WildStar: Raising the Bar - Art and Style
Like any game, whether a single-player or sprawling MMORPG, the direction of style the art takes can have drastic benefits or consequences in todays volatile market. Learning from those that came before, the WildStar team chose a style most would consider cartoony, but that isn't a bad thing and there are a number of reasons why. Let's get the reasons most easily explained out of the way first.
If the graphics were too realistic, the game would have two major hurdles on the road to mass appeal and profit. One, it would limit the number of systems the game would run on. This is no longer the era where players are willing to upgrade their systems to play a game (as they did for EverQuest). Secondly, no matter how great you make the graphics look, until we are able to generate truly photorealistic settings and characters, the game's graphics will inevitably begin to age as time passes and other developers create games with better graphics. Unless, of course, the team was willing to upgrade the graphics engine every year or two, but the cost of that would be prohibitive to say the least.
By choosing to create a very stylized cartoon look instead, a number of benefits are immediately achieved. For starters, the game becomes instantly recognizable at even the quickest glance. By not attempting to create graphic realism, there's no pause in trying to determine what game screenshot X came from - it's instantly obvious if a person is remotely familiar with the project.
Even more importantly, the style reflects modern day cartoons and young peoples entertainment television shows. Ignoring the possibility of creating movies or anything of the like with the product, any commercials that show gameplay will appeal to kids. And anyone that's been around young children know how incessantly annoying they can be in their constant begging to get the shiny new toy they see on TV. I don't think the begging for any game that lets them explore a fantastical world with awesomely cute and humorous characters is going to be any different. I don't think the development team thinks it will be that much different either.
The final reason I think choosing a highly stylized graphical style goes back to one of the major backbones of the WildStar universe, highlighted since the day they released the very first trailer for the game, is personality and humor. As we've seen in countless animated movies, the amount of comical facial expressions, absurd actions, and ridiculous poses that can be achieved by characters, monsters, and the environment itself within the confines of cartoon graphics is quite literally unlimited.
If the team had gone for realism instead of style, they would be irrevocably tied down in terms of what could be portrayed without having players complain that action X was unrealistic. Nothing pulls a player out of the world youre trying to immerse them in more than making something happen that's just outside the bounds of believability in the realm of their expectations. By going with a cartoon style graphic, the only limitations in place are those of the team's imagination. And, as we've seen in a number of trailers and videos released by the team so far, there seem to be little if any restrictions on what their crazy brains can come up with.
It's that lack of restricted imagination and humor that appears to permeate every aspect of the game that has me excited the most about this title. There are a number of innovative systems the team is bringing to the table, but I'm looking forward to a game where we finally get to see some humor and personality damn it. Let me give you an inside scoop to an E3 event that occurred that clearly shows the sense of humor the team has:
I was invited to go to a Carbine press event where they were going to talk about WildStar. At this point in time, aside from some former coworkers of mine, I had never met or talked to anyone on the WildStar team including Executive Producer, Jeremy Gaffney. Being a total geek, I knew who he was (a founding member of Turbine and responsible for many aspects of Asheron's Call), so I went directly up to him and introduced myself. "Hi, Jeremy! My name is Jeremy Gaffney," I said as I proceeded to hand him his own business card (slipped to me for just such purpose earlier that morning by Reuben, aka Sardu). Without missing a beat, he looked at me with a big grin and said, "Oh my gosh, it's great to meet you. I'm your biggest fan! It's this kind of pervasive personality and genuine humor that appears to be imbedded within the very fabric of WildStar and, for that reason, I'm excited to see the final effect of combining their incredible art style with personalities that are just as interesting.