<< Portico: A picture is worth next to nothing

4/22/2006

A picture is worth next to nothing

Four sim-Rome games coming out in the near future, and, based on the screenshots, not a hell of a lot to distinguish them.

Here are shots of Firaxis/Firefly's CivCity:Rome.

Here's Caesar IV from Tilted Mill.

Haemimont's Glory of the Roman Empire is here.

And finally, Deep Red's Heart of Empire: Rome.

Now, it is completely natural that the screens will be almost interchangeable. Ancient Rome is ancient Rome and it will always be marble temples, aqueducts, theaters and some wood huts.

But I wager that however similar these games look, there will be some noticeable differences between them. And that is the problem with screenshots.

In an understandable effort to cram as much visual splendor as possible into a single picture, important things like game interface and how the building relates to a larger game mission are left out. Screenshots are almost always taken divorced from any context.

I'm not talking about screenshots that may intentionally mislead ("bullshots"), though that also happens. I'm talking about screenshots as stills completely isolated from how the player will actually interact with them. None of these Roman city-builder shots give you an idea how the buildings are constructed, how the economy will work or whether there is any significant military component to the game.

Game videos are often not much better. As I type, I'm downloading the demo for Rise and Fall: Civilizations at War, Midway's action/rts that marked the end of the line for Stainless Steel Studios. Almost all of the gameplay videos released to this point have emphasized the "hero mode", wherein you as the player take part in the battle on your screen. Game descriptions, however, have mentioned that this is only a single part of the game. Screenshots show traditional RTS action, but nothing besides men on ships to set it apart from the rest. Video shows a half-naked Cleopatra cutting heads off.

Screenshots, in my opinion, need to show the interface at some point in development - at least if they want to be informative. Discussion of the new Europa Universalis III screenshots in the developers' diaries have focused on the revelation of a court screen and a new economic/tech investment screen - not as much on how the trees still look stupid. Discussion on real information.

But screenshots are really about marketing, and marketing means showing as much of the artwork as possible; these are "video" games after all. But based on these Roman city shots, I so far have no real reason to pick one over the others.

1 Comments:

Blogger GamegeekBHG said...

I've given up looking at screenshots. I only look at *gameplay* video anymore. And you'd better show me the UI...

5/03/2006 12:55:00 AM  

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