In a discussion of procedurally generated art in game production, the wonderful Brenda Brathwaite -whom we met at the last GDC during a very encouraging panel session about sex in games- said:
In my view, procedurally generated art doesn’t ask artists to leave the party. Rather, it invites programmers to it.
This sums up, in my opinion, to a large extent, what’s wrong with games as an artistic medium. On an aesthetic level, in most games, the people who are making the artistic decisions that matter are the programmers. Sure, the grunt work (3D models, textures, sound, music, etc) is done by actual artists. But that is just called “asset creation”, and correctly so. The real artists are the ones who create the normal mapping, the lighting systems, the shadow shaders, the physics effects, the water simulation, forest rendering systems, etc.
Without a common aesthetic vision, contemporary games quickly start looking like collages of different technologies. This doesn’t come as a surprise. All of these systems are built as solutions to problems, not as artistic statements. I’m sure a programmer wants his blur shader to look pretty. But that’s just not the same as an artist who really knows why he wants that shader and how he’s going to use it.
Games are an art form where the real artists are engineers. No wonder they fall apart, aesthetically! Engineers shouldn’t be making art. Just like artists shouldn’t be building engines. A bridge created by an artist without the help of an engineer, will fall down. The same is true for a painting created by a programmer. It will fall down like an empty house of cards that was never supposed to be meaningful in the first place.
So how can we solve this? The technology that we are using is very complicated. With all the work that it takes to make something even run on a computer, there’s hardly any time left for artistic decision making. Let alone a place for a global artistic vision in the production pipeline.
I guess one way is wait. Once the hardware gets so fast that it can do anything, there will be a lot less need for difficult programming. Because, let’s face it, most of the programming in games is transpiration, not inspiration: it’s creating software so that it can run on our feeble hardware.
But will that moment ever come? Will the hardware ever be powerful enough?
And isn’t there anything we can do in the mean time?