The OzSpot 07/08/12: Photorealism in games, EA vs. Zynga

Do games have to be photorealistic to effectively portray emotions like sadness and love?

On this week's show we map out the upcoming legal showdown between EA and Zynga by getting advice from a real professor of law. Does EA have a strong case? Or will Zynga come out on top?

We also look at some recent comments from 2K boss Christoph Hartmann regarding the need for more photorealistic games. According to Hartmann, this is the only way games will be able to portray emotions like sadness and love in an effective way. Is he right? Or is he forgetting about some very important games?

Podcast begins at the 5:30 mark.


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Discussion

29 comments
Monkey_cant_BDC
Monkey_cant_BDC

gamespot australia dont know jack, get rid of them all including that freak from the goonies

MagicQuinn
MagicQuinn

What is the song they use at the beginning and end of the cast?

abcdefgabcdefgz
abcdefgabcdefgz

I dont know. I cried when the baby metroid died trying to save samus at end of super metroid so I dont think photo realistic graphics are needed to give emotion. Just make good games such as super metroid on snes

albatraum
albatraum

Why do people still ask this question? It has been answered many times and a long time ago... Ico... Shadow of the Colossus... many more...

7_armageddon_7
7_armageddon_7

Photorealistic graphics needed to portray emotions? Heck, many real life actors out there fail at portraying emotions and complex feelings.

 

In any case, does that mean that animated characters aren't effective at portraying emotions? I would wholeheartedly disagree. In fact, because traditional animation involves extracting the essential facial or corporal features associated with given emotions, it is much clearer and usually more effective. And yet, skilled animators can also communicate the most subtle of things.

 

The more complex a medium becomes, the harder it is to portray even simple emotions without it looking bizarre.

pal_080
pal_080

Pretty sure movies use things like Music and Juxtaposition and other emotionally deceiving techniques to make an audience feel they way the movie creator wants them to.  Much more so than facial expressions or photo-realistic tears.  This just sounds like an excuse to me!  Graphics are great but they aren't what's holding games back from being more emotionally gripping. 

jomipira
jomipira

It's funny to see people now going the other way and saying that graphics don't count at all. They do. It's so obvious they do! For instance when people looked at New Vegas everybody said it looked like Fallout 3 with an aging engine, when Skyrim appeared everybody was gasping at the great open world graphics. Go try and play PSOne titles and see how it's really hard to enjoy them today, for the most part. (I know you're favorite 20 year old game is still the best experience in the world today, just take it as an exception).

Graphics are the the materialization of the visual part of the game, so it's a huge part of how we experience each new world. Go play Uncharted and put it with Atari 2600 graphics on it, then come and speak about the lack of importance of visual fidelity. Try and make Arkham City on the Game Boy and see if it's the same thing.

But graphics are the concretion of an visual and gameplay plan, they are not the only thing in a game. It's just as stupid to say that you only need great sound design as it is to say you only need great graphics. A game is a mixture of a ton of different parts, each of them are needed to create a great experience.

What bugs me is the comparison to movies. It's such a different medium, that relies on such different things, that it really makes me mad that people think of games as movies with controllers. They are not. Mario, Sonic, Dark Souls, Super Meat Boy, Little Big Planet, Journey, Space Invaders, Pong, Donkey Kong, Burguer Time are obvious examples of games that are loved by many and have nothing to do with movies. Heck, even story or lore driven games work because of the interactivity, it has nothing to do with a passive story telling medium like cinema. Try and make someone watch 100 hours of Oblivion with no input and see how it is impossible to enjoy. It's something that needs to be played and only works when it's played. The sense of wonder of roaming the countryside does not exist on a passive experience, after 30 seconds people are bored. So the way games achieve their goal, the way they entertain or create emotion is so different from film, that it doesn't make sense to compare the two.

swyg
swyg

There's so much more depth and use for only letting the soundtrack invoke emotion from players.  Having completely accurate facial animations isn't going to do anything unless the story is liked and effective to the player.  An amazingly atmospheric, melodic, and memorable soundtrack on the other hand is not only instant in succeeding with anyone, but it is so much more effective.  Music is a universal language, so there will almost never be a player that can't feel something from a well thought out soundtrack.  Another advantage:  even if the soundtrack doesn't invoke emotion from a player, at least it can be utilized as background music and not forced to be taken seriously like a game's facial animation or story.     

alexmann88
alexmann88

SNES games like Terranigma, Chrono Trigger and even Breath of Fire have evoked stronger emotional responses (for me) than games with far superior graphics. Graphics aren't nearly as important as a gripping storyline, poignant music, and rounded characters.

MilkyChocolate
MilkyChocolate

No, graphcis don't matter AT ALL. What you need is a good STORY!

Falru
Falru

I can find real emotions in words that I read in books. All you need to convey emotion is a writer who's actually passionate about what they're writing.

CalamityKate
CalamityKate

No, photorealism isn't necessary.  Grave of the Fireflies is one of the most genuinely sad movies ever made.  Perfect Blue can stimulate fear and anxiety better than the vast majority of live action movies.

 

But this is about games.  The first Mass Effect had the worst graphics and facial animations in the game, yet I found myself genuinely moved by the "I Remember Me" encounter.

 

No it isn't necessary because it has been done with less than photorealistic imagery.

 

That said, will it help?  I have no doubt that it could in some instances.  That silent or monochrome movies have the ability to evoke strong emotions doesn't mean that sound and color can't be used to good effect.

 

Necessary, no.  Helpful, in many circumstances almost certainly.

myungish
myungish

I can't believe they thought this was worth discussing. Of course you don't need photorealistic visuals to portray emotions. All you need is good writing and execution. Did Chrono Trigger need photorealism to portray love, sorrow, wonder, terror, joy, hope, as well as many others? No. Did (most of) the games of the Final Fantasy series? There are so many games out there that proves this guy dead wrong.

Plataea
Plataea

Anyone who has played The Wind Waker will know that a game does not need photorealism for a face to display emotion effectively.

johnnyauau
johnnyauau

Oh well. That depends on the type of game. If it's a serious game, of course photorealism might work if the console or PC can handle it. (handhelds can't handle it). If it's a fun game, then you won't need to. I can't remember a fun game that uses photorealism to show how funny the characters were. Of course it would be cool if like the Seinfeld show can have lifelike characters. That's just me. Anyway, keep up the good work.

xavvor1
xavvor1

Good podcast but fail by comparison to the Hotspot!

MuddVader
MuddVader

You don't have to portray the characters being emotional in an exact fashion as much as simply have emotional things happen.Aerith died, and I was sad. Not because it was photo realistic, but because I grew attached to the character.Mass Effect isn't photo realistic, but I've NEVER been so attached to video game characters as I was to my Shepherd, Tali, and Garrus.LOST ODYSSEY is proof that all you need is some good writing, and you can make a gamer get a good case of the feels. I never beat the game, and while the main story was alright, that games Memory story things were masterfully written.

macca366
macca366

God no. Ever heard of Toy Story? The most emotional game for me was probably back when I played Beyond Good & Evil back when it came out. Portraying and invoking emotion in players is about narrative and characterisation, and it can be complimented or enhanced with music and visuals

Addice
Addice

As long as games have good stories then you don't need photorealism. Having well written dialogue can portray emotion as well as photorealism and might possibly be able to do a better job at it. Photorealism definitely is not the only way to portray emotions.

Inconsistancy
Inconsistancy

This player needs volume control, nearly deafened me.

 

You don't need visuals in the first place to convey/evoke emotions, books and music can succeed there. And in visuals, plenty of non-realistic art styles that still work fine in animation, movies, games. 

 

Very little to do with the visual, much more to do with the story(obviously)

sircyrus
sircyrus

Emotions can be *portrayed* without photorealism, but there is a difference between portraying emotion and invoking emotion.

 

Not to get all science nerdy, but our brains are wired to respond to other people's facial expressions, as well as emotion in voice, and body language. We can hear a person who is excited, and we don't need to see them to get a sense of their excitement. In a similar vein, we can see the silhouette of a person who is distraught, and we don't need to see their face or hear them to know what they're feeling.

 

Thanks to quality voice acting that vocal aspect has been brought into games. As anyone who has played a game with good voice acting knows, it makes a huge impact on how you can connect to the characters.

 

The body language can also be translated into games, and doesn't have to be photorealistic - or even human. Think back to the Magic Carpet in the Aladdin movies for an example of how body language can be used to convey emotion even in something that we wouldn't ever think of as having emotions.

 

Yet while body language is capable of portraying emotion, it's not going to invoke it. Voice acting, on the other hand, is very much capable of making someone 'feel' emotion rather than just recognize it... so long as the voice acting is good.

 

But to get the full package, the facial expressions have to be accurately portrayed as well. This is where photorealism is needed.

 

When we see an expression, our brains do something known as facial mimicry. This is literally our brain making the muscles of our face mimic the expression on someone else's face in order to help us understand what that person is feeling. This happens very quickly, and we don't do it consciously, but it's an important part of us being able to empathize and feel what others are feeling.

 

If a game has low quality graphics it is not going to be able to accurately portray facial expressions in such a way that it will trigger our facial mimicry. The game will be able to portray graphics, and we'll know what emotion the characters are showing, but it wont be able to invoke those emotions in the gamer.

 

To be perfectly honest though, I'm not sure that games *do* need that photorealism yet. The stories and characters are generally not mature enough to require that level of connection with the characters. Until the characters in games start behaving like real people, rather than like caricatures, eye candy, or heroes who mow down hundreds of people without batting an eyelash, I don't think photorealism is as necessary as Mr Hartmann seems to think it is. Games already rely too much on fancy graphics, sacrificing substance for a glossy exterior. There are better ways that games can move forward before photorealism becomes necessary.

TrueProphecy22
TrueProphecy22

It's a connection to characters formed through great storytelling and characterization that makes us feel emotions in any medium.  A character can be as photo-realistic as they want, I'm not going to feel their emotions if I haven't become attached to them.

Fayt1986
Fayt1986

 @MilkyChocolate

 dont forget great music...... stuff like final fantasy and silent hill just wouldnt be the same without it.

CalamityKate
CalamityKate

 @Falru I agree completely.  In some cases, even moreso with your particular example.  Reading Never Let Me Go is a profoundly moving experience; watching the movie version, which is well done, loses quite a bit.  The same is true of The Road - book profoundly affecting, the movie well made, but lacking depth.

 

I think Laura has a point - the marketing people need a hook to sell new hardware and new game engines.

 

None of which is to say that better graphics can't help; just that they aren't a requirement in every instance.

sircyrus
sircyrus

 @myungish

I believe he picked the wrong word when he spoke of "portraying" emotions. What he was trying to get at was not merely portraying emotions, but making those emotions be able to hit the players the same way a movie can. Being able to accurately portray emotion on the face of a character is needed for that, and to accurate portray emotion it needs photorealism.

 

Consider the difference between an anime face with tears, versus a photograph of a real person who is distraught. There is a world of difference there, and that same divide exists in game graphics - though it is rapidly closing due to games like The Last of Us, or LA Noire.