Have we got it wrong with graphics?


When I was working at Codemasters in the mid eighties Richard Darling was considered to be a gaming god with a string of number one titles at Mastertronic and then Codemasters to his name. So it was really interesting that the game machine he had at home was a dated Atari VCS 2600 console when he could easily have used a far more powerful and modern machine like a Commodore Amiga or Atari ST instead. The reason he gave was that gameplay was the most important thing, not graphics. And that the VCS 2600 had finely crafted and polished games in which the gameplay was paramount.

This is a debate that has cropped up again and again over the years. Always the platform makers give us ever higher graphics capabilities. And nearly always game developers throw ever increasing resources at utilising those graphics capabilities to the maximum. What a game looks like has become the most important thing.

Yet talk to serious gamers about their favourite games. Often you hear the names of titles like Elite, Goldeneye and Super Mario 64. Games with quite miserable graphics compared with more modern offerings.

And this seems to be something that Nintendo understand better than Sony and Microsoft, which has given them a massive competetive advantage. Basically Nintendo did not go HDTV with the Wii whilst their competitors did with their latest consoles. This looks relatively sensible as the vast majority of homes do not have HDTV and the adoption rate will be relatively slow because non HD TVs do a perfectly good job.

The advantages to Nintendo are firstly that it makes their console cheaper to manufacture. This means that they can sell the base console at a profit whilst their competitors have to subsidise the retail price. It also gives Nintendo far more room to manoevre when it comes to using the price mechanism to take on that competition. The second advantage is that games are a lot easier, quicker and cheaper to develop. In fact they are more comparable with PS2 games in this area. This, obviously, has a massive effect on what appears on the game shop shelf and when it appears. Quite simply it should be far easier for a publisher to make a profit on Wii, which explains why so much development resource has been directed at it.


  1. Although nothing new, this is absolutely correct.
    I often think gameplay is only important to us more mature gamers who have seen video games develop over the last 20 plus years, and that the younger generation are more superficial, with graphics being most important to them (ala the bubble gum MTV generation).
    I think I am mistaken.
    The Wii has obviously demonstrated otherwise, but I myself have been amazed this xmas period when talking with younger gamers just how excited they are about the Wii – the fact that you can swing a pretend racket to hit a virtual ball is much more exciting to them than the lastest advancements in graphical prowess.
    This is not to suggest all games on the Wii have better gameplay than 360 / PS3 (of course not!) but does show how a new gaming mechanic demonstrated by the Wii has captured the imaginations of the mass market much more than next generation graphics can hope to.
    This next comment may sound contradictory, but personally I prefer the more hardcore oriented platforms (ie 360) as I actually believe the quality of game play on such games on offer is superior to the Wii (and not because of the graphics), but because of other improvements offered by next gen consoles such as better computer AI, not to mention online gaming etc plus the fact I still prefer a traditional controller for most games.

  2. It’s incorrect to equate naming one’s favourite games as oldies to meaning graphics don’t matter. More often than not replaying these oldies is a chore, and then suddenly graphics, as well as controls, DO matter. And the current crop of games is too recent to have a measurable lasting effect. I’m pretty sure there will be young adults in the next decade who will fondly look back on Portal as their favourite game of all time.

    I do agree, though, that graphics, though important, should not be the number 1 focus of hardware and software developers. But any “back in the good old days” musing is really not part of the issue.

  3. Short answer to the question – yes.

    Although, in many ways it’s like saying that movie industry got it wrong with CG special effects.

    I personally think that the jump to HD was the single determental step this gen. The gfx chips, CPU and memory are very powerfull now and would have been more than enough for graphics and the extra power would push the bounderies many times over in other gameplay aspects. If it wasnt for HD (which essentially is quadruppling the pixels on screen) it might have been a different story.

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