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Monday, October 17, 2016

No Nostalgia For Fifth Generation 3D Polygons

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - And there shouldn't be.

For decades, Nintendo gamers have always declared their belief in “gameplay over graphics.” That said, before the Wii, Nintendo console systems were always ahead of, or met the graphical standards of, gaming consoles of the day. But if you go back another decade before the Wii, you were in the fifth generation of consoles: The 32-bit/64-bit era of the mid-1990s and on. This was when consoles were just starting to enter 3D graphics, slowly leaving behind the 2D stylised sprites of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. This was when consoles were boasting so-called realism in graphics. 

As anyone who was around back then knows, the first 3D games were far from realistic-looking, not to mention they had terrible cameras. They were a blocky, polygonal mess, filled with penguin hands. There's a reason when a guest poster wrote a review on Metal Gear Solid (the original one on PlayStation 1), he didn't mention anything about the graphics. Because they look like this:

Solid Snake Metal Gear Solid facial features lack of face faceless PlayStation 1 PSX
I admit that not having facial features helps your stealth out.

That's why so many characters back then had gloves incorporated into their character designs. It makes character modelers’ jobs a lot easier when working with hardware that can't render individual fingers.

So, take this thought experiment: Indie developers love to have their games in 8-bit or 16-bit styles. Could an indie game possibly sell well if they purposefully go for 32-bit or 64-bit graphics? Did you think about it? Want to know my answer?

Well, anything's possible, but I strongly doubt it.

2D sprite-based 8-bit and 16-bit graphics are seen as art styles that have been mastered and perfected. 32-bit and 64-bit games that are going for 3D polygons are seen as the industry's earliest attempts at the realism we have today. More on that later.

The fact is, is that for indie developers that DO have games that look like they're from the Fifth Generation of gaming, gamers deride them. Look at Percy's Predicament on the Wii U, for example. People think that game is an unfinished beta, and judged it just by the graphics. This is the same group of gamers that supposedly live by the “gameplay over graphics” mantra.

Archery by Thornbury Software Miiverse reaction this is shovelware bad graphics
“This game is $19.95? It's [sic] models look like they're from 1995. This is shovelware!”

It's not just Percy's Predicament. Check out that Miiverse post for Archery by Thornbury Software, bashed as “shovelware” just because of how it looks. (It plays badly, too, but that's besides the point, since he wouldn't know that just by looking at a screenshot.) And that's the reality we live in. Gamers have so many options, and many of those are low-quality. What's a heuristic for gauging low-quality? How the product looks. Even if a game intentionally looks polygonal, it'll be deemed shovelware.

There was once a time when 2D graphics also looked absolutely terrible. Those were the days of systems like the Atari 2600. (And, in my opinion, certain NES and SNES games, including my debut.) The Atari 2600 is to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System/Game Boy Advance/Nintendo DS as the PlayStation 1 and the Nintendo 64 are to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. (And the Wii U... I guess?)

Donkey Kong Country Mario Party Tropical Freeze Atari 2600 graphical generations art styles Nintendo artistic renders
Top row: Donkey Kong on the Atari 2600 to Donkey Kong on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
Bottom row: Donkey Kong on the Nintendo 64 to Donkey Kong on the Wii U.
(Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Country, Mario Party, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.)

When people feel nostalgia for something, they only think about the good qualities. So when people look back fondly on Super Mario 64, they don't think about its garbage camera and blocky graphics, but instead on its expansive, exploratory level design, along with selectively great songs like Dire Dire Docks. When people feel nostalgia for Generations I and II of Pokémon (such as Pokémon Red or Pokémon Gold), they don't think about how, if you catch a Pokémon but your current box in your PC is full, you have to let the new capture go.

So when people feel nostalgia for that era, it's not for the graphics. Graphical nostalgia is limited to the perfected 8-bit and 16-bit styles. A lot of today's crop of indie games appeal to that nostalgia, which also coincides with financial interests because that's less expensive to produce than hyper-realism. You won't see something like this be a successful hit in today's world, unless it's absolutely perfect in every other part of the game and there's some genius marketing scheme (which may be outside of the budget for indie companies):

Stoic Seraphim Miiverse Cloud polygon Super Smash Bros. 4 DLC graphics
“Coming to Smash DLC soon it's PS1 Cloud! Just look at the screenshot!
He fits perfectly into Smash and it's [SIC] jawdropping graphics!”

Fun fact: Cloud in the original version of Final Fantasy VII didn't even have a mouth.

Of course, one major exception to this whole article is Minecraft, which intentionally looks blocky and absolutely hideous. Somehow, despite that, it's all of the rage among the otherwise-judgmental youth. (What's the favourite game of that Billy fellow from Miiverse who trashed Archery? That's right, it is Minecraft.) For whatever reason, all of the new crop of post-New Super Mario Bros. Wii Koopaling fanbase participants are also simultaneously Minecraft fans, and so I get a lot of friend requests from people with hideous Minecraft profile pictures on Miiverse. It should've never come out on the Wii U, I tell you. I have no idea how Minecraft gets away with it. Maybe you can tell me in the comments.

This article was brought to you by a reader request. To submit your own request, or to submit another one, check out and comment in KoopaTV's Requests page! Ludwig was happy to write this one, and don't let the month-and-a-half wait time tell you otherwise. Do you think Ludwig's analysis was accurate? Is he missing something, or is he spot-on?

Ludwig prefers the 16-bit and 32-bit (non-3D) graphical styles the second-best, behind cel-shaded.
KoopaTV's sponsored retro nostalgic games article had nothing to say about graphics, and for good reason.
If you really wanted to see an example of penguin hands, check out Pokémon Sun and Moon's special demo, here!
With technology advancements, issues such as user-unfriendly PC boxes are a thing of the past.


  1. I won a code for Percy's Predicament a few years ago, and let's just say I didn't keep the game for very long. Graphics aside, the game is too bland and repetitive. Do not download it even if it's free.

    1. Well, that's a shame, since we like the developer. I mean, they name-dropped us on their Kickstarter!

  2. That is a convincing argument you made there.

    1. I'm curious if you had another point of view prior to my argument.

    2. Maybe I am more forgiving for the low-poly graphics because of this artist:

      Made a what if for Splatoon if it was an n64 game:

      I learned about this work due to being an obsessive Wreck-it Ralph fan back then. The regressor wanted to make a Sugar Rush 64 fangame because Sugar Rush was supposed to be made in the 90's according to Wreck-it Ralph lore but either Disney artists were too lazy or didn't care to make it look low poly when the game was seen by humans or arcade cabinets were advance enough in comparison to home consoles then. Anyway as you can see the regressor was overly ambitious but then never followed through with this fan game.

      Also I was a huge Spyro fan back then. Spyro himself looks good in the PS1 days for the limitations of the time but even I have to admit the NPCs looked pretty bad.

    3. Ah, but your question was specifically concerning indie games succeeding, which implied a new IP.

      You and others are fascinated by low-poly models like that because you're already a fan of the franchise, and you'll like almost anything it spits out. Whether that be plushies, concerts, or alternately-coloured amiibo.

      A little indie making something without an existing fan following is going to be shovelware. Is that fair? No, but...that's how the market is.


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