Sunday, November 16, 2008

Style over Substance -OR- N Sixty-What?

While the first part of my title seems out of place for most of things we deal with on an everyday level, it's not out of line looking at old games. Old games in a 3D graphic style seem to look more dated more quickly. It probably doesn't help if you're seeing ports of other systems' games either.

I fired up my old N64 over the weekend because my older son wanted to see The Ocarina of Time. He saw the preview of the Wii Virtual Console version on Super Smash Brothers, and he seemed interested since it was another Zelda game. I was excited that I didn't have to rip the cartridge apart and figure out if I could replace the battery that held the game saves. At first it looked a little odd, especially at the very beginning. The texture filtering during cutscenes and the fog in the distance just scream 1997. After we played it for a few hours, we stopped looking at the graphics, and it was more about the game. We took a break from that and I popped in a few other carts to see what I could get to work. Mario Kart 64 and Quake 2 didn't run. (Perhaps numerophobia?) BioFreaks and Mortal Kombat 4 did. (Well, there goes that theory.) BioFreaks didn't look too bad except for one character's lack of collision detecion on his own parts. We also picked the less human-looking characters. When we put MK4 in, I was pleased with the tight controls and the sound design that I remembered. However, the human characters looked wrong. Liu Kang's neck was a little underdesigned. His head was like a octahedron instead of, well, a head. Of course, it's possible that the arcade version of MK4 doesn't look as bad as that. I sincerely hope so.

When I get old Street Figher games out and play them, they don't feel so dated as these games do. Even the Zelda on GBA (which itself is a port of the Super Nintendo version) seems more crisp and fresh than the N64 one. I think a lot of this has to do with the art style. If you try to use an overly realistic art style, you set yourself up for looking dated down the road. I'm sure Pit Fighter was perceived as cutting edge at the time but looks laughable now. On the other hand , if the art is done with the hardware in mind, then the game looks nice even a generation later. Zelda certainly looked better than MK4, and I'm guessing that Zelda's character models actuallly have less geometric detail but have an easier time holding up in Zelda's slightly cartoony art style. I'm not really looking forward to seeing the N64 version of Quake 2 again, since I played Quake 2 on a fairly decent (at the time) PC and that's how I remember the game.

So, will Metal Gear Solid 4 and Resident Evil 5 still look good 10 years from now, or are we going to complain about the texture quality and antialiasing then? Also, will some companies keep making 2D games so they can keep recylcling the sprites over and over?

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