Graphical abstraction and the Wii

Graphical abstraction is a bit of a hobby horse for me. Mark J.P. Wolf wrote that since graphics have become so complex and videogames strive so hard for realism, a return to graphical abstraction is an untapped resource. Lots of rhythm-based videogames use abstraction—notice the scrolling, never ending fretboard in Guitar Hero, or the trippy backgrounds in DDR?—and I’ve noticed quite a few Wii titles using abstract graphics.

I think it’s a hardware restriction thing. When developers can’t push the system hardware to produce near photorealistic visuals, they have to find another way to make their game visually appealing. I’m playing through Okami, which was of course, a PS2 game before its release for the Wii. After watching it for a few minutes, my roommate’s girlfriend remarked, “I guess I don’t like watching this game because it isn’t pretty.” “What the hell are you talking about?” everybody in the room replied. “This game is gorgeous.” She shrugged. “I guess, but it’s just not realistic.” Anybody who’s seen this early tech demo of Okami knows that it was a good thing the limitations of the PS2 hardware required a less realistic look. The hand-drawn look suits it.

No More Heroes uses a similar cel-shading technique to look like an adult cartoon, and I’m interested in what I’ve seen from Madworld, which looks like it uses cel-shading to flagrantly rip off Sin City. I watched the trailer, which basically pointed out “Look! You can kill people with different things!” I need more to a game than just graphic violence. That said, even if the game turns out to totally suck, I’ll probably rent it anyway to check out the unique visual style.

Obstructions can be a good thing. The Oulipo writers in France used them, Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth used them in The Five Obstructions, and now Wii developers use them to create visually fascinating games. Sure photorealism is impressive, but there’s more than one way to make a graphically impressive game.

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~ by Ian D. on May 16, 2008.

One Response to “Graphical abstraction and the Wii”

  1. “I think it’s a hardware restriction thing. When developers can’t push the system hardware to produce near photorealistic visuals, they have to find another way to make their game visually appealing.”

    In Okami this is true, they claimed it to be the case during development of the original PS2 version.

    In no more heroes, it seems more intentional. Take into account the personality of the developer of the game; Mr suda51, you will notice that he is never into the mainstream when it comes to developing games, hence one will expect his game to look ‘different’ from the mainstream. More importantly if you look at the bosses they all seem to be in the league of “comics style personalities” and design – more fitting for a cell shaded environment rather than a realistic one. Also a hint of the game character being referenced as an “OTAKU”(a term that usually provokes images of Japanese animae) suggest cell shaded visuals may be very intentional from the early development stages. That said, I am confident that if this game was released in a console other than the wii, cell shading will still be the most suitable.

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