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Realtime Aesthetics

Realtime Aesthetics
« on: November 18, 2010, 10:20:36 am »

Judging the Independent Games Festival, it strikes me that there is no category for the most important aesthetic quality in realtime interactive presentations, such as video games. There's three aesthetic categories we can nominate entries for: Excellence in Design, Excellence in Visual Art, Excellence in Audio. But several of the projects that I find more interesting don't particularly excel in any of those, yet I find them beautiful experiences. They are beautiful because of their atmosphere

Atmosphere -mood, simulation- is the one aesthetic quality that is special in realtime art. Atmosphere is usually established through a skillful combination of the many constituent parts that make up a game: models, textures, animations, visual effects, sounds, music, interaction, autonomous processes, ai, etc. It is the combination of all these that determines how "excellent" a game is in the category of atmosphere. And the way in which these properties complement each other is far more important than the quality of any of the parts.

It's a pity "Excellence in Atmosphere" is lacking as a category in the IGF.
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Re: Realtime Aesthetics
« Reply #1 on: December 20, 2010, 11:17:30 pm »

Personally I'd say that aesthetics come under design. Isn't design essentially the way it all fits together or are you supposed to be judging design based on something else?
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Re: Realtime Aesthetics
« Reply #2 on: December 20, 2010, 11:29:03 pm »

I wish. for most jury members "design" means the design of rules and mechanics.
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Re: Realtime Aesthetics
« Reply #3 on: December 20, 2010, 11:30:26 pm »

I'm not against isolating aesthetics.
And I personally think it's a very wide field. I think humans often underestimate how many of our decisions and preferences are based on aesthetics of some kind.
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Re: Realtime Aesthetics
« Reply #4 on: December 21, 2010, 12:43:23 am »

So it's more of a failing of the judges than the categories then  Wink?

I'd personally see design of rules and mechanics as essentially gameplay. So good rules and mechanics = good gameplay (essentially). Though it could probably be quite beneficial to separate aesthetics into a separate category if it's not getting the attention it deserves at the moment.

I think humans often underestimate how many of our decisions and preferences are based on aesthetics of some kind.
Definitely. I'd guess that the majority of decisions made that can't be justified rationally are based on some subconscious sense of aesthetic.
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Re: Realtime Aesthetics
« Reply #5 on: December 21, 2010, 02:23:35 pm »

I'm not against isolating aesthetics.
And I personally think it's a very wide field. I think humans often underestimate how many of our decisions and preferences are based on aesthetics of some kind.

It is a shame people do not consciously choose aesthetics more often... Aesthetics is difficult. It sounds like a subcategory rather than a rating, because I am sure the experience of Bohm would depend on aesthetic gameplay as much as scenery. In the same sense that Amnesia has freightning gameplay. Gameplay is emergent from rules and mechanics but the experience of a game as a whole is not purely in gameplay nor merely in 'everything else', which is where the whole narratology vs ludology debate was so unjustly polarized. In a strange way the debate is being denied by academics (as-if it never happened in a 1984 way) but the separation is deeply ingrained in designers, players and reviewers. I noticed with Dinner Date some reviewers talked story, gameplay, story, gameplay. Others, fortunately, talked about the whole, which is rather wonderful.

So could the new Doom win an aesthetics award in principle, even if it is unlikely the scene could be so beautiful given the gameplay?

Should there be an award for the game that best evokes a sense of beauty? Best character portrait? Best biography?
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Re: Realtime Aesthetics
« Reply #6 on: December 21, 2010, 05:13:04 pm »

The reason why the ludology-narratology conflict still exists -albeit in secret- is that most video games haven't embraced their medium as a singular form yet. In other words: most video games are ludic experiences with a narrative skin pulled over. Game developers have not figured out how or haven't had the courage to allow the two elements to support and express each other. Probably because that would almost certainly mean that they would have to let go of the conventional and conveniently computer-like rules-based forms of play in favour of more expressive and playful (!) forms of interaction. To do the later right requires an artist's voice. And that, ultimately, is the thing that is lacking most in video games. The straight path to both maturity of the medium and wide social and cultural acceptance is to create a central place in the production process for an artist, an author.

But that would mean abandoning both the comfortable zone of competitive games and the commodity-manufacturing production method. Which is why any change will probably have to come from below, from the independent developers.
(which is why it is ok to kick some of these lazy buggers in the butt once in a while  Grin)
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Re: Realtime Aesthetics
« Reply #7 on: December 21, 2010, 06:20:27 pm »

I like the word atmosphere, if it can be used in a wide enough sense (and not just mystery / horror atmosphere). I see it as a sort of holistic experience and something that is not possible to explain in any other way, other than playing the actual game.

Nowday when many reviewers divide game score into graphics/sound/etc, the "atmosphere" is taken into account in a way that it should. Seeing things like "the graphics are not good, but that does not matter becuase..." is very common. For my part, if the something does not matter, then I cannot see the worth in bringing it up as a negative point, yet this is very common. I think this is because it is common to focus on a very narrow aspects and then compare that to set preferences (for graphics: resolution, realism, effects, polygoncount, etc). Instead, a critic should only really focus on how it all comes together, and not single out specific features that is not really noticeable unless when scrutinized from a specialist viewpoint.

With both Penumbra and Amnesia we have heard this a lot, so it is extra annoying for me personally Smiley This sort of focus on indivual aspects is probably also one of the things that are holdding back more artistic games, that have more holistic value. Instead there is a clear focus on each aspect of the game. Furthermore, I have heard from many studios that they are looking for people with spearhead knowledge in very narrow fields. I think this provides game where everyone is concerned with a specific aspect of a game, and nobody trying to maintain the big artistic picture.
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Re: Realtime Aesthetics
« Reply #8 on: December 21, 2010, 07:04:05 pm »

There must be a way to put a very small team really in charge of the creative production of video games.

A bit like how in cinema the director, the cinematographer and the editor form the creative triumvirate. The importance of each role, and the possible addition of some -script writer, composer, set designer, costume designer, actors, etc- depends on the nature of the production. But what's important is that each and every one of these people is an artist! (despite of the fact that cinema too is a highly technical art form, just like games)

In all but the smallest game development studios, this sort of structure seems impossible. But it's the only way towards a mature art form.
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Re: Realtime Aesthetics
« Reply #9 on: January 05, 2011, 01:40:17 pm »

Quote
A bit like how in cinema the director, the cinematographer and the editor form the creative triumvirate.

This is exactly how it works in most big studios.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game_director
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Re: Realtime Aesthetics
« Reply #10 on: January 05, 2011, 05:59:06 pm »

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A bit like how in cinema the director, the cinematographer and the editor form the creative triumvirate.

This is exactly how it works in most big studios.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game_director

Except for the part where each of these is an artist!...
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Re: Realtime Aesthetics
« Reply #11 on: January 05, 2011, 07:30:28 pm »

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Except for the part where each of these is an artist!...

Why would you consider a film director being a artist, but a game director not?
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Re: Realtime Aesthetics
« Reply #12 on: January 06, 2011, 09:34:54 am »

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Except for the part where each of these is an artist!...
Why would you consider a film director being a artist, but a game director not?

I'm not going there. If this is not obvious to you, then believe what you want. And let's agree to disagree.
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