In my previous post Charles asked what I thought of gaming graphics over the years. It's an interesting question, but the real question is how has graphics changed games over the years.
I tried to do some digging in the past and realized that even though I claim Pong to be the first video game, some madmen actually made computer games even before that, but they required special equipment or where arcade only. So I still think Pong should be crowned as the first proper video game.
Graphics in my early days had a lot to do with your hardware setup, even more so than today. For instance the first games I played was on a gray-scale monitor as I wasn't allowed to play on my fathers main computer. The games back then where Dig Dug, Ski or Die and of course Larry. The cool thing about graphics back then was how they calibrated it to work both on color and gray-scale monitors. A large chunk of computers didn't have color, so adapting the hardware setup was almost a no-brainer.
As most people turned over to color screens though they where able to do more than just contrast graphics. And games like Duke Nukem, Doom and many before them had interesting pixel graphics.
Action Quake, a Quake II mod. Gooseman the creator of Counter Strike was a part of this mod crew.
In fact all up until I started playing some Quake II or to be more precise a mod called Action Quake I never had a 3D card. When I finally got myself a Voodoo 2 card it changed the way I looked at graphics. 3D card graphics became a growing selling point for me in games, and just as many others I was willing to sacrifice gameplay if the graphics where awesome. This was the first big blow to good gameplay in my view. Graphics was in the center stage and good gameplay often suffered at the cost of cool models and textures.
It seems though that console games didn't suffer to much under this though, as the only graphics evolution they experienced was with a new generation of consoles every fifth or so year. If you look at the top selling games for console, they have always been about awesome gameplay and fantastic storytelling. Series like Super Mario and Zelda actually got worse after they tried to port to 3D graphics and gameplay on the Nintendo 64. Lucky for us it seems that someone got the idea and Super Mario Bros for Wii actually returned to it's core gameplay mechanics with less focus on fancy 3D environments and graphics. Zelda made a huge return to source on the Nintendo DSi.
The New Super Mario Bros for Nintendo Wii returns to it's original source.
After the 3D cards became mainstream in computers and everyone had them games became caught up in a insane race to produce and render the best graphics experience around. And to be honest I feel that gaming lost a lot of it's core when this happened. Back in the days a lot of the focus was based on the story and gameplay of the games. These days we have games like Crysis where the only goal seems to be graphics masterbation. Then after the game launches and they have a hard time getting people to pickup their pre-orders they complain about people downloading and not buying it. Well, tell you what Crytek, how about focusing a bit on the actual experience of games and not just graphics. If you want to make awesome graphics and nothing else I suggest you buy a shitty sci-fi movie script and create a movie.
Fortunately there is some light at the end of the tunnel. More and more games are arriving where gameplay and graphics co-exist. The Call of Duty series is a good example of this. Stunning graphics, but not at the cost of gameplay or storytelling. The single player experience in the COD games has always been awesome, although a bit short. If they could only solve the cheating issues they face on PC I'm sure Modern Warfare 2 would have become the e-sports game to take over from the aging Counter Strike series.
Games like World of Warcraft and Starcraft 2 from Blizzard both have fairly good graphics, but more focus on gameplay, in fact you can have a pretty shabby computer and run both on low graphics settings. They still manage to be top sellers year after year.
Starcraft II features gameplay over graphics, but it still looks better than your mom.
In the close future there are two directions that seems interesting. The first is the obvious 3D TV technology, it's bound to do amazing things to games both for console and PC. I personally believe that it won't be a huge thing until we are rid of the 3D glasses, but once it does I think we will see a huge improvement for FPS and TPS games. As for RPG games I hope their developers choose to focus on gameplay and not fancy 3D landscapes. The other huge improvement is VR stuff where cameras and new controllers let's you interact with your environment. Think systems like Kinetic, the Nintendo Wii controller and similar. This opens up a huge array of cool games. Lightsaber fights and more to come. I'm still waiting for a new proper Duckhunter game though.