Home > Game Maker, GMC/YYG, Misc. > Graphics Vs. Gameplay – SoulRed12’s closer look

Graphics Vs. Gameplay – SoulRed12’s closer look

Hello all. Today I’ve decided to take a look at the super old debate of graphics versus gameplay. I aim to be very objective when I type the following. If you have any responses to this, please, post a comment. I would like to know what you have to say. All I ask is that you support your statement.


I have read up on everyone’s arguments, in many forums online, and combine them with my own insights. Thus what I have come up with, though it particularly disappoints me, is that graphics are indeed more important than gameplay. This is disappointing because I see myself as a programmer; I would like the opposite to be true, but it isn’t.


Now on to why I feel this is so. Have a look at the games page at yoyogames.com. See all the top games? If you play them, you’ll notice that many of them have very simple or even poor gameplay, yet they all receive the top remarks on the site along with all the staff picks. Even look at the yoyogames Ancient Civilization Comp winners and you’ll notice that the top three games probably had the best graphics. I’m not saying the judges weren’t fair (note that I didn’t enter this comp =p ) I’m just saying that it’s human nature to translate good visuals to mean a great game.

How could you possibly think this?

Look at it this way. If you were in a cave, and saw two gems, one shiny and glowing, the other dull and dirty, which one would you choose? Even if you found out the shiny gem broke apart at the slightest bump, and the dirty one was excellent at doing things like cutting glass, etc., you would still like the shiny gem more. Something similar occurs with games; the ones that have better aesthetics get more attention and therefore the “dirty but very useful gems” never get their share of the spotlight.

Of course, the best games are the ones that combine both good graphics and good gameplay, but stunning visuals will make up for any boring programming. Now, you shouldn’t expect to design a click the ball clone with amazing 32 bit graphics and realistic backgrounds and suddenly have the best game in the world, but it would honestly probably do better than a moderately well programmed game with poor graphics.

Here’s another example: Which do you enjoy reading more: a physics textbook, or a comic book? Most people would probably say a comic book. Though a physics textbook would be better written, and more informative, it is easier to get into a comic book because of the pretty stand-out-ish graphics. Similarly, it’s easier to get into a game with spectacular graphics because vision is humans’ primary sense. If you were into physics (equivalent in this example to the particular type of video game), you might enjoy the textbook more than the comic even though it’s less illustrated; but most people wouldn’t bother with it.

Sure, there’s the old argument of “A game without graphics is still a game; a game without gameplay is not”, but this strays from the point. We’re not talking about with/without, we’re talking about good/not good; that is, the difference in popularity between two games which are alike aside from one having good graphics and the other having good gameplay.

I’m a programmer; what can I do?!

Chill. You’re not out of luck yet. Find a buddy who’s skilled in art to work with, maybe someone who isn’t as skilled of a programmer as you are. Even if this guy’s programming would suffice for him to make a game everyone would like, you know more about the ins and outs of the program and therefore your skills will still make the game better. Remember, gameplay isn’t unimportant; it’s just not as important as graphics. Another reason to partner up, is that each of you would probably enjoy yourselves more because you’d be doing what you do best (which, because of that fact, is probably something you get pleasure out of doing).

Aside from this, you can read some spriting tutorials. When using tutorials I’ve found that spriting isn’t really that difficult. You won’t have “I’m-a-natural-born-artist” results, but maybe better than what you used to be doing. I’ve also found that spriting is a lot like programming; you learn the basics and the general ideas, then after that, you’re just picking up tips and tricks from here and there. Eventually you’ll develop your own style of drawing and at that point you’ll be good to go. Don’t expect to achieve this overnight though; I’ve been working on improving my drawing skills for years and I’m still not really up to par.

You seem picky. What kinds of games do you like then?

You can see what kinds of games I like by visiting the Notable Games page on this blog. I don’t update it very often (only because I don’t find many “notable games” out there), but give it a look to find some fun stuff. All-around fun stuff, not just graphically fun stuff; these games I’ve found to have both good graphics and good gameplay.

I disagree with something you just said.

Please, post a comment. I’m eager to hear what you have to say.

  1. TheMindGamer
    June 5, 2009 at 12:30 am

    First off, what physics books have you been reading?!? ‘Cause in my experience, they have problems with being “well-written” (but if reading like a math book or being difficult to comprehend are your ideas of “well-written,” so be it).

    That aside, interesting posts. I never really thought about it like that, but it makes sense.
    Another factor you didn’t touch on (Batzarro did a bit) was that graphics are what attract people to games, also. Quality graphics should indicate a quality game. It’s a first impression that implies that time was put into this game; furthermore, often the pretty things can be better than the dull less attractive options. Continuing from your stone analogy, according to the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, the shiny stones are generally much harder than the duller ones. By blind logic I’d pick that stone. That particular shiny stone just happened to be some freak mineral that didn’t follow the crowd. It isn’t my fault.
    Another example, it’s entirely possible that a shiny, well-varnished, plywood cello would sounds better than an unvarnished red oak one. Much of its sound stems from the varnish. Strange as it is, people are rewarded for choosing the better looking objects. That plays a key point on your reasoning too.

    But in retrospect, we aren’t considering gameplay’s best aspect. It ages gracefully. You see, unlike good graphics, good gameplay is hardly affected by time. Go look at the original Super Mario Brothers. The graphics are lame, 8-bit eyesores that have the main character stand sideways. I think we can all agree that it really doesn’t look very good. So then, why would I go play it now, twenty-four years after it was released? ‘Cause I like to play it. Not look at it. Play it. Good gameplay means longevity, and I think that’s very important to a game.

    …Actually, I’m beginning to wonder. What are we defining as “important?” Is it how it affects game sales or is it how much fun one has while playing? But then, is it how much fun one has in their first sitting or over their entire lifetime?

    I see this whole comparison more like a fishing pole. Graphics I’m seeing as our bait and hook, while gameplay our line and reel. With good bait we’re bound to to attract more fish which means the biggest and best fish are more likely to appear, but without a good line, many fish will get away. On the other hand, if we had a good line and poor bait, very few fish would care to nibble, but few would escape once entangled. To a fisherman, a better line isn’t a substitute for sub par bait, and vice versa. It works the same way for games. In the overall picture, both are equally important. You get more attention with good graphics but keep attention with good gameplay.

    I think both are equal in importance.

  2. Batzarro
    December 22, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    That’s interesting. Indeed, eyecatching graphics go a long way to selling a game, though there are other variables(quick, imagine Smash Bros without Nintendo’s characters!). Without actually playing a game, people resort to descriptions by others or, well visuals, and the visuals are the ones wich give people a feeling they know wether they’ll enjoy the end product or not.

  3. soulred12
    September 22, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Very insightful. Thanks for that post.

  4. September 22, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    I disagree with the main populace on this count. As long as the graphics are not BAD then I consider game play much, much, much more important. And when I say bad, I mean, terribly clashing colors everywhere, things that you can’t tell what they are, etc. If you can clearly see what things are supposed to be, and the images are clean even if they are simple and dull, then that’s fine with me.

    I’ve actually only recently come to this conclusion however. I used to think all the new graphics games had were so amazing, but I find myself going back to the older more original, faster games with less graphics. For example, Final Fantasy 12 would be a great game if I didn’t have to watch all those damn movies about what is going on. I want to interact, not watch movies. And while the images are fun, and Fran is a hot character, most of the time I’m looking at my health bar and my spells menu, not Fran’s ass. (I’m a bi-chick by the way if you’re getting confused right now.)

    In conclusion, I think too much graphics becomes a draw back at some point. I’d rather they took out half the money they spent on graphics in these new games and spent it on better game concepts and better programming and speeding things up. I’d much rather have no loading time and no lag and basic graphics than awesome graphics and a 10 second wait after every room-change, save and load, etc.

  5. July 2, 2008 at 8:23 am

    “Chill. You’re not out of luck yet.”


    Unfortunately, I’m a programmer, so I have to make clever use of the draw_ functions and gradients in GM. :)

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