The answer is both yes and no.
We look at the games of the past, like Majora’s Mask and Symphony of the Night. Players can see fantastic, well-designed games filled to the brim with a compelling story and top-notch gameplay. However, we also see the outdated graphics. Then we take a look at today’s games, and most of their developers focus on gameplay above graphics. There are some that either scrap content or add it in over time. Take for example games like Star Wars: Battlefront (2015), or The Order: 1886. Each game had released a few years back with cutting edge graphics that shed detail on every piece of the game. Yet, criticism arose in both content and gameplay for each game. Battlefront provided no story and generic, repetitive gameplay. All while Dice was at times putting a bigger emphasis on the graphical quality of the game. As for The Order, the game provided lifelike animations and an engine that gave real-world details to the game world to the point where it looked real. But with repetitive gameplay, and a short 6 to 8-hour campaign. Players were asking why there wasn’t more.
Deadlines can be devastating.
There are times when a publisher can push a deadline onto a developer. This can be due to a marketing promise or a holiday release date to boost sales during the season. This can cause developers to cut or delay content in order to start the production of copies. And as a result, give gamers an unfinished product with a perfectly running graphics engine in place. On rare occasions, graphics can be the downfall of a game. We all remember the infamous development cycle of Duke Nukem Forever. This was game that switched engines so many times, it practically bankrupted publisher Apogee due to licensing cost.
Gameplay > Graphics.
Let’s take a look at the games where the developers either lessened their focus on graphics. Or took the time needed to get a story, solid gameplay and stunning visuals neatly wrapped into one package. Minecraft is a prime example. The game has a cube-like design and addicting gameplay. Back in 2011, Markus Persson showed the world what happens when you take a basic graphical formula and incorporate it into the design of your game. With the technology that PC games are capable of, even a 14-year-old game like World of Warcraft can have its base engine receive upgrades to give it a more modern look. This can be done while still providing the solid gameplay we all know and love.
Time can equal perfection.
In the end, it all comes down to how much time a company is willing to put into their game. Titles like Skyrim and Bioshock: Infinite can prove that when developers and publishers take it slow with their games, the results can be amazing. The perfect union of a compelling story, deep gameplay and top-tier graphics can deliver a masterpiece of a game.
Do you believe that graphical quality takes precedence over certain other aspects of game design? Let us know in the comment section below.