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Why Your Game is Not Visually Appealing and What to Do About It

Discussion in 'Visual' started by Kaidus, Oct 15, 2016.

  1. Kaidus

    Kaidus Administrator Staff Member

    Want to know the real secret to a glorious looking game?

    Loading... Loading... Loading...


    I know what your thinking.

    I waited through all that loading for that?

    The truth is you already knew feedback was the secret to a visually appealing game.

    What you did not know is that you can train yourself to get even better feedback directly from yourself!

    Use this article to help you understand how to make your game more visually appealing, as visuals are almost always the first thing people notice about your game.

    Rid yourself of just hoping things work out.

    Now after that long speech, I'm going to also say you need feedback from outside sources.

    Let's say you wanted to make a game with a yellow ball that moves around through various obstacles in a grassy field. On day 1 you get some quick concepts together and you come up with something that looks slightly satisfying. After 9 days of serious hard work (Yes, this is sarcastic.) you come up with the glorious day 10 render. Oh my! What an improvement! (Yes, still sarcasm.)


    Both are still not very visually appealing!!

    The style of the day 10 picture is closer to the designers original vision and therefore more visually appealing to the designer however often not to the audience. Let's be honest, the day 1 picture is actually more visually appealing to us.

    It's important to realize that your definition of visually appealing can and will be obscured by progress, and progress does not equal visually improvement.

    I say this from the heart and not to be mean, feedback from outside sources will knock your beliefs on your progress down to a realistic level just when you start to feel your work is exceptional.

    Life right...


    So just what is visually appealing?
    Merriam Webster defines the word appealing as having pleasing or attractive qualities that people like. In other words, the definition of visually appealing would be pleasing or attractive qualities that people can see or view. (This is getting hard to read with that picture above right?)

    How then can we know what is visually appealing when the definition of visually appealing can be completely different from person to person? Notice the word attractive. It's not unusual for people to be attracted to different qualities and then categorize those into a certain type of look that they like in general; yet there are certain particular qualities that the general population considers attractive.

    Unless your appealing to a very particular look, it's important for your game to have some of these commonplace attractive qualities.

    Let's take a look at 4 commonplace attractive qualities people look for in games.
    For each quality you will learn:
    • The psychology - What your audience is thinking and how they interpret your visuals.
    • Example - How to do it right or wrong
    • Mistakes - Common mistakes people make that lead to unattractive visuals
    #1 Relatability or, in a sense, Symmetry.
    Science has proven that on average, people are accepted as being generally attractive when they have a perfectly symmetrical face structure. While this doesn't apply to games the same way, it's an important factor to study.

    How well your game matches up, or relates with, reality
    The below example is from an abstract game called Rain World, notice the elements that give you the illusion of reality.


    While the game is abstract, we are still able to easily identify that the level takes place inside of a factory. We have been taught what a factory is from a young age and usually associate a factory with gears and metal. From looking at the top of the image we can see vines hanging down to the bottom where we notice the rocks and debris all of which can tell us it's a worn apocalyptic factory. By relating objects in the game to real world objects the player can grasp an idea of what they should expect in the environment.

    It's also important to realize that we all have a different history and not everyone will relate objects the same way. If you create a time machine based off a design from the 1800's that nobody has seen before, there is a chance nobody will recognize that the object before them is a time machine. Make sure to define objects in your game when there is a chance your viewers can't relate to it's symmetry.

    Alright, so the first image was easy, now let me show you a game with less symmetrical visual appeal called Tetrosphere, also keep in mind my first example with the ball. The screenshot below will have symmetrical appeal to the designer because he created everything and knows with certainty what all the game objects do.


    However for the player there will be quite a bit of confusion. While it's fairly easy to identify with the ball and the exit sign, the overall perspective in this game is hard to grasp.

    Our minds might jump to a game called Marble Mania or we'll try to figure out what the swirling object is in the back as we try to make sense of the world we are presented with. Right away we will start to ask questions to figure out what is going on. Why are the blocks floating? Are those spikes or Jacks? Is that a tire or a hoop? Why do the blocks look so much more detailed than everything else? Why can I relate a few particular items with reality but when all put together this makes no sense?! Where am I?!

    When your player has too many questions all at once about the environment, they can't focus on the gameplay objects that they should be asking the questions about. Your players will be walking around in circles trying to figure out what to do because they are too focused on trying to properly grasp the world itself or they may even leave out of discomfort from the vague surroundings.


    On the other hand when you look at the game above with very similar movable space and background environment, you are not left with as many questions.

    We can see right away that we are up high in the mountains. There are platforms with visible foundation and textures with grass, wood and trees that we are familiar with. Because we don't need to spend any more time grasping the level concept, we can quickly identify action objects and how to interact with them. We are also made at ease by familiar concepts such as wood walkways and therefor do not immediately want to leave out of discomfort.

    Lines and shapes and other photography elements.
    By studying photography or videography you can help give your game a sense of presence. Developing photography skill is a research project on its own, so I'm going to very briefly cover it.

    Lines can help direct your attention to a point of interest. A common example for lines would be a long snakelike road leading into a castle. Our eyes like to follow these lines which makes it easy to determine where the point of interest is, or in this example, the castle or entrance.

    Another reason to use lines and shapes is to fill that void space.


    Notice especially how the lines from the tracks lead your eyes through this complex environment. The size and shape of the power line help give you measurements of the distance space as your mind excavates the photo. If you had no lines or shapes in this picture you would be overwhelmed with trying to figure out the depth and perspective in this shot.

    They also look cool!

    #2 Quality of the visuals

    Relating quality to the best out there.
    The quality of your game often depends on what is out there right now in the video game world. When Super Mario World came out for the Nintendo 64, I remember how people drooled over the top notch graphics they had never seen before. Most couldn't believe how much they had improved and wondered how much better they could even get! Then the PS2 came out...

    Once a new graphic style comes out, it becomes the new industry standard and gives you three options with alternatives.


    I am using The Legend of Zelda as an example, however this diagram doesn't go by game, it goes by similar art styles. So Zelda would be compared with Darksiders or other cartoonish looking exploration games like World of Warcraft.

    From the chart, we can have any number of various or unique art styles. Realism, surrealism, pop,impressionism, abstract...ect. However the best or perhaps the most well known graphics at the time becomes the industry standard for that quality. Those knockoff movies at Redbox succeed by pretending to create a movie with industry standard quality on the cover, yet the actual graphics are always lower quality. It's also why video game cases usually look much better than the game itself, because they are pretending to be industry standard or even next gen quality.


    When you can create a next generation quality game, it eventually becomes the industry standard thus pushing the current industry standard graphics into the lower quality area.

    What I am hoping you get from this chart is that if you can't create industry standard content, your best bet might be to create an alternative art quality with less competition. (There is an accepted industry standard per game system as well. PC, PS4, 3DS, Flash...ect)


    What is the most creative alternative quality you have seen? Minecraft was able to take simple low quality block graphics and let the gamers create the new industry standard themselves. Although somehow I doubt this was the developer's intention when he created it.

    Lack of flaws
    To be fair, we could define flaws as any graphic that does not meet industry standard, game graphic that doesn't mesh with the environment, or glitch in the game visuals(ex. a tree half merged into a wall).

    It might be unfair to consider flaws in older games, because sometimes we don't realize that there are any flaws until something better comes out. Games nowadays that have more realistic looking shadows, caustics from water and glass, clouds and other graphical improvements are going to make older games that were industry standard at the time, look flawed to us now.

    Another major flaw in games can be when your composition is off. Do your foreground objects look so much more detailed than your background objects? Can you easily identify the interactive game objects from the background elements? I will be writing another article on proper game composition as there is much to cover.

    #3 Story
    What Personal Connections can the player get from your visuals?
    It's unfortunate that the popular game companies already have the edge here. Not only that, they have an advertisement budget to enhance the emotional appeal to their games.


    If you are familiar with Pokemon, then chances are you already drew some good or bad connection with the above picture. Perhaps the picture reminded you of good times from the past or of how it made you feel to watch Pikachu cry. I feel this is one of the reasons there are so many remakes out there, because the visual appeal gained from reusing the same graphics or environment is invaluable!

    So what are these connections and how do they work?

    We talked earlier about making sure people can relate or identify objects easy, well now we are relating on a personal level to your audience. If you make a game that is totally different from anything your audience has seen before, give them no way to connect with the character, story, environment, visuals, music, etc. They will feel disconnected, lost or confused and that is not a comforting feeling.

    In other words, if your targeting an audience that wants a cute pikachu and you give them a potato, your cooked.

    We can identify with following game genres in different ways. We often identify with shooter games because we played them with friends growing up or maybe the first person perspective feels so similar to everyday life.

    Notice how strategy causal and other games earn far less than adventure, roll-playing, action and shooter games. While this isn't the only reason, it's much harder to draw personal connections from these games.

    What does the below image make you think of?


    For me, I get a sense of invincibility, a feeling that I could conquer mountains! (or in this case giant robots) The idea of taking on the impossible, succeeding at it while kicking presumptions to the curb, comes to my mind. I also feel a sense of panic at the daunting environment and yet freedom as I'm high in the clouds.

    The more you can get your players to imagine what it would be like to be inside of the game, the better they will be able to connect. I don't necessarily mean the cinematics, all your camera angles should contribute to building connections with the player.

    General or Literal attraction
    This one is also cheating, however attractive looking characters deserves an honorable mention. I feel this doesn't need much convincing as sex is the most effective sales gimick in the industry.

    #4 Empty Space and Variation
    The leading cause of bad looking games in all the areas of the world. Needless, reasonableness, unexplainable empty space. <sigh>

    While I'm going to start of by saying, "No floating platforms! No floating platforms! No floating platforms!", Cuboid actually made better use of empty space than many. (You can do floating platforms if you want, and like I said everyone has their own definition of visual appeal, however from my experience it's not a popular look, some popular games like super smash brothers have pulled it off however.)


    Instead of filling the level with void space, with Cuboid they crafted a nice looking environment that fits somewhat well with the game objects.

    The game would have been much more visually appealing if there was some science behind the floating tiles or maybe had them built into the ground. If you look through the windows you will notice that the temple itself is floating in the air as well, with no foundation. (we might eventually just assume it's high in the mountains) Again, the player is left trying to figure out the world rather than just enjoy playing in it.

    Empty space causes a game to look flat and boring, like walking into a house with no furniture.

    It's uncomfortable.

    While it would not look visually appealing, using empty space in a horror game to make the player uncomfortable would be worth it.

    Where the above game really scores low is variation
    There is some very slight variation in the game tiles, however they basically all look the same. There is no debris or cracks to show diversity in the textures. There are very few objects to interact with in general with this game as it's a fairly simple puzzle game. From what I've seen, every level features the exact same 3D environment.


    Notice the variation in the above picture? There are wood planks on the marina decking, a palm tree that is cut in half, random objects on the beach, a treasure chest, islands in the background and a pleasant looking sky to mention a few.

    While variation was easily overlooked in the early 2000's, it has become an industry standard in games that helps your game look and feel more realistic.

    Just like the real world, games need lots of variation everywhere.

    How can I further develop my ability to garner my own feedback?
    Most of this article has been studying other video games, did you notice?

    By looking at games more critical, you will begin to develop the Sardonic Eye of Mastery.

    Take if from your inventory and equip it!

    Look deeper into the flaws and perfections in the game world and discover games' genetic makeup in a sense. By studying games you will begin to understand that every element in a game can and should be there for a reason.

    Use this knowledge to guide your player on their adventure.

    Make them feel what you want them to feel.

    Are you creating a game or an experience?

    Thanks for reading, feel free to check out our forum while your here. We are very new at the moment so expect great things in the future. (Your probably wondering about our lousy visual appeal for the forum, its months in the works, bwahaha) If you have already made a game, feel free to submit it to our free link directory.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2016
  2. LKgolic

    LKgolic New Member

    Every single person reacts to the game in a different way and even quite similar in tastes gamers can like or dislike your game design. On the GameCrafts conference in Kiev was an interesting speech about human's personality influence on the preferences and derision in games. Here is the link
    What is is your opinion about it and does it really meter on the prototype stage of the game design?

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