The last home console generation was the first to be in HD and the new technology allowed for more realistic designs. This renovation opened up a window for detail and art directions that really couldn’t be captured before. Games could more accurately capture emotions on characters faces, have detailed environments and use motion capture on very intricate movements.
In an attempt to be more realistic, shades of brown, grey, black and tan started plaguing the art direction in many video games. Games like “Call of Duty” and “Gears of War” could better portray desolate war-torn environments. There is beauty in the design of these games, but the market filled up quickly with similar styles.
The franchises that were once incredibly colorful and vibrant, in both art direction and narrative, changed to a more serious tone. They had the ability now to be more realistic, and it was selling. Rockstar games’ “Grand Theft Auto” (GTA), a once wacky franchise, went dark with 2008’s GTA IV. The color scheme, game-play and overall mood became far more serious. The humor remained, but the whole experience was far darker. Volition seized the opportunity as their “Saints Row” series went in the opposite direction, and it was a breath of fresh air.
“Saints Row” (something that started as just another GTA clone), carved its own path. It progressively got more vibrant, fun and weird as games in the series were released. “Saints Row” re-kindled the explosive fun that GTA now kept in moderation. GTA remained a mega hit, but for many it wasn’t as enjoyable. This lull in GTA’s outrageousness allowed for “Saints Row” to more properly secure a niche in the market.
As the last console generation is fading away, many games are finding a balance of fun and seriousness. The most recent GTA V was placed in sunny Los Santos and brought far more vibrant colors and humor. “Saints Row” continues to perfect their insanity, adding more neon colors, super powers and dub-step guns to their most recent “Saints Row IV.” It was clear the realistic trend was slipping away.
Other series and many independent games in the last generation similarly went outside what seemed to be the norm for triple-A titles, delivering new, different ideas and art direction. Ubisoft Montreal’s “Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon,” a standalone downloadable title, delivers a neon colored, fun and ’80s themed original story with the engine of “Far Cry 3.” Dennation Games’ “Hotline Miami” similarly pushes the color palette to the max while slathering itself with pixellated gore.
It is nice to see the novelty of gritty realism wearing off. Gloomy colors, textures and moods are appropriate in some games, but it is just nice to see the overwhelming trend lean towards brighter colors and a overall happier experience. Color is more important than just eye candy. It has the power to change the mood of the game.
The new generation of gaming presents an opportunity. The graphical leap from the last gen consoles to this gen is far smaller than the previous one. Therefore the novelty of graphics, while still present, is far less prevalent in gaming. Graphics in games are not as important as the art direction, and the market is realizing this.