Have you ever seen the rain?
The old expression “stopping to smell the roses” has been bouncing around my head a lot lately. Not so much in my everyday life but in my gaming activities. Most of the time when I game it is usually with a sense of purpose. I am the ultimate hero off to save the galaxy, the commander of armies defending the mother land or a plumber off to rescue his beloved. I have a goal and I set out to achieve that goal with determination and little time for anything else. This approach is only encouraged by the fact that I review games. I have to complete them and get a review written in a reasonable time frame to remain relevant. But I have begun to wonder am I selling games short by taking this path? Do these epic productions put together by hundreds or even thousands of people deserve more from me? I am starting to think the answer is yes.
I started to come to this realisation during the early stages of this gaming generation. The game was Infamous: Second Son and for the first time I found myself stopping and taking in the beauty that the game served up. The sunsets over the water, the way the smoke curled out of a chimney and that beautiful neon power. This was a game that took pride in providing a visual feast for gamers. I have noticed the same attention to detail in The Division. Wandering deserted streets of New York I have come across fully detailed electrical stores, life like movie posters and wonderfully realistic piles of garbage. Perhaps The Division’s crowning glory graphics wise though is the weather effects on show. The snow glints as It floats through the air, foggy streets seem both realistic and menacing and getting caught in a storm is a marvel of water and lighting coming together to provide a treat for my eyes. None of these touches are essential to the game, they don’t effect my goal one iota but they do add to my experience in ways I don’t think I appreciated fully until recently.
I think this, in part at least, comes from the graphical power that can be harnessed on modern systems. I am pretty sure that we all agree that 90% of the time AAA titles look good, especially when compared to previous generations of games. The difference between a good and great looking game is no longer as obvious as it once was. It doesn’t simply come down to more polygons or a new graphics engine, especially as these days’ graphics engines tend to be used in multiple games from differing studios ala Unreal. No the difference between a good looking game and a great looking game in the modern era is the small details. A few extra wrinkles on a character, a realistic wind rustling leaves even something as small as readable headlines on a newspaper that is lying in the street can add that extra something that elevates the game. The sad thing is I have a feeling that this detail is under appreciated by the masses, myself included. These details must be painstaking to include. Artists and programmers spend hundreds of hours on making a realistic subway sign only for players to rush past it while hunting down their objective.
This is why I am particularly pleased with the increasingly popular photo modes that are appearing in games. The ability for a player to stop and just absorb it all in, pan around the landscape and take a snapshot that they can share with friends. Even the fact that basic screenshot capability is standard now allows players to perhaps go back and look at what they missed when they were playing. The perfect snapshot of an exploding demon can go from gory and excessive to a thing of visual beauty when studied and pondered over. Just think about it, an artist (or ten) had to design that speck of blood flying off to the left and someone worked extra hard to get that chunk of flesh in the middle of the screen looking just right. As I mull this over in my brain my appreciation for the sheer amount of talent and work that goes into a game these days increases at an amazing rate. These photo modes (and video modes like the one in GTA V) allow this hard work to be appreciated and shared. It is my sincerest hope that they imbue the people that put this effort in with a sense of satisfaction, the feeling of a job well done.
So this is my little thanks to these people. Thanks to the girl who created the dog food label on the can in the trash. Thanks to the bloke who was in charge of making a piece of paper blow through an empty street. Thanks to group who decided that an eyeball should explode in a fountain of bits and liquid. Thank you for your hard under appreciated work. For the rest of you out there I implore you to occasionally just stop and take it all in. Observe the art around you, immerse yourself in the detail. Take just a few seconds of your precious gaming time to appreciate what is before you. Basically I want to ask you if you have ever seen the rain? If the answer is no perhaps it is time to change that.