On Realism, Graphics and Cameras.

June 11, 2022


Twitter is a breeding ground for terrible takes. Nuance and reason are dead on a website which limits your thoughts to 280 symbols a message, even if you string those into threads. Hence why the only posts that really gain traction on Twitter are either memes, jokes or very inflammatory statements.

Such as:

Boy. Where do we start?

The Newest of The Last of Us

The reason why this series of tweets exists is the recent announcement of The Last of Us remake for PS5. It left me puzzled. It left many others puzzled. Why remake a perfectly modern game? It still looks impressive today, despite being a game made around technical limitations of the PS3. Didn't it already receive a graphics facelift on PS4 with The Last of Us Remastered?

Do we really need to dedicate human resources towards a remake of a video game that will be a carbon copy of the original gameplay and story-wise?, rather than a new experience, or better, a new original game?

Sony thinks it does.

But not because the PlayStation 3 original was unfinished or unpolished. It was one of the most beloved games of the 7th console generation, up there with Super Mario Galaxy, Halo 3, Call of Duty 4 and Ni No Kuni. It's because for modern Sony, the only acceptable way to sell a game is by making it a technological marvel, a showcase of detailed graphics and realistic rendering.

I was at a Gran Turismo event recently where they had PS1, PS2, PS3 and PS4 games, and the PS1 and the PS2 games, they looked ancient, like why would anybody play this?

- Jim Ryan, Sony Interactive Entertainment president and CEO

This is what an "ancient" game Jim Ryan thinks noone should play looks like

This is what an "ancient" game Jim Ryan thinks noone should play looks like

Remember: Sony needs a product. Plus, you can't charge $100 for a premium edition of a PS3 game released a few years ago, can you? The logic is that PlayStation 5 needs a shiny new graphically intense thing that also is a familiar IP, a technical showcase of a successful franchise that would entice buyers to part with their money in exchange for a shiny new games console that looks like a futuristic air purifier. ...Not that it's easy to get your hands on a PS5 without jumping through a series of hoops, even if you live in the parts of the world not being ravaged by war.

Also, Sony is absolutely hoping to capitalise on the upcoming TV-adaptation of the The Last of Us and marketing the remake alongside it makes more sense than trying to prop up the very polarising sequel, which released in 2020.

But no matter how pretty the new remake is, making the game more technically advanced and realistic isn't going to materially affect the enjoyment of the original text. The selling point of The Last of Us remake is brand new realistic graphics. That's it.

I get why this whole situation rubs people the wrong way. Not only it is a cynical corporate cashgrab, it's spear-headed by a company that reduced its input from lots of fun and diverse games to mainly 18+ rated cinematic experiences featuring gruff protagonists killing a bunch of dudes with an extra focus on realistic/highly advanced graphics as a selling point.

And yet, even though I understand where this poster is coming from, this take is still stupid and reductive:

There's realism and realism

Art styles are only as boring as the artists using them.

Counter to mr. TurboBurpo's thoughts, realism or hyper-realism is not an inherently hack artistic choice that "real artists™" avoid. If done with purpose beyond "Look! Graphics!", with its own voice and style, it can create art that is as resonant as any other style out there.

One can tell when hyper-realism is just used as a video game marketing shtick trying to impress the layman with “the graphics” and when “more real than reality” is used in service of its message, to achieve an artistic goal.

Compare many of the graphically intensive games fashioned as tech demos first, gameplay experiences second to something like Half-Life 2. At the time of it's release Half-Life 2 was a game not only marketed as but popularly considered to be “hyper-realistic”. Yet its realistic artstyle exists not just for the sake of selling graphics cards. HL2's art director Victor Antonov famously used the architecture of Sofia, Bulgaria to create the look of City-17. The art team at Valve went so far as to make very photorealistic (at the time) versions of many landmarks of Bulgaria's capital. Yet City-17 still feels distinct, a separate entity, not a photographic depiction of reality. By purposefully exaggerating certain aspects of the architecture and lighting, throwing alien structures into the existing mix of Soviet 1970s-era concrete buildings and pre-20th centure architectural chic, by adding a layer of unease and oppressive ambiance to what was Sofia, Bulgaria, the artists create a haunting picture of a dying Earth ruled by the oppressive regime of Combine.

Then there's taking realistic graphics and turning the grime up to 11. Killzone 2 on the PS3 was notorious for having such a monotonous palette you could barely see any colours other than shades brown and grey. Released in 2009, at the height of modern realistic military shooter craze, it sat right next to other brown-filter-means-realism FPS games that flooded the market. Yet unlike, say Medal of Honor 2010, or even one of the starters of the trend, Gears of War, its use of dull colour is, in my opinion, excellent. It communicates how oppressive and totalitarian planet Helghan is purely through visuals. The cold brown visuals play incredibly well with the gritty architecture, and they punctuate the red splashes of colour from glowing red Helghast visors and splattered blood, and blue lights that accompany human tech.

"We have cameras"

I can understand why that person's teacher was so keen on discouraging his students from pursuing realism. Some art students just think that good art = realistic/detailed art and strive for detalization and neglect learning a diverse spectrum styles or finding their unique style. Hell, many gamers reduce graphical fidelity to realism alone, and quality of a game to how good the graphics are. But saying "We have cameras" to someone who's not a young art student won't work. Saying "realism is boring and smells" won't make game criticism online more sophisticated.

Firstly because it's extremely reductive and disregards the artistic merits of realism the same way a commenter on an YouTube video saying "graphics have to be real to be good". Secondly, cameras aren't inherently realistic either. Sure, they can capture reality with easy, but just like any tool, they can be manipulated to show reality in whatever way the artist feels like.

These are real pictures taken with a Holga, a cheap and basic camera, with no post-processing applied, just photographic film exposed through a plastic lens. Can we really claim that cameras are inherently realistic? by kamera-man

by clickiemcpete

Closing remarks

I know it's silly to over analyze Twitter shitposts but if anything, this taught me how surface-level one's thinking can be, especially on a social network designed to generate ad revenue from rage clicks. But,

Saying "The dumb take that I posted, repeated and defended in replies isn't actually what I said and if you think this way you're wrong" isn't gonna change the fact that you did, in fact, posted, repeated and defended said take in replies.

Twitter is terrible. I took this out of my system. I'm out.