The false goal of visual realism in games – a springboard for at least three articles about video-game design that I’ve never written. Top of my list of crimes against mimesis in many recent third- and first-person games that I have seen is the “meat puppet” effect. Decently-rendered people (they should be characters) that move with a ham-fisted lack of verisimilitude that would make even the puppeteers on Fireball XL5 cringe.

David Braben makes a similar point in this BBC news interview. Body-language is vital to character interaction. If you have characters in a game, designers should be spending planning/design time and programming/processor cycles getting those character actions and interactions on par with the sophistication of their appearance. Half Life managed to make a lot of money off gamers despite the jarring mismatch of appearance and activity in the NPCs, which is either testament to gamers patience (it tried mine), or their impatience to get along to the next big monster and kill it with a big gun.

Those early 3D games by Virtuality in the late 80s were terrible. In an effort to get a fully immersible virtual reality they had not only missed out on making a game worth playing, but crucially the game was slow to react to your movements. The delay was enough to break the illusion (the mimesis) right away. I hoped they might bring out wire-frame games which would save on processor time and allow them to make more responsive environments, but no. I imagine the designers would see such a move as a step back to the arcade games of the mid-80s. But surely, such virtual, simplified realities, would have made for more immersible, and a more durable genre of, games.

With a few lines, a cartoonist can draw characters expressing a whole range of emotions and attitudes. This is where Nintendo often get it right with their cartoon-styled games. The interactions in the recent Zelda game are woven through a variety of facial expressions and postures consonant with the stylised 3D world. It presented a more engrossing story than, for example, the more photo-realistic Eternal Darkness.

I’m not actually arguing against visual realism ‘ it’s a laudable long-term goal ‘ it short-changes the medium’s capabilities if designers don’t give over processor-resources to other equally important dimensions of the gaming experience.