Presentation: Environments, Graphics and Sound in Video Games
“Such strong visuals really have the power to attract people, including non-gamers, and create somewhat of a pseudo-realistic environment as the context for gameplay.”
It’s not a mystery that video games have had a major graphical boost over the past 10 - 15 years. From the old days of 2D, video games nowadays look pretty realistic. This is yet another element of video games that sustains engagement. Surprisingly, the literature doesn’t seem to focus on the role of graphics and environments, despite how important they are to the average gamer of this generation. As the technology continues to improve, the games continue to look better. Photorealistic graphics have taken a foothold in this past generation, and kids engage with games that look like these on a regular basis. Imagine watching or sitting through a Powerpoint presentation that has no images, or videos or other form of media, but instead is loaded with text and commentary from the presenter. Now, compare that to a Powerpoint that is colorful, has a good number of images, maybe includes video and if necessary and animations/transitions between slides. This isn’t to say that the former can’t be a good presentation, but the latter is much more likely to capture the average person’s attention. Likewise, modern video games use the technology to take the player through numerous environments from the beginning to the end of the game, all in high resolution, and incorporate a soundtrack that accompanies the player along this journey. Such strong visuals really have the power to attract people, including non-gamers, and create somewhat of a pseudo-realistic environment as the context for gameplay.
In addition to strong visuals, the environments themselves are often realistic places. In Assassin’s Creed Origins, the setting takes place in ancient Egypt. The player uncovers mysteries, explores tombs, treasures, etc. while the technological capability makes these locations more realistic.
In Ni No Kuni II (Level-5, 2018), the first Kingdom the player enters, Goldpaw, appears to be Chinese-inspired, considering the the names of the NPCs (non-playable characters), the outfits they wear, the building architecture, and names of the food for purchase in the town.
There are other gorgeous locales in Ni No Kuni II like Hydropolis, a water kingdom, located in the middle of the ocean. In Marvel’s Spider-Man (Insomniac Games, 2018) the setting is New York City.
Sound (tracks, sound effects) is an equally important feature, as they are there from the beginning to the end of the game and become associated with particular locales, characters, and cutscenes in the game. In fact, it is not uncommon for some soundtracks in video games to take on their own iconic identities. The Final Fantasy franchise, particularly Final Fantasy VII (Squaresoft, 1997) has numerous users doing their own renditions and covers of popular tracks from the game on YouTube. Sounds are meant to accompany the game’s environments and invoke or elicit multiple different emotions from the player. From hypertense music during intense battles or cutscenes in action games, to more peaceful soundtracks in towns of role-playing games, sound is a crucial part of game-play that is more subtle than others (probably because it is not visual), that can make a game feel much better and more motivating to play.