I spend a lot of time looking at videogame artwork. A *lot* of time. And I am always comparing games against one another, what makes this one feel more polished than that, why does this game feel like a well considered product, while that one feels like it was shoved out the door in a hurry? It’s a tricky, dicey question, and it’s not all about publisher support or bugs in the programming. A goodly portion of it is in the details.
I was playing through several of the Lego themed games (Lego Star Wars, Lego Indiana Jones, etc) and I noticed something interesting about the graphics. Each and every Lego character you can play has a different set of animations.
Now, while you may be thinking to yourself “No DUH, of course they do” the truth is, they don’t always. It’s not at *all* uncommon that a single set of skeletal animations are created (one walk cycle, one run cycle) and they are, in turn, mapped onto a dozen different character meshes to save time (and equally importantly, to save space).
Take a look at several similar games, in just about any genre, and take a look at the *depth* of the visuals. Not whether or not they are using normal-mapping, or rag-doll physics, or whether or not you get accurate light-bloom when passing from an inside space to a courtyard. Is there detritus on the ground?
Are the rooms full of stuff? Do all the NPC’s have the same wooden walk? How many idle animations does the main character have? Lots of these elements are considered “fluff” and are stripped away in the interest of getting to market, but without them your worlds, no matter how many technical “bleeding-edge” tricks you slap on top of them, are going to feel thin.
It’s one of the key elements you find, that extra trashcan in the corner, the fact that your UI animates rather than sits static, that make your game feel like a finished, polished title.