BioShock Infinite's unrealistic leap toward videogame progress

I’ve never played the original BioShock and I haven’t gotten past the first Big Sister in BioShock 2, but I can’t wait to get my hands on the new BioShock Infinite game coming out in late 2012.

I’m excited because I’m so drawn to the game’s graphical style. Unlike most western developers who constantly chase after the ultimate realism in videogames, Irrational Games’s Creative Director, Ken Levine, is steering BioShock Infinite into a whole new art direction.

The world in BioShock Infinite is vibrant and detailed but with a comic-book influence, in a way similar to a stylized cartoon in high definition. The characters, in particular the mysterious character Elizabeth, have exaggerated human features.

Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite
Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite

In an interview with Gamers With Jobs last year, Ken Levine explained that:

A movie uses photorealism quite often because it’s free. We don’t get a cost benefit for being photorealistic, it’s the same reason Pixar’s not photorealistic, you just end up creepy… There’s no need to be photorealistic and I think it’s kind of a cop out. I’d much rather play a game that’s stylized.

I love that. It’s not that I don’t appreciate realistic graphics in videogames, far from it, but I don’t think as gamers we should limit ourselves to a singular style of art.

Videogames are fundamentally different when comparing to other art forms, such as writing or photography, because there’s this constant need to be on the cutting edge of technology. Even when it comes to moviemaking where it’s socially acceptable to make no-frill romantic comedies, it’s often considered to be a sacrilege to create a videogame with outdated graphics. Can you imagine Mass Effect 3 with blocky textures from the Nintendo 64 era?

That’s why game designers tend to chase toward art styles that replicate reality. That way, they can show off their latest and greatest achievements by bragging about the quantitative, technical side of art. They start talking the game’s ability to run in 60 frames per second or the computer’s system requirement in order to replicate such reality smoothly. Realism is also something consumers are most familiar with, and why it’s a safety net for most game publishers.

But because of that, it becomes a risk for game designers to implement anything other than realistic graphics because that’s all consumers are familiar with. It would be like how the music industry would only focus on Pop because consumers are only exposed to Lady Gaga.

The thing is, artists shouldn’t produce art that are solely conformed by consumers’ expectations. Instead, artists should create things that represent their creativity, even if they happen to challenge consumers’ perceptions of what art should be. Otherwise, paintings would never move past Impressionism and music would still be consisted of four independent movements.

Legend of Zelda Wind Waker
Can you imagine Wind Waker any other way?

Just imagine games such as Animal Crossing, Borderlands, No More Heroes, or The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker without their distinctive art styles. Imagine if Anime characters are drawn with proportional human features, or if all of Pixar’s famous characters were created with ultra realism in mind. They may still be mind blowing, but in exchange they would’ve lost the sense of magic they are now known for.

BioShock Infinite is exciting partly because its art style is refreshing and it stands out from many of the videogames in the market today. Unlike the latest installments of Uncharted, Call of Duty, or Gears of War where I have clear ideas of what the final products may look like, I haven’t seen enough of BioShock Infinite to really know where (and how) Ken Levine will ultimately take us in the colorful, yet collapsing, air-city of Columbia. And that’s a good thing.

It’s a leap of faith, but one I’m happy to take. I’m intrigued from what I’ve seen so far to learning more about the game, even if Elizabeth does look like a character from Bratz.

E3 2011: Nevermind who won…the question is: "Where are we going?"

I realized I’d been on Twitter way too long when I started fuming on this one, single tweet that read: “Hands down, Sony won this year’s E3.” What is that…36 characters? Hardly worth losing a night’s sleep over. Yet there I was…just absolutely incensed and wondering what gave that person the right to say such a thing.

I watched all three media presentations from Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. But honestly, who cares who wins in E3 anymore?

These presentations ran like the Academy Awards. Different game developers got up on stage, read their cheesy lines, showed the videos, and filled the remaining, awkward silence with a “joke” or two before the eerie woman with the answering-machine voice introduced the next guest. Rinse and repeat. That’s what these presentations are.

Of course, the audience is mostly interested in the products, and I’m not sure what to make of most of those this year. Microsoft largely focused on Kinect, and, specifically, voice recognition. I don’t have an Xbox 360, so I might not be seeing the entire picture here…but why should video-game experiences be based on voice-controlled menu navigation or gestured-driven gun construction? Like Adam Sessler had previously said in his soapbox podcast, why is gaming constantly trying to push the envelope to where it doesn’t need to be pushed?

Same thing with Sony’s presentation, where they pushed 3D in a very big way. Every 10 minutes or so, they told the audience to “please put on your 3D glasses now.” They’re even releasing a PlayStation branded 3D television. Yet in all of the gameplay videos and demonstrations, I have yet to see any evidence why 3D gaming is a must-have instead of a nice-to-have.

And then there are the hardware announcements:

  • The PlayStation Vita. It’s basically a Wifi and 3G enabled PSP, but with better graphics, a touch screen, front and back camera, and…a rear touch pad? Again, Sony has failed to answer why I need a rear touch pad. To make the mountains go higher? How is that taking gameplay to the next level?
     
  • Nintendo announced the successor to Wii, named the WiiU; except, is it really a successor? Or is the new controller the only feature? This device has a 6.2″ screen, which provides players with a place to view secondary information or allows them to switch the output from T.V. to controller. But why does any of that matter if I can’t use the controller as a portable, iPad-like device? And just who asked for these very features? Why should we care?

These presentations are like watching Lost. Instead of providing answers, I’m left with more questions. “Who won E3 this year?” I honestly don’t care because I’m too busy trying to find out where these E3 presentations are taking us.

Update: This post has since been featured on Bitmob.com front page!