A Word Is Worth A Thousand Pictures

By John Walker on February 4th, 2008 at 3:05 pm.

This wordthink originally appeared in the Escapist. It’s an exercise in tackling the graphics vs narrative argument, which perhaps occasionally lapses into cliche. As you’ll see as you read through, I don’t necessarily agree with all my arguments – it was written in an attempt to create a thesis which would generate opposing antitheses. Together, we can reach synthesis. Discuss.

Booker's front cover

A Word Is Worth A Thousand Pictures

“It is a curious characteristic of our modern civilization that, whereas we are prepared to devote untold physical and mental resources to reaching out into the furthest reaches of the galaxy, or to delve into the most delicate mysteries of the atom… one of the greatest and most important mysteries is lying so close beneath our noses that we scarcely even recognize it to be a mystery at all. At any given moment… hundreds of millions of people will be engaged [in] one of those strange sequences of mental images which we call a story.” – Christopher Booker, The Seven Basic Plots

Narrative is our link to the universe.

Visceral immediacy is sold to us as a reminder that we are “alive.” It is stimulation, a release of epinephrine from the adrenal medulla, increasing heart rate, dilating pupils, elevating blood sugar levels. It’s a deception – a brief, drug-induced elevation above the norm. Story is the narration of our truth.

Visit a videogame developer while they’re working on a project, and you can be certain to hear about one thing – graphics.

“We’re implementing the very latest four-dimensional bloom lighting techniques so every light bulb in the game will glow over 47% more, in the past, and the future!”

“With the state-of-the-art bump-map particle physics engine we’ve spent 95% of our budget on, our characters are able to have 10,010 polygons, trouncing the mere 10,000 in our previous game!”

“Look! Look at the shiny objects! See how they glint and turn! Looooook. Loooooooook at the shiiiiiiiiny. Stare deeeeeeeep into the pretty lights…”

Doom 3

This ridiculous race for incremental steps toward photo-realism is a self-perpetuating tail-chasing exercise. Publishers will not support a project that doesn’t implement the latest technology, developers live in abject fear of not including the decorative features of their rivals and gamers all too eagerly buy into the whole charade. We have sold ourselves the lie that graphics matter, and it’s looking increasingly unlikely that we’ll ever manage to untangle ourselves from it.

This isn’t denial. The opening levels of Far Cry were a thing of wonder, as my PC was suddenly generating pictures that were, as daft as this sounds, prettier than real life. I called friends over to my house to see it. We stared in awe. It was beautiful. Of course, once the game shifted to indoor locations, and the wonderful island vistas became rarer, my interest wandered. Far Cry didn’t have anything to say.

Far Cry

Christopher Booker, in his seminal tome, The Seven Basic Plots, dedicated 30 years to studying the structure of Story, its key proponents and, ultimately, its power.

“The more familiar we become with the nature of [the] shaping forms and forces lying beneath the surface of stories, pushing them into patterns and directions which are beyond the storyteller’s conscious control, the more we find that we are entering a realm to which recognition of the plots themselves proves only to have been the gateway. We are in fact uncovering nothing less than a kind of hidden, universal language.”

Our visual fixations deny this truth, and prevent our recognition of the significance of games that pass through this gateway.

Jim Rossignol wrote in an essay describing the philosopher Rorty’s interpretation of this consciousness. “He argues that human beings deal with the world through a ‘final vocabulary.’ This, like a box of tools, is the set of methods we have appropriated for interpreting and reinterpreting the world around us. Our public final vocabulary is the set of ideas and sentences that we use to deal with people and their own ideas.”

I contend that the power of a vocabulary, in the context of a game’s narrative, is so great, it overwhelms graphics. We connect by hearing others’ “final vocabularies” and incorporating them into our own – increasing and developing our perceptions, building upon our interpretive vocabulary. Graphics provide spectacle, they can draw us in and they can certainly be the means by which a narrative is delivered. But they are only the messenger. There has to be a message.

The question I have is whether the messenger is ultimately all that important. To demonstrate, an anecdote:

Ankh

A few years back I was reviewing the point and click adventure game, Ankh, for a U.K. magazine. In many ways, it was traditional, clearly inspired by the adventure’s heyday in the 1990s. While playing, I began to notice a number of similarities with the classic LucasArts adventure, The Secret of Monkey Island, and decided to go back and play to see if my 15-year-old memories were accurate. Running through SCUMMVM, I was able to whirr up an ancient copy of the game on my super-fly modern PC, capable of all those mapped bumps and blooming lights, and it blinked into bleeping, chunky existence.

The tiniest palette and the fewest pixels painted crude backdrops and even cruder characters, barely animated as they slid sideways about the 2-D world. Compare and contrast with Ankh, a sweet game of no great import, that managed to keep the common sense of point and click in line with the modernity of a third dimension, animated in tens of thousands of shades and polygons into convincing, cartoon existence. There was no contest.

And so it was, until I spent the better part of an hour trying to find the jail cell in Ankh’s ancient Egyptian streets.

I knew what it looked like, the shape of the room – I would go down the stairs at the right, give the object I’d just found to the prisoner and he’d help me. I just couldn’t find it, no matter how hard I searched.

The moment of realization was first embarrassing, but then apocalyptic. The truth was revealed. I saw the light. And it wasn’t bump mapped. My mental image of Monkey Island’s jail was every bit as sophisticated as the textured surfaces before me. In fact, it had to be about ten minutes into playing Monkey Island that I’d stopped noticing the graphics at all. Even now, two months later, as I write I still picture the cell in the same way. I went back there in Monkey Island and saw its reality, but it wasn’t enough to replace the elaborated version my own engine developed.

monkey island jail

Imagine the person who sits and reads a book, looks up in horror, and shouts, “This word ‘tree’ looks nothing like a tree! It looks like some letters on a piece of paper!” and throws the book at the wall, disgusted. He’s either a fool or reading a Dan Brown novel. We simply don’t work that way. The semiotic power of a word is enough for our beautiful minds to conjure the very best tree imaginable. Literally. We have excellent brains that will always be capable of better graphics than the most exceptional technology (until The Future, obviously, when we’ll plug our brains into the machines and then just spend the whole time playing Space Minesweeper in Extra-Realism Graphics 5.6). What powers these mental chips is narrative.

Graphics are hugely significant to many people – that can’t be ignored. Find the review of a crappy game that doesn’t give it a good kick in the pixels. Bad graphics do tend to be a sign of a lack of care in production. But I challenge you to find the review that says, “This game would be excellent and worth your time, if only the graphics were better. But since they’re so poor, don’t bother.” It doesn’t happen. If every other factor of a “good” game is present, the poverty of the pictures will be forgiven, although perhaps mentioned. We don’t need them – we’ve already got them fixed upstairs.

But don’t believe my witterings. What about games as mindless action? Why would narrative be of any importance if all I wanted to do was run into a room filled with monsters and pummel them with bullets? To this I say, take on the Old Graphics Challenge.

Dig out a favorite single player shooter of five or so years ago that specifically didn’t use a strong narrative. So no, you can’t have Half-Life. And indeed, you’re a thousand miles from being allowed to reinstall Deus Ex. Put it on, and see how long you stay playing.

Baldur's Gate

Now find yourself a favorite five-year-old RPG. Heck, go mad, go back ten years and play Baldur’s Gate. You’ll wander around Candlekeep for a bit, frustrated by the 640×480 resolution and your inability to zoom in and out. But you’ll chat with everyone, you’ll complete those first few tasks and then it will be time to be off with Gorion. But oh no! He’s been killed by those bastards! What’s this? Imoen wants to join you. It’s just the two of you, now, and the world to explore, villages to visit, people to talk to, quests to complete… And you stopped noticing the graphics somewhere back in Candlekeep.

Oh, come on, ten years is nothing. Go for fifteen! Install Sam & Max, Day of the Tentacle, seventeen to boot up Monkey Island. Wait, I’ll raise you: Twenty years! Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders. Sixteen colors and one of them’s magenta. Start a timer to see how long you care – it won’t do any good, because you’ll forget to look at it as much as you’ll forget you’re not dressed from head to foot in a virtual reality outfit, walking among the space aliens.

And now, do the same with an twenty-year-old, story-less shooter. (Ok, they don’t exist, fair enough).

There’s a mistake above, and I’ll recognize it. This is an argument riddled with holes, and I’m happy with that – I believe there’s a core truth that needs to be heard. I rather pathetically put in “single player shooter.” Multiplayer defeats me. If you want a five-plus-year-old game entirely free from narrative, you’ve got Quake III: Arena and others beside. They are every bit as joyful to play today. Curse them, because my point remains important – despite these exceptions, the most important aspect is still missing from the majority of our games.

Perhaps it is all our fault. Perhaps we, en masse, really are so addled that our attention spans are genuinely transitory, only interested in that adrenal high for so long as it lasts, then ready to chase the next fix. Perhaps the three hours of interest Far Cry offers is all we desire and all we deserve.

But this cannot be true. Look at the MMO, a peculiar pile-up of meta-narrative and micro-narrative, sewn together by no narrative at all. You have to spend hundreds of hours to get anywhere, and millions of people are doing so worldwide. There’s a hunger out there for more than graphics – people are looking for that narrative, looking for a shared, cooperative vocabulary.

Sam & Max

Story has always focused on the Hero, from Beowulf onward. Gaming taps into this understanding, and lets us be that Hero. But, once you remove the Story, the Hero withers and fades. Booker’s weighty work concludes in a similar mind.

“The hero or heroine is he or she who is born to inherit; who is worthy to succeed; who must grow up as fit to take on the torch of life from those who went before. Such is the essence of the task laid on each of us as we come into this world. That is what stories are trying to tell us.”

We’re willing to code images of the furthest reaches of the galaxy, or delve into the most delicate mysteries of the atom (thank goodness for Will Wright, allowing this bit to work with Spore), but I fear the greatest and most important mystery, the power of the narrative, is being grossly ignored.

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62 Comments »

  1. Turin Turambar says:

    It raises some interesting points showing how graphics can have a the symbolic power, so they don’t have to be modern to make a good game, in lots of old games you cringe in the first minutes, but after that you are having fun like 15 years ago, graphics be damned.

    But in the end, it is a subjetive, un-insightful article full of personal bias to the tastes and distastes of the author.
    For example, he doesn’t seem to recognize where the fun comes in the FPS genre, so he dismiss almost all the games from the genre simply a show of graphics effects. I am going to answer him:

    “Dig out a favorite single player shooter of five or so years ago that specifically didn’t use a strong narrative. So no, you can’t have Half-Life. And indeed, you’re a thousand miles from being allowed to reinstall Deus Ex. Put it on, and see how long you stay playing.”

    I played and completed in recent times Doom, Quake I, Duken Nukem, and more. Is it enough?
    In fact, it’s incredible how superior is Doom to modern shooters like CoD4, in gameplay terms.

    If you aren’t knowledable in the genre ok, but don’t bash it in your ignorance.

  2. John Walker says:

    Turin – I agree it’s a flawed argument. However, I do find that replaying old shooters can be very difficult when the graphical limitations kick in.

    I’m not quite sure why you’re so angry. Did I kill your puppy?

  3. Dracko says:

    Though I agree with the general sentiment and your conclusion, I’m not convinced by your statement on older graphics: The games you bring up look good. They genuinely do. And this has nothing much to do with pushing technological limits, though they might have at their time: the trick is in being visually consistent and pleasing. Even a modern game can utterly fail in this regard, in spite of its bells and whistles.

    One thing I’d argue, before we jump into narrative (We’re still trying to figure that one out, and it isn’t easy, it’s usually ugly, but some experiments have been far more successful than others), is that games excel primarily at giving us a sense of place. We can craft the strangest of worlds for an audience to explore at its own whims. This is something that should be more of a focus, I feel, and certainly graphical developments provide tools for this.

    Perhaps more games should attempt to reveal information, not necessarily a linear or didactic narrative, via their environments and such. There does seem to be an encouraging trend in this direction, but it’s still somewhat minimal.

    Turin: Doom superior to Call of Duty 4? I think not!

    The Marathon games are better than id or 3D Realms input generally anyway. And prettier too!

  4. Nallen says:

    I played and completed in recent times Doom, Quake I, Duken Nukem, and more. Is it enough?
    In fact, it’s incredible how superior is Doom to modern shooters like CoD4, in gameplay terms.

    I’m going to go right ahead and call you up on using the g-bomb as I’ve decided it should now be known. What the heck do you mean by gameplay?

    The point of the article, as far as I can see is simply that developing now on the basis of graphics alone is unjustifiable. Because of the very nature of the graphics arms race any product attempting to deliver graphically will have lost this asset within no time.

    That doesn’t mean that graphics can not be an important, defining and lasting aspect of a game. Modern games that use graphics as actual functional elements of design, such as DEFCON or TF2 will almost certainly not suffer with age, and if they do it won’t be the graphics that have criticism levelled at them.

    It’s a shame that in this argument of graphics vs. narrative the leading parties of doing something smart rather than technical with graphics both contain no narrative at all.

    It’s my opinion that graphics are the holy grail of gaming at the moment for two pretty straight forward commercial reasons, first it’s the easy part. If you make a Triple-A title it must deliver on two fronts, plot and graphics. You can do graphics by numbers, enough polys, enough shaders enough money and people and you can get good graphics. Story is something else, often throwing more money and people at that results in epic failure.

    The second reason is advertising, be it internet, print or whatever. It’s easy to show how great your graphics are and sell on that and just talk a good talk about story. Until the review comes in at the trailing end of the hype bomb you don’t have a clue – and even reviews frequently miss the mark by a country mile should a great number of Bioshock players be believed.

    In summary – graphics obviously can’t make a game just by being ‘better’ and it’s my hope that perhaps in future we’ll see more of them being ‘smarter’. I have no doubt though that because of commercial reasons they’ll continue to be placed above narrative by most developers on most titles.

  5. James says:

    I read this article a few weeks ago over at the Escapist, not realizing that it was you who wrote it, Mr. Walker. I found it a very interesting read on both times through. It does have a flawed view in some respects, but I can never help being interested in a discussion of narrative and its importance in video games.

    The last few months have put an interesting slant on this article for me. Lately, a lack of disposable income has forced me into the bargain bin for gaming delights, often picking up games that were before my time as a gamer. For the first time, I’ve played through Baldur’s Gate (First and second), and I’ve played Planescape and Grim Fandango and Fallout. And I have honestly loved ever strangely animated, pixelated second of it.

    It has confirmed what I’ve long believed, and this article in general: Narrative is the soul of a good game. Of course, this is not to say that this soul cannot be dwelling in a lithe, clever body. In fact, that body bit is probably preferred.

  6. Butler` says:

    Talking of narrative (or the severe lack of), it doesn’t bode well that gaming is going in an online, social and essentially player created experience direction.

    One thing that confused me reading through this article though, are you getting at the age-old graphics vs ‘gameplay’ debate? Or that in fact, as above, games lack decent writing/narrative?

    I should probably read this again… :p

  7. dhex says:

    i would agree so far as “narrative is the soul of a good game” is concerned, but with the caveat that the fps genre in particular has a certain flair and charm all its own. quake 1, for example, is still quite playable (far more so than doom, i think) despite its brown on brown on brown on tan color scheme.

    of course, i also enjoyed my time with farcry, as pointlessly balls hard as it was at the end.

    i have the weird urge to play baldur’s gate 2 again now…

  8. Iain says:

    A few observations:

    1) Videogames don’t tell very good stories because storytelling has always traditionally been a very passive experience (at least for the recipient of the narrative). Having the player actively participate in the telling of a story requires a different type of narrative and is very different from writing a book or making a film, and it’s still something game makers are trying to get to grips with. It’s telling that some of the best selling games actually make very little attempt (if any) to hold down a narrative at all: Championship/Football Manager, FIFA, Madden, Civilization, The Sims, Microsoft Flight Simulator… constructing your own narrative around the game you play is always more rewarding than simply going through the motions of turning the page of some (invariably flawed) interactive novel/film (Max Payne, anyone?).

    2) Developers like to push graphics quality because it’s the one area where you can make consistent improvements and shout about it being better. It’s a lot harder to write better stories every year (not to mention a whole lot more subjective to judge)…

    3) In my experience, very few MMOs are inherently about narrative. People play them for the social experience, rather than any sense of wanting to be told a coherent narrative. Who honestly reads the blurb of quest objectives?

    4) Nitpicking slightly here, but narrative isn’t our primary link to the universe. Unless you happen to be blind, it’s what you see that forms your frame of reference. Narrative, however, is what gives it context and makes the universe interesting.

    5) The Seven Basic Plots is bloody brilliant. I read it at least once a year, and I’m still trying to get to grips with the implications of what it says about story and storytelling. It’s a staggering book everyone should read.

  9. Dracko says:

    I don’t know how anyone can say that narrative is the soul of a game with a straight face. Surely if you wanted something more directed, even dependent on narrative, you’d watch a film or read a book. It’s like saying you read books for their soundtrack or would watch a TV program which was just words scrolling on a screen for two hours, in my mind. Games are “told” via a player’s response to them under certain rules. This is what makes them fun, or interesting: Chess doesn’t have a plot and it’s still endured with age (I’d go pedantic and say that chess’ use of certain classes lends itself to study all the same: You get some pithy quotes out of the stuff). Schmups or arcade games don’t need a plot as such, because it detracts from the experience when you’re not playing, but you have an evolution of settings which can seem consistent, starting from point A to point Z.

    But now we’re at a point where we can imbue setting with even more parameters – I’m not going to say character because a ton of old games have that and wouldn’t be enriched by more; I’d use the classic Prince of Persia as an example as the XBLA remake was poor and superfluous. It’s more helpful in many instances to contrast games more with paintings or music. Someone mentioned DEFCON and Team Fortress 2 above. Both of these are rich, deep games with specific concepts of their own that build into that enduring depth that enriches us when we play them. Neither of them have plots, you’ll notice.

    I’m not against plots in a game. Not at all. But for the vast majority of plot-oriented games, they’d be better served as literary or cinematographic experience. I’m also all for developers exploring ways into creating natural, organic story-telling for the medium, which doesn’t intrude on the gaming experience itself, as that is something we’re decidedly poor at. Marathon, Half-Life² and the recent Call of Duty 4 stand as very fine examples of this, but they are still exceptions, not the rule. And they’re primarily recognised for their superlative gameplay, which feeds into their stories, not the other way round.

    I realise now those are shooters, but I find that for most other genres, like RTS, puzzle games, schmups or what have you, a story is hardly even required, as they rely on their gameplay. Nor should it be forced on, really. There’s nothing stopping game design and gameplay in itself from being communicative and response.

  10. Turin Turambar says:

    I was a bit harsh in the post, sorry.

    No one killed my puppy, i just read this same argument about games in general lots of times in the last years, i am a bit annoyed with the repetition. It’s a trend that surged around 2003 until now and still perdures.

    There are actually quite a lot of people now who equate games to interactive narrative and they want to displace every other genre. That’s only a subset of the possible videogames.

    I like adventure games.
    I like RPG games.
    I like action games.
    I like action/adventure games.
    I even like (love) games like Thief, System Shock, Deus Ex, etc etc.

    But i don’t want to see the genre of “pure action” to dissapear in favor of pseudo-interactive movies.

  11. John Walker says:

    May I kill your puppy?

  12. Kieron Gillen says:

    Hands off puppies everyone. RPS is a puppy-free zone.

    I probably should reprint my devil’s advocate saying that stories are vile and should be got rid of, for balance.

    KG

  13. davidAlpha says:

    Monkey Island isnt just a great game because of its story. Its unique graphic style really defines it. If you want an example of “pure story makes a game great” id suggets you’d go with Zork.

  14. John Walker says:

    I’m playing Planescape: Torment RIGHT NOW. And I think that probably proves something.

  15. davidAlpha says:

    it has more than 16 colors. for shame!

  16. Andrew says:

    Sure, stories are good, if not excellent, even in text adventures sans any graphics – why do people think books work so well? :)

    But I’d be a bit annoyed having to play Civilisation 2 rather then Civilisation 4 nowadays – the graphical advances are second to the other improvements.

    But for story? Some games don’t age well graphically (while some do), but the story works fine – which is why some are getting graphical updates (and perhaps more should so people could play them again). I found Fallout in an Oxfam, and have started playing it :)

    I might get the recommended book – sounds interesting.

  17. DragonSix says:

    The whole “Graphics vs Narrative/Gameplay/Whatever” point is plain stupid.
    Graphics serve the purpose of the game, it’s not a fight, you have to make things live in harmony, not opposing them, or you’re doomed to make shitty games.

    The Nintendo brainwashing about “graphics are nothing” is working too well these days, what a shame :/

    Come on RPS, you’re better than that.

  18. Kestrel says:

    It’s interesting that multi-player fps is supposed to be the hole in your argument, John. What makes multi-player gaming fun is the series of ever-evolving ‘micro’ narratives we employ as we play. Every time I talk smack I am telling a story. Every time my team pulls from behind to cap the flag I am telling a story. The lack of a ‘provided’ narrative simply enables the player to create his own, something we do all the time in rl.

  19. etho says:

    Graphics, too me, are one of the less important parts of a game, and definitely the least interesting. But I have to say, I couldn’t stand to look at Baldur’s Gate even when it was new. But I still think this article is dead on, I just had to do a mental Search-and-Replace with “Fallout”. Graphics might bring the publicity to a new game, but it’s story (and gameplay) are the things that keep a game popular in the long run. When I think about the games I played in years past, Marathon makes me nostalgic, and Quake leaves me faintly embarrassed.

    And, actually, I agree that multiplayer games fit fine with this discussion. Story is less important to them, but it’s still more about the competition and the interactions between players and the strategy and overall gameplay. The graphics are nice, but they still aren’t the thing that makes the games memorable and enjoyable.

  20. Dinger says:

    Hey, there’ll always be a technological arms race in games. I know y’all hate movie comparisons, and I had one all teed up involving Murnau’s Der Letzte Mann (The Last Laugh in the US release) and a refrigerator-sized man-portable camera, but I decided you’d hate the videogames-as-movie reference.

    So let’s take art instead, and the 14th-century master Giotto. Boccaccio, writing some years after Giotto’s death, describes Giotto’s paintings in the Decameron (Day 6, Novella 5):

    E l’altro, il cui nome fu Giotto, ebbe uno ingegno di tanta eccellenzia, che niuna cosa dà la Natura, madre di tutte le cose e operatrice col continuo girar de’cieli, che egli con lo stile e con la penna o col pennello non dipignesse sì simile a quella, che non simile, anzi più tosto dessa paresse, in tanto che molte volte nelle cose da lui fatte si truova che il visivo senso degli uomini vi prese errore, quello credendo esser vero che era dipinto.

    (sorry, I couldn’t google a translation quick enough. he roughly says: “And the other, whose name was Giotto, was such a genius, that there was nothing of Nature, mother and worker of all things with the continuous spinning of the Heavens, that he, with the stylus and the pen and the brush could not paint something so similar to it – no, not similar, rather it would seem to be the same, so much so that often in the things he made one finds that the visual power of men is fooled and believes that what is painted is the real thing.”)

    Boccaccio and many of his contemporaries honestly believed the realism argument. And Giotto certainly advanced the technology of realistic depiction, and had a massive impact on painting, especially in terms of the use of perspective, facial expressions and clothing. But take a glance at, say, Giotto’s depiction of St. Francis’ life in the upper basilica at Assisi. Our “visual power” is not fooled. When I look at the demons being chased out of Arezzo, my sensitive faculties tell me I’m looking at a depiction, no more real or believable to me than the Cacodaemons of the original Doom, or the skyline of Chicago as viewed from Meigs field.

    On the other hand, go ahead and examine Giotto’s whole St. Francis series. Yes, there’s a lot of detail, but most of it targets precisely the narrative: reinforcing the key subjects, drawing the eye towards them, making their thoughts and intentions clear (e.g., this classic, ideal for a postcard to send home to mum and dad).

    So graphical realism is a moving target, and increasingly expensive to boot. One shouldn’t discount, however, assessments such as “realistic”, “lifelike”, for sometimes even really good writers describe a well executed and coherent visual plan in those terms.

    Oh and about Narrative: why? what does it serve? does it provide a larger frame of meaning for the player’s actions, or does it just reinforce the pavlovian grind of videogame hell (the success of this game is due to the blood of the designers, the sweat of the dev team, and the drool of the fanboys)? It used to be the rage in the 90s to refer to Maxis products as “toys”: they provide the tools and players construct the narratives. Much of the appeal of online games is that, playing in groups, the narrative is open-ended.
    The genius of TF2 is that they combine Giottoesque visual design (providing a vast amount of visual information rapidly and intuitively) with an environment geared (and tested) for narrative possibilities.

  21. Windlab says:

    I am currently in the laborious process of writing the script and storyline of a game, and it has struck me with some force that games (those with a storyline at least) have more to do with books than films or other media.
    As with books, there is a set chain of events – the history / plot, and then there is the way the reader / player weaves – is weaved through it – the story.

    I’m finding it a fascinating experience, especially as I have just finished Les Miserables, The Three Hostages, and the Scarlet Pimpernel – all of which have quickly identifiable “basic plots” and varying writing? styles(I don’t know the right words).

  22. Edgar the Peaceful says:

    I call to the bar the witness for the prosecution, that venerable nine-year-old ‘Anchorhead’…

    http://www.wurb.com/if/game/17.html

    [by the way, try and convince PCGAMER to print some (more) of this Rortean clever-word stuff wot you lot writ]

  23. Zeno, Internetographer says:

    I put graphics on the very bottom of my “what matters” list, with story slightly above it and gameplay (or mechanistics, as I hear the young folk calling it these days) towering way high above everything. To me, Nethack is the pinnacle of gaming thus far; minimal graphics and story, but none of that matters because the gameplay is so rich and in-depth.

  24. Arathain says:

    I think there’s a little bit of confusion regarding the distinction between plot and narrative in this circumstance. As Kestrel attests in relation to TF2 a game with no plot can have a very strong narrative- indeed, it’s a game that goes out of its way to create them, and that is one of its strengths.

    Defcon is mentioned as having no narrative, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a tale of death and betrayal, brilliance and futility, and it’s different every time you play. MMOs are incredibly narrative rich, and that isn’t from the quest blurbs, it’s from the way we interact with the game and with the other people, and it takes place on every level from roleplaying to the stat crunchers’ meta-games.

    I think this is the distinction- plot is what the developers feed to you. Narrative is the stories the players make.

  25. Kadayi says:

    To me the real problem with the focus of developers on increasing graphical intensity is that it is one of the contributing factors as to why the modern FPS lack any real degree of complexity in terms of environments. The entire genre is steadfastly set in low population/semi deserted environments (and the subsequent story limitations of such), because game engines simply aren’t designed to handle large numbers of concurrent AI at present. Until that issue is addressed and we can inhabit detailed game worlds that are able to handle the actions and activities of 100s of AI simultaneously I think we are always going to struggle move the FPS on narratively.

  26. Matt says:

    Actually Arathain Narrative and Plot are different in narrative theory and you are correct to point that out, but your definition is slightly off. Story, plot, narrative, narration, all of these are different things.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=MD2yHCKd8eIC&pg=PA11&lpg=PA11&dq=em fortser story and narrative&source=web&ots=AWUvIwx_T1&sig=-rizY3LyRIdTzijhVwk4CjUwCSY#PPA11,M1

    (Sorry for the size of the link)

    This was the most useful extract that popped up after a quick google search. Chapter 1 part one, page 11, gives a short introductory overview. There are other narrative theories, but essentially though the terms change a little, the basics, regarding story and plot are the same.

    It certainly isn’t important for this discussion really and I’m not suggesting anyone bothers reading the whole book. I just thought since it came to defining terms, some people might be interested to know that they are already defined and some people might be interested in narrative theory, having read one book relating to it.

    Narrative theory is pretty extensive, though personally I have to say I find a lot of it really dull. There have been a lot of books over the years trying to do the same sort of thing, Brooker’s book appears to be doing (I haven’t read it) but I’m not convinced that there is a unifying theory that can boil down all stories into a small number. To try and do so usually involves intentionally overlooking things that do not fit your theory.

    Anyway, back to games, since this is a gaming blog:

    I have to agree that it is not a case of one or the other, story (narrative or whatever term we are going to use I got the impression the article meant story?) and graphics aren’t opposed and both are important, as is choosing the ways that both are implemented depending upon the game.

    Some games require more dialogue and more exposition and other less. Similarly some might use graphics to great effect. The HL2 games are brilliantly cinematic and while not cutting edge in terms of fancy effects any more, rely heavily on visuals and cinematic techniques to tell the story, and to create emotion.

  27. Matt says:

    Sorry the above link has not copied correctly for some reason and I can’t edit it it wont let me. Just click on the link “New Questions” in the contents section of the page and scroll down to page 11.

  28. JP says:

    I’m not going anywhere near the gameplay VS graphics VS story VS Chuck Norris quagmire. Seriously, folks.

    I just wanted to throw in my old saw that cuts right through the stony, undead heart of the graphics discussion:

    Fidelity is not Quality.

    Which is to say, I’d much rather look at a 64×64 texture drawn by a good artist than a 1024×1024 multi-stage shader drawn by an incompetent artist who is using technical sizzle to cover up for lack of talent.

    Which is to say, Steve Purcell’s 320×200 8-bit backgrounds for Monkey Island 2 still hold the hell up, and Everquest 2 looks like trash.

    This is why I’ll never forgive the gamer crowd for their treatment of Anachronox. With few exceptions, the art was really of rather nice quality (to say nothing of the writing, the humor and general inventiveness), but because it used the “dated Quake 2 engine” its name was mud.

    SHAAAAAAME.

  29. Dracko says:

    Zeno, I’d also add that the reason Monkey Island is considered a great game is because of the way its told, and no one seems to bring that up any more: You’d be hard-pressed to find another adventure game with so much sheer variety in its puzzles. No two are ever truly the same. It really pushes what can be done with the basic interface.

    Arathain is correct too. Sorry for the muddle. The point is plots shouldn’t be essential, nor forced. That doesn’t prevent a game from meaning something if that’s what you’re into.

  30. James says:

    @Dracko

    Hrm. I must admit, I wasn’t really thinking about some of the genres you mentioned, so you certainly do have a good point there. Looking back at my initial post though, I think that I was being a little unclear with what I was trying to say. I’m not looking for an endless sea of interactive novels (Urgh), nor am I going for the whole ‘story is more important than gameplay’ part, which I have no interest in either. Gameplay/mechanistics/guns’n'stuff is seriously important.

    I suppose what I was driving at was better stated by one of the lines from the article: ‘Far Cry didn’t have anything to say.’ A lot of games just don’t seem to have anything to say, and I wish that would change to some degree.

    Now, I understand that not every game can be some sprawling philosophical narrative, or some deep examination of the human spirit. But the industry is at a stage where it can start really exploring a new way of telling stories. Some developers have been doing it for years, proving story and mechanistics can co-exist, but so many more ignore it almost completely. All I want is more games starting trying to say something, rather than dazzling us with beautiful explosions and over the top gunplay. I love that stuff, but some days I also wish for something more.

    Now I’m going to go watch Die Hard 4.

  31. Zeno, Internetographer says:

    My three cents on the whole game narrative thing:

    The reason I don’t care about the story, narrative, whatever it is in games, is that for me, the defining feature of a game is interactivity. Now, granted, some games let you “shape” the story, with alternate endings and whatnot, but ultimately these options are limited. You still end up getting railroaded into things that you, the player, wouldn’t make your character normally do. “Give up, go home, and start a family” is never (or very rarely) an option in video games, but it’s not all that outlandish of a decision if we were talking about real life. The story doesn’t take part in the full interactivity of the game, and so it often feels like a tacked-on element.

    So, I guess what I’m wanting is a procedural story. As much as I hate to be one of the people that keeps throwing it around, I think that Spore is a step in the right direction – Will Wright frequently talks about how it will break new ground in storytelling by letting the player be “like Tolkien or George Lucas instead of Frodo and Luke.”

    But ultimately, I don’t think Spore is enough, because although you’re definitely weaving a “story” with all of your exploits, it’s like the story is completely on the player end. What I want, ideally, is for the game to know what you’re doing, to develop new plot twists, to see how each NPC, or other variable, affects the storyline, and how the story should change if something changes in one of those variables. The game should develop new storyline elements, so that the game has practically infinite replay value with a distinct story every time.

    Of course, that’s all just wishful thinking. I realize that what I’m asking for is, from a technical standpoint, crazy. Also, as much as I’ve griped about story in games, there are definitely some games with a compelling enough story to the point where I don’t care that I, the player, have no control over it, Monkey Island being an excellent example of that.

  32. Dinger says:

    It’s not really a debate about one vs. the other, is it? Perhaps we just need to recall that the “arms race” is completely secondary to the art.

    The “arms race” is necessary to the industry: marketing heavily involves screenshots (the “Neutral Zone” effect) and now trailers whose goal is to give the viewer a sense of the visual impact of the game. Consumers by the latest game system or spend thousands of dollars on their “gaming rig” and they want a return on their investment. Plenty of people (mostly males) like nothing better than showing off Crysis to their friends as the latter stare open-jawed at the 60-inch screen. Many others buy RAM with LED displays and put them in a transparent case with Sparco and Nos stickers on them, and go to gatherings where they show off their toys. To get these people to _buy_ the game, you gotta use the latest tech.

    People still make black-and-white silent films, but not very many, and they never see big distribution. Does that mean silent films constitute a less effective artistic medium than talkies, or that Mama’s House II is a better film than The General?

    Once again, we devolve into playing terminological games, and attempt to define what “narrative” is. Perhaps it’s time to set our own terms, and break with the Greco-Latin past. Nobody uses the phrase “The callypigian Alyx Vance” with a straight face, but we abuse the latinate “narrative” until nobody’s quite sure what it means. How about some good old anglosaxonisms:

    storytelling and storymaking*
    All games have a story. Peggle has one.

    Storytelling consists in all those “narrative” elements imposed on the player (that includes the difference between showing an event and telling about it). Or better, Storytelling occurs when the player passively experiences the story (“Look!” Alyx yells, and you turn in time to see the bridge collapse. Or when Bjorn telling you that must save the world)

    Storymaking is where the player has the sensation of directly participating in the narrative. You experience this by killing the antlion and saving the lives of the party, or by breaking the alliance with Russia after the SRBMs are in the air, and while he’s still got his tubes open.

    Different genres can allow different mixes. Good storytelling helps give context and greater meaning (reward) to the storymaking (The DangerousHSGirls shell game would be stupid without the reward of the impossible wicked lies the girls conjure up).
    Sport, and its videogame counterpart, the multiplayer game, consists primarily in storymaking. Tyree’s clutching the pigskin against his helmet condensed into one image the story of the Superbowl, but it was a tale that the participants etched on the field in real time, just as when, the previous day, I took out the Fireaxe and hacked up a young couple (mr. and mrs. were their handles) Sniping on the 2Fort ramparts.

    Zeno, the problem I have with Spore (or rather the concerns that I have) lies in the impossibility of what they’re proposing to do. You can’t code infinite possibilities; you can’t even leave things wide-open: the more you do that, the more you risk having a “crease”, an unforeseen combination of game features that results in an easy win (a game balance issue, if you will, like solving your SimCity traffic problems by putting a single, unconnected, track square next to every zoned square). Spore must have “walls”, a range of acceptable actions and outcomes, and we have yet to see whether it will be another SimCity (expansive and fun) or SimEarth (teleological and dull).

    “Procedural story” is a very, very expensive proposition. There might be another way though. Consider Rossignol’s article on the Virtua Corps. As he mentioned, these groups will often play ArmA (or OFP) co-op missions together, and they’ll play a new one every month or so.

    The reason for the scarcity is that co-op mission development is expensive for just the reasons you suggest. You can develop the prototype for a mission in an evening (or a few days if you want to get really fancy), but you’re dealing with interactions of large numbers of AI entities, along with game rules and bugs, plus your own design shortcomings. Add in the unpredictable behavior of a couple dozen virtual soldiers, and you need to anticipate for all sorts of possibilities.
    The net result is that there is a finite number of good cooperative missions, and most of the time, what happens surprises nobody. (“Okay guys, now get ready, as the enemy will be dropping the special forces guys behind us”)

    We can fix this so that a few hours design produces a unique experience, every time. When computers react to unanticipated player behavior, the resultant mess satisfies nobody. Put a human in the loop, with the tools to solve problems and adjust the challenge on the fly, and you’ll find your dreamworld of storymaking in a dynamic environment.

    Otherwise, you’ll have to content yourself with an illusion.

    *haec verba partialiter latine derivata sunt inquantum story ex historia descendit, sed nihil importat.

  33. Matt says:

    I think what you refer to as “storymaking” Dinger is known in narrative theory as narrativising. We do it every day; we experience a series of events and make them into a narrative. Your example of Alyx pointing out the bridge is a device to create plot and humanise the character of Alyx; and is a good example of how the visuals of a game play an important role in constructing story and plot.

    Similarly we take a story; be it in a game/film or book and seek to order events into a narrative so we can relate to it and understand. This is especially noticeable when a film/book/game uses flashback. These events take place at a certain point in the narrative but we re-order them, knowing they happened before previous events we have seen.

    What games like spore (assuming it is procedural and there isn’t a fixed series of events) has to do is make you feel connected to the games events, so you anthropomorphise (humanise objects in loose terms) the characters on screen. In so doing the player will construct his or her own narrative based on the events taking place.

    Whether the game has a clearly defined set of events that form a cohesive narrative or not, if it engages the player in terms of plot (by having the events occur for a reason and relate to something on an emotional level) then the player will form his or her own narrative, from the events presented to them.

    So a story can be quite sparse but if well constructed it can still serve a purpose and engage the player in narrativising events.

  34. dhex says:

    i like the storytelling/storymaking split quite a bit, dinger.

    but i don’t think graphics are always secondary to the art of games at all, nor do i buy the general assumption that graphical intensity means lesser games. or greater, for that matter. but it’s such a huge part of the experience that i think we sometimes forget that more timeless art direction – like monkey island* – was the minority in its day. a character like alyx would not have the same impact were it not for the eerie facial animations and the immediate sense of emotions one gets from just looking at them, like one would in picking up facial cues from another human.

    *i’ve never played it but it does look nice from the screenshots.

  35. mandaya says:

    for starters, let me just congratulate every commenter gone before me: it’s rare to read a discussion as thoughtful and high in quality as this one. two thumbs up, RPS-commenters! you’re one smart bunch.
    concerning narrative: I had the opportunity to work with Stith Thompson’s “Motif-Index of Folk Literature” (ed. in the 1950s), an actually pretty dreary and mechanic catalogue-type index of motives for a vast number of folk-tales (european and international).

    in Thompson’s terms, a “motif” (sic) is something general like “magic sword”, but also rather special tidbits like “princess lured into the forest by harp-playing boy or thief”. what strikes me as interesting is the notion that the player’s “narrativising” is really set off by the use and creative combination of motives. String together almost any three of Thompson’s motives, and voila, your imagination revs up its processor.

    A favourite thought-experiment of mine goes something like this: what if games that leave the “narrativising” to the player – sandbox-style games come to mind, especially the sick temptress (oh yes) Dwarf Fortress – were equipped with a set of narrative ponts formed by relatively random strings of motifs à la Thompson? Note to self: Learn programming.

    Btw, one title I’m looking forward to in terms of “new narrative in games ” is Tale of Tales’ “The Path”. But maybe I just didn’t get it.

  36. Matthewk says:

    Who wants ultra realistic gaming? Who wants to see the effect s of killing an in game character to be the same as doingthe real thing? Not me, if you take firefight as an example a excellent top down strategy wargame but the graphics arent allthat, so what? its the gameplay we should car about, as long as the graphics dont interfere with gameplay we should not care as long as the story is told right and the gameplay is outstanding, i willfinish with one note when games become too realisic doesnt it take something away from what we are trying toachieve? games are meant to be a break from reality.

  37. Dracko says:

    I wouldn’t mind ultrarealism if it serves the game. I know you’re dealing with actual effects of murder in your post, but Operation Flashpoint was one of the most absorbing gaming experiences I ever had growing up and that was down to its uncompromising realism and sheer scope, not to mention its relentless portrayal of infantry combat (Wide, utterly credible country side maps and “one/two shots, you’re dead” gameplay, and to address your concerns, the blood and gore effects were somewhat downplayed, but in a good fashion, one I wouldn’t call tasteful, because that wouldn’t be doing justice to actual warfare, but certainly jarring).

    I mean, people play simulations for a reason. It’s a break from reality in effect, but also allows them some insight into activities they might not be able to partake in normally. Which is the essence of gaming, really.

    And I too am intrigued by The Path, but I was sold the moment I noticed Jarboe working on the score.

  38. RTM says:

    While I agree in part with your premise, your argument needs a lot of work.

    Super Mario Bros: bad graphics, no story, still a blast to play

    Bionic Commando: bad graphics, only the most vestigial of stories, still a blast to play

    Legend of Zelda: no story to speak of, GREAT to play

    Mega Man: same story, no graphics, no story, great game

    Metal Slug: beautiful graphics, no story, dynamite fun

  39. Neej says:

    As a fan of narrative-driven games, I enjoyed the read. I think that one element that cannot be overlooked, as many have already stated, is gameplay. Whether a game is solid on graphics or narrative or both, if the gameplay is flawed, I’m not going to want to play it for more than 5 minutes (whether it was released this morning or 20 years ago). Tetris, Zelda, and Mario will be around for eons simply because Nintendo figured out early on that gameplay trumps everything else.

    That being said, I hear what you’re saying about narrative vs graphics in terms of longevity. When it comes to old classics with poor narrative, I really wouldn’t bother playing something like Wolfenstein or Duke Nukem for any reason apart from nostalgia. There are plenty of newer games that have similar gameplay with far better visual/audio presentation… if I’m going to invest hours playing a fun FPS, I’d rather do it with the most immersive experience available.

    With good narrative, however, it’s a different situation. Monkey Island and the almighty Star Control 2 are games I go back to from time to time because I do feel like I’m going back to reread an old cherished book. Still, without gameplay (an element LucasArts and Star Con 2 also capture in perfection), it would be less-than-entertaining to go through the whole process again. Case in point… I was a huge fan of the Sierra adventures back in the day, but I tried playing the old King’s Quest and Space Quest games again and got tired of dying often or getting to the end without picking up some crucial item early on….or frantically typing a command before you get eaten by a dragon in the pre point-and-click ones. While not a total waste of time, it ended up being not nearly as fun as I remember. (The Sierra games that got gameplay right, like Quest for Glory, are a different story though.) Gameplay plus either nostalgia or narrative is essential for going back to the classics.

  40. chubbstar says:

    wheres the freaking digg button on this site?

  41. Alec Meer says:

    chubbstar: it’s just underneath the post title. Link called “share this story.”

  42. Tom says:

    The desire to “tell a story” has been responsible for some of the most trying moments in my recent gaming lifetime.

    Excruciatingly-written dialogue scenes you can’t bypass. Characters who are sluggish utilitarians to control, then leap into marvelous acrobatic feats of derring-do in the cutscenes. Horrible characters, cardboard cutouts that Golan-Globus would be ashamed to put in a starring role, desperately strutting to the beat of some nerd fantasy of what “cool” looks like. Unimaginative re-enactment after workmanlike reconstruction of the Cliff’s Notes for Joseph Campbell.

    Video games, in their efforts to Have Stories, manage to singlehandedly prove the validity of every criticism leveled at Christopher Vogler’s “Writer’s Journey” manifesto. (If you liked Booker, I heartily recommend this book also: besides handily summarising said criticisms in the intro, it’s a much more adventurous exploration of narrative trope than many give it credit for).

    In the narratology versus ludology divide, I was a card-carrying narratologist for years. I mean, vocationally, how can I not be? I’m a scriptwriter, film reviewer and editor. It’s only natural. So if you say games should stop having such a hardon for graphics and think about story, I’m with you to a point.

    But what I realised a while back is that I look to games primarily for their play – because I can get narrative elsewhere, better than games have ever done for me. (Bioshock’s lucky it was fun to play, because honestly, Randian pastiche and sloppy religion/drug metaphors? Yeah, or I could just read a sci-fi paperback from the 80s, it’d have better cover-art).

    So your “shooter test” fails for me – if I’m playing something from fifteen years ago (which I oft am), I’d much rather it be something with a strong sense of character but whose play mechanic is solid or imaginative. “Quality of game engine” is an even less quantifiable element than “quality of story”, but surely it’s an element even more lacking in today’s MOR games, as so many developers just slap a GTA/HL2 play mechanic onto a generic setting and let the graphics-hype do the rest.

    Different works have different cores. One book’s highlight may be its story, another its voice. We don’t fault Fargo for its lack of fuckoff big explosions, and neither do we fault Batman for its lack of Stoppardian witty banter.

    Just so, I agree with you that emphasis on graphical prowess is and always has been ridiculous (and I think we used to be better at remembering this: even the really ridiculous 15-year-old mags like CVG had “graphics don’t matter” as something of a mantra), and I admire the simplicity with which you make the case for that adage’s continued relevance. But where we part company is that I’d like to see more emphasis on identifying what it is that any one game does well – be it epic story, quirky characters, OR unique play mechanic or unprecedented openness – and strive for the Platonic ideal of what a game with that particular core might become.

  43. john_s says:

    The trouble with graphics.. it’s what sells. Screenshots, magazines and trailers.

    What the game really feels like when playing, that’s a whole other story, (one that you won’t hear too much about before _after_ you’ve blown your cash to buy it). Yet another reason piracy rules…

  44. Alt says:

    I definitely agree with many of the comments about FPS and other multiplayer games in that though they may lack in the “story” department, they are rich in player created narratives. The games you remember are the ones you have some story about. (ex: remember that time I did this one thing in that one game and it was so cool you had to be there.) And just to bring up a minor point, game play doesn’t even have to factor in to the equation that much. If you’ve played the dot-hack games (original series), the game gets pretty repetitive and isn’t all that fun to play. But the story is so rich that you want to keep playing despite having to go through the 100th dungeon that looks exactly the same as the other 99, has the same enemies and a slightly different layout.

  45. Nemo says:

    Just a quick comment. In term of game enjoyability, I think graphics and story don’t matter as much as gameplay, as in how smooth your interactions with the game’s world are. Tetris doesn’t need good graphics nor a story to be goddamn addictive. Simplistic graphics that don’t get in the way of the gameplay (= the flow of information between your brain and the software, transmitted through controller and screen) are not a problem. Mario Bros 1 is still a great platformer. The problem with action games that didn’t age well usually doesn’t lie in the graphics themselves, but the sluggish gameplay that sometimes goes with old hardware (and sloppy programming). This is less of a problem with story-driven games because usually they don’t rely as much on precise real-time interactions. Slow RPGs can still be frustrating, but the depth of gameplay (complexity of available interactions) usually makes up for the sluggishness.
    Just my two cents.
    Of course nice graphics and narratives are nice to have on top. But when they get in the way of gameplay (e.g. in the form of frequent, long, non-interactive CG sequences that play like a movie), people may start missing the good-old days of text-based adventure games, MUDs and RPGs…

  46. Nym says:

    There’s one thing that no one seems to equate as of yet which is:

    Take my example, I loooooved Grim Fandango (or Full Throttle, Neverhood, Broken Sword, etc) back in the days, but I clearly remember that my first impression when I started playing the game was “Wow! Beautiful graphics!”.

    What I’m trying to say is, all these games we’re praising now for having great story telling above graphics, are we forgetting that, back then, they represented the best graphics we could imagine for a game? The only difference is that technology evolves and thank god, games evolve with it!

    Still, I too feel that games have been losing narrative quality, it’s so hard to find a game with a story that keeps you on the edge and makes you feel like you’re the character that I end up playing a game per month, if even… And I’ve always been a game fanatic!

    I’m currently waiting for MGS4 to finish the saga that I’ve been following since MGS1 on the PSX. Would I want MGS4 in PSX graphics? Hell no! :)

    I think that great gameplay + great story + great graphics are what really makes a game brilliant. Still, I understand your point, if I could choose to have a good looking game with bad story or the opposite? I’d prefer story over graphics any day.

  47. Ian says:

    The whole “Graphics vs Narrative/Gameplay/Whatever” point is plain stupid.

    Graphics serve the purpose of the game, it’s not a fight, you have to make things live in harmony, not opposing them, or you’re doomed to make shitty games.

    The Nintendo brainwashing about “graphics are nothing” is working too well these days, what a shame :/

    The Sony brainwashing about “graphics are everything” is working too well these days. That is the shame.

    Obviously it’s daft to say graphics are nothing. Even the most ardent anti–shinyness-for-the-sake-of people would have to admit that a new game with fuck-ugly graphics would have to be damn good to get past that, but I tire of people using graphics as any kind of argument about the quality of a game or console.

    I like the Wii. It’s flawed, has a limited library, is prone to (BUZZWORD ALERT!) shovelware, and I fully understand why some developers are wary or unwilling when it comes to making games for it. But I’ve seen people try to base their anti-Wii arguments based on the power of the thing almost alone. These are the same people who convince themselves that having a 60 inch HDTV in their twenty-by-ten living room makes watching their Blu Ray Heroes episodes a lot better.

    I think though that physics engines are coming to be relied upon too much too. I remember enjoying the first few levels of Dark Messiah of Might and Magic because the physics made for some fun moments and I had a few instances of unique gameplay. Then I realised for all the shinyness and fancy physics the gameplay wasn’t at all compelling.

    As the sort of person who waits until the bitter end before upgrading my PC, content to play new games on bottom-end graphics as long as I can, I would choose a Deus Ex or Jedi Knight over whichever game some developer has cranked out for the latest decaCore GraphicsBeast XT-100G whilst forgetting to make the gameplay more than passable.