Graphics vs. Aesthetics – Why High Resolution Graphics Aren’t Enough – Extra Credits

July 31, 2019 posted by

Alright to some of you, this issue might be old hat but I keep seeing this issue come up, even in professional game reviews, So, we decided to just go ahead and talk about it. Graphics and aesthetics are not the same thing. For instance, Katamari Damacy is a game that has terrible graphics and fantastic aesthetics, whereas, say, Killzone 2? I’d say that’s a game with fantastic graphics, but a pretty lame aesthetic. The problem is that when both reviewers and consumers talk about how much they love the game’s graphics, or how important graphics are, this leads the industry to pumping more money into graphics, when really most of the time, all people really want is for their games to look good, and — that’s not what graphics do. Graphics are simply the technical rendering techniques that allow us to display images in a particular way on-screen. Graphics are things like self shadowing, Graphics are things like self shadowing, normal mapping, Graphics are things like self shadowing, normal mapping, subsurface scattering Graphics are things like self shadowing, normal mapping, subsurface scattering or tessellation. Better graphical capabilities allow you to display more polygons or, do fancier shadowing and lighting effects. More simply put, better graphics allow for more fidelity. Fidelity is a word you hear bandied about a lot, But basically it just means more detail. Over the years and the console cycles, We’ve been able to add more and more detail to our models, use higher resolution textures, and put in touches like bloom lighting effects due to increased graphical power on both the hardware and the software side. And don’t get me wrong, this additional detail is great. It lets us do all kinds of things we couldn’t do before, but here’s the thing; Graphics doesn’t define how good a game looks, that’s aesthetics. Loosely put, aesthetics is the style of the game. Aesthetics are the emotional context of the experience. Aesthetics encompass every aspect of the game, from sounds to the mechanics to the music, but today We’ll just start by talking about them in terms of visuals. Take a game like Golden Axe Beast Rider and set it side by side with something like PaRappa the Rapper. Now Beast Rider literally has a thousand times the graphical capabilities of PaRappa, and yet, Parappa still looks better. Why? Because PaRappa the Rapper has a unified, visual aesthetic. The color palette has been very carefully chosen, and every moment is set up with that Visual Vibrance that sets the tone of the entire piece. All of the characters’ proportions are stylized, and the character designs themselves are all rigorously chosen to give the player a sense that the outlandish is commonplace in this setting. Beast Rider, not so much. The palette is almost entirely brown, with a little effort put into setting up moments of contrast, which is Particularly evident when you’re comparing it to a game like PaRappa the Rapper. On top of that, there’s very little attempt to find a consistent theme for the enemies beyond Generic Human. And don’t tell me it can’t be done. If Final Fantasy and Gears of War have taught us anything, It’s that you can create semi-realistic humans with a consistent, stylized theme if you put your mind to it. This all really hits home when you play the game. Aesthetics and mechanics work together. Like I said, aesthetics give the player the emotional context for the experience. It helps them enter the right frame of mind to suspend disbelief and become completely immersed. PaRapper the Rapper’s visual aesthetic sets the player up for wacky, ridiculous fun and a unique gameplay experience. Well, it was unique at the time anyway. As for Beast Riders’ aesthetic, I don’t know about you, but that imagery doesn’t prepare me for high action and over-the-top violence. The game’s aesthetic actually clashes with the core mechanics by muting the action. Bad aesthetic design. So why are we picking on Beast Rider so much? Because if you look at the original Golden axe, it did none of these things wrong. In fact, Golden Axe was aesthetically the opposite of Beast Rider, even though it was so incredibly inferior graphically. There was a clear template for this franchise, but value was placed on graphics over aesthetics, And we were left with a semi realistic looking game that was nowhere near as engaging, even visually as the original. We’ve seen this happening a little too often in this generation of games. I also really want to reinforce that aesthetics are holistic. You ever been playing, say, a samurai game and suddenly get jarred out of the experience when an electric guitar started playing a heavy metal riff? You ever hear a character in a medieval game say something and had your feeling of immersion completely killed because it sounds like some guy down the street? Think about how much Mass Effect sounds and feels like sci-fi space. It’s because they carefully fit all of their aesthetic components together. Look at the structural designs, the character design, the music, even the voices and the speech patterns of the aliens. A lot of time went into making sure that all of those elements set the proper tone, Reinforcing the player’s immersion and allowing them to easily slip into this radically different universe as they took on the role of Commander Shepard. But how come Mass Effect could do this, while Haze could not? How come Black Isle Games still look somehow better than Two Worlds? How can Bioshock, Fallout 3, Team Fortress 2, Okami, and Borderlands look great, while Medal of Honor, Crackdown 2, Divinity 2, Knights Contract, Rogue Warrior just look bland and forgettable? It’s because games that look good are made by teams who know that graphics exist to serve a e s t h e t i c s. Sure, all of these teams spent a lot of time and money increasing their graphical capabilities, But not just for the sake of having better graphics. They did it to be able to better deliver on a firmly established aesthetic In several of these cases, the developers had actually started out charging forward without a firm aesthetic, only to find that the result was completely unappealing Learning their lesson, they started from scratch and centered their development around a specific, carefully crafted aesthetic. And I think we’re all glad they did. We, as an industry, simply have to realize that while nice graphics are hugely important, And there’s a lot you couldn’t do without that sweet graphics engine, Graphics alone aren’t the answer. We have to realize that you can have all the graphical tricks in the world, And it’ll never make something look really, truly good, unless you’ve thought through the aesthetic you’re using those tricks to achieve. And for that to happen, everybody, consumers and press alike And press alike, has to start separating the way a game looks from its graphics, and the sooner we start focusing our discussion on aesthetics Instead, the more games you’ll see that actually look really, truely, good, Rather than just throwing a big number of poly’s and high-resolution textures at you. See you next week.


100 Replies to “Graphics vs. Aesthetics – Why High Resolution Graphics Aren’t Enough – Extra Credits”

  1. Quiwi Lin Lisolet says:

    This is SO true. XIII still looks good with it's stylized… well, style. Medal of Honor: Rising Sun looks dated because they went for the more realistic look. (the games came out the same year).

    I could go on with KotOR vs. Enter the Matrix or Mario Kart: DD vs. NFS: Underground and so on. The ones who take style over realistic high end graphics always look better in the long run.

    Not to say there aren't any realistic style games that still look great, but I have this feeling that they too will look a bit stupid in few years.

  2. K.B. Carte says:

    Lol at the Mass Effect reference now in 2017.

    Also, in 2017, just finding this channel and videos. Why haven't I seen these before? They are great and is teaching me a lot with the game I hope to finish.

  3. Ethan Schmidt says:

    This is why I love Xenoblade. It's graphical power may not be the best because it's on the Wii but it's aesthetics are THE BEST and look so gorgeous, better than lots of games on the 360 or PS3, despite being on a vastly inferior console (at least in terms of processing power.)

  4. Laura Schantz says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for confronting the garbage that VGCats once described as "Haven't you heard? Real is brown."

  5. Sebaberto says:

    Then you have witcher, and CDPR be like "ha, ha"

  6. NotASpyReally says:


  7. Random Videos says:

    Thank you for videos like this😃

  8. JonnesTT says:

    I just realized that this beats me with all MC resurcepacks between 32px and 256px ._. because 64px has better grafiks but its astetiks aren't as well rounded as 16px

  9. SockTaters III says:

    Ah, the days when tf2 had a consistent aesthetic

  10. Marcelo Cabral Lima says:

    So I came back to this video, looking for inspiration on this "Graphics vs. Aesthetics" topic, and lo and behold that end message about Okami HD. ….Huh, good timing.

  11. Michael Roach says:

    I always think about the fact that World of Warcraft and Everquest 2 came out about the same time. Everquest 2 had the better graphics, but WoW had much more engaging aesthetics, as well as better mechanics … and they trounced EQ2 on those merits.

  12. superstar64’s old channel says:

    A E S T E T I C A L

  13. Igo Dreamer says:

    I just agreed with, pretty much oficina YouTube said.

  14. Matt Michel says:

    wild arabic and spanish subtitles appeared

  15. Kaspar Pflugshaupt says:

    This video is important

  16. Doctor Mitchell M.D. says:

    A E S T H E T I C

  17. Rexanity says:

    yeah I is a guy that say undertale sucks,but its not because the fanbse its the graphics

  18. Nite says:

    I play Tetris with Unreal engine

  19. Azorok_KL says:

    This shouldn't be "Graphics VS Aesthetics"
    It should be
    Aesthetics with Graphics

  20. Kun Akos says:

    I never heared of thoes games before but based on what i saw in this video (gameplay and cover) i would rather buy beast hunter than parappa xP

  21. BasedSwiss says:

    Woah… 2012.

  22. accquizzer says:

    Thanks to this video, when I talk video games, I am careful to not mix up graphics and aesthetics. Again, thank you.

  23. Pikanyaasan says:

    What happened with Golden Axe I see happening with Monster Hunter World- A vibrant series that looks more muddled in the latest installment for the sake of higher-definition graphics. I just hope the final product is more colorful than it seems in the trailers and pre-release screenshots…

  24. Ashish S says:

    yeah I was confused , because I didn't like the visuals of a particular game and people are saying awesome graphics. Thanks for clarifying 👍

  25. Jane Xemylixa says:

    And that's why I adored playing a gameplay-less animal-themed walking sim with low-res settings and like 8 fps. Thank you Might & Delight!

  26. Millton Manakeeper says:

    0:34 HOMG?

  27. Peter Nelson says:

    And then there was mass effect 3.

  28. William Sigunov says:

    Also, pursuing graphics alone is THE quickest way to horribly, horribly date your game.

  29. TanuRaccoon says:

    This just makes me reflect on the aesthetics of Psychonauts.

  30. Hubblebub Lumbubwub says:

    You're confusing graphical power with graphics.

  31. Nikodimos Triaridis says:

    The same thing could be said about CGI in movies. Godzilla is a film that has some pretty damn good looking CGI all things considered, but it's bland and forgettable. Meanwhile, a film like Sin City is laughably fake but it looks so stylish and unique that you don't mind.

  32. Ido Shani says:

    Screw 4k, Screw graphics gameplay is more importent

  33. Khristian4444StudioEntertainment says:

    It Aesthetics.

  34. Vladimir Gološin says:

    Graphics are body and aesthetics are soul

  35. Ward Vermassen says:

    a recent example: cuphead

  36. wundrweapon says:

    NieR:Automata is a prime example of how to do aesthetics right
    As the game progresses, the brightness of the world's colors slightly shifts to match the tone of that particular point in the storyline. Places with completely different color pallets, say the desert versus the city ruins, have different music, movement, and geometry to match everything together nicely. Even in the parts of the game where I felt I could pick out less than 4 distinct colors, the experience didn't break because everything else backed it up. The parts leading up to and including the Eve battle in particular – few colors, equally great immersion.

  37. diamond says:

    This video is before it even came out but Splatoon comes to mind. Especially when you hear about how Nintendo tried to think of an aesthetic to match the concept.

  38. TerDaBloxxer says:

    Super mario 64 has good aestetic but graphics? NUU

  39. Logan Anderson says:

    Dishonored is a good example of this. The graphics were decent, but the aesthetics were phenomenal. Everything felt rotten; fitting for a game centered around a plague.

  40. Ponynapony Ponynapony says:

    don't make subjective statements like they're undeniable facts

  41. Thomas Li says:

    Try Okami

  42. Austin1800 says:

    Wow….art direction is pretty important.

  43. S0oo says:

    I'm that type of person who would buy a lovestory/drama about 2 pixels.

  44. Taylor Gibson says:

    I like it when you have an electric guitar against the samurai. It's fun and stylistic. I'll never get this obsession with "Immersion".

  45. zackymas2000 says:

    As a gamer graphic designer/illustrator, this is wholesome.

  46. Boudy Slaiby says:

    Actually I feel that the killzone 2 game looks pretty good yeah sure the colors are pretty plain but it does give some sort of character that goes nice with the game and the setting of the game

    But no matter what it's a good thing they made killzone four a lot better aesthetically with the hole lot of colors that actually make it feel a lot more sci-fi

  47. UndertaleSkeleBros says:

    eh i dont know

    thing i wanna bring up is that that a gam elooking good can save an otherwise bad game

    mind you good gameplay is always important, but i would argue a game looking good is equally important

  48. Drake P. says:

    I just realized the most biggest example ever with battlefield 1 and toy soldiers/ verdun, bf1 presents epicness, scale, action, and modern tropes, is quite fun, but isn't realy as imersive and time era felling, while toy soldiers and verdun have ww1 era music, 1916 projector quality, huge amounts of details, more hellish and realistic environments, while still being far less graphicaly impressive, are experiences which instead of making you fell like a hero or a lone wolf basking in the shadow of a zeppelin, make you fell horrible for using your loyal pilots as kamikazes, putting artillerymen out only as distractions, and firing heavy shells into crowds of both opposing and your own men for the sake of protecting yourself in your base, and almost as one of the men charging in on the somme.

  49. Colette Brunel says:

    This is why I think games like commander keen (a game from 1990) looks better than games of today.

  50. DaddyKitty04 says:

    You learn something every day.

  51. Krypto Gaming says:

    Well, Okami HD for the Switch was confirmed recently

  52. GregTom2 says:

    Even without asthetics, we've hit a point where more polygons do not add realism. Game makers need to stop assuming that they can make the game look better by making lighting, faces and still environments look better. You've hit a point of diminishing returns there. If you want your games to look better, you need to find the bottleneck of the "perception of realism". Refine the animations and the interactivity between the characters and the environment.
    What good is having millions of polygons if I have to endure a piece of clothing peeking through my shield the entire time?
    What good is a super realistic face if it stares dead ahead during dialogues.
    What good are detailed hands if they can't accurately connect with walls and items?
    What good is a thousand hours to make the character look good, if he only looks good in T-pose?

  53. CapitalTeeth says:

    Graphics are one thing.
    But the actual game is another

  54. qOLOp says:

    Am I the only one who thinks Metal Gear Solid 2, Resident Evil 4, and Zelda Twilight princess look prettier than anything in this console generation?

  55. Lord_Kyjax says:

    Call of duty is this argument in its purest form. The games are graphically stunning, but there's still an ugliness to them.

  56. JRHartlly says:

    Two games that highlight the importance of aesthetics for me are the first two remakes of the ps2 prince of Persia games. the first is sands of time which had (at its time) gorgeous vistas and distinct sections of the game overrun with different colours and a beautifully constructed Arabian inspired soundtrack whereas its graphically identical sequel the warrior within went for a consistent muddy brown aesthetic pretty much throughout with grating electric guitar solos during combat and often silence otherwise.
    Mechanically these games are identical and apart from the wild change in character in the prince the aesthetic changes made warrior within one of my least favourite sequels
    interestingly the final in the trilogy two thrones fixes all the problems in the sequel and even explains more why the prince was so dislikable and yet is considered the worst in the trilogy.

  57. Sam Bennett says:

    Paper Mario Color Splash totally nails both graphics and aesthetics.

  58. Arty says:

    a good example of bad graphics good aesthetics is rain world

  59. Syranth 8912 says:

    This actually came in fairly strong recently for me. I mod games heavily to get the experience I want and also play Skyrim, shocker, but when SE came out I enjoyed it for the graphic improvement but to get the amalgam of survival/wrpg/jrpg/ SIM-like/adventure experience honed from over 130 mods compiled over several years.

  60. Sqoosh says:

    And this is why Minecraft is a good game.

  61. Connor Stickels says:

    Ahem…I give you the game that does this perfectly: Breath of the Wild

  62. TomPK7 says:

    Good news Dan! (Although its probably already made it's way to you by now)

  63. H-to-O says:

    Rogue Warrior wasn’t terrible because it had a garbage aesthetic, Rogue Warrior was terrible because it was a terrible, poorly made abomination of a game. Even the weapons were awful. An FPS with no weapon variations?

  64. GANTZ100pts says:

    We can add Overwatch to the list of games with great Aesthetics.

  65. Sam Bennett says:

    @Drewman SuperT I know most people aren't, but I'm actually a big fan of the inventory-based combat in both Color Splash and Sticker Star.

  66. Mew Blue says:

    Around 2 years after this video was released, Shovel Knight came out. When Polar Knight said, "PASS THE SALT," the immersion up to that point broke

  67. shirofate says:

    that pa rappa the whatever was a terrible example the beast thing looked way more sick then that stupid beanie thing

  68. Caden says:

    When I clicked on the video it had 666 thousand views. HELP

  69. MetalGamer says:

    It's funny that I ran into a question about this subject matter and people were all answering that they like the best "graphics" possible because it helps with immersion and I'm sitting there thinking what a load of crap! You should never favor a game over a pixel count. The graphics issue to me is just a matter of plain ignorance and unfortunately that ignorance extends to a lot of "professional reviewers".

  70. daisyfairy42 says:

    Counter point to your samurai game with electric guitar: the warriors franchise. It doesn't have amazing storytelling, or is supposed to be that realistic of a representation of Chinese history. But my god is it mindless fun, with some tactics every now and then. And the electric guitar gets you hyped up for all the historically innacurate ass kicking you're about to do.

    Yes, I'm aware that the characters were real, and the events are pretty much real, but the way they are portrayed is definitely not accurate. Lu Bu was a terrible general and did not ride a literal wave into battle on his horse.

  71. Blue Red Ice says:

    Can you address why undertale is such a good game

  72. Juggernaut says:

    All about them aesthetics boy.

  73. William Sculley says:

    Another example comparison. Extra credits compared to many other YouTube channels with great graphical images that just aren't engaging even on those. Extra credits: proof you don't need high def to deliver on great art 🙂

  74. Hex says:

    which is why there are so many games that still use pixel art.

  75. Cyclone Rowan says:

    Style,Aesthetic > Graphics

  76. Hi Winston says:

    Sunset overdrive has a real nice aesthetic, I feel like im in a living comic book/cartoon

  77. Rancord123 says:

    Nice video Extra

  78. Isaac Miles-Watt says:

    Real is good. Real is brown. This does not mean brown is good.

  79. Sybren van den Akker says:


  80. Créateur de Monde says:

    i t ' s a e s t h e t i c

  81. Hunter Inglish says:

    One of my favorite episodes so far, this points out a common problem that many don't see through and it ends up making games that aren't charming or imersive. I feel like pushing visuals to the limit shouldn't be the main goal but getting the idea across as it was ment to be.

  82. Mohanned Bakez says:

    did someone say Undertale?

  83. brisk says:

    Okami HD is out on switch

  84. Vexa Grimwoe says:

    Graphics: How a game looks
    Aesthetics: How the graphics tie in to the overall feel of the game.

  85. MilkmanConspiracy says:

    Okay those smiling blob monsters are adorable and I want to hug one.

  86. VinzRex says:

    For me, games that do this really well are the original Doom 1 & 2 as well as the Portal series. Both deliver a visual experience that is never truly outdated due to them both having very unique aesthetics.

  87. JonnesTT says:

    Another point on simple parts destroying the wholesomeness of esthetics: The Witcher 3 trying to be a good guy. Just try to be an actual good guy. Try to not kill humans if not necessary. IT DOESN'T WORK… But K, your a Witcher, a headhunter your not ment to be the white hat good guy, EVEN THOUGH THE GAME TELLS YOU, YOU ARE… Sry that still seems to make me more angry than it should…

  88. JNS Studios says:

    That’s what’s wrong with the current generation of game devs. They make a game hyper realistic just because they can and feel like they have to. When I told a dude on fortnite I was playing on my switch he started saying stuff like “can your system support 6 TeraFlops of power” and other stuff and I say “hey, as long as it’s fun, I’ll play it

  89. Commentur The Great says:

    3:34 YES! Happened to me even in movies. I saw a movie set in the distant past where a character used a language I know, and what he said translated to "Hey dude, look at the birds bro". I just started to die laughing, and it was supposed to be an emotional moment…

  90. Electro Cow says:

    A E S T H E T I C

  91. TheAbsol says:

    Kirby and the Amazing Mirror has my favorite 2D visuals while BotW or Xenoblade Chronicles X has my favorite 3D visuals

  92. Sprazzmatic says:

    Nothing is more painful to me in gaming than people who think realistic graphics are the only way to build a pleasing visual aesthetic.

  93. Koro says:

    Sonic Unleashed vs Sonic Forces

    where Unleashed has better aesthetics but clearly has low poly graphics, while Forces has high-poly yet muddy to look at

  94. Munchkin of Pern says:

    My favourite game aesthetic is from the game Child of Light. From the visuals to the music, to the rhyming style of the dialogue and narrated portions, the entire experience has you feeling like you’re inside a fairy tale; and that’s exactly what the game is. A beautiful, wonderfully constructed fairy tale.

  95. SoloBL says:

    Tbh why I stayed with Nintendo so long. The aesthetics drew me in from childhood and that feeling stays.

  96. PKMaster says:

    Rivals of aether

  97. Anonymous Person says:

    I don't like graphics. They kill my processor

  98. kitty cat says:

    I'm on a binge run and I haven't commented yet but this finally put into words my feelings on art and how really simple refined drawings can look amazing while more technical drawings that are lacking direction look meh, thank you for putting that into words

  99. Dan says:

    Parappa doesn't have a good color palette, LOL. It has a stimulating high contrast colors that are addictive.

  100. Terra says:

    I like Portal. I am a potato.

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