Less real. More meaning.

Michaël Samyn, May 24, 2012

When building simulated worlds, one has to choose an aesthetic style. Realism is the obvious choice for those mainstream games that seek to rival cinema. And stylization is the obvious choice for indie titles that hope to stand out on a budget.

I am personally very much drawn to figuration in fine art. So it stands to reason that I would prefer some realism in my own work. But of course I share the budgetary concerns of my fellow independent developers. So compromises need to be made.

There is something incredibly unsatisfying about working in a realistic style, though. If your only reference is reality, then the more you approach it, the more dull your work becomes. If you would achieve perfect realism, nobody would notice anymore. The game would look exactly like real life. And we have a talent for ignoring that.

Things get more interesting where they deviate from reality. But not when they are completely different. A very stylized look invites a detached sort of aesthetic consideration, of pure form and pure color. And that is also dull to me.

When a simulation approaches reality, the places where it differs become areas where meaning starts to exist, where emotion happens. This is true in painting and sculpture, as well as in realtime 3D.

Feeling real is an important reference for me. But things don’t need to look real to feel real. The beach in Bientôt l’été is a perfectly white perfectly flat plane. And yet it doesn’t feel stylized to me. It really feels like one of those sand beaches in Belgium or the north of France. The motion and the sound contribute to this.

Other things, like the waves and the sky, are more stylized. But I hope that people will recognize the way in which they deviate from reality as interesting and meaningful. The sky is blank. But it is not clear whether we’re seeing clouds or clear sky. That says something to me. It becomes expressive.

Some things are further removed from reality. The exterior of the building in which you go to talk with another player changes throughout the game. Sometimes it looks a small café, other times like a large casino and sometimes like a ruin of a colonial mansion. And every time it’s the only building in the entire scene. Then there’s the apparitions. Every time you come out, a single thing will be different. Something has appeared and will disappear again.

It is in these areas, where things deviate from nature, that my imagination is triggered, where my mind starts racing and wondering what meaning I could derive from this. A realistic approach is essential to give a direction to the experience, to create a world that the player can associate with. But once we’re there, it is in the deviations from reality that we find deep aesthetic satisfaction.

Comments Off

Comments are closed at this time.