disney), and the father of computer animation.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jeffrey Kesselman on 1st August 2012 6:50pm

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Kenneth Seward Game Designer 9 years ago
Well, at least it isnt as bad as the lead on heavy rain saying he doesn't want to make fun games anymore.
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I think filmic graded realism is what the aim is for a cinematic look and feel, one can argue that with post processing and VFX, this produces a stylised look because real world lighting, colour can be a bit flat sometimes.

However...not all games need to be or want to achieve such a look.
Not everyone has deep pockets of the super developer publishers.

As such, whilst there is ever the blurring of boundaries between films animation and games, "photorealism" is not necessarily the holy grail for everyone. And in the long run, its about relaying a experience via a good combo of story, gameplay, atmosphere and visuals for a comprehensive whole.

A photorealistic FF6 would probably be just as atmospheric as the original retro look because it really stands the test of time with its operatic, musical and deep gameplay elements

or taken to the simplest nugget of a napkin test, would spec ops work in 16 bit?
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David Mann Artist, WMS Gaming9 years ago

I would argue that the decisive components of either of those games weren't so much the graphics (although they both pushed realistic graphics, respectively), as the gameplay and nature of the stories. Especially considering the nature of current AAA games (being, as Cristoph points out, shooters and action-based).

Both those games had truly mature stories and themes (not mature as in "gore that kids will have nightmares if they see it" but mature as in "respectful of intelligent adults", similar to Breaking Bad or Mad Men in maturity. On top of that, those games weren't action- or shooter-oriented, yet they occupied the same AAA game space as Halo/Gears of War/Grand Theft Auto IV.

As others have pointed out, and what I think you're getting at, though, photo-realism was necessary in solidifying that Heavy Rain and LA Noire are mature, serious games (ie, not Bulletstorm). As someone else mentioned Dark Knight's lack of power were it animated, so too would either of the games you mentioned lack the impact they did.

So it's not that 2K's guy is wholly incorrect in his assertion-- photo-realism should never be relied upon to convey emotion (Wall-E, Iron Giant, Up, to name a few, have proved as much), but that photo-realism should be used as a tool to convey elements of story and gameplay when and where really necessary, like any other tool.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by David Mann on 1st August 2012 7:24pm

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Petter Solberg Freelance Writer & Artist, 9 years ago
Well, facial expressions and body language seem to be the toughest challenges. L.A Noire felt like a turning point in this regard,though the body language didn't quite seem to keep up with the expressiveness of the faces

I'm sure this feature in L.A Noire seemed like a gimmick to many. Was it really worth it? If you measure its effect in terms of gameplay, the impact is fairly limited. We've had games in the past that are less simplistic and linear when it comes to interact with NPCs. Still, I thought it showed storytelling in an altogether different light.

Because the facial expressions does much of the telling of the story, even the simplest of stories can be engaging. Also, it could encourage writers to write less literary dialogue/game stories.

However, I've had great experiences with games long before L.A. Noire. More stylized graphics are able to do stuff that 'realistic' graphics can't do. I still play games from the early 90s that manage to be just as expressive and emotional as current gen games. I think this is in part because of the often great hand-drawn animation they used (often simple and economic, but that's where some of the power lies - working with the limitations and not against them, until you actually discover a new style. Horsepower isn't everything in art).

Graphics-wise, the main problem for many of these early 2D games are not style, but the limited amount of pixels. But I feel many of these 2D games have aged a lot better than early 3D games.

I'm not at all surprised why a game like L.A. Noire would be the first to utilize realistic acting. It's certainly where it's needed the most - in a story-based games. I'm not sure how an action title could really benefit from it, unless they first reconsider the value of storytelling. The best tech in the universe isn't going to make up for bad writing and one-note performances.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Petter Solberg on 1st August 2012 7:46pm

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If these guys truly want to open up new genres then they need to rediscover the strategy of paying medium sized budgets to talented developers who have the ability to innovate on the leading platforms without relying on vast graphical budgets and all the programming support that that entails.
Of course the underlying dual prong problem here is a saturated market making small titles almost impossible to discover and on the other hand a closed market of financially crippling AAA titles.
Maybe if publishers focused more on genuine profits from game sales and less on market share their appetite for seeding good innovative new mid range IPs would flourish again, but as long as they are willing to sacrifice everything for a good exit plan this is not going to change... until the way company evaluation at exit is changed.
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Ashley Gutierrez Animator 9 years ago
*headdesk* *headdesk* headesk*

I've been waiting for years for Hollywood to get over this obsession with making their visuals hyper-realistic and forgetting the most important part...THE STORY.
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For example, look at avatar. looks great in 3D, but absolutely fake in 2D, over saturated and WOWed.

Maybe the folks espousing greater pushes in pixels have long forgotten how to produce a great game on a shoestring budget.

Some of the best films started from a harebrained idea and filmed on barely anything. One of the best examples was the development of Raiders of the Lost ark.

So much intelligence, working every angle out...

All before visuals, effects, sound or budget was even brought into consideration.

Likewise, I'd love to see established and indie developers pass the napkin test. Working from first principles before the whole troupe of committees, focus groups, QA , etc get roped in..

Ultimately, its horses for courses.

"It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."
-- BusinessWeek, May 25 1998, Steve jobs
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 9 years ago
I probably broke something falling off my chair laughing at that headline. I bet there are a few game developers who can disagree strongly.

Anyway, there are a WIDE enough range of art styles that have made many games fantastic to play because the art teams did the best with what they had. Or hell, did even better stuff that defied the hardware they made their games for. Pricing gamers out of a future generation of games because they can only be done on a PC (and we all know a decent gaming rig isn't an impulse item) as some claim is a form of elitism.

Hell, I can think of a few dozen games that aren't based on any reality at all that are more compelling than just another FPS. As for true realism in games, it's never going to happen because you'll have to make everything as real as the visuals. Hey, if someone makes a game with true to life falling damage, weapon hits (no more bullet sponges with regenerating health), car wrecks you can't walk away from or even a banana peel to slip on that can have your character break his or her neck... maybe then I'll take this stuff seriously.

That and come on, EVERY game is stylized to some degree as even the most realistic visuals are an ILLUSION of reality.
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Brian Smith Artist 9 years ago
We've had animated movies that convey emotion beyond what we've seen in games. These clearly didn't require realism to convey subtle emotions. If they can do it then it can be done in games minus the realism. Not that I don't want realism, just I don't believe it to be an exclusive avenue for showing emotion.
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Abel Oroz Concept Artist, LANI Pixels9 years ago
Photorealism means null if the characters are impossible to empathise with, which 99% of videogames written to be "compelling to a broad audience" are. Spend more talent on the writing and less in the graphics if you want to develop stories people care about.

Allow the player to INTERACT with those stories rather than be a passive spectator if you want them to give a damn about what you tell.

And enough stories about revenge, betrayals, and saving the day. What about something people can actually relate with?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Abel Oroz on 1st August 2012 10:45pm

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Ben Furneaux Principal Designer 9 years ago
Utterly ridiculous. If Hartmann honestly thinks photorealism is a magic bullet for enabling emotion he's either deluded or trying to justify T2's massive expenses paid to motion capture and fancy face tracking technology. Probably both.
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I think both Hartmann and a number of commenters here are incorrect because they do not understand the medium of gameplay and treat it as if it were film. Hartmann wants better effects and a number of commenters want a better story. Visuals can be done best in movies and visual art. Stories can be done well in many media, including games, but we have had eons to work on simply telling stories, and there are many great games that have no story, so to demand better stories is to limit games. If you played a game that had an incredible story but had limited interactivity, you would still come away thinking it was a crappy game with a great story.

Games are unique because they engage players in making choices at many levels from physical (Where should I move my chess piece? Which direction should Pac-man move?) to philosophical (Should my character side with the Scoia'tael or the Knights or steer clear?). To think outside of video games for a moment, live sports as a "genre" of gameplay also have no graphics or story in themselves, but all of them involve decision-making of some kind.

I believe we will drive gameplay as a medium forward by devising new ways to engage players in decision making at every level. Aesthetics like graphics and story are just an optional means towards that end as far as games are concerned.
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Paul Gheran Scrum Master 9 years ago
He's totally correct.

The holodeck will be the last console. In fact, it might be the last human achievement, because after I can live in my dreams, why would I do anything else? Why would anyone?
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 9 years ago
Actually, if you look closely at the quote, he doesn't say exactly that the photo-realism is what's going to do it, but that it will happen at the same time as we achieve photo-realism on "the final console."

One thing to keep in mind as you think about the issue is that everybody here is considerably more sophisticated than the average person at the understanding and interpretation of video games, their tropes, and so on. Having a well-developed critical sense makes you less likely to get hung up on things like less realistic graphics because you can quickly identify and concentrate on the more important things in a particular game, if they are there.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Curt Sampson on 2nd August 2012 1:10am

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Adam Parker Academic Coordinator, Qantm College9 years ago
Greek Orthodox Icons. Of course they're so unemotional because they aren't photorealistic.

Dolph Lundgren. Totally photorealistic and obviously full to the brim with emotional expression.

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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 9 years ago
This person doesn't understand game design.
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Andy Samson QA Supervisor, Digital Media Exchange9 years ago
Mortal Kombat when it first appeared WAS "photo-realistic". What the effect did was just to make things look more convincing for people who lacks imagination.

You don't need photo-realistic technology to trigger emotions, most books don't even have pictures in them but they made you laugh, cry, or fall in love. But there are things words couldn't describe faithfully and it's up to the person's imagination to make it seem real. Visuals are there for things the user cannot clearly see in his head. It makes things more immersive but I don't think it will expand genres. It will only enhance the experience.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 9 years ago
I think Melon Journey wins this round:
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Hendrik Ruhe Project Manager, Freaks 4U Gaming9 years ago
To be honest:
To everyone saying what a dumb idea this is, haven't you played heavy rain and L.A. Noire? They succeeded at pushing the cinematic, photorealistic look, and brought in new audiences with it. Many people like a cinematic look and buy these kind of games for aesthetic reasons even though they have zero interest in other games (my girlfriend for example). Not everyone likes cartoons/anime and thinks a serious story can appropriately be told by these means.
I totally see his point.
As a gamer, when I read the headline, I just wanted to post some stuff in the comments. I wanted to let everyone know how strongly I disagree and how much I think, that this is not true.
I loved Final Fantasy VII and it is ... I would say my favorite game until today. And there was nothing like facial expression - and still I cried when Aerith died. (.... shall I say here... sorry "spoiler" ? ... Well everyone who didn't play it yet: It is your own damn fault! ^^ )

However: We are talking here from the perspective of a AAA-Producer. Someone who risks his career and a hell lot of money when producing a game which is supposed to become a big success.
In 2012, the basis for a AAA-Game is that you reach a wide audience. One which wants to buy the game. The problem is, that there are so many people who just would never buy a game which looks like a comic. I played the first episode of "Walking Dead" and it was just great - but looking at it in the beginning: I thought a comic look with a serious topic like... deep fear... that doesn't work out that well.
And when it comes to love and passion... that is so complex and gets so much out of facial expression... I can understand that a stronger graphics engine is very valuable there.

When I saw the "le sexy time" scenes in Mass Effect.... I felt like it was a joke. I didn't take it serious at all.

So.. as I mentioned: I see his point for the mass market.
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"it will be very hard to create very deep emotions like sadness or love, things that drive the movies," he said. "Until games are photorealistic"
I think this is one of the most naive comments I have ever read. Pixar did a pretty good job of creating deep emotions in Up. I know I cried!
Characters don't need to be photorealistic they need to be expressive, that's where the problem lies in my opinion.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 9 years ago
The closer to realism that an image is rendered the more subtlety of nuance can be portrayed. End of.

However using such a capability is well beyond most in the industry.
There are 43 muscles in a human face expressing emotion. How many of these is our industry currently capable of replicating the action of?
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee9 years ago
I don't see lack of photo-realism as a barrier to creating new genres.
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Tom Hunt Game Developer, neocade9 years ago
The only barrier to creating new genres is a lack of imagination.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development9 years ago
I think this says more about them than us. Games don't have to be photorealistic, just those made by companies with too many engine programmers.

We got ourselves a 90% metacritic with cartoon style graphics reminiscent of the 1990's.

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Henry Durrant Programmer, SUMO Digital9 years ago
Photorealism is an unnessesary waste of resources and budget that can be spent on enriching worlds in far more important ways.
If you want photorealsim, record an FMV. Character, writing, timing and style are far, far more important than visuals.
SNES era RPGs and many PS2 games have been more emotive and well written than many HD games I can think of.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development9 years ago
@bruce. More to the point, how many gamers really care how many facial muscles are in their avatars? I mean really.

The "top" developers have utterly lost focus on what gamers want and with the next round of consoles I predict a shedload of lay offs.

Saying things like that just brings it home.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 2nd August 2012 10:23am

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Greg Knight Freelance Developer 9 years ago
We need to reach the level of photo-realism so when we get there we can say "Ah, we've done it. Now lets get on with something that looks interesting!"
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 9 years ago
According to Wikipedia (which I believe) about two thirds of interpersonal communication is non verbal. The better that we, as an industry, can portray this NVC the more emotional engagement we will engender, especially in range and scope. This has to be a good thing for the interaction between a game and its player.

Movies went through many jumps in technology which allowed greater emotional engagement. Sound, Colour, Cinemascope, Surround Sound etc etc etc Each of these jumps allowed them to do more, both within genres and in creating new genres. So we have the precedent of technological advance vastly increasing the possibilities and capabilities of an IP industry.
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Let's do something amazing. Let's make a FMV game where you quick action mash buttons for the ultimate experience and use the power of our minds to control these FMV sequences

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Gareth Lewis Programmerist 9 years ago
Be careful what you wish for:
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Terence Gage Freelance writer 9 years ago
Great comments thread; I don't think I've starred so many comments ever before.

I absolutely do no agree with Mr. Hartmann's comments, and I think Ruud's suggestion of Ico is a perfect example why photo-realistic graphics are not necessary in creating an involving and stirring emotional bond. And it didn't even use real dialogue! Similarly, as an even more minimalist example I would suggest Journey which is by far the best game I've played this year, and was a stunning two hours of joy and heart-in-mouth moments.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 9 years ago
Imagine the emotional engagement if we could get games to do this sort of stuff:
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Daniel Lodge Lead Artist, doublesix9 years ago
Right on Chee. ;)
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Christopher McCraken CEO/Production Director, Double Cluepon Software9 years ago
It's this exact kind of wooly thinking that has led AAA so far off the path. For the very very last time: It's the game play, stupid. It always has been, and always will be.

You could invent the holodeck tomorrow, but without actual mechanics for play, and's meaningless. I don't care how "realistic" something looks: if it's fun to play, it's fun to play. Nowhere does this example shine more than games like Minecraft, or hell...Realm of the Mad God.

It's funny, but I have been thinking more and more about how much fun ProgressQuest still is. (I still run my client...) and here we see more bibble babble about how lack of photorealism is the hurdle of hurdles. I'll tell you what games must achieve: less people in the industry spouting ideas that amount to a fart in a wind tunnel.

This is the games industry: the ultimate goal is the mechanics and design of fun. Whether it's wrapped in 8 bits or polys should never be relevant. The design of the overall game itself should be the goal, and that design should be taking place initially without thinking of how photorealistic it should be.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game9 years ago
To the book example, I would add theatre. Ok, on the face of it, it is better than photo realistic, you see performers in person. But any facial expression is going to be lost on anyone more than a few rows back. Certainly no one in the circles are going to see much subtlety. Indeed, early theatre often used masks. Does this mean no complex emotion can be expressed in a play unless you have a 10 foot display showing close-ups of faces?
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On a alternate take, lets look at photo realism in itself.

3D Environment

In terms of atmosphere, environment and day/night simulations - I beleive we can come very close to cinematic grade quality for single player simulations. So Photo realism can be quite immersive, if you have the right engine.

Character Realism

In terms of character models and animation, let us just look at a single player scenario. This takes into account, the raw processing power to generate a believable lifelike animated simulation - and it is in the animation, that uncanny valley rears its head. Multiplayer will just not hack it (for now)

So let us look at the cutting edge of humanoid photo realism - via Robotics.
In robotics, Masahiro Mori is one of the pioneers, and realised in 1970 that Uncanny valley (bukimi no tani) issues surrounding the philosophy, design, psychology has cumulatively an eerie, creepy overall feeling because innately it looks and maybe feels human like, but yet has minute impreciseness that creates revulsion.

In Uncanny Valley

The strange fact is the more realistic it looks, the more symetrical (because beauty is seen to be symetrical) - the less human (and more puppet like) a animated model may look, and feel. The slight imprecise asymetrical imperfection inherent in the human face (because the overall body can be tweak to perfection) and its overall nuances are not too far from being captured.

Using Gemenoid F as a example, this movement towards photorealism can be seen/felt.

I suspect, these are the current and ongoing issues when we try to produce photorealistic 3D models, which require motion capture technology and hand tweaked animation to provide a smoother, more naturalistic feeling but we know its not really real and as such can be forgiving that it does not react, move and explore like a scripted FMV scene

Immersion Factor & VR
Perhaps an immersion of a VR setting such as Oculus Rift and future VR sets are the consoles of the next generation movement. For only when both the "avatars" of realistic humanoid/non humanoid avatars can be on par with its local environment, can we truly feel as if it is real. Whereby, like a dream one cannot tell the difference between what is reality. Achieving what is close to a true holographic universe*.

VR in itself may lead to all sorts of social issues whereby people stop interacting with other real life people eg. Surrogates (film) or Tad Williams novel - Otherland

I guess we can watch this space, because we know what makes a game good or immersive or fun, and really we are coming back to the future aspect of VR to break through the metaphorical 5th wall and beyond. But until we can resolve and surpass uncanny valley in robotics, I doubt if we will have true success in pixels by itself and maybe it is a unobtanium with current game engine technology - because when we truly achieve it, it will be the perfect blend between movies/games. (afterall, to the trained eye, the current digital blue screens in movies are so glaringly fake - you only have to look at the star wars prequels vs the original set to spot the difference)

*There are metaphysical and esoteric teachings that are only being confirmed somewhat by quantum physics that we might be living in some sort of massed holographic program, that reality itself is not really real. But that is a discussion for another time

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Dr. Chee Ming Wong on 2nd August 2012 3:07pm

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Petter Solberg Freelance Writer & Artist, 9 years ago
"To demand better stories is to limit games" - I think this is an odd conclusion. However, I agree that stories often limit games because they are not built around the mechanics of the game.

Many games can do without storytelling, but story-based games should at least make an effort to in terms of storytelling. Story isn't just about cutscenes or backstories, it can also be about dynamic elements that are part of the actual gameplay. A good story can really help create a great game experience if it's paired with great, dynamic gameplay.

I still believe we have yet to see the potential of a great game stories, because I don't think game writing is on par with the best of film or literature.
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Petter Solberg Freelance Writer & Artist, 9 years ago
Good point. The difference is of course, that in most FPS games, you're usually taking the front row. The problem is when you get up close and still the person don't show any emotion.

I think the current problem today is what is there as opposed to what isn't. When you see a character with and over-expressive body language and stiff face, and then hear the voice-over performer of some Hollywood sound-alike, everything really start to fall flat. The less realistic (or precise) the acting performance is visually, the more the voice director seem to be trying to make up for it.

I'm all for performance capture, not because I want games to look like interactive Hollywood blockbusters, but because I believe it will support more subtle acting performances.
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 9 years ago
Christopher McCraken: It's the game play, stupid.

Ah, so that explains the success of Angry Birds! Nobody else ever had gameplay that good before.
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Hector Remy Programmer 9 years ago
I would like to see a computer design a collection of haute couture clothes or make a miyazaki movie.
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Hector Remy Programmer 9 years ago
And the elephant in the room here would be Square Enix tech demo Agni's Philosophy that blew everyone out of the water with their new visual style.

They took gaming to the next level.
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Simon Dotschuweit MD SE / CTO, Dorado Games9 years ago
You took the words out of my mouth ;)
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Tony Johns9 years ago
I think others have said it before, just I must repeat in simpler words.

Graphics are not everything.

Think of RARE and even their earlier incarnation Ultimate: Play the Game.

They made some of the most awesome games and innovated new genres even with the graphics being poorly primitive.
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