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Graphic Detail

Part 2 - EA's Glenn Entis on why gameplay will always come first.

Last week, we published part one of our interview with Glenn Entis, vice president and chief visual officer at Electronic Arts.

In part two, he discusses the importance of good gameplay over high polygon counts, and how he thinks the Xbox 360 will match up against the PlayStation 3.


GamesIndustry.biz: There's been a lot of talk lately about moving the focus away from improving graphics lately - with the likes of Nintendo saying it should be more about gameplay. As a graphics specialist, where does that leave you?

Glenn Entis: Well, I'm actually in agreement. From my perspective graphics are, of course, very important; no matter what anyone says; consumers still look at games, they respond to what they see. We've seen cases where games with similar gameplay, but differences in graphics, do very differently in the marketplace.

I think the key message is that in a game, the most important thing is the gameplay - just like in a movie. Cinematography is important, art direction is important, production design... All those things are important, and they can be a huge contributor to the commercial success of the film. But ultimately in a film it's the story and the acting which are most important, and which all the other things support.

So I agree, but for me personally... My whole career's been in computer graphics; it's what I love, it's what I'll always do, I'm passionate about it. Although it's really important, I'm always saying graphics take a backseat to gameplay.

Sometimes people ask what I think of the art direction on another title, and usually the answer is the same: until I know what the game design goal was, what kind of gameplay they're trying to create, it's almost impossible to say if something's well art directed or not. The art direction only exists to support the gameplay.

Would you say we're moving away from the idea that game sequels are judged on rises in polygon counts?

Absolutely, we're definitely moving away from that. I think what's going to be important even within visuals is art direction - what's innovative in the gameplay, how are they using those polygons.

If there's a game with fresh, eye-popping graphics that people have never seen before, people will love that, those games will be rewarded in the marketplace - there's no doubt about that. But for me it's fresh gameplay married with appropriate graphics that is going to be the single most important thing.

From your perspective, as a graphics expert, how do the PS3 and Xbox 360 match up?

The whole industry knows it's been a challenge; the PS3's a very complex piece of equipment. On one hand it's a challenge, on the other hand there's tremendous potential in that box. I think it's going to take developers a little while to figure out how to unlock that power.

We've got games coming out now where we feel we've hit maybe 20 per cent of the potential of PlayStation 3. We know the power's there, but like any new platform it's going to take us a little bit of time to unleash it.

Was it more complex than we were expecting? Yes, probably; there were some challenges that we didn't expect. We've got tremendous confidence long-term that it's going to be a phenomenal games machine.

Once that power is unlocked, do you think the games will be much better looking than those for Xbox 360?

I don't know. We'll probably see some differences between the platforms, but those differences... I don't think I could generalise to say better or worse looking.

I think there's probably going to be differences between the platforms - in some cases in simulations, in some cases fidelity of the animation, in some cases graphics. There will probably be some generalisations, but even then it may be differences team-by-team or game-by-game too, depending on what people decide to focus on.

In your Montreal Games Summit speech, you discussed the importance of emotion - of getting game characters to exhibit it and players to experience it. Hasn't that been tried before with Sony's Emotion Engine?

The Emotion Engine was really a label they put on a piece of hardware. Their point there was that this hardware's powerful enough that we can create emotions within games. People could take any hardware, however simple or complex, and create characters that are very expressive.

How do you move that on to the next level, and go from the Emotion Engine to actually making characters feel and look real?

I don't think it's just about graphics. I think it's as much about animation, AI and direction, the way characters interact and respond to things in a scene.

Glenn Entis is vice president and chief visual officer at Electronic Arts. Interview by Ellie Gibson. Click here to read the first part of this feature.

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Ellie Gibson

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Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.

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