Graphics, production costs and photography in video games
An outside look into the video game industry
When we look at the graphical marvels of games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s end, appreciators and consumers of the medium are exposed to some of the most stunning visuals that video game production has created to date. These game worlds are dense with sound, story, environment and animation. These elements help form a world that a player not only traverses through, but can be truly immersed within.
Horizon and Uncharted stand as critically acclaimed technical achievements. They display a calibre that places them among the top games of this generation. These games successes can be traced back to Naughty Dog seminal work with The Last Of Us, which pushed the graphical and technical limits of the seventh console generation and stands as one of the greatest video games ever created. In creating this, they raised the bar for consumers, developers and publishers alike for the eighth and current generation of gaming.
There is a saying in all types of production, and it stands true for video game production. “You can have it good, fast or cheap, but you can only pick two”. In the 46 years of the video gaming industry, this current generation has been the one to undergo a critical and thematic shift in video game production and how video games are consumed. Aiming less to be ground-breaking but instead produced on a yearly basis to achieve maximum profit. While the method that publishers are using to increase earnings for video games is a discussion worthy of another article (micro transactions and loot boxes), the growing costs of video game production are mostly due to the increase costs to implement photo-realistic graphics.
These graphics have allowed for the expanding medium of gaming photography. Is has become recognised and appreciated, however the cost to achieve this successfully is not only financial.
While companies such as Rockstar (Grand Theft Auto V, Red Dead Redemption 2), Guerrilla Games (Horizon: Zero Dawn), CD Project Red (Witcher 3
) Naughty Dog (Uncharted Series, The Last Of Us) are creating polished and influential works that brings and pushing the medium forward, not all companies are as fortunate. We are well into the eighth console generation and have seen time and time again, developers with greater pressure from publishers for a timely release and restricted budget has impacted on the ability to achieve the ground-breaking works that have become the norm with each release, as the bar, and costs, have so drastically risen.
In the current console generation, games are no doubt beautiful. However, this beauty does compromise the experience, with games such as Destiny 2 and Star Wars: Battlefront 2 being prime examples; where the environment is undoubtedly breathtaking at points in the experience. The games themselves have caused an outcry from fans in terms of the overall quality, with a lack of comprehensive story, and systems in play that remove immersion in favour of predatory profiting practices. Although it cannot be faulted that these games create breathtaking visuals, it is at the cost of the overall experience.
Video game production cost has sky rocketed in the last 46 years of gaming. A standard AAA game costs between $200 million and $600 million to create. There are teams of hundreds of staff in studios around the world working on projects. Previously a handful of friends in a room could write the code for a game of the year contender.
With the rise in the indie market for video games, we are seeing some stunning worlds being created that remove the restriction of the photo-realism and AAA publisher influence. The success of Indie games, compared to Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Destiny 2, displays that budget and scope does not always correlate with sales and positive reception. Creating works that are surreal and abstract can be equally visually astonishing. The Last Night by Odd Tales reflect this trend in the growing beauty of the indie market, standing out like a Vincent Van Gogh painting in a room full of classical portraits. And with the rising costs of AAA titles, perhaps video games will move towards this style of expression and world building, shifting the nature videogame photography and appreciate as a paradigm.
It’s a great thing that games are becoming a thing of beauty. It allows for Arcade Geographic and communities of creative, passionate and dedicated people to come together and exist. But with the current practices in publisher’s video game production, we may see movement away from photo-realistic graphics and the development of more expressionist and surreal works in our medium.
Though I have high hopes that more immersive world that can capture us for many hours. They make us feel for characters and the world we traverse, to truly take our breath away. A picture isn’t just a still image, it tells a story and a journey and with the developers like Rockstar Guerrilla Games, CD Project Red more and more evocative experiences can be shared.
Because an immersive world doesn’t just create a picture, it creates an art form.
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