Toy Story + Video

When I first found my way to Aaron Coberly’s gallery on CG Hub I was excited about what I saw. I thought these images were only test renders, and not actual in-game images.

But now I’m not so sure. Video gaming has changed quite a bit from what it was when I was learning the trade. I look at the polygonal subdivision in models like this and think, “There’s no way an engine or any home computer short of a $10,000 machine can handle that in an MMO.”

I came home and flailed at Mr. Tigerfeet for a while about this. He just laughed at me and told me I had been playing WoW for too long. ‘Games These Days™’ can, and do look as stylish as these (supposedly in-game) images do.

Of course, I can never leave well enough alone. A general ‘Hey, looks good’ is never enough for me.

I’ve got no issues with the textures. The quality and resolution are both top-notch. The normal mapping even excites me. (Normal maps are a way to make the illusion of extra geometry without the extra geometry actually being there, Mr. Warrior’s abs are a good example)

What makes me cringe, however, is the flesh and hair. The armor looks great, but the faces and the hair (on this warrior especially) set my teeth on edge. Can you see it too? I think he looks plastic, too-perfect, like a toy.

It has been said by the Guild Wars 2 design staff (I can’t find the specific interview, but I promise it exists), that they want the artistic style to be somewhere between photorealistic and painterly. What I see above is neither.

Painterly: Characterized by qualities of color, stroke, and texture rather than line.

Mr. Tigerfeet finally ransacked a box left by an old (OLD!) roommate and started playing a PS2 game called Wild Arms 3. Though toon-rendered (the toon-render outline always drives me nuts) I would describe it as a very painterly game.

The textures all look like they’ve got a scratch film placed over the top of them. Nothing is smooth and everything is gritty.

I’ve often derided Blizzard for the art execution in WoW. The graphics are a decade out of date, and were even out of date when they were first launched. I played the first Guild wars when it launched and was absolutely blown away by the beauty all around me. I would often stop and take a quiet moment (much to Mr. Tigerfeet’s consternation) to just admire the scenery. Blizzard only seemed to realize the value of an attractive landscape with its latest expansion, Wrath of the Lich King.

Needless to say, I’m expecting a similar impact from Guild Wars 2. WoW might have had low-quality graphics, but they didn’t stretch for photo-realism. They knew they were making something cartoony and they stuck with it, and it worked.

I think when photorealism is striven for, at least for now, it always falls short. It’s in the falling short where the dangers arise. We live in the real world, we see it all the time. When we are presented with something that is trying to look real but not quite there, the effect is jarring and uncomfortable. Instead of appreciating how far the visuals have come and being amazed at the high quality of artwork, we are left feeling that something is subtly wrong, feeling vaguely disturbed and unable to put our fingers on why.

This is the feeling I get from these character renders. I know not everyone feels the same way I do. It may be as well, that when all the disparate elements are assembled together they will make a more beautiful and unified whole than is implied by just their component parts.

The video clips of elementalist skills leaves me with such a hope.

PS: That phoenix skill? I’d lay money that’s a pack of Lady-Charr getting the crispy end of things. I’m loving those whippy tails.

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  1. I admit theres a touch of plastic there, but keep in mind graphics are the last thing a game studio does before they send out a game. From what I hear we’ve still got til 2011 when the game comes out.

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