Can Video Games Ever Be As Realistic As Movies?

Can Video Games Ever Be As Realistic As Movies?

How many times have you read on a game box or skimmed an interview and saw these words come out of a game studio’s mouth: “we’re going for absolute realism in our game”? You might wander into a store and pick up a copy, only to pop it into your console or PC and be utterly disappointed by another unrealistic FPS or RPG that completely misses the mark. Should we just abandon all hope that video games will ever look as good as the movies do? Not necessarily. Meet Guy Williams. You may remember him as the visual effects supervisor (read: FX boss) on a little project called The Avengers.

Whether you liked it or not as a movie, it’s hard to argue against the simple fact that The Avengers looked awesome. That was partly thanks to Guy and his awesome team at WETA in New Zealand. Specifically, they worked on the Stuttgart fight between Loki and Captain America, the fight between Loki and Thor atop Stark Tower and the part where Thor gets dropped out of a goddamn flying aircraft carrier faster than you can say “Loki fought a lot of folk in that film, didn’t he?”.

If you’ve never even heard of WETA, frankly, you need to have a long, hard bath with yourself. It’s a visual effects studio that produces some of the best special effects on Earth. Guy has worked with them since 1999 and has worked on all of the Lord of the Rings films and he’s currently working on that one we can’t really talk about. *AHEM*COUGH..The Hobbit…*SPLUTTER*COUGH*. Pardon me.


Seeing as how Guy is an authority on making fake things look amazing in the real world, I thought I’d ask him about vide games. Why aren’t they as good-looking as movies right now, considering all the tech available to designers? Well, according to Guy, video games and movies, while both art, are completely different in the way they tell a story. They both endeavour to piece together a narrative that you can become emotionally invested in, but they use different methods to get that investment. For example, video games are interactive whereas film is passive. With that divergence in mind, do video games really need to be hyper-realistic?

Guy explains that game studios will always strive to be as realistic in their final products as films are, and one day, they will make something indistinguishable from reality.

With that in mind, I asked Guy, can video games ever replace CGI? Could a visual effects artist in future pick up a controller and pose the action and scene the way they want, just with the flick of a thumbstick?

That’s been a question since the beginning [of video games]. The game and film industry are very close relatives. The software is [almost] the same between the industries, except one industry (games) renders in real time, and one takes ages (film).
Games are amazing and the graphics are moving forward in leaps and bounds, and so are those in film. The problem is that it’s a moving goalpost. Will they ever catch it? At some point, I can imagine games will [replace CGI]…but it’s the distant future.

That’s a definite maybe, then.

Guy calls out the Valve Source Engine as one of the stand-outs in the realism in video games arena. He hopes to see more stuff like that in future, because that will inspire more kids to join the noble profession of visual artistry.

Don’t lose hope, gamers. One day our interactive stories will be as realistic as the movies.


  • Personally, While i like games to look “pretty” realism isnt a major point for me. If i wanted reality, id join the army. Become a wondering traveller. Take LSD and fight dragons in my mind.

    While the points are definitely of note, that we would like games to … ascend their current state, we have to remember that as entertainment one of the main purposes is escapism. How far into realism can we go before it becomes more stressful than real life…oh wait…some people find that already lol.

    • Do you mean games like ICO, Borderlands, Okami and Alice: Madness Returns? it sounds good in theory but I personally think there better off as rare occurrences because if all developers start doing it it’ll get old fast.

        • I have no issue with developers being original I was merely stressing if more were focused on a artistic direction it may be abit too overwhelming.

          • If they were all focused on the same artistic direction sure. But we kinda already have that, what with all the brown and grey going on at the moment.

            If devs had their own art direction that allowed players to tell at a glance what the game is, then that would not be overwhelming.

      • There will always be some games with better art direction than others. If everyone starts doing better quality art then it just means we get a better baseline to start with, and everyone wins in that case.

  • You answered your own question in your final statement. Last time I checked, Avengers, Lord of the Rings, Act of Valour, Black Hawk Down, Orgazmo.. they can all be more “realistic” than games as far as visual effects go, but they’re not interactive.

    Maybe ask Guy how long it took to render those scenes he was a part of, and ask yourself – why can’t my Xbox do that realtime.

  • I don’t see the point in games becoming hyper realistic.

    Its certainly not a story telling thing–we already have books, and a lot of them have no graphics whatsoever. Its not a gameplay issue when we already have a slew of titles that employ less than realistic graphics yet still feel amazing to play.

    Honestly the only reason I can see to have realistic graphics is for aesthetic value, and even then games that incorporate their own, less than realistic style ( see Borderlands or anything from Team Meat) have a memorable visuals because they *aren’t* shooting for realism.

  • Slow news day? This is almost a ramble. You can’t really talk about ‘realism’ and lump in all types together. Either we’re talking about graphics, or something else like physics or plot or characterization. Apples and oranges, and they can’t really be discussed in the same breath.

  • Guy calls out the Valve Source Engine as one of the stand-outs in the realism in video games arena.

    Source engine? Really? Maybe a decade ago…

    • That’s the problem with the whole thing. What’s the context of the quote? The article mainly focuses on graphics but does mention story. What’s missing is whether Guy was talking about narrative or animation or lighting or something else entirely. He can’t have been talking about graphics in general, unless he means relative to the time it was released and/or as a solid marker in the history of advancements in video games towards ‘realism’.

      • I thought the same thing – I thought originally it was about the graphical quality then moved onto the animations and finally I had no idea. WETA are the movrs and shakers for both movies and games with their tech being used for both. So I’d expect them to know how convergent the two mediums are becoming (or not becoming). But somewhere in this article the message got lost and I have no idea what the point was. The out of date and just plain weird source engine quote was just the icing on the cake.

    • At the time that the Source engine was released though, physics in games wasn’t really a thing. Having objects interact realistically is a huge part of making something look realistic.

      • Oh absolutely, at the time it did some amazing things. It was one of the first engines to do stuff like translucency and accurate light distortion through water and stuff. But that was a long time ago, it’s starting to really show its age now. Plus no one aside from Valve uses it.

  • “Why aren’t they as good-looking as movies right now, considering all the tech available to designers?”

    Because one frame in a well done cgi scene can take a bank of computers hours and hours to render, and your 360 has 512 of ram…..

    I have to say, you had the chance to talk to a guy like that and you ask these questions? James Cameron already used a controller to set scenes in Avatar.

  • I was really hoping for an indepth look at what are the actual issues that are specifically holding back graphics and what could be expected over the next few years. Are we going to have better rain that finally doesn’t just look like a screen filter? Or cloth mechanics that make it possible for characters sleep UNDER the sheets in beds? =/

  • Graphics aren’t a big selling point for me, but they do succeed in attracting new consumers (that’s one reason why game trailers are always pre-rendered cinematics). It appeals to the “ooh, shiny!” part of our minds, when no other information is available, in order to get people interested. As far as gameplay goes, I see no reason for them. Getting used to modern graphics does make it difficult to play older games, tho…

  • Graphically, yes, just give it time. Otherwise, yes, it could be done right now, it just wouldn’t be a very fun game because you’d get shot once and game over.

  • I think realism is a weakness in many blockbuster films and triple A video games. Transformers and Jurassic Park brought robots and dinosaurs to life, but were in the beginning based on somewhat believeable physics. The new spiderman is a scrawny guy breaking huge g-forces and doing flips and sumersault’s on top of that and it’s just taking things a little too far for me. That could be personal taste, but combined with other cliche’s directors seem to be saying loud and clear “we are not trying anymore”, “this one is purely for the money”. Every boy and more than a few girls from 5 to 15 eagerly goes to see it. Those of us older with a little more experience of the world, are left bored. It’s not the unbelievable physics alone that ruins these movies, it’s the absent plot, the lack of character depth, we struggle to care about any of the protagonists.
    If the video games could effectively convey the experience or feeling felt by films like the Usual Suspects, Moon, the Good the Bad & the Ugly, No Country For Old Men, Fight Club etc, etc, etc then games would be better respected. Perhaps I’m being to harsh on video games as there are many that have created emotional experiences – Mass Effect, Deus Ex Human Revolution, Hard Rain, Final Fantasy VII, ICO, Black Ops the Line. It’s just that video games that create these kind of emotional experiences seem to be few and far between. My hope is that as tools for story telling become better, we will get better story in video games and better video games as a whole.

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