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The Evolution of Video Game Graphics

Article posted on 12/9/2021

As a general rule, most everyone thinks of Pong as the first actual video game (it isn’t technically, but it was the first one commercially available).We’ve come a long, long way since then - both visually and technically. 

I have grown up on video games, starting back in the 1980’s with Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers. At the time, I don’t recall being particularly enamored with the graphics of even the technological marvel that it was for its time period - largely, I suspect, because why would a 5 year old think of those things?

Nowadays, I’m in constant awe of how far this hobby I love has come. Games are pretty much instantly accessible on any platform now, and the advances they have made visually, narratively, and mechanically continue to thrill and excite me. 

While I personally believe that intensely realistic and beautiful graphics are not required for a game to be strong narratively, I would be hard-pressed to argue that a game’s fidelity and visual appeal don’t have anything to do with whether it’s successful or not. 

As evidenced by games like the original Super Mario Brothers, the actual gameplay being enjoyable certainly supersedes the visual quality; but in a game like, say, Skyrim, which focuses largely on exploration and discovering amazing parts of this vast world, something would probably be lost if it wasn’t as visually appealing as it is.

I know that I have definitely, on at least a few occasions, been swayed on whether or not to buy a game based largely on how it appeals to me visually. While I tend to purchase games based on whether or not they have a compelling story, the visual component of storytelling is something that is just as interesting to me.

It’s honestly amazing. Every few years, I think “Wow, that’s gorgeous! They can’t possibly make that look any more real.” And yet, somehow, the industry continues to design and to innovate so that a few years later, I find myself saying the exact same thing all over again.

There are still some mainstays from my childhood that, in 2021, just don’t hold up to the newer games graphically, but I love them anyway. Almost anything from my N64 days holds a special spot in my heart, and while Banjo Kazooie’s boxy visages may not have kept up with the times, that hasn’t deterred me from revisiting those games once every handful of years or so.

And then there are some game franchises that have endured the ages and have developed visually over time. Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers or Pokémon series are excellent examples of that, as well as Sony’s Tomb Raider games.

Are graphics a huge selling point for you when you're choosing whether to buy a game or not? At some point I'd like to take a deeper dive into how video games have evolved - not just visually, but in many other ways - through the years, and I'd love to hear your feedback.

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