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In Defense of Retro Gaming: A Discussion of Abstraction

In Defense of Retro Gaming: A Discussion of Abstraction

Author: Buck Feris
Editing: Bill Loguidice and Matt Barton
Artwork: Buck Feris (All screenshots taken from the DOSBox and WinUAE emulators)
Online Layout: Buck Feris

Leo Laporte of The Screen Savers fame did a small segment on a game called Achaea on their show that aired June 10, 2004. Achaea is one of few MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons) that can still boast a strong following. It is not uncommon for as many as five hundred users to be logged in at any one time. (For more information on MUDs, also see last month’s article on the Discworld MUD.) Laporte, possibly the victim of ageism, did not fair well during the G4/TechTV merger. Having been demoted from his role as host on the show, his appearances are now limited to the odd tip segment. He talked favorably about the game, noting that it was text based, but still offered a level of interaction not possible in most if not all of the available graphical MMORPG's (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games). After his segment, he segued, handing control over to one of the new, younger people who often do small segments and tips. The young man who took control of the camera all but rolled his eyes at Laporte, stating he would rather play games such as *insert innocuous game here--long on graphics, short on gameplay*. Shortly after this there was a collective chuckle throughout the whole studio.

Upon seeing the attack on Laporte, I became incensed. The recent merger of the two cable channels has resulted in the cancellation or inexplicable crippling of many of the shows I enjoyed. When a former host of my favorite show was flippantly dismissed for mentioning retro gaming, I decided to take action by writing this editorial, which I hope will turn into a series designed to defend our beloved pastime.

This is not the first time that retro gaming has been attacked, nor will it be the last. Click here to see another example of naked aggression.

Most of the arguments against retro gaming are not really arguments at all, but really just knee jerk reactions to something misunderstood by younger people. I would imagine that the same people who trash retro gaming are the same sorts of folks who are unable to tolerate watching a black and white movie, or listening to pop music written more than two years ago. Such behavior only limits the enjoyment of a rich art form, and shows a sophomoric and limited understanding of our culture.

The material available for use to defend retro gaming is so vast, that attempting to comprehensively cover the subject in one article is futile. So, today I will attempt to defend our pastime from just one perspective: abstraction.

For those who may not be familiar with abstraction, it refers to the graphical representation of the games we play. In years past, hardware limitations kept graphics at a minimum, forcing us to play with avatars resembling stick figures. This is an example of high abstraction, with the player having to engage in an unspoken contract with the game similar to a suspension of disbelief. Of course, the ultimate example of this is a text adventure, interactive fiction (IF), or even a MUD like Achaea. Having no graphics, the avatars in these games will only be viewed in the player's head, never on the screen. In contrast, modern console and PC games employ graphics that sometimes border on photo realism. Today, gamers do not have to exert their imaginations nearly as much as in days of old. This is known as low abstraction.

At first glance, the ever increasing polygon count of today's games may seem like progress, but is it?

What is the purpose of computer graphics in games? They are supposed to represent the object or idea being simulated in the context of the game. This representation aspect provides an avenue of artistic expression that is exploited less and less as technology reduces the abstraction level. A good example of this would be the graphical representation of a shotgun. In an older game such as a side scrolling platform game with a high abstraction level, the shotgun may only be represented by a straight line of gray pixels. In a modern first person shooter (FPS) the shotgun may be a fully rendered replica of a firearm produced in the real world, complete with reflective chrome. To the untrained observer, a quick assessment would be that the newer graphics are superior.

Screenshot of Day of the Tentacle
Day of the Tentacle (PC)
However, the artist's touch has been all but eliminated. In the early days of the industry when hardware imposed high abstraction, it was the artist's or programmer’s job to creatively make use of what was available. Creativity was what was needed, and creativity was what gamers got. The result was gorgeous hand painted scenes such as those found in Lucas Arts’ adventure games such as Full Throttle and Day of the Tentacle. Just as some older movies were gorgeously shot exploiting the limitations of black and white, many older games just oozed with cleverness as to how objects were represented.

What is maddening about this is that there is absolutely no reason why modern game makers should not employ artists to create fantastic worlds dripping with clever uses of high abstraction. High abstraction doesn't necessarily mean lower polygon counts either. Anyone owning a computer and a copy of Photoshop has the most powerful artistic tool ever created right at her fingertips. Are good painters only recognized by their ability to photographically reproduce a scene? Of course not! If that were the case, we wouldn't need artists. Simply taking photographs would be sufficient. We want artists to put their spin on things. That's where the art comes in. If you placed a tripod on the floor in front of a fruit bowl and took 10 digital pictures with different cameras, you would have 10 pictures of a fruit bowl. The only difference between them would be the resolution and lighting differences brought about by flaws in the image sensor of each camera. If you put 10 artists in front of a fruit bowl, you would get 10 vastly different pictures...10 works of art. The hardware of today makes it possible for us to graphically represent just about anything, and yet we squander this new found ability on photo realism. Artists should be graphically reproducing the wild thoughts in their heads, not volumetric fog. It has been said that the invention of the camera finally freed artists to express themselves abstractly. At what point will this freedom be awarded to game designers?

It is also important to note that all the hardware advancements in this area of game development, and all the time and money spent on photo realism has done absolutely nothing for gameplay. Look at RPGs as an example. Ten years ago, we had titles such as Elder Scrolls: Arena, and the later installments of the Ultima series. These were mostly open ended games with large environments to be explored. Players had to manipulate their control screens to make use of weapons and spells to better engage in combat and improve their abilities. Today we have such games as Elder Scrolls: Morrowind and the Neverwinter Nights series of expansions. These are mostly open ended games with large environments to be explored. Players had to manipulate their control screens...someone remind me again what has changed.

Isometric and 3D RPGs have changed little over the years, save for their polygon counts. However, production time has lengthened, production budgets have skyrocketed, and the amount of staff needed to produce one of these games has multiplied exponentially. Why has this happened? In the final analysis, the flames look better on that Fire Elemental and the finish looks better on that sword, but how has the gamer really benefited? He is still clicking a button to hit a fiery demon with a sword. Why don't we take that big budget and that extra manpower and do something new?

To those who roll their eyes at retro gamers, I say, "What is really so great about the games you are playing?" Is there really that much difference between Soul Calibur II and International Karate? We are still mashing buttons and kicking people in the groin. Why did your game take years to produce?

Screenshot of Sam & Max Hit the Road
Sam & Max Hit the Road (PC)
Screenshot of It Came from the Desert
It Came from the Desert (Amiga)
Screenshot of The Secret of Monkey Island
The Secret of Monkey Island (PC)
Screenshot of Out of this World
Out of this World (PC)
I can tell you what we have lost. We have lost the slapstick animation of Sam & Max Hit the Road. We have lost the hand painted sunsets of It Came from the Desert. We have lost the lush greenery in the King’s Quest series. We have lost the clever cartoon architecture in the Monkey Island series. We have lost the eerie landscapes in Out of this World.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then high abstraction was a call to all artists to do what they do best. Big budgets and big teams don't make a good game. They don't produce good art either. I won't even go into the benefits of playing text based games and leaving everything to the imagination. I don't think the young people this editorial is aimed at could comprehend that. I have to fight this war one battle at a time.

The usual argument against retro gaming from today’s young people is that today’s graphics are better—hands down. To that I say, “Go back and play some old games, kid.” When I look at a John Ford Western, I am stunned at how gorgeous the cinematography is. The fact that the movie may be in black and white in no way diminishes the achievement. A gorgeous game is a gorgeous game, no matter what time period it was made in. I would much rather see a clever use of color to represent a lush forest in a low 640X480 resolution than see my GeForce 4 video card render every single blade of grass in a field because some foliage generation engine allowed the designers to do it. In the final analysis, it has done nothing for game play.

Go ahead and keep talking, Leo. Some of us are still listening.

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Comments ...
bullet Matt Barton | 07 Aug : 09:28

Comments: 169

You know, I was thinking...All of these screenshots have something in common: They make me really curious about what's going on in the games and then want to play them. I especially love that It Came from the Desert shot and the Tentacle game.. I never played Day of the Tentacle before (I thought it was an RPG), but may look it up now and try to play through it.

bullet Fractalus! | 07 Aug : 10:12

Comments: 76

Registered: 26 Mar : 11:41
I never played Day of the Tentacle before (I thought it was an RPG), but may look it up now and try to play through it.

One of the best adventure game ever made and one of my favorite game of all time. Graphics, storyline, puzzles: all top-notch. Ideally, there should be as much diversity of drawing styles & techniques in modern games as there is in children's books.

Some wonderful box cover art:


bullet 7800Lover | 07 Aug : 10:19

Comments: 2

Registered: 22 Jan : 15:59
Hmph, when are people going to learn that you can't judge a book by its cover?

bullet Fractalus! | 07 Aug : 11:00

Comments: 76

Registered: 26 Mar : 11:41
Hmph, when are people going to learn that you can't judge a book by its cover?

Well, in the case of early LucasArts adventure the outside was as wonderful as the inside. My take on the whole "graphics aren't important" argument is this: Graphics, gameplay and sound are intertwined.. they're part of the whole package very much like story and art in comics. Sure, you can have one without the other, but it's always nice to have both.

How much fun would "International Karate+" would be without the smooth animation, the gorgeous backdrops, the satisfying "thud" as your opponent hits the floor, or the the great Ron Hubbard music?

bullet Fractalus! | 07 Aug : 11:30

Comments: 76

Registered: 26 Mar : 11:41
There has been some modern games who experimented in visual abstraction, without falling in the "photo realism" trap.

A few good exemples:
The Last Express: http://www.lastexpress.com/

The Dark Eye: http://www.gamespot.com/pc/adventure/darkeye/screens.html?page=5


Grim Fandango

And of course the japanese are the masters at this.

But for a lot of 12-16 years old, good graphics equals realism. They respond to heroes that are preferably muscle-bound, have three-day stubbles, and look perpetually angry... they haven't reached yet a level of visual sophistication necessary to appreciate more artistic approaches.

bullet Buck Feris | 07 Aug : 15:29

Comments: 12

I would like to explore this subject more fully--doing a piece on modern games with High Abstraction. It is facinating. However, 99.9% of the time this is the exception and not the rule. So it was left out of this editorial.

Anyone who is not familiar with LucasArts Adventures needs to stop whatever the hell they are doing and go play them. This would be a wonderful start for anyone: http://www.lucasarts.com/companystore/adventure/

Just to give it a spin, you can still get the DOTT Demo Here:


bullet Rowdy Rob | 08 Aug : 11:15

Comments: 21

Registered: 18 Jan : 13:02
What is driving this quest towards photo-realism in videogames? Buck may have (inadvertently?) answered this question in his "Violence in Videogames" article, where he puts forth his "catharsis" argument. Why do we seek out and enjoy violent videogames? We (according to Buck) are seeking catharsis.

Well, it occurs to me that the greater the "believability level" of the gaming environment, the greater the sense of immersion will be. Therefore, the more "photo-realistic" the graphics are, the greater the level of "catharsis" will be.

Anyhow, it could all boil down to the fact that modern consumers DO NOT WANT abstraction, and that we older gamers only accepted it because we had to! Gamers are seeking "catharsis," and maybe the publishers are just giving us what we want.

A good, thought-provoking article....

bullet Fractalus! | 08 Aug : 11:32

Comments: 76

Registered: 26 Mar : 11:41
What is driving this quest towards photo-realism in videogames?

For teenagers (especially here in North America), realism equals better graphics. They don't understand style. They don't get abstraction. They think the guy who draws Spiderman is a better artist than Picasso coz he draws better muscles.

Basically it's a lack of artistic education.

And the game industry cater to this market.

bullet Fractalus! | 08 Aug : 11:39

Comments: 76

Registered: 26 Mar : 11:41
Well, it occurs to me that the greater the "believability level" of the gaming environment, the greater the sense of immersion will be.

Yeah, but I think you don't need realism to reach that "believability level". A completely fantastical, stylized environment can be as immersive if done right. If you set up the rules of that particular world and don't break your own logic it can be more effective than extreme realism because it involves the player's imagination.

bullet Matt Barton | 08 Aug : 11:45

Comments: 169

Amen, Fractalus! Amen. What you say is so true. That's the reason why colleges have to spend so much time teaching abstract thinking skills. People are losing the ability to appreciate symbolism and metaphor.

I guarantee that if you showed a sample of uneducated Americans an abstract painting of an apple vs. a photograph and said, "Which one is the best depiction of the apple?" they'd pick the photo everytime. Only someone with considerable art education and abstract thinking skills would pick the abstract one (assuming that it was a well-done piece). For the plebian, the photograph is "real" whereas the abstract painting is nothing but random colors and textures.

I think the reason so many vintage videogames were so cool is that the developers were forced to be abstract and asked players to use more of their imagionation and abstract thinking skills to play the games. It's a lot less work when the shotgun is a photograph of a shotgun instead of, like Buck says, a gray line.

The ironic result of all this is that a whole generation of videogamers developed SUPERB abstract reasoning skills and a penchant for understanding and using metaphor. These skills, by the way, are precisely what Aristotled identified as the characteristics of a genius.

When we take into consideration the decrepit state of our education system, it's not really surprising that so few people today appreciate abstraction in games and are craving graphic/aural realism. Modern gamers lack abstract reasoning skills and are being increasingly allowed (via photo-realism in graphics and aural-realism in sounds) to get by without them--in other words, stunted development.

bullet Buck Feris | 08 Aug : 13:48

Comments: 12

Take it farther. Take it to TV, movies, and literature. Less and less fiction is being produced every year. Reality TV seems to capture audiences and advertising dollars. Non-Fiction and biographies are what is selling. If a book is fiction nowadays it can hardly fit into the 'literature' catagory. People just read what Oprah tells them to read.

Our educational system is quickly spiraling towards a vocational model where abstract thinking is all but abandoned. Its sad really.

Part II of the Violence article is going to go hard-core academic into some of these issues as well. Saying that kids are seeking catharsis is a bold statement. I plan to back it up with a truckload of evidence. (The amount of evidence is ridiculous really.) It is an interesting question though as to whether abstraction hinders or enhances this. I guess it would depend on the user. A vocationally educated user may want photo-realism where us old school guys may think it is a hoot to blow away cartoon characters.

Something else to add to the upcoming article.

bullet Matt Barton | 08 Aug : 14:19

Comments: 169

I've always felt that cartoons and videogames were a rich mix. How else can you account for the unbelievable success of Dragon's Lair, which, let's face it, had pathetic gameplay. Good cartoons and (most) videogames both rely on heavy abstraction to spark that emotional response in viewers.

If I were going into videogame graphic design, I think I'd start by studying the work of the best cartoons--try to get a feel for the emotional side of things and the best way to cause viewers to heavily invest in the characters. It's really more than just telling a story; it's the way you allow viewers to identify with the characters and relate to events.

Compare a game like Super Mario World to Shadow of the Beast. The avatar in Beast is just a blank canvass.

Remember that Bluth interview? He talked a lot about how if you're going to have someone play a knight, make him care about that knight. If you're going to have the knight kill a goblin, give him a good reason to kill the goblin--if the player doesn't know something about the characters and their motives, she loses a vitally important dimension of good gameplay.

Photo realism doesn't necessarily mean there's no room for character development or abstraction. Rather, I think the danger is that the "wow" factor of the graphics tends to overshadow shallow storylines, bad acting, and miserable gameplay. Furthermore, FMV always fails because of the repetition--and there's no excuse for a cutscene, ever--if you can't weave something into the gameplay, leave it out.

bullet Fractalus! | 08 Aug : 16:01

Comments: 76

Registered: 26 Mar : 11:41
Tim Schafer: Adventures in Character Design
The man responsible for some of the most invigorating and unique PC adventure titles of all time speaks a bit about what it means to create compelling characters.


bullet mrCustard | 08 Aug : 16:31

Comments: 24

Registered: 17 Mar : 05:32
For 3D games the techonology want simply not advanced enough to do much in the way of artistic abstraction. Up until the previous generation, pretty much all you had was geometry and texture acceleration, which limits what you can do in a 3D games. The last major development for this generation af graphics accelerators was cell shading, which has pretty much outlived it's usefullness by now.

The choices were pretty much limited to cartoony/simplistic or detailed/realistic. And in most cases the choice depends on the target audience for the game) as well.

Since pixel shaders are available in mid priced consumer graphics cards, developers are free to experiment with graphical styles in 3D games again. This may open up some exciting possibilities for future games.

Another problem developers face is the higher resolution games are expected to run at nowadays. For hand drawn art there's a limit on which it's feasable to implement it in a game. It's no surprise 2D fighting games and shooters still run at 320x240, or something as low-res, as it's way too expensive to draw the sprite animations in a higher resolution. For console gamers seem to accept games in a low resolution for now, but it isn't the case with PC games.

bullet Great Hierophant | 12 Aug : 13:42
Comments: 7

Registered: 23 Mar : 00:09
With text based adventures you had to use either imagination, if purely text-based, or imagination if on-screen graphics were involved. Photography and motion picture films are "real" in that they reflect reality. Art is an interpretation of reality through the mind of the artist. The first is easy and often does not invite reflection. You view it and move on. The second does not lend itself easy to one-shot viewing. You have to stare at it, think about what the artist was trying to accomplish, the techniques he used, the conditions under which he worked, the models and materials available, etc. To get through a mid-size gallery would take a whole day.

Real art is attractive to the short attention span. The so-called MTV generation never had it so good and has no patience for anything less than instant visual and aural gratification. Art is work, something to which the silver spoon-in-the-mouth is particularly adverse. Reality is something that can be perceived and can move on. And move on they do, considering the length of many of today's games they seem to become another type of disposable entertainment.

I think that most old-time programmers did not create graphics for their abstract value but because they were the best they could manage with the hardware. Abstraction was a justification for poor graphics far inferior to anything that can be shown on a TV screen, at the movies or even on the box cover. Today, abstraction can be used as a justification by small-time programmers to explain why their graphics are not competitive with Doom 3 or Half-lIfe 2.

Supposedly realistic graphics tend to mock reality as much as represent it. Even in the best games, edges and vertices stand out. Genuinely curved surfaces are difficult to replicate in real-time. In-game textures cannot begin to approach the complexity of skin. Real life is not composed of triangles or texture maps. The human body is capable of movements in ways a 3-D figure cannot even begin to cope. The 3-D infrastructure cannot cope with infinite variables.

However, 3-D has made genres possible. Realistic vehicle simulators would not exist without some 3-D acceleration. First person shooters require it. Third-person adventures cannot do without it.

Cell-shading has put some level of abstraction into 3-D. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Viewtiful Joe are two excellent examples of this artistic trend. It is in danger from small minded people who do not appreciate the style, deeming it kiddie-like. They are too primitive to see the wonderous possibilities this technique can bring. Has Link ever seemed so animated outside The Wind Waker?

bullet Arluss | 13 Aug : 19:23

Comments: 1

Registered: 13 Aug : 18:49
I think it's a shame that more developers aren't attempting to use abstraction. In my opinion, realism detatches players from the experience more than having iconic characters and creative backgrounds. It's a little disheartening. Focusing on more abstract art, character design and environment design could lead to fixing some of the problems realistic games tend to have.

It's also a problem that isn't unique to videogames either. Animation used to attract both adults and children until slowly adults started considering animation kiddie fair and relegated it to something to keep their kids occupied in front of the TV. Very few people in America are willing to take the current models beyond what has been achieved so far.

bullet Sonance | 17 Aug : 21:59

Comments: 5

Registered: 20 Aug : 02:37
Photo-realism has been the Holy Grail of videogame artists since the year dot. We're still not there yet, but we're getting close and no one's going to be giving up until we do.

The unfortunate side effect of the 3D/photorealism revolution is that the vast majority of games look the same. Grab a random screenshot of any two WW2-themed shooters, or any two soccer games, and (unless you're a hardcore fan of any of these games) you'd be hard pressed to distinguish between them.

This ia a far cry from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, where pretty much all artwork was hand-painted. Various programmers/artists had a definitive style -- so much so that if you weren't overly familiar with a game, you could probably make an educated guess at who was responsible by pure virtue of the artistic style on offer. Ie, Andrew Braybrook's metallic bas relief was very distinctive -- many people tried to copy it, but the likes of Paradroid and Uridium really do stand out. Likewise, Sensible Software's sprites had a character all of their own that was consistent from Parallax right through to Cannon Fodder.

That's not to say that all 3D games are lacking in style and creativity, but those that do manage to make bold, expressionistic statements (Ico, Tron 2.0 and Wind Waker spring to mind) tend to be the exception rather than the rule.

As for the retro gamer vs modern gamer debate...

Retro gamers are typically those who grew up during the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. While the various software houses used strong graphics as a selling point (most of them weren't beyond putting C64 screenshots on the back of a Spectrum cassette case), ultimately games lived or died by their gameplay. The software houses would do their best to shovel shit (who could forget US Gold's World Cup Carnival debacle?), but thankfully the various computer magazines that were around at the time (especially those published by Newsfield) weren't afraid to pull punches and rate poor games accordingly. (These days, rating systems seem to be configured such that below-average games get rated in the mid-70s, whereas once upon a time that would have been a perfectly respectable score.)

Modern gamers are (typically) those who grew up during the 32-bit era, for whom the PSX or N64 was their first introduction to gaming. The launch of these systems coincided with the explosion of the 3D revolution -- 2D backdrops and sprites were already considered old hat.

Some time during mid-to-late 1990s, we saw a massive demographic shift amongst gamers. Whereas "hardcore gamers" (ie, those who grew up during the 8-bit/16-bit era and were the first to embrace new 32-bit technologies) once accounted for the majority of sales, the dreaded "casual gamer" emerged as the majority demographic. Whereas gaming had previously been the reserve of geeks, nerds and lone bedroom gamers and scoffed at by the mainstream, suddenly gaming was "cool" and the hip new thing to do. Those school friends who had previously rolled their eyes when you tried to convey the beauty of Elite or Sonic the Hedgehog now owned a PSX and wouldn't shut up about how "cool" Resident Evil and Tomb Raider were.

Gaming, in its purest form, is a very abstract pursuit. Gameplay is something that's best when personally experienced rather than related or conveyed by a third person. (Watching someone play a game is a rather boring, tedious thing to do, but the person actually holding the gamepad is experiencing something entirely different.) With this in mind, it's not surprising that the only real, tangible thing that can be presented to a gamer, whenever a new game is announced, are the visual aspects of the game.

Screenshots are typically the first contact any of us have with a new videogame. That remains the case, throughout the 18+ months of development, until we actually get to play the game for ourselves. It's therefore not surprising that graphics are the means by which many videogames are judged. This isn't a new thing -- it's been this way ever since the ZX81 and Vic 20 -- but in this day and age it's more important than ever.

Naturally, we all drooled over the development screenshots of Doom 3. Only a small percentage of us, however, actually bothered to find out how the game might play. Doom 3 could have been packed full of revolutionary gameplay, advanced AI and taken the FPS genre in a bold, new direction, but if it had looked like the original Doom, or even Quake 2, then the gaming community would have been up in arms and very few people would have actually bothered to buy it.

Unfortunately that's just the way things are. Whenever an artistic medium transcends into the popular media, the "average" person demands a more visceral means of access. Ie, someone's more likely to visit the cinema and watch The Chronicles of Riddick rather than Vertigo, simply because the former has lots of explosions, spaceships, lasers and Vin Diesel swinging across chasms in slow motion.

It's the same with video games, music and literature.

bullet davyK | 27 Aug : 12:26

Comments: 76

Registered: 19 Jan : 08:40
I have , for quite a while now, been of the opinion that the sooner true photo-realism is achieved in games - the better. The developers will hopefully move onto something new - like gameplay.

Reading many game reviews and listening to modern gamers today is like walking around an art gallery with an amateur artist. (believe me ... I have done this)

He will bore you with the technical aspects of a painting as opposed to the content of the paintings and he will admire those paintings that look 'more real' as opposed to those with inspired composition and meaning.

Once the game industry grows up a bit and realises that realism in games isn't what gaming is about ,then perhaps we will see a return of abstract gaming.

Its funny .... abstract gaming has come and gone ... and may return...almost like in art where we started with abstract cave painting - went through the realism bit - and then went on to the abstract art again!.

Here's hoping.

bullet Matt Barton | 27 Aug : 13:01

Comments: 169

Interesting thoughts, Davyk. As I was reading I was thinking of those cave paintings and primitive art. While we might scoff at such things today and call them "simple," in reality, most of these pieces were extraordinarly complex and highly detailed. Anthropologists studying supposedly "primitive" tribes have found, for instance, that each movement in a ritual dance is imbued with meaning; even the twitch of a finger can have profound significance for those knowledgeable about the dance. In the course of a thirty minute dance, the whole history of a people can be told to those with understanding.

There is a certain beauty in the abstract simplicity of a game like Pong. However, not all abstract art is simple or lacking in detail. An artist can avoid "photo realism" and not necessarily switch to simple blocks and circles. Dali, for instance, is definitely not a photo realist, yet his paintings are rich in detail and thought. Like those dances, each part of the painting has significance for those willing to take the time and energy to ponder them.

I hold that the great advances we've made in graphic technology is just as valuable for abstract artists as for those who are mentally limited to the concrete. Imagine what Picasso-like figure could accomplish if allowed to create richly-detailed 3-D environments. With such tools, an artist can create an "installation" piece that is simply not possible or feasible to represent with physical materials, and part of the "beauty" and "genius" of these pieces will not be so much the parts that are "fixed" but rather all those algorithms and programs that keep a piece invigorating and refreshing.

bullet Fractalus! | 27 Aug : 13:04

Comments: 76

Registered: 26 Mar : 11:41
I came across this quote last night from this great book i'm currently reading, "The Practice & Science of Drawing by Harold Speed (written in 1917):

"It is here that the photograph fails, it can only at best give mechanical accuracy, whereas art gives the impression of a live, individual consciousness. Where the recording instrument is a live individual, there is no mechanical standard of accuracy possible, as every recording instrument is a different personality. And it is the subtle difference in the individual rendering of nature that are the life-blood of art. The photograph, on account of being chained to mechanical accuracy, has none of this play of life to give it charm."


"It is this perfect accuracy, this lack of play, of variety, that makes the machine-made article so lifeless. Wherever there is life there is variety, and the substitution of the machine-made for the hand-made article has impoverished the world to a greater extent then we are probably yet aware of."

bullet Fractalus! | 27 Aug : 13:11

Comments: 76

Registered: 26 Mar : 11:41
A bit off-topic but they asked famous underground cartoonist Robert Crumb to speak at a "DVD and entertainment packaging" conference, and this is the postcard he sent them back:

"The title of my lecture shall be, ‘why is modern package design so god-awful wretched, depressing & badly conceived?’

"But in actuality, I won’t be able to make it. I got too much else going on around that time; visitors coming, deadlines to meet, etc., etc. Too bad, since I could rave all night about the terrible state of contemporary commercial design and how there was once a golden age in which even the smallest, most humble commercial products came attractively presented; a card of buttons, a book of matches, a can of beans, a bottle of hair tonic, a five-cent candy bar. Records’ labels were things of beauty, gaudy or dignified. Covers of cheap pulp magazines were vivid, lurid, beautifully designed with powerful logos. Imaginative, attractive lettering was everywhere. Standards of lay-out and design were high everywhere, from the fanciest studios of New York to the itinerant sign painters in the smallest podunk towns.

"What went wrong? And now with computers, it seems to have only gotten worse!! Sorry I can’t make it. Oh sorry, I’d just be a big party pooper anyway.

—R. Crumb"

All I can say is, right on!


bullet fastluck | 06 Sep : 00:00
Comments: 1

Registered: 05 Sep : 23:49
I think graphics are extremely important. What I find painful, is that games like Bard's Tale and World Karate Championship, that sucked me into their fascinating world for hours to days at a time, and captured my imagination when I was forced to be away from my computer to make a living, are no longer being made.

Remember Pool of Radiance? That was a really good game. So as soon as the new Pool of Radiance was released, I purchased it. It didn't look any better than the original game (after 10 years, I guess the original looked better in my imagination). What was hard for me to understand, was why wasn't this game as good as its namesake?

The quality of games does seem to suffer as the quality of graphics improves. And there's no reason for it, except maybe that developers are spending so much time trying to keep up with the fast pace of developments in computer processing power and graphic hardware technology, they don't have time to make good games like they used to.

But as the pace of technology change slows, and the need for hardware improvements declines (just how good can it possibly get?), I believe that developers will be forced to create a more playable game in order to sell enough copies to pay for its development. Where I pay $50.00 for a crappy title that my kid likes and I might spend 10 hours on before I quit playing it, I'd gladly pay $150 for a The Bard's Tale 3D, with better graphics, that's at least as compelling as the original.

John Reynolds

bullet Matt Barton | 07 Sep : 11:44

Comments: 169

What's really funny, John, is that some of the biggest games now are actually asking other players to fill in the gaps--I'm talking about popular titles like City of Heroes.

What we chiefly need is a modern J.R.R. Tolkein who has the time, energy, and ambition to create not only a coherent and highly detailed virtual world, but also clever and witty enough to create an engaging matrix of story threads to go with it. One of the largest problems with modern RPGs and games in general is that whereas the original "back in the day" games could only go outside of gaming to find inspiration and tap resources, modern game-makers are able to draw purely from older videogames. The result is nothing short of incestuous, with all of the problems that adjective connotes.

Tolkein drew from his extensive knowledge of myth and lore to create his virtual world for his Ring trilogy. What is truly fascinating about what Tolkein did, but what no one else seems capable of doing, is integrating each part of this virtual world into a giant, all-encompassing matrix of story threads. I realize I'm being a bit complex here with my verbiage; but hopefully this makes some sense.

For instance, each "item" in Middle-Earth, be it a race of creatures, a magical staff, even a freakin' horse--all of these items would play not only into the virtual world but also this massive story matrix. That's not just any horse; that's Shadowfax, and here's his ancestry. Here's the story behind the orcs. Here's the story behind the special dagger that was able to injure the Nazgul king. All of these stories are related and cannot easily be removed without damaging the intregrity of the whole. Tolkein wasn't just a writer; he's an architect.

Now, could we do the same thing with a computer RPG? You bet. In many ways, it'd be easier to do this with a computer RPG than with pen and paper. The problem is that no one has the raw imagination and sheer brainpower to concoct such a massive story matrix and draw together all of the "items" in the game into it in a way that is (a) interesting and (b) important. I say "important" because it's not enough just to tack on a silly story to explain the origins of say, a strange black dagger. Unless that story of the knife can be worked into the larger story arc, it's not living up to its potential. It's not just that the knife is important; it's that the story behind the knife ought to play into the game and be a vital, engaging part of it.

bullet Matt Barton | 07 Sep : 13:07

Comments: 169

Ha, I hope you guys noticed this--

Read "GAMESTARS LIVE – COCKS OF THE WORLD DESCEND" heheh...That picture of the retrogamer is mean, but priceless. Too bad they didn't get you-know-who on film.

bullet Matt Barton | 03 Oct : 21:20

Comments: 169

Guess what--Sam and Max 2 may be coming soon to a EB near you! A new company is hoping to revitalize the genre--3D style.

"I don't think 3D was ever done right," Connors said. "Once the switch was made, the budgets went up and developers couldn't afford to create the immersiveness you expect in a 3D world. Done right, a highly immersive 3D adventure game could push the genre back into the mainstream."

bullet Molloy | 26 Oct : 17:20
Comments: 10

Registered: 30 Mar : 13:50
I don't know that UK Resistance is a good example of naked aggression. It's a satire website.

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