Some pleas for video game images

I love when a video game starts and makes you gasp! When your eyes are amazed by what is in front of you and you find yourself completely absorbed in a new and beautiful world. I love looking around the edge of a dark canopy and being blinded by the digital sunlight pouring down on you, with perfect fluffy clouds floating overhead. Or when you launch your car around a corner and gravel shoots out of your spinning tires as reflections flicker on your hood and light bounces off your windshield. It’s amazing! Many techniques are being employed by artists working on video games these days. Light, shadow, reflection, textures, transparency, cloud, water, gravity‚Ķ the list goes on for varieties of visual representation and when everything is done right, an interactive game becomes truly immersive.

Many of the things mentioned above are brilliantly done and in many games I wouldn’t dare criticize anything. However, the brightness of some optical aspects can highlight weakness in other areas. One thing game developers still seem to have trouble with is modeling decent faces. I’ve seen this done well, Fight Night Round 3 for example has some great fighter models. The skin is perfectly matte, until they start to sweat (great!), and the shape and detail of their faces is just like their real-life counterparts. But too many games feature characters with skin and a face like a mannequin. They’re too bright, the contrast between light and dark is too great, and they have generic features that look like something out of a fashion window display. If I draw a face without referencing someone real, I can only create something that looks like this no matter how hard I try. I’m not a professional artist, but I still feel that it would be hard to expect someone else to produce a believable face from their own mind. But why, if that’s the problem, don’t they just use a model? Grab Mr. Calvin Klein and replicate his face to make it more believable.

Hair seems to be another problem. There are plenty of good examples of long, flowing hair moving quite believably, but once the hair gets a little shorter, it suddenly becomes rock-solid and usually shaped like a horrible jumble of blocks. I would love to see a football game where the players change their hair as soon as they break a sweat. So we might see a furry, fluffy striker gradually become darker and straighter once he’s done a few runs. That would be great!

Another item on my personal wish list is a realistically animated fighting game. We’ve got some good shows in this genre with Soul Caliber IV and Virtua Fighter 5, both of which have gloriously bright and flashy aesthetics, but what we don’t have is a more simulation-style fighting game. I’d love to see the kind of gritty, washed-out colors from Gears of War and Ghost Recon, accurately modeled characters, and a completely different approach to animation. Most of the fighting games are very arcade style with lightning fast animations.

When you press various buttons, your character launches limbs at such a speed that you can barely appreciate their fluidity. And it doesn’t look remotely real, particularly when flashing green explosions light up combatants when a hit hits the mark. I’d like to see smooth real-time animation that looks like a real fight! So when a heavy blow lands on your opponent, it really makes you wince. I want to see punches that make an impact wherever they land and visual clues to the severity and location of injuries. Fights can be fast and responsive, but with slight delays to regain balance and poise. I absolutely wouldn’t mind sacrificing a bit of immediacy of control for more realistic movement.

The reward for seeing a poorly timed swing that throws your opponent off balance and makes them unable to recover before a kick to the back of the leg sends their knee to the ground would be huge! A believable exchange where timing, technique, and decision-making are the winning features and everything plays out like a pub brawl or witty contest would be impressive. This must be quite a challenge because I have never seen anything remotely like what is playing in my head, but one day it will surely happen.

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