“The reason why developers want to use a heavy art style is because it means they don’t have to do much work on the graphics. Think Mad World or No More Heroes for the Wii, both games that bombed. Think Okami which bombed for both the PS2 and Wii.”
What? Okami had a very sophisticated graphics engine. It did all kinds of effects that really pushed the PS2 to its limits. Wind Waker also featured a number of graphical technologies that were innovative at the time (it was one of the first Cube games to use depth-of-field, for example). The problem with Okami is simple. It was one of the most boring games I ever played. It probably only sold as well as it did because of the graphics. I tried really hard to like it, but it was just so dull and so trivially easy that the boredom won out. By the time Wind Waker came out, the Gamecube’s fate as the “kiddie console” was sealed, and that game did nothing to help that image (I actually really enjoyed it, but I recognize that most N64 fans wanted something that looked like Twilight Princess). But I wouldn’t say it wasn’t well-crafted. The triforce shard hunt was forced and boring, but as far as how tightly everything worked, it was far better crafted than the majority of PS2 and Xbox games.
Regarding Japanese (and other Asian) culture, it’s like anything else. Aspects of the culture that resonate overseas get exported; alienating aspects don’t. Americans like sushi, Chinese food, Mongolian grills, and martial arts movies. We don’t like the “chibi” style because what looks “cute” to the Japanese looks like “for babies” to us. The problem with NintendoLand isn’t so much “it has an art style” (all video games have an art style, regardless of how deliberate that may be) as it is “it has a Fisher-Price art style.”
Wii Sports had a clean, simple, aesthetic. NintendoLand goes full-bore toddler. The real problem is Nintendo is obsessed with these “concept” games. With Wii Sports Resort, it was the “island concept.” With NintendoLand, it’s the “theme park concept.” The problem is their concepts are stupid and add absolutely nothing to the game. Instead, they add an inconvenient interface and an embarrassing aesthetic.
I bolded the above.
Americans certainly don’t like sushi. Yuppies like to eat it every now and then just like how some of them think foreign films are ‘the best’. But does most of American society? Of course not. The Chinese food and Mexican food and all are not actually ‘Chinese’ or ‘Mexican’. It’s been westernized. And this is fine because this is how Americans like to eat such foods. (I’m reminded of a friend from Austin who was horrified that a favorite foreign restaurant of his [maybe it was Hungarian?] had shut down because it was located in Pflugerville. You see, Pflugerville is filled with farmers who like barbecue, not funky food that Austin restaurants love to sport. The point of this is that just because a minority of some upper middle class in an urban center like a certain foreign cuisine or foreign film, it doesn’t mean the entire nation does.)
I don’t think I’m communicating correctly about the issue of art styles.
Here is Resident Evil 4. It came out on the Gamecube.
I’d never describe Resident Evil 4 as having an ‘art style’. It is certainly crafted finely and fits the game well enough. Resident Evil 4 had no problems selling.
Here is Mad World that has a very noticeable “art style”.
Here is No More Heroes which has another distinct ‘art style’. Like Mad World, it didn’t sell well.
“Are you saying the distinct art styles are cause of the bad sales? Are you, Malstrom? Huh? Huh!?”
I believe that consumers of entertainment do not appreciate craftsmanship when it is there. The consumer just gets lost in the entertainment. When you watch a movie with great acting, you do not stop the movie and declare how amazing the acting is. However, if the acting is bad then you do stop the movie and ‘notice it’. The same goes for music and all other sorts of things that we are not cognizant about. If a gamer is constantly thinking about the controls in a game, then the controls are poorly done. The controls should be invisible to the gamer.
When entertainment has poor craftsmanship, we notice many, many things. Much of it we cannot communicate why we think “it sucks”. When we played E.T. on the Atari 2600, we knew it “sucked” but very few people wasted time articulating why.
There is a very dangerous trend going on in the Game Industry Land where everyone is assuming graphic technology will hit its peak and so art styles are the only way to differentiate video games. To these people that believe that, I want you to pick up a pencil. Now, I want you to draw like Leonardo da Vinci. What? You can’t do it? Why not if the technology of drawing has flattened out?
Technology is not the same as craftsmanship. There are more beautiful 8-bit games than 16-bit games and that is a huge technology gap. But poor craftsmanship will make any graphics look ‘bad’.
However, today’s Game Industry Land is governed by the twin kings of pussification and non-ambition. These distinct ‘art styles’ are nothing more than people not wanting to work as hard. It is EASY to do an ‘art style’. It is harder not to do one.
I don’t think people picked up Mad World on the Wii and said, “Oh my goodness, that art style is atrocious. Everyone run!” To the contrary, I think they saw the art style and unconsciously thought that since the graphics lack craftsmanship, the entire game likely did as well.
When a consumer picks up a video game box and studies the screen shot (or a youtube review), the number one thing they are looking for is not whether or not the game is a right fit for them (that would be the second thing they’re looking for), it is if the game sports quality craftsmanship. A game with a high amount of craftsmanship can overcome design deficiencies and genre disinterest.
The people who push the art styles the most are the people who want an easier ride when it comes to graphic craftsmanship. After all, I can’t declare Wind Waker aesthetics ‘bad’ as everyone will rush to tell me that it is an ‘art style’.
Did you know that the best writers that have ever lived knew to keep the rhetoric to a minimum? Those who employed mass amounts of rhetoric ended up becoming very weak and quickly forgotten. In fact… I’ll let the master, himself, explain:
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.
What is an art style but the limbs and outward flourishes of graphical output? It is graphical rhetoric. The more the consumers see, the more we instinctively know the product is sporting less craftsmanship than it should.
The art we have on our T-shirts and posters is not the art of modern games but pixelated art. Why is this? Perhaps it is because the pixelated art is very pure. There is little graphical rhetoric in it. It conveys a charm because of it.
Imagine if one day board games had shiny lights, sparks, and sizzlers. You would ask why board games need any of that. But a board game maker would say, “It is a matter of style…”
I honestly wonder if artists in the Game Industry realize their job is to make games. The consumers are not interested in art styles. They are interested in games.