"Beauty" in Video Games


#1

I was struck during the Waypoint Radio episode concerning Breath of the Wild when Austin mentioned that, among the rewards a player experiences upon going to a named location in the map or following a path were moments of beauty and fantastic vistas (my paraphrasing and vague memory) I found it really interesting to think of as art direction or a non-mechanical scene as a reward, but that certainly is true.

I guess when I talk about beauty, I mean in a larger sense. Pretty things are certainly beautiful, but beauty, to me, is something that is pleasing or satisfying in a way that is indescribable.Intricate art direction can be beautiful, but so can pointless mini games that add a sense of humanity. I know this is a very loose definition, so feel free to suggest something else or bypass it entirely.

What is an aesthetic, small, or non-aesthetic part of a game that you found rewarding, compelling or beautiful?


#2

Most of Journey.

Lots of zone transitions in the Souls Games open on vistas, which feel like rewards for getting there, which is kinda cool if you’re into the art style.


#3

the end of Inside.


#4

I was starting a new playthrough of Warhammer 40k Space Marine last night and there’s a section sorta early where you walk into a factory that is supposed to be free of Orkz, and you’re let in and you walk into this cathedral looking hallway. Up til that point nothing you’ve seen hasn’t been destroyed, or had bits and pieces of metal bolted on by Orkz, or graffiti’d by the orkz; really it has just been a mess up til this point.

But then there’s this gorgeous gothic cathedral, huge vaulted ceiling, super, unnecessarily tall, with light beams coming in from above. It’s really beautiful in a way I don’t normally associate with Warhammer. Then there’s these flashes of red and along columns lining the path and I look up near the end of the hallway and realize they were gun-turrets tracking me as I walked, and I remembered what universe I was in. It was a really good moment of quiet beauty, then back-to-reality of where you are.


#5

I’ve put a lot of hours into Viridi, a free game that has you tending succulents that grow in real time. Checking to see which of my plants need watering that day is one of the first things I do when I wake up. I live in a place that is pretty dang cold most of the year so I like being able to have beautiful succulents, even virtual ones.


#6

I feel like most “walking simulators” are a good answer for this, but I want to shout out Proteus. Despite its pretty simple graphics, it managed to combine what you saw and heard in a way that made exploring the game breathtaking.


#7

Proteus is a great example. It might be the game I have the most screen shots of.


#8

Are we talking about beauty?

Alright, sorry, joking aside, I found the Witness to be filled with all sorts of beautiful things. Story underpinnings aside (as I didn’t really pay attention to it), I don’t think there are many games on par with the Witness when it comes to how handcrafted every single frame feels. You can look at every single object in its world from a different angle and find something different every time, whether it’s significant to a puzzle or just a striking visual. Every single time I stopped to stand still the world in front of me looked like a painting in how composed and deliberate everything looked. The work put in to make every environment so detailed and crafted to create the visuals it does can be staggering at times. And it might not be for everyone, but as far as I’m concerned it’s one of the most beautiful games I’ve played in that regard.

(it’s worth noting Breath of the Wild does this astoundingly well too, but I figured it was already mentioned in the top post)


#9

This is super interesting but really hard to quantify. I am really drawn to early 3d games for this reason. Even though the wow factor is no longer there, I think there’s a lot of love put into the environments that makes it fun to just move around. The city-building in Dark Cloud feels this way for me, when you start an area it’s completely empty, but gradually you populate it with houses and characters. It’s a really neat way of letting you feel connected to the space


#10

Oh, one of the, maybe, weirder ones - heavily modded Skyrim?

In my most recent playthrough, I think I had about 20-30 screenshots per character level, which got to be rather excessive. It wasn’t really a reward for playing the game, nor was it made exclusively by the original designers. It was like… I guess a personal “reward” for cramming the right combination of 100 odd visual tweaks into a really cool package of community mods/art.


#11

This is one of the main driving forces of stories in games: to propel the player from one beautiful vista to another between action sequences.


#12

For whatever reason, views alone have never really stopped me in my track in games. Even when they’re really well-done—like the emergence into the world at the beginning of BotW, or the vistas that Witcher 3 spreads out before the player in so many places—I usually just acknowledge them and move on without stopping my movement through the game.

But I love it when I’m hiking a hill or mountain, turn around at the top, and see snatches of the trail I hiked through the trees. The same thing really gets me in games: Being able to see, at a great distance, some specific landmark that I can place, that I have a relationship to. Navigating the cliffs north of Novigrad and seeing, way below, the exact place of power that I visited a couple days before hits a nerve for me that broader landmarks don’t, even if I recognize them or know I can climb them.

In the same vein, playing PUBG and catching sight of the Stalber ruins all the way from Sosnovka, or sitting on top of the mountain southeast of Georgopol and seeing two players fighting each other way below in Gatka, is touching in a way that the best views of PUBG’s island, on their own, never are. They’re very immediate and striking reminders of my context in this world that someone else built, and that everything I’m seeing was placed with care and purpose by someone else.


#13

No Man’s Sky
The way i played that and the “goal” i had with the game was to always find new beautiful sights and that was the goal/reward for doing all the resource gathering in that game. And i think i even liked the game more then most people because i made the game about that.


#14

I wanted to cry when I finished that game. It’s so damn affecting.


#15

Chrono Trigger is my favorite game of all time, and there’s this one part that I always found super emotional.

I’ve always loved the idea of ancient civilizations in fiction, Atlantis, Mu, Lemuria, etc. For those that haven’t played it, you travel to a time that is an ice age, but as you walk around the world map, you see these weird temples. You walk in and it transports you 20,000 feet into the air to the Kingdom of Zeal. This strange civilization out of time. This song starts playing, and I get goosebumps every time. There’s something so other-worldly about it that just always resonated with me.


#16

proteus is fantastic! a game where the entire point is exploring striking moments…


#17

Flower and Okami really got me. Having a hand in making the world vibrant and beautiful is a very specific gaming power fantasy of mine.

On the flip side, “horrible beauty” is also a thing that exists in the ideaverse, and Bloodborne has tiny details that always seem to have me pointing them out to semi-interested friends and passersby. Noticing that ferns grow goddamn everywhere, for plot reasons(!!), the changes to the architecture as you progress; all that stuff makes me wish I was better at Souls style games.

NieR: Automata’s environments are gorgeous, but the tiny environmental details set a really specific tone to the whole thing. There’s an easily missable tar pit side area in the desert zone that I only found near the end of chapter B.


#18

I can definitely relate to the idea of being moved by the feeling of having stepped into an entirely foreign other world in a JRPG, and in this specific moment you mention. Games like Chrono Trigger are so good at establishing an atmosphere through art direction, animation, music, and limited sound effects. When they use those atmospheric tools to reconfigure the player’s understanding of the limits and parameters of the game’s world, the effect can be surreal and “other-worldly”, as you described.


#19

I don’t want to talk about it too much because it’s worth experiencing for oneself, but the end of The Witness makes a few subtle aesthetic choices which elevated my experience from simply a great ending to a great puzzle game, to a borderline-religious experience.


#20

To me, there’s a powerful feeling when you reach a new area in a Souls game and the area’s name comes up with that great sound effect. The game sometimes (but not always) gives you a vista of the whole area when you first arrive, It’s those moments, that quiet minute of introspection and reflection, that I can feel the game saying “good job, are you ready for the next step?” and that’s deeply cathartic to me.
It doesn’t matter that I just barely beat that boss or had a rough go of the last area because the game is telling me that this is something new.
One of my favorite moments in the whole series is in Dark Souls II when you finally get to Drangleic Castle and you camera pans upwards to show the castle towering in front of you in the darkness and the rain. It gives me chills every time.