Needs an exquisitely detailed model of a washcloth now

This is a demonstration of increasing technological refinement in computer games: images of Lara Croft over the years.

It desperately needs a key for dates of each of the images.

I’ve never played any of them, so I have an ignorant question: has the game gotten any better over the years? If the technology improves to the point that I can zoom in on Lara Croft’s pores, does that improve the content? It seems to me that focusing on those elements of the presentation which are repetitive and predictable and requires only on mapping textures to smaller and smaller polygons is a poor proxy for actual improvements in the complexity of the worlds being modeled.


  1. azhael says

    I don’t know, it’s been a long time since i played any Lara Croft games, but i have to say i enjoyed them a lot as a child, and part of that enjoyment was that, at the time, the graphics were impressive, which improved the experience and athmosphere.

  2. Ronan Wills says

    I thought the recent reboot was pretty good. It completely changed the gameplay and (in my opinion) improved a lot on the stilted controls and stodgy platforming of the older games.

  3. says

    I can’t speak to Lara Croft, having only played one version. The question reminds me though: I remember buying an all-new 3-D version of Asteroids for the Playstation, back in the 90s, which had the original included as an extra. Turned out that the original game was actually harder, and had more realistic physics to boot.

  4. vytautasjanaauskas says

    The reboot was one of the better games in recent years. Although I would have liked harder puzzles and for them to drop the supernatural horseshit ending in favor of a more scooby doo one. Also the writing was kind of good and appalling at the same time.

  5. says

    I played the first one and the keyboard controls for all the jumping around, as well as the dual-wield infinite guns of mayhem, was just so damn bad I never looked at another one. Maybe they’ve improved. They could hardly get worse. Remember all the giggling interviews with the developers about how much time they lavished on getting her hip-swinging supermodel walk “right” because “players are going to spend a lot of time looking at her backside”? I do. At the time I thought it was just dumb “guys being guys” :(

  6. says

    I can’t say about the Laura Croft series, but as a general rule, realism in the technical aspects of gameplay (graphics and physics, for example) add to our immersion and therefore enjoyment of the game. You can also point to a growing understanding among gamemakers about how to avoid annoyances and maintain suspension-of-disbelief and which breaks from reality are acceptable.

    But if you take a game like Morrowind, right? The graphics in Skyrim are so much better, but the graphics of Morrowind were beautifully and artistically created within the constraints of the hardware of the day, so much so that much of the game still looks beautiful. Skyrim also had a quest marker, which is “unrealistic” but is a welcome change for those of us that spent hours in Morrowind looking for that one stupid NPC we were supposed to help but got bad directions to.

    So there are a lot of aspects that go into what makes a good game. There’s storytelling, which is an art that hasn’t changed much between titles; there’s figuring out how to make the gameplay satisfying and fun, which is basically an intangible; there’s figuring out which aspects of reality to put in and which to leave out so as to maintain immersion & realism without just becoming work (things like fast travel, quest markers, encumbrance, need to eat, etc); and then there’s the art of making the game look as beautiful at it can within the constraints of the available hardware.

    All that really changes with time are the constraints of the hardware, and the shifting consensus on/growing body of examples of what works or doesn’t regarding fun and the “acceptable breaks from reality” bit.

  7. obijohn42 says

    The 2013 reboot was fun. It’s a bit like playing through an Indiana Jones movie, including the supernatural artifacts. While it can get violent the game slows things down and balances it with exploration and platforming elements. I do remember holding off on the main adventure to just spend time climbing around some of the games bigger areas.

  8. tbtabby says

    Tomb Raider Legend was a great improvement as far as controls were concerned. They finally abandoned the clunky tank controls in favor of a much more fluid control scheme that even made the crate pushing more bearable.

  9. vytautasjanaauskas says

    Also the new one is basically Uncharted for people who don’t have a playstation.

  10. Rich Woods says

    I only ever played a demo version of one of the early Lara Croft games, and all I can remember of it was that it was the first time I’d seen a game which put the effort into a detail like making her ponytail move.

    Maybe it’s just me, but the first thing which strikes me about any game is the step change regarding detail, like the cloaks in Neverwinter Nights 2 rippling, or the animated water effects in Myst (if you had QuickTime installed!).

    Damn, I feel the urge to play NWN2 again…

  11. says

    Better graphics do help with immersion. Generally, if I see a game being promoted for its gorgeous graphics, I assume the game-play is light or short (example: “Dishonored”) and if I see a game being promoted for having something shocking in it, I assume that the game-play is horrible. These are general assumptions, of course, and should be made with care.

    What I don’t understand is why anyone would run out and buy a game the day it comes out. Wait a week or 3 for the reviews to come in…

    Come to think of it, my copy of the original Tomb Raider was a gift from a co-worker who had already played it through and said it was “stupid” I agreed and never got past the first couple levels. It failed on one of the things that annoys me most in an explore/fight game: you’re exploring The Temple of Lost Time which has been lost for 1000 years, but…. somehow… a) there are torches burning in convenient sconces b) there are baddies there, who somehow chose just now, out of all the 1000 years in which they could have been there before. And of course c) they can’t shoot straight.

  12. Becca Stareyes says

    I’m watching videos of the re-release of Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, which was noteworthy for deliberately choosing a cartoonish art style, and I’m noticing that I really enjoy the details (like the expressions on the main character’s face: given he doesn’t talk, that’s how the game communicates reactions).

    I don’t know if realism helps, but I find that I enjoy pretty art, and games that put effort into using graphics for things other than making everything grimy looking. (Also visual cues help: if something is important to the gameplay, make it distinct from the background.)

  13. themadtapper says

    Yes and no. Some games have steadily improved over the years along with the technological advancements. Others have backslid and relied on showy technology to sell an otherwise uninspiring game. You can see aspects of both even in the same series. The aforementioned Elder Scrolls series is a great example. It has steadily improved graphically, but in gameplay it’s a mixed bag. Combat has improved from mindless clicking/button-mashing to actually requiring timing with shield-use and side-stepping. Equipment was streamlined (no more buying/finding gloves as singletons instead of as a pair). But they’ve also lost a tremendous number of useful and/or fun spell effects either due to being obsoleted (teleport spells are gone due to the advent of fast-travel options) or, ironically, due to the technology being too advanced (levitate/jump is long gone because the more technologically intensive world has to have tighter boundaries and has trouble handling enhanced movement speeds/methods, as seen if you try riding a horse in Skyrim). Some aspects feel dumbed down to veteran players, like quest markers that hold your hand everywhere (Morrowind’s system wouldn’t have felt as painful to use if directions had been more clear and the island hadn’t largely consisted of repetitive barren wastes with a lack of reasonable landmarks; “Go north till you find a rock, then go a little west but not all the way until you find another rock.” Thanks, guy, that’s very helpful…).

    And really, if you think about it, it’s always been that way. There will always be some companies that push the technology as far as it will go just to show off, while forgetting there’s supposed to be a game under the polygons (or sprites; get the hell off my lawn). There will always be some companies that care more about making a good product than a showy one. There will always be companies that wander about between those two extremes. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  14. yazikus says

    I don’t know about Tomb Raider, but I miss my little 2D pixel people from Sierra games of yore.

  15. vytautasjanaauskas says


    They recently remade grim fandango for ps4 and maybe other platforms I don’t know and apparently they will soon remake the day of the tentacle. While not by Sierra still…

  16. Holms says

    I’ve never played any of them, so I have an ignorant question: has the game gotten any better over the years?

    It gradually changed genre over the years, and is arguably no longer the same game. It used to be about exploration and puzzle solving, now it appears (I haven’t played it much) to be about quick-time events and combat. So, it’s a question fo which you prefer.

  17. kimsnarf says

    I haven’t played the reboot (latest version), but I’ve played most of the others. I actually prefer the original (first version). It focused on one thing only: The awe of exploring the ruins of ancient civilizations. The game was mostly quiet, not many opponents, and played through solving spatial puzzles in each room. Each sequel added more and more action elements and combat, with so much running around and quick-paced interaction that there was barely any room left for the quiet awe and exploration of the original. I wish the sequels had focused on increasingly awesome environments instead, and allowed the player the time to enjoy them without getting shot at.

  18. says

    I played the first Tomb Raider to completion. It was one of my first PSX games when I was in middle school. The most memorable moment, for me, wasn’t Lara herself but finding my way to the bottom of a waterfall in a cave, then exploring and finding a way to explore deeper. Suddenly the cave opened up dramatically, then out of the darkness came this massive T-Rex, literally scaring me out of my chair.

    I played friends copies of the next two, but they didn’t really offer me anything new, so I kind of gave up on the franchise til the reboot. For the most part I really liked the gameplay and the woo-ey story wasn’t too bad considering I’d fought dinosaurs and wierd alien (I think it was alien…) mutation bosses in the first game. My only major complaint was that some of the cut-scenes really seemed to border too close on “torture porn”. Like, I don’t see any similar, male-led games putting the lead through all these painful falls and disasters with lovingly recorded audio of the character’s distressed vocalisations.


    I can still lose a weekend to Morrowind now and then. It was my intro to the Elder Scrolls (sort of, I had a demo of Daggerfall but I could never make it work on my computer at the time) and, while I had always been a fan of non-linear game structure, this was something else completely for me. I spent over a hundred hours on the game before I even figured out how to get to Caius Cassius. And then I discovered mods…

  19. Randomly Generated Username says

    Improved technology isn’t directly related to whether a game is good or not. It’s a bigger canvas that gives artists more room to paint.

  20. sprocket says

    I still miss my Commodore 64. I used to program my own games and the ones I used to type from magazines were every bit as enjoyable as the any PS4 offering. Sprites! I loved those things. Now I create graphics in 3D Max and I don’t feel any more creative, I just have a smoother work flow. The technology to produce games has surpassed the technology of them. There are some brilliant and forward, creative thinking people in the industry but the industry is still stagnant; the games have characters that look more human, but lack humanity.

  21. Yellow Thursday says

    I only played the first 3 games; none since the reboot. What I do recall was the obsession with Lara’s breasts. In the first game, her breasts were extremely pointy due to restrictions in the number of polygons available. In the second and third games, the first thing that was “upgraded” (and mentioned in nearly every review I read at the time) was Lara’s breasts. Because that was apparently more important than gameplay or story line.

  22. says

    I’ve never played a Tomb Raider game, and gameplay quality is a subjective thing. But I would go ahead and guess that the gameplay is greatly improved. In general, I find a lot of old games, even “good” ones, unplayable.

    There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with improved graphics. Graphics are great. The main problem with graphics is that they make game development really expensive. It often feels like only a few big budget games can be made, and we’re all forced to choose from this small pool. I believe this is the reason why there are so many male gamers who are desperate to retain dominance over the medium. It’s graphics. It’s no accident that more progressive games are coming from indie developers, who usually work with simpler graphics.

  23. robro says

    Regardless of whether game play improves because of more realistic graphics, the experience of playing is probably more enjoyable which can make it seem to be an improvement. When the first color Macs came out, I wasn’t sure I needed one of those things. But then, I saw one and had to have it. It certainly didn’t improve the software’s functionality, but my enjoyment of working on a computer went up significantly. Don Norman, Edward Tufte, and others have discussed this sort of phenomena in terms of “beauty”…a difficult to define quality but one that seems important to humans none-the-less.

  24. laurentweppe says

    has the game gotten any better over the years?

    Given that the early games were notorious for their rigid count-your-steps-before-jumping controls, any current iteration is fated to be better: modern gamers just don’t have the patience to play Another World in 3D.

  25. redwood says

    I played a Tomb Raider game about five years ago and gave up in the middle after having to redo a simple jump umpteen times. It might have been me, it might have been the design, it might have been the controls–not blaming, just not succeeding. I heard the latest one was different, Tomb Raider 2013 and I like it a lot. It’s more Indy Jones-style action with a lot of combat but also tomb puzzles and collecting, which I like to do in a game. I much prefer the newer, 3D graphics for the immersive effect. I don’t care for the supernatural story bits, but the basic “succeed against overwhelming odds” storyline is fun.
    By the way, wasn’t this basic type of game play based on Heinlein’s “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress,” where an incredibly complicated and deadly puzzle/maze apparently built by an advanced alien race is discovered on the moon and the only way to solve it is for the hero (his avatar?) to die and be reborn as he goes through it over and over so he doesn’t make the same mistake again? So many computer games like that now.

  26. says

    I’ve only played the 2013 reboot myself (I was a toddler when the series began), and I quite liked it. It is well-written, interesting to play, actually includes some historical information I didn’t know and delves into a lesser known legend (the kingdom of Yamatai), and it doesn’t have Lara trying to survive in short shorts. Lara actually dresses like someone who was expecting to be walking around a deserted island and the characters are actual characters, which seems a lot better than what the old games at least present themselves as (which is “Hey look at her boobs and legs! Sexy sexy!”).

    I have little idea if the older games are better story-wise or gameplay-wise, however.

  27. rejiquar says

    (quote) By the way, wasn’t this basic type of game play based on Heinlein’s “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress,” where an incredibly complicated and deadly puzzle/maze apparently built by an advanced alien race is discovered on the moon and the only way to solve it is for the hero (his avatar?) to die and be reborn as he goes through it over and over so he doesn’t make the same mistake again?

    Moon is a Harsh Mistress is Heinlein’s retelling of the US revolution, with the AI computer (Mike?) co-ordinating the rebels’ effort. The book you describe is, I’m pretty sure, Algis Budrys’ wonderful Rogue Moon. Love that book — think that it’s held up remarkably well.

  28. Great American Satan says

  29. says

    Played some of the old ones, and the reboot.. The old ones often had some bloody stupid controls, and I never did manage to truly master some of the dodge tricks (which, in the case of the part where you have to defeat two minotaur statues, made it impossible to advance, like.. at all. Come to think of it, I failed in the first one, for the same reasons, where you had to retrap the damn thing, before being able to continue. The reboot I managed to actually complete. That, in itself is a massive improvement.

    So, yeah, I really liked it, including the artwork improvements. But, as some people said, there is a bit less “exploring” in the newer games than there was of old. Will be interesting to see what the Myst reboot Obduction will look like.

  30. Owlmirror says

    rejiquar @#30:

    Moon is a Harsh Mistress is Heinlein’s retelling of the US revolution

    I think the story is distinct enough to not be a retelling of some particular revolution. As I see the WikiP page notes, there are some parallels with the American revolution, but there are also parallels with the Russian revolution, and with others.

    I recall that when they go on their tour of Earth, de la Paz deliberately presents parallels with other revolutions in those countries that have had revolutions, in a cynical bid for political sympathy.

  31. says

    @Great American Satan

    That was exactly my problem with it. The game was great when you just run around doing stuff. The cutscenes were really horrible. I played the game through because my understanding was that this was supposed to represent her “birth” as the badass from the original games, but it didn’t really get any better, and the upcoming sequel looks to be more of the same. I won’t be buying it and I’m glad I didn’t pay full price for the first.

  32. rejiquar says

    @34: Re-imagining would definitely be a better choice of words than retelling, so I agree with your assessment.

    That said, this gives me the chance to finish my comment, which as is was something of a derail: In Rogue Moon, I don’t recall whether the characters speculated in-universe whether the `black box’ was some sort of alien maze to test them (quite likely), but what stood out was how deadly seriously they took it, and the complex psychological consequences for the two protagonists, particularly the scientist, that came of `playing’.

    Hm. That book really might make an excellent game, come to think. So would the Heinlein, really (which alas had some issues on re-reading.)

  33. anteprepro says

    I’ve resented the focus, preoccupation, obsession with graphics since I started reading gaming magazines….which was at least 15, maybe even twenty years ago. It’s always GRAPHICS GRAPHICS GRAPHICS with these people. I’ve resented it from the very start, and it’s why gaming is where it is a today, where the main industry is a bunch of extremely wealthy company throwing all of their money behind making everything pretty and shiny, with no concern about churning out the same shit over and over. Hell, they don’t even care if the shit they are churning out is getting WORSE, or that there is even less for it for the same price: it looks slightly better, so mission accomplished.

  34. Excluded Layman says

    The Errant Signal episode on the game covers this quite well. Spoils pretty much everything, but that’s the cost of an in-depth review.

    FWIW, I played the game after watching that, and I enjoyed it a lot. Perhaps the brutality of cutscenes was mitigated by my slow pace—I was going for 100% completion, and my playstyle is more control than aggro—granting me more calm, affirmative exploration and platforming time between the vulnerable moments.

    Also, I don’t find death-scene montages to be a good basis for judgment, given that the player isn’t supposed to die terribly often, and certainly shouldn’t feel good about it when they do. Granted, if our culture wasn’t so bloodthirsty (as to happily compile and watch such compilations) the contrast with the violence background would make those scenes shocking, and thus effective punishment. Torture porn really limits the vocabulary for conveying horror, both within a work and for other works.

  35. ibyea says

    Well, the improved graphics does come at a cost, a lot more money. Because of that, it might cause developers to take shortcuts and things like that.

  36. numerobis says

    As videography techniques got fancier and fancier, the early 20th century PZ would wonder whether the films were getting any better.

    It’s a fair question of course, but the visual appeal is a large part of the point of many films and games.

  37. Alverant says

    To my own opinion, in the early days of computer games the graphics weren’t that great because of the hardware limitations. Companies began developing graphics mostly because they had to. The problem is that companies never stopped pushing graphics and it became more important than everything else. It was easier to show off a game by having a cut scene of “recorded game play” than to try and convey the controls, story, soundtrack, etc. I’m not saying good graphics aren’t important. I’m saying that the AAA game companies have made graphics their top priority in many games when their resources would be better focused elsewhere.

    There’s a bit of a revolution in smaller game companies where graphics aren’t as important. We’re seeing a return of old school type games that have OK graphics but the story and game mechanics are more engaging.

    @anteprepro Remember what happened when Ubisoft released their version Tetris on the next gen consoles? They pumped it up with so many graphics and effects and networking that it was basically unplayable.

  38. numerobis says

    Smaller game companies (hey that’s me!) can’t afford to hire thousands and thousands of artists, like Ubisoft does a few blocks away from me. Smaller film studios can’t afford the extremely fancy special effects — same thing, though in a different neighbourhood.

    Linking indie films and AAA games — along with religion — I saw this yesterday:
    Shots of Felix’s front door show the main entrance Ubisoft’s Montreal studio in the background.

  39. Island Adolescent says

    The new game has freaky torture porn elements for many of the gruesome death scenes that have a striking dissimilarity to the way deaths of male characters in similar games are portrayed.

    Like you can’t help but get the impression somebody on the development team was jerking off to creating the main character’s death scenes.

  40. xexilf says

    The newest Tomb Raider seems to have fallen from one potential problem into another there. They made Lara more realistic, insofar that they toned down her exaggerated assets and sought to make her more human that just a sex symbol, but in doing so they went way to far in reducing her from a badass character into someone who seems to be a victim more often than not, reducing her status as strong female.

  41. Menyambal - not as pretentious as I seem says

    The only video game that I have spent time on was released in 2005. I got the console as a third-hand hand-me-down, and just started messing about with it. The graphics were a bit cartoony even for the time, and I thought it was a perfect choice for that game.

    I really don’t see a need for perfect graphics, until you get a holodeck. But then, the only game that I have now is an emulation of a 1988 Atari, with very basic blocky shapes in glowing wireframe.

    (Me, I would have stopped with the Lara Croft rendering fifth from the left.)

  42. machintelligence says

    It isn’t “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” but rather ” Rogue Moon” by Algis Budris that has an alien artifact that kills its explorers. Vintage 1960.

  43. says

    …has the game gotten any better over the years?

    Old Tomb Raider: Clever environmental puzzle game. New Tomb Raider: Boring button-mashing grimdark-fest.

    So… No.

  44. Radioactive Elephant says

    xexilf #45

    The newest Tomb Raider seems to have fallen from one potential problem into another there. They made Lara more realistic, insofar that they toned down her exaggerated assets and sought to make her more human that just a sex symbol, but in doing so they went way to far in reducing her from a badass character into someone who seems to be a victim more often than not, reducing her status as strong female.

    I disagree, the problem was that there was a huge disconnect between gameplay and story. Lara went from freaking out over having to kill someone in self defense, to mowing down wave after wave of cultists\pirates or whatever they are. Then later she’s mowing down waves of semi-indestructible statue monsters… During the course of the game she becomes basically an army of one.

    If you cut out the waves of villains and focus on the Lara vs environment stuff, the game is really interesting. This is her origin story, so she can’t really be as bad ass as before. You get to see what a young Lara does when put in a survival situation. I never saw her as a victim (minus the fun let’s use the threat of sexual assault as a means of character development), she’s scouring the island looking for her friends and fellow survivors. Climbing the radio tower, scaling mountains, being stalked by wolves, scaling precarious vertical sheet-metal shanty towns… She keeps a relatively level head through all this with no real training. If they’d cut down on all the fighting, or even make full stealth an option, and make the game more about environmental puzzles, it probably woulda been perfect.

  45. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    I have completed all the tomb raider games except the first and Angel of Darkness which was broken. Yes the graphics do improve gameplay. But the games have always been unplayable without a fairly advanced level of hardware.

    The changes in Lara are much less important than the changes in the world model. The early games were limited to a world of blocks in a grid pattern. The very latest game is virtually indistinguishable from a movie. Since Lara is the focal point they have to get the model right, but she has been a fairly constant proportion of the total polygons on the screen over the years.

    Like a lot of video games, they seem to have regeared to sell to women this time round. Lara isn’t a big breasted cartoon any longer.

  46. birgerjohansson says

    yes, “Rogue Moon” would make a great background for a game….
    I am actually surprised no one has tried to base a film on any of his stories.

  47. says

    Needs an exquisitely detailed model of a washcloth now

    “Was it Laurie Anderson who said that VR would never look real until they learned how to put some dirt in it?”
    ― William Gibson

  48. caseloweraz says

    I tend to agree with Laurie Anderson (or whoever said that.) I remember the 1960s detective shows, like Hawaiian Eye and Mannix, in which the male leads were always getting into fistfights, getting knocked on the head, etc. and never coming up bloody or with their clothes mussed.

  49. says

    In general, game mechanics have improved considerably since the first Tomb Raider game came out almost 20 years. Of course, not all games today succeed in implementing those improvements properly, but if you put today’s gamers in front of video games from the mid-90s or earlier, they will likely find the experience frustrating, and not just because of the graphics.

    The new retro-style video games from indie developers illustrates this very well. The best ones are highly praised for their mechanics regardless of the quality of the retro graphics. They simply play much better than games from the era their graphics are imitating, and that goes for every genre out there — even point and click adventures, where companies like Telltale Games have made major improvements to the mechanics of that style of game.

  50. Ranzoid says

    The games main story line was written by rhianna pratchett, who is she? Her father is Terry Pratchett, creator of Discworld series of satirical fantasy novels,

  51. mattwatkins says

    “Has the game gotten any better over the years?”

    The game has gotten different over the years. Despite all the focus on Lara as a sex symbol, the original Tomb Raider (one of my top 5 favorite games of all time) was a revolutionary game through and through. It was an action game with a cohesive, more adult narrative. It was one of the earliest generation of fully 3D console games. It had a female protagonist. It was much more about exploration and getting past obstacles than about shooting stuff. I believe it was the first game ever to use the, now cliche, “get captured and lose all your weapons half-way through the narrative” device. There’s a lot of derision now about “tank” controls, but keep in mind that analog joysticks weren’t standard on game controllers when the game came out, and there’d been no standardization of 3D controls. The controls did (and still do) feel natural after playing for a couple hours.

    The first 5 games in the series were basically all variations on the same game. I actually enjoyed all of them. The 6th (Angel of Darkness) is best not mentioned. Legend and Underworld updated the gameplay, graphics, and control to a more modern (at the time) feel. They’re passable. Tomb Raider (reboot) is a different beast. It’s a very modern 3rd person action-adventure game, like Resident Evil 4 or Uncharted or The Last of Us or Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. And it does what it does very well, but it’s nothing like revolutionary or particularly standout. That said, I really enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to further entries in the series.

  52. Rob says

    No idea about the game, but it does strike me that the last three faces (on the right) become progressively and significantly softer, more vulnerable and sexualised. The character image they portray becomes progressively less capable, dangerous and dominant. It’s the vulnerability rather than the sexualisation that really jars for me. Not at all what I understood the character to be like.

  53. says

    The 4th from last face is still real low poly. The others attempted to strip out the blockiness that “gave” the character harsher features, and the last one is ***supposed to be*** a younger, far less confident, version, so…

  54. mattwatkins says

    No idea about the game, but it does strike me that the last three faces (on the right) become progressively and significantly softer, more vulnerable and sexualised. The character image they portray becomes progressively less capable, dangerous and dominant. It’s the vulnerability rather than the sexualisation that really jars for me. Not at all what I understood the character to be like.

    The final image is from the most recent game, which is an origin story, so Lara is significantly younger than any of the other iterations. And she is indeed painted as somewhat vulnerable to begin with. Then by the end of the game she’s . . .well see for yourself:

  55. nomuse says

    I don’t think some arbitrary standard of graphics per se is necessary for immersion, but unfortunately the experience seems to be a one-way street. I remember Doom fondly. It seems harder to get into it now.

    Well, maybe. I still keep Lugaru around (largely because Overgrowth is barely playable yet) and after a little wriggling and pulling it feels immersive again. On the other hand, moving back from Tomb Raider: Underworld to Tomb Raider: Legends is a tough move — but not because of the graphics, because the controls are clunkier and the movement less fluid. Which is not unaffected by the same technological progress as went into the graphics improvements.

    All that said, some recent AAA games — Tomb Raider 2013 very much so — are going too far in a specific way about their graphics. Basically, they are so much about spectacle they don’t dare let the player muck up their carefully chosen camera angles, staged spectacles, and so forth. Tomb Raider 2013 actively rips the camera out of your hands over and over, forcing you to look at the scene the way they want you to look at the scene. It also rips control of Lara away from you whenever it is afraid you might not quite hit your marks as you perform a desperate jump for the camera.

    The best I can say for the game is that it hides the railroad tracks pretty well on the first time through. It is only on replay that you realize the entire time you were mashing the run key and twisting around to look for a gap between the burning boards of an exploding building…the computer was already doing most of it for you.

  56. John Horstman says

    Pffft, anteprepro @38 is just mad about zir low 3DMark scores. :-P

    Is 3DMark still a thing? Even since I got an adult job that pays me enough money to buy decent hardware, meaning I don’t have to fuck with registry/.ini settings to even squeeze out playable framerates, I stopped caring about that, too. Back in the day it was an issue mainly becasue I had so little money, so I needed to absolutely maximize my ROI. Every $5 counted when planning the next upgrade/PC build. But I definitely also noticed that for plenty of people, maximizing the benchmarks themselves was the goal, as opposed to using them as a baseline comparison to help optimize settings for maximizing performance on cheap hardware in order to make games playable, and maybe a little pretty as a bonus. Geeks gonna geek out about something, and for some people, performing well in benchmarks is the thing about which they geek out.

    As for the larger point, what works best is and always has been to match the art to the medium. I have pixelated sprite-based games that still look great because the art was well-done and well-tailored to the medium in the state in which it existed at the time, and I still play some old games with graphics that haven’t aged as well because the gameplay itself is still enjoyable (Unreal Tournament – the original one – is still my favorite deathmatch FPS ever, though I like the objective-based play – and art! – in TF2 better). So, yes, graphics matter, maybe in terms of polygon count or texture resolution, but only when that works in service of something else. Open-world games like The Elder Scrolls series do benefit greatly from more detailed graphics becasue a big part of the draw is immersion in the world, hence BethSoft’s focus on the rendering engine. This is also true for more on-the-rails, story-driven FPS games like the Half-Life series or Halo series or Mass Effect series – greater immersion makes the story more real. Games with greater degrees of abstraction integrated into the concept or UI benefit less from more detailed graphics – for example, most of my still-favorite RTS games (or grand strategy games, for that matter) are sprite-based or use really simple 3D models, becasue the engine needs to render a lot of them at once and unit/environment differentiation for instant tactical analysis is most important, and sprites can do all of that. Stylized abstractions and bold colors tend to work best for those purposes – I still think StarCraft is pretty, and Myth achieved the full level of graphics and physics detail that’s truly necessary for a 3D RTS game, or real-time tactics in that case, at about the same time, ALLLLLLLLLLLLL the way back in 1997. 5 years later, Warcraft 3, for example, is certainly prettier, which is a nice aesthetic perk but not a functional necessity.

    Look at Minecraft or Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds or Farmville – these are popular, lucrative titles that certainly don’t require a $500 dedicated GPU to run (indeed, that may be part of the reason they’re so popular and lucrative). So graphics usually do matter a lot, but it’s not always the level of detail so much as it is matching the graphics to the mechanics, interface, and story.

  57. llamaherder says

    As a general rule, new games have learned a lot of lessons that hadn’t been learned yet when old games were created. Mechanics are better. Pacing is better. Difficulty is tuned better. Controls are better. Player failure is handled better.

    All in all, modern games offer a much smoother experience, which tends to mean better immersion and more fun. Good graphics are great and important too, but they’re not the only thing that’s improved over the years.

    That doesn’t mean older games are bad. There are lots of old gems from the which remain some of my favorite games of all time, but every great game from the 90s would have been better if it’d been created today. Bad controls ruin otherwise-great games. Many of my old favorites are barely playable these days because their mechanics are so bad.

    Modern trends I hate are microtransactions and the burning need to include RPG-style progression in every single game, whether it fits or not.

    High poly count and texture resolution are pretty much a given now. Take a look at any game more than eight years old or so, and the first thing you’ll notice is the lack of shading. The things I notice these days, graphics-wise, are set design and realistic animations.

    The latest Tomb Raider was a solid game. It wasn’t innovative, and the torture porn was too much, but it was a very polished, well-put-together experience.