The Rise of Technology, The Fall of Magiccomments powered by Disqus
Posted on Monday, July 8 2013 @ 12:50:50 Eastern
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I recently fired up The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It had been a few years since this gem graced my screen and I figured it was due for another completion. I found myself transfixed by its world almost immediately: the stylized 16-bit graphics; the monumental MIDI soundtrack. It all just came together to produce a feeling I haven’t experienced in video gaming in a long, long time—a feeling of magic.
A Link to the Past is a fantasy RPG title, with the biggest contender of modern entries to the genre being Skyrim. I’m going to juxtapose the old and the new, for the sake of finding what impact they’ve left on me. In my opinion, one leaves an indelible imprint of art and sense of magic (the old: ALttP), the other, just another forgettable 3D world (the new: Skyrim).
I don’t want to sound harsh against the Elder Scrolls title, but rather wish to use it as an example of how modern, realistic graphics are actually sucking the magic from the video game sphere. For example, in the Zelda title, after the first few minutes or so, you’ve saved the princess and entered a type of sanctuary. The music during this scene—so eerie—combined with the art design is like something out of a dream. It immediately evokes a strange feeling in me, something intangible and hard to describe: It’s like I’m looking into another reality—and it is beautiful. I daresay if this sanctuary was in realistic 3D, its magic would be lost, not only in art design, but the music wouldn’t be there. A master like Koji Kondo creates music to fit the feeling he receives emanating from what he is experiencing visually. How could Kondo create something so magical when he is just looking at some old monastery?
As games progress graphically—further and further into the realm of realism—I feel the magic I originally longed to experience in gaming is being sucked out. Sure, the modern titles are impressive feats in their own right (technically), but what do they really leave us with? I beat the hell out of Skyrim when it first came out, but if you were to ask me to describe an awesome bit of art design within the game, I’m nearly at a loss. I remember some castle on a massive hill. That’s pretty well it. I mean—aside from that—it just looked like I was watching a documentary on a sub-arctic European country. The reality of it makes it ordinary on some subconscious level, and it simply fades into the background of my mind like all the rest of reality tends to do.
Now I’ll remember another classic, Final Fantasy VII. I haven’t touched the game almost since it was released, yet I remember a plethora of settings: the bleak city of Midgar; the port city of Junon; the star-covered rocks of Cosmo Canyon. These images remain with me, not only because of the art direction and music, but because of the limits of the technology across the board.
Now I know with the continuing rise of mobile (tablet) gaming, developers have never been more free to make just the kind of “low-tech” experiences I am talking about, but what does relegating them to the dregs of gaming really say? That these games are only worth of your time while on the go? That a triple-A development team has better things to do than play with simplistic graphics and sound?
I don’t know. I guess I am beginning to lose my interest in big-budget gaming on some level. Skyrim looks pretty, but I could step outside my door and experience the wonders of its art design (I’m from Canada, eh?). And the combat system isn’t enough for me (let’s face it, it isn’t the deepest game around). I beat it to a pulp at its release because, well, everyone else was doing it, and the gamer in me wanted to do it better (as is our nature). But I haven’t thought of it since; and I certainly have no desire to replay it.
In the end, I just feel sad about our non-stop, headlong sprint towards graphical superiority (specifically realism) and sweeping orchestral soundtracks. You just have to look at a company like Square-Enix to see what treading this path has reaped; it’s sucked the life out of their most beloved IP.
Am I crazy to long for the game design of old? Maybe; maybe I’m just a cranky old-timer who is ranting like the grandparents who state music was better in their day. But I genuinely feel there is barely any magic left in gaming. The quest for technical superiority has killed it.
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