If there’s one thing I haven’t expressed enough recently, it’s that I’m alarmed at the state of video games in relation to how they once were. In my day, games were a source of wonder and excitement. Now video games serve more as an elaborate pissing contest with one side saying they’re better than the other for no reason other than because of course they are, and at the center of this? High definition. I’m convinced that HD has done more harm than good for our beloved pastime. Here is how HD has brought and is still bringing about the ruination of video games.
For full disclosure, I feel it’s necessary to explain a recent situation I encountered that has to do with an HD TV, a situation that has painted a lot of this discussion and encouraged me to grouse about things. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been going on an adventure to finally upgrade from my standard definition CRT to a glorious HD TV capable of many wonderful things.
I prefer to do a lot of research before making a large purchase and knew that I wanted something that could run in 1080p, had multiple HDMI hookups but also AV component hookups for my older systems, be at least 50”, and all cost under $600. Knowing this was a tall order, I set my expectations low enough that I was blown out of my seat when Best Buy had a TV that fit all of those specifications as a special deal. I went in to check it out, decided to come back and purchase it the next day, and returned to discover that the sale had ended, causing me to curse and then select my backup TV that had roughly the same specifications.
Since they didn’t have it in at the time but the sale on my backup would end within a few days, I opted to order the TV online and then come into the store to pick it up when one had been shipped. Half a week later and I’m excited to snag it, learning that my car is almost too small to transport it home, but not quite. I partner with my wife and between the two of us, we’ve hauled my massive 37” CTR into another room and set up my new HD TV in front of the couch. I hook everything up, including my Wii U, and then turn the TV on. A cracked running down the center of the TV lights up, illuminating me in the ways of utter disappointment and soul-crushing defeat. It’s also 9 pm, meaning further adventures will force me to wait until at least the following day.
Come quitting time the following day, I rush home and load the cracked TV into my wife’s car, a slightly larger vehicle, and take off to a different Best Buy an extra 20 minutes away since I was informed by the call center that they had a replacement TV for me there. You can certainly guess what they didn’t have when I got there, so one returned TV and a refund later, I’m leaving Best Buy in a state of frustration. Luckily, a Fred Meyer just down the road had a nice sale going on an even larger TV that looked even better than the first one. I couldn’t pass up the deal and bought it right there, only to discover that it didn’t fit into my car. I go home dejected and feeling foolish.
Two nights later I’ve worked out how to transport the TV from the Fred Meyer to my home using an elaborate web of bungee cords and a tarp, which works in sheer defiance of God’s Law. I’m positively bouncing off the walls, delighted to experience my games in HD as they were all meant to be experienced, but also terrified that another crack will welcome me. The boot-up is successful and everything seems fantastic. Huzzah! Let us embrace the HD future! I change my Wii U’s settings for an HDMI cable running in 1080p and boot up New Super Luigi U, hardly able to contain myself.
This is where everything once again falls apart. It becomes immediately apparent that the audio on the GamePad and the audio coming from the TV aren’t synced up, with the GamePad going faster. I start up a level and compare the reaction times of both, noticing a definite control lag on the TV. My PS3 doesn’t seem to feel as noticeable, but then again, my PS3 doesn’t have a second screen showing me definitive proof that my TV is lagging and that Luigi jumps first on my GamePad and then on the TV.
Still, I just assume that this is something I can get used to. I stick the first disc of Avatar: The Last Airbender into my PS3 and prepare to show my wife why the show is great, only to have the picture look extremely blurry the entire time. I panic and mess with settings throughout the entire first and second episodes until I find a setting that looks passable at best (the same is happening on my Xbox 360, by the way).
Finally, I decide I can live with everything else, as long as at least one feature of my HD TV is amazing. Going for broke, in goes a disc from season 2 of Game of Thrones, ready to smash me over the head with the amazing Blu-Ray experience I’ve been promised. I experience frame-stutter the entire time, thus ruining the episode for myself (which is saying a lot since I don’t much enjoy the show anyway).
Feeling beyond stupid, I discover I’m literally sick to look at the TV, even as it sits powered off in my living room. That night, I pack it away, return it to a Fred Meyer (thankfully it could be any), and my wife and I lug my CRT back into the living room where it stands proud. Suddenly it’s beautiful again. The picture is so clear and my games respond so quickly whenever I input controls. And the screen feels huge all of a sudden. My love for my CRT has never been stronger. She may not be as pretty as the other TVs, and she’s a lot heavier, but she treats me right.
Now, this brings me to the real topic, which is how high definition has caused video games to lose something wonderful without even meaning to. HD is the new hotness, and as such, the general public will accept nothing less than HD. We scoffed at the Wii because it wasn’t capable of running in HD, then we scoffed at the Wii U because an HD console isn’t exciting anymore. We gladly praise retro-style games, but damn them if they aren’t capable of running at an amazing frame rate and with smooth, crisp, retro graphics.
You remember when games were about solid controls, fun concepts, and just the brutal freedom of magical worlds? Since the PS1 and N64, companies and gamers alike have slugged it out over who had the prettiest graphics. “Our game looks realer than yours!” “No way, our football players move so lifelike!” “Yeah, well, our first-person shooters look amazing on our system!” “So? Ours have realistic fish physics!”
Back and forth it goes, more worried about the raw power than about whether the games themselves are even worth playing. We see tech demos for the PS4 that show millions of objects on screen as they fall, just to demonstrate that yes, look how many objects we can show you at once in HD. We see the face of an old man, just to demonstrate that HD looks good in HD and that our HD games will finally be able to be HD.
I’m sick of this. I want my games to be about how amazing it is to run and jump in a world filled with dinosaurs and mushrooms. I want to see anthropomorphic animals do just about anything anymore. I want to experience something truly new that doesn’t require me to look at something and be happy that it looks pretty.
We’re to the point that while standing in line, watching people play The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD at PAX, despite the game playing smoothly and the colors being so vibrant, the players were content to zoom the camera into unnatural angles just to see if the shadows were jaggy and, yup, super jaggy, so this game sucks. These are smart people, waiting in line to play a game that millions of people adore, and the first thing they do is look for imperfection so they can ruin any sort of enjoyment.
The Wii was plagued with people turning their noses up at it, not because the motion controls were unwieldy in some games but rather because the visuals were so close to what the GameCube had already done. People were skipping out on dozens of fantastic titles because they just didn’t look as eye-popping graphically like games on the PS3 and Xbox 360 were, and any time a game came out that worked around the graphical limitations, such as Mad World or Kirby’s Epic Yarn, people didn’t give the system credit for trying something new visually; they scoffed even harder and just pointed out that the art styles were only a result of the inability to have next gen graphics like the other two systems (and PC, which as we all know is always three gens ahead of consoles anyway).
Gamers can’t be entirely blamed for this though. The attitude companies have toward visuals is appalling. For example, have you tried playing any Capcom game released in the past 7 years on a standard definition TV? Then good luck trying to read any of the text in the game. I tried to play Dead Rising and my eyes screamed the whole time as I attempted to read the fine print as it scrolled across the bottom of the screen, telling me vital information for the game. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on my Wii U? Had to switch to the GamePad to attempt to read any text, and even then I had to squint (one guess whether I played more than 5 minutes after that).
My beloved Nintendo can’t be forgiven for this, either. How many new Mario games need to come out with the same boring New Super Mario Bros style of pre-rendered and HD sprite models before someone figures out that Mario games used to be able to change up their visual styles as radically as changing into different power-up outfits (Super Mario Bros 3 to Super Mario World to Yoshi’s Island, just to name a few radical differences). We applaud Raymond Legends for having hand-drawn art more than we applaud it for playing well, and although it looks stupidly gorgeous, I’ve definitely played platformers that control better.
New systems aren’t even being sold on the games anymore. They’re being sold based on how powerful they are and how glorious they look in your upper-middle class white living room in the home that you own. They aren’t even trying to look fun anymore. Even Nintendo bailed on anything fun when they just went with the same glossy black system that everyone else is making. Man, remember when the GameCube was purple and had a handle? Why can’t we have more systems like that? Systems that aren’t afraid to be toys? You know, that thing that they are?
Cooing over visuals makes you look like a moron. I don’t have infinite time to play games like I had when I was a younger man, and I’ve never been capable of taking advantage of the prettiest graphics around (I’m a console gamer, so PC gamers can just keep scoffing at this entire song and dance), so when a game comes out and everyone is going back and forth about how great it is to look at, I’m more inclined to just skip it entirely. The only reason I made it through either Bioshock Infinite or The Last of Us was because their stories were fairly well done, not because they looked so damned pretty and especially not due to their bland gameplay mechanics (I’ve played RPGs that felt more engaging during battles than these two).
The lowest form of visual worship comes between console comparisons. Does Grand Theft Auto V look better on the PS3 or the Xbox 360? Who cares? Does it still play the same between the two? Is one version unanimously broken? Then quite bitching and just play the damned game on whichever system you want. Unless one version’s graphics become wire frame models and fritz out, preventing working gameplay, then you don’t have a reason to stare at the screen with a magnifying glass, looking for reasons to justify your system of choice. Screaming that the Wii U version of any game looks worse (or even better) than other versions misses the point entirely. If something’s going to be multiplatform, then the whole point is that it’s not exclusive to one system or another and therefore not by default any different save for the usual hamfisted exclusive missions or hacking boosts or other such nonsense.
Were I to purchase either a PS4 or an Xbox One before the end of the year, I currently wouldn’t be able to see the difference graphically due to my TV’s age. I’d have to upgrade my TV just to see why these games are supposedly “next gen” experiences, and to my understanding, they require TVs that can take HDMI cables, leaving me completely out of the consumer base anyway. So if I’m required to spend nearly $1,000 on a new TV just to make my $500 new system look decent but still play games that act and feel exactly like the games I can currently play, then why would I bother? Why should I bother? Why should anyone? Remember a few years back when Sony was sure that 3D TVs were the next big thing and Killzone 3 was built with 3D capabilities because that was the new hotness? Remember how that didn’t catch on at all? Visuals are fads, pure and simple. It’s the same reason that Nintendo’s handhelds have consistently outperformed all their direct competitors and have even dropped their own 3D fad visuals in an attempt to get back to basics.
Are you sick to death of HD re-releases of classic games? Well I sure hope not, because they don’t seem to be slowing down whatsoever. Half the time we get great games reborn into a new generation, only to discover that, yuck, these games were never that amazing to begin with. Do you know what game I played just the other day? Dragon Ball Z Budokai 1 & 3 HD. Do you realize how lazy of a port it is? It doesn’t even attempt to run in widescreen, instead opting to just display some generic borders on either side. And the worst thing of all, I stopped playing because I thought the visuals didn’t look HD enough.
There, I’ve said my piece and got my anecdotes out in the open for you all to pick apart. Time for me to take a step back and let someone else talk for a while, namely whoever goes into the comments and responds back. Am I showing my age and resisting change too much? Or do you agree that our insistence on higher and higher resolution visuals is damaging our hobby? Let me know! Otherwise, I’m just going to go play Super Mario Bros 3 again on whichever system I have it on, which seems to be all of them. Funny how that happened.