One of the most basic graphical effects added in today’s games is a lens flare, a series of bright circles running across the screen from a bright light source. Nice and showy, but – wait a moment! Flares appear only in lenses, glass optics, not in the world itself as we see it! Why, then, do we see flares in Mirror’s Edge, a game putting heavy emphasis on the player seeing being right through the heroine’s own eyes? Quake or Crysis, that I can understand, as the protagonist wear helmets with some kind of optics in them. Faith has no headwear, however, to produce reflections… Why are we spoonfed an in-lens light reflection effect that photographers take so much effort trying to avoid? It would be so much easier to implement a childishly simple glare effect: looking at a bright object would cause the viewer’s irises to contract, thus reducing the overall brightness level and perhaps adding a ray-burst corona to the light source. Just do what any auto-white-balance camera does, how difficult could that be? On the other hand, I was about to criticise ancient-styled TPP games, like the newer Prince of Persia games, where no camera was surely present – but then again there’s no-one we could ascribe the external viewpoint to. We’re left to assume that we’re watching a modern-day movie about the Prince’s adventures, and that kinda works, with all the flares in it.
Flares are one thing, and other vision impairments are another. With a first-person perspective, all kinds of fogging, frosting, blurring, glare or vertigo effects are likely to happen to the heroes, again depending on whether they’re sporting some eyewear or not. The hero may be blinded, drunk, sick, all that affects vision accordingly, and we’re in their eyes to see (or not see) it all. However, if we’re in third-person perspective, it’s the hero that has their vision affected, but not us, sitting safely in the “camera” – why, then, do we often get blurs and fades and desaturations? True, it’s not easy to present such conditions from the outside (after all, what, with an icon above the hero’s head? come on…), but abuse of such visual cues may easily lead to a decreased immersion factor. One fresh example is PoP’2008, where an opponent may blind the hero by throwing a blob of black sludge… at our screen, temporarily obscuring most of it – hence, apparently the villain has just attacked not the player-controlled character, but the player directly.
So, what else in today’s game graphics/physics is added just for show, with either no or downright negative rationale behind it? Where’s the damn line between realism and visual flair? Ah, the dilemma 🙂