Video games graphics have come a long way, from 2-D arcade games like Space Invaders all the way to today's visual heavyweights like Uncharted 4. It's insane how much the industry develops in such short windows of time. Just look at the picture below which shows the original Battlefield with its blurry textures and simple landscape, compared to the rich smoke and fires of modern day Battlefield 1. In just 14 years the series has transformed from a sparse shooter to the chaotic battlefield the title demands.
A lot of games will likely embrace the 'pixel perfect' graphical capabilities of future technology and use it to transport you to a host of places from earth to outer space. This will begin mainly with AAA games as they have the budget and workforce to realize photorealism faster, developers may be forced to invest elsewhere, exploring alternative directions beyond the drive for realism.
As we can see here in Uncharted 4, developer Naughty Dog is clearly aiming for something that looks as realistic as they can make it (considering various time/money constraints). High-quality visuals are very useful in showing an obvious improvement in the progression of a series and of a console, and are therefore a key component in creating games that look new and are at the top of the industry.
But what if developers don't want to conform to trends and instead want to try something new? Here's for alternative directions video game graphics might want to aim for.
It may be that games use amazingly realistic graphics but unhinge reality in a different way such as creating impossible scenery or characters. If games look too much like real life then people are likely to try and break free from it somehow.
Alice: Madness Returns is a 2011 game by developer Spicy Horse and uses the surreal fantasy from Alice's Adventures In Wonderland to inspire its impossible world. If something like this were then to be combined with ultra-realistic graphics, we could have amazing experiences of reality-bending realness.
We've seen games like the Borderlands series take a non-realistic approach to graphics by implementing cartoon-like visuals which don't require the audience to try and see the game as reality, rather it places it as more of a deliberate or meta view of a video game.
This could be a good path to follow when games become truly lifelike and developers try to find new ways of being original and innovative. By using artwork as a truer guide than simply use of concept art, games can try to look unique and new as opposed to realistic when every other game does the same thing.
With continual remakes bringing old games into the world of enhanced graphics, it'll be interesting to see if developers ever devolve games or make the games feel deliberately dated. There are of course examples of this found in things like Minecraft or Pixel-Art games like Shovel Knight or Super Meat Boy, but will there ever be a Call of Duty game that's made deliberately to look like a game from one or two console generations before it?
I can imagine in a world of perfect looking games that there will be people looking for something new and possibly a little dated to contrast the cinematic experiences that they'll be used to. These kinds of games may no longer be nostalgia or novelty driven.
Something Else Entirely?
It's impossible to say for sure how games will look in the future. With the rise of VR (and possible other new technologies) the video game market may eventually shift into an entirely unfamiliar place without treading some of the paths mentioned above.
Whatever happens, it'll be interesting to see how the limitations set by technology are reached and then broken by video games and consoles in the future.
Take a look at how games are currently changing in other ways:
What do you think will happen to video game graphics in the future? Comment below!