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Dec 01, 2004

Comments

1.

One thing that stands out for me--and has been commented on much elsewhere--is that WoW is the first MMOG that I would say has an honest-to-god visual aesthetic, e.g., where the graphics aren't just designed with a thought to what the technology can or cannot bear. I can think of individual zones or sites in other MMOGs where you say, "Wow, that looks neat or cool or interesting", sure. But almost every other MMOG is a kind of visual hodgepodge--much generic imagery, both fantastic and banal, and inconsistent from place to place. Or in a few cases, actively bad--Hibernia in DAOC comes to mind, which just made me want to poke my own eyeballs out.

The softness and cartooniness of WoW on the other hand, has the feeling of an artful use of graphics to generally reinforce the entire representational apparatus of the game. It's like the difference between computer-animated films that just sort of set out to see if they can get a better algorithim for hair (a la "Shrek 2") and those that have a complete visual imagination that fits the overall aspiration of the film (a la "The Incredibles".) EQ2's visuals are just the Shrek 2 kind: designed to see what they can do, not done with an eye to what they ought to do. WoW's visuals give you a sense of artistic authorship.

2.

At the risk of using too many "gushing superlatives" I'll just say that I agree wholeheartedly. First time I wandered into Ashenvale just north of Orgrimmar I couldn't stop taking screenshots. It was such a peaceful change going from so many hours in the hot desert of Durotar, I just sat down and enjoyed the scenery (until I got wacked by some nasty spider). Been a long time since I did that in an MMO.

3.

It's both pretty and funny, judging from this machinima that takes advantage of the race-specific dance moves in the game:

https://www.worldofwar.net/files/files.php?&id=111

(Rating: Mature, 17+)

More yuks: If you keep clicking on an NPC, he/she/it stops saying "How can I help you?" and starts saying "What's your problem?"

4.

At least I'm not anymore alone to rave about this.

5.

My breath is still taken away almost daily by the art in SWG's Jump To Lightspeed. It's a great rendering of space. And I have no complaints about the planets in the ground game. One trip to Dathomir, and the Imperial Prison, for instance ...

On other fronts, I wonder how these observations play into Richard's "Designed by Newbies" essay?

6.

Thank goodness for you post. I was beggining to wonder about my sanity. I've only taken a half dozen screen shots in all myyears of playing MMO's, but I've found taking screenshots in WoW to be irrisitable. Now I suppose I will have to put up a web site too, lol.

7.

WoW does have something ... special ... to the athmospheric feel. I am mostly impressed with the solidity of the environment. In most MMOGs I have played the worlds feel a bit like a thin skin, but WoW (and SWG) has a more solid feel - as if there actually was layers upon layers of dirt and rock underneath the feet of the avatars, even despite of the semi-cartoon style.

8.

The thing that strikes me about WoW is that it's not simply a definitive artistic aesthetic that makes the world interesting to look at. It's tough to take a screenshot in the game that doesn't display a deep understanding of color, not just in the selection of the colors, but in the marriage of proper complements to create atmosphere. And despite their saturated somewhat toony sensibility, there's just enough realism to make the world believable. It's like living in a painting.

9.

This is something that I've been hopeful for ever since I read Betsy's paper about virtual tourism. It's the kind of thing which you can imagine having a 5-minute fun slot on a TV travel programme.

Then again, I remember people telling me about the wonderful views in Adventure (aka Colossal Cave, the first single-player adventure game). It may be that we look at some of these things in the light of a different kind of experience than that understood by regular tourists.

Richard

10.

Edward Castronova>https://www.worldofwar.net/files/files.php?&id=111

How long before we see a Machinima pop video on MTV?

Richard

11.

>How long before we see a Machinima pop video on MTV?
The Grand Theft Auto San Andreas Welcome to the Jungle ad was pretty darn close.

12.

>How long before we see a Machinima pop video on MTV?
It already happened.

https://www.mtv.com/onair/dyn/video_mods/series.jhtml

13.

Jesper>It already happened.

Gaah!

Richard

14.

Ah, the cycle begins anew.

In DAoC's beta, I borrowed a friend's account and created an Albion character. I was hunting around the newbie area when someone said they were gonna head out to a great place to hunt. (Little did I know that it was a frontier realm that was completely inappropriate for us to hunt at, but let's skip that little detail for now.) I followed him out to this area and we explored around a bit. I entered one of the newly placed keeps and climbed to the top. I looked into the distance and saw the sun rise over the snowy mountains.

If you've ever seen the morning sun spread over a snow-covered field, you know what kind of experience that is. The pink light streaming over the horizon, chasing the murky night away. Breathing in the cold, crisp air and looking around in wonder as the light starts to reveal the waking world. It's an almost transcendent feeling.

That's exactly how I felt standing on that keep in DAoC. I almost felt my breath freezing on my mustache sitting at that computer.

I played DAoC for months afterwards. I never quite recaptured that same feeling of awe I had on that day, even when I was in similar in-game environments. It's a good thing that the pretty atmosphere wasn't required for the game to be enjoyable, otherwise I wouldn't have lasted very long in DAoC, I guess.

Have fun,

15.

I had the exact same kind of "whoah" experience in DAoC -- mostly with the rain, the moonlight, and the other atmospheric effects. Often had to just stop and watch the game...

Didn't really happen in SWG, but I didn't get very far. CoH has had some really nice moments (the pyrotechnics are super), but it isn't a new plateau visually, except in terms of character creation. I think the great insight of the Blizzard art guys was in realizing that detail and realism aren't really the key way to push the envelope (see Doom III) -- you can get a better visual payoff by working with fewer pixels and polygons and doing more with them. Kudos to Blizzard.

16.

Know what really impresses me? Some of these positive comments about the visuals are from folks who are really fond of 2D and text-based environments. Conoisseurs of atmosphere. (Also, people who probably spell French better than I do.) Can 3D deliver atmosphere as well as more abstract media? Maybe it can.

17.

It was sometime late in March when I first made the trek up from the newbie areas in Dun Morogh to Ironforge itself. I ran around inside for a while, doing some shopping, site-seeing, that sort of thing.

When I emerged from the city, I came around the corner, and was focusing on a Night Elf running in front of me. For the most part I'd seen a lot of Dwarves and Gnomes up until this point, so a NE was a novelty.

I look up from the cute Rogue, and as I reached the edge of the Ironforge doorway I stopped. I looked out across the small ledge in front of the IF entrance, and I literally lost the ability to speak. Looming off in the distance were the mountains that guard the newbies from the demonscarred areas of the Searing Gorge. Trees filled my view out into Dun Morogh proper, and even through a low mist I could see all the way to Kharanos. The sun was rising, and a Gryphon rider swooped out from behind me, over my head and southward towards Stormwind.

There's a reason I said it's like walking through a painting.

18.

I'm definitely in the minority here but I was completely underwhelmed by WoW graphics. It must be just the way I look at them, all I see are really nice textures wrapped on really bad models. I can't escape the feeling that I've zoomed up too close (like WC3 cutscenes).

19.

More gushing: atmosphere trumps realism.

For whatever reason, I find myself far more willing to suspend disbelief in WOW than I do in EQ2, which seems to be trying for a more realistic feel. I would have thought it would be the other way around, but my reptilian brain disagrees.

20.

For whatever reason, I find myself far more willing to suspend disbelief in WOW than I do in EQ2, which seems to be trying for a more realistic feel.

I still hold that this has a lot to do with the Uncanny Valley (a phenomenon that also explains why the Incredibles is darling and the Polar Express will make your kids wet their beds).

21.

I do not agree. It's simply a case of self consistency. When you choose a style you need to stick to it. You cannot have realistic textures and then unrealistic animations.

There's also a lot more under the cover. Just as an example in SWG there are different races, but the all share the same animations. In WoW we have less customization but each race has unique animations and an unique, concrete "feel".

The envoronment: In SWG you can only see an approximation of "what's there", the line of the horizon. As you travel entire cities fade in, forests, hills. The world morphs as you walk. You saw nothing from far away but instead there's a forest, or something else. In WoW what you see is what exists in the landscape. A tree you see on the horizon is a tree if you walk there. The only fading-in elements are NPCs and players which appear at a radius.

What means this? That there's a depth. A world that isn't faked, "fluid" like in SWG or randomly generated. The experience you are having is solid. What You See Is What You Get.

You can accept more easily this level because once you are in you are completely immersed in a precise, self consistent style. This doesn't happen in other games.

22.

Consistency is undoubtedly a cornerstone of their artistic success, and yes, it's something that WoW exceeds at. Nobody does it better. But if you had taken every piece of art that was in EQ2 and made it as consistent as their best piece of art, you'd still have something that looked slitghtly off-kilter - it would pale to WoW because they chose for a fantastical style instead of a realistic one.

23.

It's all about differentiation...

Disney animations look like Disney animations. Pixar movies like Pixar movies. Aardman animations look like Aardman anaimations. Etc.

WoW has done a nice job in making a visual style that stands out. Too many MMORPGs have the same visual style; sometimes it's impossible to tell which one a screenshot came from. (They also have virtually the same features, but that's a different issue.)

If you're into different graphical styles do a search on "non-photorealistic rendering". These are a series of techniques to make a rendering look like a cartoon (toon rendering), various forms of painting/drawing styles, and to clarify the image. I programmed in some effects into my 3d app; see the bottom of https://www.mxac.com.au/m3d/gallery.htm.

By "clarifying the image" I mean adding non-photorealistic effects that make it easier for the brain to separate out objects in the image. These effects include:

- Outlining objects

- Fog/haze, so more distant objects don't get confused with closer objects. (3D glasses would do this too.)

- Color differentiation - Making monsters a different color than the background make them easier to see. This can even be applied post rendering by determining the average color(s) for the background and the monster, and then doing subtle color shifts to make the monster stand out.

- Shadows

- Lighting techniques - Commonly used in movies and TV. The point to to bring out the person's face and silouhete.

As someone else pointed out, most of Nick Yee's images correspond to standard artistic color schemes, such as triads (RGB, CMY), adjacent colors (reds and oranges, or blues and greens, or yellows and reds, etc.), monochromatic (all shades of blue), and color opposites (blue and yellow, red and cyan, green and magenta).

This is possible because WoW isn't doing realistic rendering. A realistic-looking scene will have many more colors in it, breaking any color scheme the level designer tries to create.

24.

We should push deeper on this distinction between the "realism" of EQ2 and the "non-realism" of WoW. Mike's point above is well taken but i'd suggest that the awe Nick and others feel is similar to looking at a painting not to actually feeling like you are there.

In fact, I'd suggest that the visual effect is more immersive if you barely notice it all... that is you start to take the virtual environment for granted like we usually do in our regular everyday world. I'm not saying EQ is good at this but its on its way. When the scenary stands out is when it affects me like a painting or is inflected with some Proustian type of memory like a sunset or whatever.

Let me wax controversial for a moment on purpose... These affects have nothing to do with "realism" in terms of immersion per se... to be amazed at the scenery is not to be present in the scenary at all (when was the last time you were stunned by the scenary of your RL). Truely immersive scenary should be mundane to the point of be banal even if it is scenary of fairy glades and towering mountains. I think this is just more mushyness around the operationalizing of our concepts of immersion, presence, and suspension of disbelief.

on this note - has anyone reading this done any work on the concept of the sublime in games?

25.

I think it's great that WoW pulled off the trump of providing a more immersive and appreciated player visual environment, without resorting to brute force realism. By investing their art resources into style, rather than trying to approximate the real world as closely as possible, they have set themselves apart from the crowd. I think that this distint visual style also adds to the value and lifespan of the series, in the long term

26.

Truely immersive scenary should be mundane to the point of be banal even if it is scenary of fairy glades and towering mountains. I think this is just more mushyness around the operationalizing of our concepts of immersion, presence, and suspension of disbelief.

I disagree wholeheartedly. 'Immersion' implies that you're being drawn into the vistas and sceneries and feel like you're actually in the world. A world that you view as overly mundane is one that you get overly bored with, and it's then much easier to observe detachedly and say to yourself, "what am I doing here?"

27.

While I cannot speak from experience, since I have not yet played WoW, I have seen WoW in motion and want to play very soon.

Personally, fantasy settings in games are preferred over real ones, since that is why I play: to escape the oridinary and mundane. Realism, while immersive, is not prerequisite to immersion. I am transported to a fantasy realm because I "will" to believe and to be submerged within the fantastic. And I am much more willing to believe in the rich aesthetics of the settings in WoW simply because of the attractiveness and style of it.

So to say that "truly immersive scenery should be mundane" is a personal preference, and one that is not shared by all gamers.

28.

Well, always remember the three narrative structures:

*empty field* - Coverage - Permanency - *empty field*

Surprise - strong - weak - Wonder

Mystery - medium - medium - Curiosity

Suspense - weak - strong - Empathy

This should be looked as a table, the coverage is basically the intensity. The first column collects the narrative structures, the last column collects the psychological states.

29.

I too am a fan of the WoW graphics. On the other hand, EQ seems to long have fallen for the proposition that “more polygons equals better art”, which is not my experience at all. I’ve been playing WoW for a bit in beta and live, and constantly come across nice little touches. In the snowy Dwarf area, mist forms on peoples breath. Its just a couple of polygons really, but a couple of very well used polygons. It gives me the sense that someone cared in the production of WoW. One thing I do miss from the early EQ is the lack of a dark night. And hence the glorious sunrise. I would like to see a “Dark Night” option, but I do realize that’s not an easy task technically.

My orientation in Virtual Worlds is to visit places I would never see in the familiar world. I like my worlds to have enough of the mundane to locate myself in it, but then take my to places I couldn’t go in this one. I think WoW has done a nice job of that.

One day I would like to explore a 4D world. In my vocabulary, that could be both “realistic” and “immersive”, but it would not be familiar. Certainly, in my travels in the physical world, and have had moments when I felt like I had fallen into a fantasy novel. The scene was realistic, and I knew I was there, but it felt quite outside my familiar reality. I don’t myself feel a big need for the scenery to be mundane to feel like I am “there”. Which reinforces my preference for WoW over EQ 2 I think.

30.

I must really applaud Blizzard for their finely crafted world construction mostly for the unique and hand crafted feel of all locations. As a level designer I appreciate this very much. The only downside I noticed is that the day and night cycle seems artificial mostly due to the static shadows.

Other games that pleased me in the world construction
Lineage2
Neocron city in Neocron

-Crode

31.

Bart Simon> (when was the last time you were stunned by the scenary of your RL)

September 25, 2004, at approximately 4 PM PDT.


(more details, for those who care: I was coming over Chinook Pass into Mount Rainier National Park, and I simply couldn't continue driving; I had to pull over to the side of the road and look around. Of course, part of the effect was the fact that, for the first time in eleven years, I was in a place that felt like home.)

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35.

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Thank you,

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36.

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37.

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38.

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