Both are just as important as each other. That’s right. The title is a trick question. And while I certainly prefer compelling gameplay over a glorified tech demo that boasts all of the latest visual bells and whistles, the reality is that we gamers expect a certain standard of graphical prowess to complement our gameplay experience.
It’s why the PC community (justifiably) gets up in arms when a shoddy multiplatform port isn’t visually on par with the consoles, or simply doesn’t take advantage of advanced graphics processing technology. It’s also a fast potential immersion breaker for any title that isn’t visually up to scratch. I Am Alive springs to mind as an example of a game whose immersion suffers during particularly ugly sections of otherwise-engaging gameplay.
In fact, the visual presentation of a game is one of the few key objective elements that everyone can agree on. Even if the gameplay of a particular title is incredibly addictive, if it looks like a last-generation title, then it looks like a last-generation title. That’s not subjective conjecture, that’s a measurable and comparable factor. Whether you choose to forgive a game for bland or outdated visuals based on the strength of the gameplay doesn’t change the fact that the graphics of said title aren’t up to scratch with its peers.
Now, Digital Trends is reporting that Nintendo is responding to anonymous developer criticism of the visual power, or lack thereof, of the Wii U. While Nintendo has yet to officially reveal just how powerful the Wii U will be in terms of graphics processing, they are suggesting that high-end visuals aren’t the be-all and end-all of videogame hardware.
“We do not focus on technology specs. We understand that people like to dissect graphics and processing power, but the experience of playing will always be more important than raw numbers.”
Arguably, the experience of playing is more important than focusing on the result of processing power, but only in so much as the processing power allows an experience to be visually on par with the understood or expected graphical standard of a platform’s generation. For instance, a lot of the time the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have no or negligible differences between multiplatform titles. The Wii, on the other hand, has to often take a stylised (read: childish) or downright ugly approach to multiplatform titles because it lacks the necessary goods beneath the hood to be on par with the expectations of what constitutes acceptable current-generation graphics in the console world.
I’m not saying that super-realistic graphics are a must for immersion to ensue. There are certainly plenty of examples of titles with stylised graphics, even on the Wii (MadWorld springs to mind), that use distinct visuals as a way of establishing tone. What I am saying, though, is that any title that uses believable or high-end graphics to set tone or establish setting is held back by the inability for it to be visually presented in a way that does it justice.
For instance, during a recent Aliens: Colonial Marines single-player presentation, Gearbox Software president Randy Pitchford discussed the presence and importance of deferred rendering (specifically, as it relates to lighting) in the game. As you can imagine, lighting and shadows are crucial elements for storytelling and offering up tension in an Aliens game. He went on to mention that the deferred rendering would only be available for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game. The Wii U, which is having a version of Colonial Marines developed for it, was omitted from that list. Perhaps it was a mistake, but I’m willing to bet that Randy specifically listed the three main platforms because deferred rendering won’t be present in the Wii U version of the game. Ultimately, time will tell, but there was no need for Randy to specify which platforms would feature deferred rendering if it was consistent across all four..
Outside of this, though, I return to my original point: graphics and gameplay are equally weighted in my mind in terms of importance as they are both part and parcel of the overall gaming experience.
Are they equally weighted for you?