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Points for style

October 1st, 2006 by Troy Goodfellow · 3 Comments · Uncategorized

I’ll have more on Defcon later, but the word “stylish” keeps popping up in conversations I am having about it. Introversion is the king of style and in my review of Darwinia (now lost in the death of DIY Games) I mentioned how its sense of style almost overwhelmed the real substance.

And that’s not a bad thing. I’m astonished that people still post on forums and message boards that they prefer gameplay over graphics (like that tells us anything useful). They are “video games” for a reason, but saying that bad games suck even when they are pretty doesn’t get you extra street cred. A well designed game marries powerful visuals with a compelling rule set and interesting AI or multiplayer experience.

Defcon shows that simple graphics can still be very impressive; it’s the triumph of art design over photorealism. If there is an Introversion art motif, it is that you should never hide your influences. Darwinia looks like virtual worlds as seen through bad movies and teleplays of the early nineties. Glowing colors, simple forms, repetition after repetition. Defcon steals directly from the 80s Cold War classic Wargames, though sort of misses the moral lesson of the movie in favor of encouraging people to make the perfect air defence system.

As much as people love to complain about the lack of originality in games today, familiarity is important – especially in the indie game scene. The best independent games take something you already know and adapt it. Armadillo Run is one of many Rube Goldberg games, but works because of the physics and crashing things. Gish is a platform game, but, once again, tied to the physics of blobs.

Style happens when you take the familiar and make it look new. I’ve been playing a lot of Age of Empires III lately and it’s not big on style. It looks great, but it’s the good looks of a chrome and steel kitchen. It has reflective water, pretty trees, grazing bison and all the other stuff to remind you that this is the real world you are settling. Rise of Legends has style. It’s just another RTS after all, with a rock/paper/scissors mechanic and minerals to mine. It also has sights that you recognize, but the familiar musketeers, dragons and flying saucers are ripped from their normal context. The juxtaposition of diverse familiar elements leads to a jarring sense of exploring a world you thought you had mapped out in your head.

Photorealism can be stylish. Silent Hunter III is stylish because of its faithful recreation of World War II submarine warfare. The constraints of the underwater life, the exhausting schedule, the techonological limits – all are made effective though a convincing rendering of industrial, utilitarian shipwork.

Introversion never fails to surprise. Instead of churning out match three games or real physics stuff, they take images and sensibilities that our generation (late 20s to early 40s) shares and make a great game out of it. Style doesn’t just unite material and art; it marries material and audience.


3 Comments so far ↓

  • Darius K.

    I agree with you on the style issue. I love it when you can look at a game, with no prior knowledge of it, and guess what studio made it. This is not true of enough companies. Maxis, Big Huge, Level 5, and Valve come to mind. I’d say Introversion, possibly: even though their games are all very different stylistically, they all have that kind of Hacker vibe to them. In the sense of the movie Hacker.

    More studios need to infuse a personal style into their games. This is what creates powerful brands: not a logo, but a unified style. See Google for a good example–yes, their logo is now iconic, but it wouldn’t be if every single tool they release didn’t conform to their unique sense of style.

  • Toby Hede

    Defcon is *fantastic* by the way.

  • CasualHardcore

    Defcon – Best Game Ever!…

    The headline may be polemic, but Defcon is seriously good. You need to go download the demo now. When I get over my excitement, I will have something more informative to say.
    The game takes warfare to a new place – it’s abstract, calculating.