12.11.2008

Do Some Games Benefit From Older Technology?

Recently, on the excellent Verbal Spew, Jeremy Parish of 1UP posted an interesting article delving into the announcement that Dragon Quest X would be released on the Wii. A lot of people were surprised that DQIX was revealed a couple years ago to be destined solely for the DS. But really, in Japan as elsewhere, everyone and their grandmother has a DS. It makes perfect sense for a high-profile game to try to go where the money is. Similarly, the Wii has seen enormous levels of sales and popularity since its launch two years ago, so it should come as no surprise that Square-Enix wants to market DQX to as large of an install base as possible.

But what this really points to, I think, is that not all games derive direct benefits from a huge increase in graphical and technological power, a la the PS3 and 360. Parish writes that "it makes sense that Dragon Quest's sequels are headed to DS and Wii. They don't need PS3-level power to be heartwarming, and in fact too much tech would probably just get in the way. The hardcore gamers have their PS3s and Xbox 360s, but everyone has a DS or a Wii." I agree, not just about Draqon Quest, but about RPGs in general. In particular, turn-based RPGs such as Dragon Quest, some iterations of Final Fantasy, and strategy games such as Advance Wars or Jeanne d'Arc don't necessarily need advanced technology to achieve their goals.

As Parish says, if the goal of a game like DQV is to tell a slight spin of a familiar story, with a well-known turn-based battle system, it hardly needs to be remade for the PS3, right? If nothing else, if an RPG such as this were made for the PS3, the developers would devote extra time to producing top-notch graphics, figuring out the hardware, and maximizing the game's performance for the technological elite. This, in turn, takes them away from expanding and perfecting the story and battle system, which are the main draws of most RPGs anyway. More advanced technology is just a distraction from the most important parts of many RPGs. This is somewhat evidenced by the large number of RPGs on systems with lower specs, particularly the DS, but also the PSP and the continued support of the PS2 (see Persona 4).

At the same time, Parish does a great job of acknowledging that there is also a place (currently a very large place) for big budget, technologically advanced games. And there are definite advantages to having the power of a PS3 or 360 available. One of the biggest, I think, is just being able to clearly see what's going on in the game. Sharp graphics on a decent-sized HD-TV truly are a beauty to behold. Especially in fast-paced games like shooters, the ability to easily delineate everything in your field of vision is a huge asset. The simple ability to see clearly and evaluate your surroundings was often disappointingly difficult in previous generations, particularly during the early days of the PS1 and N64's attempts at 3D. I remember numerous times wondering what I was looking at in games like GoldenEye or Perfect Dark, trying to make out my enemy amongst a bunch of debris. An increase in graphical power is a major benefit for shooters and other action games that rely on the player's ability to constantly know what's happening around them.

But take any RPG, and this type of graphical fidelity is nowhere near required. Would or Persona 3 or 4 have been better on a current-gen system? Perhaps, but I don't think so. Everything they set out to accomplish, creating a believable high school-based world, developing your interactions with NPCs, and crafting an exciting turn-based battle system could all easily be accomplished on the PS2. You're never in doubt as to what you're doing. While a PS3 version would certainly have crisper graphics with more polygons, in this case, I don't think that's necessarily a benefit, and would potentially distract the developers from honing other aspects of the game.

What other games or types of games can benefit from a hardware downgrade? I think an argument could be made that high-profile sequels (e.g. MGS4 or GTAIV) don't always benefit from the newest technology. Are there any other genres or games that benefit from older, easier to use technology? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Let me know in the comments.

1 comment:

Gregory Weir said...

I'm a firm believer in making games using old graphics technology. What's important to a game's visual aesthetics is style and quality, not number of polygons. Look at World of Goo or Odin Sphere. Hell, compare Link to the Past to Ocarina of Time. LttP is just a prettier game, because it was done with an artistic style and graphical technology that worked together.

Developers should first decide what their game should look like, and only then decide what technology to use to achieve that effect. Attempting to ride the newest technological wave is likely to cause the same problem we see with OoT: ten years later, it looks terrible.