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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 August, 2003, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
Game graphics hit their limits
Alfred Hermida
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor

How much do you care about the look of a video game? Do you care about how a character's hair flutters in the wind?

Jak from Jak and Daxter
Jak's good looks helped sales of the game
Soon most games will come with stunning graphics and realistic worlds, so relying on looks alone to sell a title will not be enough, a leading game maker has predicted.

Game designer James Rubin told a conference of developers in London how in the past graphics had driven sales of titles.

But the challenge now facing game makers was to come up interesting ideas, rather than just focusing on making a game look superficially better.

Good-looking creatures

Traditionally, increasingly realistic graphics have kept gamers coming back for more.

The look and feel of games has changed massively since the days of pixellated black and white creatures on screen.

A game like tennis has evolved from the basic two paddles of Pong in 1972 to realistic looking matches now, featuring models of the stars of the game.

"What can we do to tennis now?" asked Mr Rubin. "How is better looking tennis going to get people to buy the game?"

Gran Turismo 4
If you're going to beat Gran Turismo 4, you're not going to do it by having shinier cars
James Rubin, Naughty Dog
The veteran games developer is talking from experience. Much of the success of his company, Naughty Dog, has been due to the graphics of its games.

It has largely relied on making games that look better than their competitors, such as the best-selling Crash Bandicoot series and more recently, Jak and Daxter.

"Graphics was a key focus for Jak and Daxter," said Mr Rubin. "The gameplay was a little short but graphically it stunned and it sold 2.75 million copies worldwide."

But he admitted that the strategy of relying on better graphics to sell a game was "dated".

"There is nothing more we can get from graphics," he said. "I'm not saying that art is not important, but aesthetics alone are not going to sell a game."

New ideas

Instead he said people making games now had to come up with innovative ideas, either in gameplay or in genres.

Mr Rubin pointed to the success of Grand Theft Auto 3.

It has become one of the best-selling titles ever not so much because of its graphics, but due to the freedom it gave players to explore the game and decide what to do next.

He urged his audience of veteran and aspiring game makers to think beyond the look of a game.

"If you're going to beat Gran Turismo 4, you're not going to do it by having shinier cars. You need to do something radically different.

"You need to come up with a better game experience."

The Game Developers Conference Europe was held London's Earls Court conference centre.

It was part of London Games Week, which includes a mixture of industry and consumer events around the capital.

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