I’ve just finished reading the online article “Videogame Aesthetics : We’re all going to Die!” by David Hayward, and highly recommend taking a look. Its an excellent examination of the space of visual representation of games, making a direct reference to Scott McCloud’s picture plane system of dividing visual representation into a triangle with three poles: abstraction, iconography, and photo-realism. Hayward highlights the industry’s struggle and obsession with photo-realism, but points out the huge opportunities there are for those willing to explore the undiscovered country towards abstraction and iconography. Perhaps the reward may not be commercial success immediately, but for those with the time, and inclination, there is a vast creative landscape to be conquered. Citing references such as Shadow of the Colussus, obviously Rez, Killer 7, Darwinia, and Okami, he points out the number of developers that are willing to brave it into these areas, Columbus style, while also making the observation that this may be the only way some developers will survive, given the vast costs involved in making near-photo-realistic art assets.
On a side note, I’ve been playing Sly 3 : Honor among thieves, and absolutely loving it. I have such a soft spot for the Sly games, in terms of personality, dialogue, game structure/variety and environment design. While playing through, it really struck me how close they’ve got visually to true cartoon aesthetic. The level of detail, the texturing, the voice acting, dialogue, and especially the animation have really got it right. It did get me wondering what could be improved on the next generation of hardware? Theres some obvious things, such as curves are still relatively angular, and perhaps the environments and characters could have a little bit more detail, but in general adding too much more detail would detract from the aesthetic. Could this mean that art asset generation for cartoon games has peaked? Again, this could be the way forward for companies that don’t want to go down the megastudio route. Anyway, play Sly 3, its fantastic.