Home Gaming Why BioShock Infinite ignores photorealism

Why BioShock Infinite ignores photorealism

2 min read


I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it up to the eyeballs with videogames that strive to achieve photorealism. It’s not that I don;t appreciate the technical prowess involved, or the skill that it takes to make digital rendering look like real life; it’s just that videogames offer the opportunity to escape to a fantasy world, and well, I live in real life. I really don’t need to escape to it too. It’s one of the many reasons I appreciate BioShock Infinite’s unique aesthetic.

Speaking to CVG, Irrational Games’ director of design Bill Gardner spoke about the general misconception that people want photorealism in their games – and why they’ve actively avoided it.

And to some degree it’s true: you get the latest drivers and the latest video cards and you really want to show what your beast can do. So what better way to do that than to say “hey this is New York City!” and to show the latest greatest game with all the settings cranked up. Realism sells that, I think.

“You look at Elizabeth, and she’s by no means super ultra photorealistic. That’s not our goal, it’s about making her relatable and believable and lovable. I think there’s plenty here [in Infinite] that would make you want to crank up the graphics card all the way and crank up all the options, but I think as an industry it’s the misconception [that gamers want realism] mixed with taking the easy road.

“It’s by no means easy trying to create photorealistic graphics, but if you’re trying to strive for that goal and to also mix in a crazy aesthetic that may be the exact juxtaposition to photorealistic? Yeah, I can see how that would be a hurdle for you. Certainly it’s an interesting quest to try to get photorealism, but it’s just not something that we’re interested in.”

I’ve generally always appreciated games that lean towards a more stylised aesthetic; titles like ICO, Okami,, Borderlands et al. Do you prefer games that have a more realistic bent?

Last Updated: March 5, 2013


  1. Admiral Chief Erwin

    March 5, 2013 at 10:36

    Dat Cosplay…. O_O


    • ElNicko

      March 5, 2013 at 10:48

      her eyes are a little higher Chief…… 😛


      • Admiral Chief Erwin

        March 5, 2013 at 10:51

        Where are these eyes you speak of? Lies and slander I say


        • ElNicko

          March 5, 2013 at 10:53

          her eyes are the things giving you an angry look while you ogle her……….aaahhhhh Nevermind, Ogle Away.


          • Admiral Chief Erwin

            March 5, 2013 at 10:55

            To be honest, the eyes caught my attention first, no BS.
            Just so, wow.

          • ElNicko

            March 5, 2013 at 10:57

            her eyes………Riiiigggghhhhtttt

          • Admiral Chief Erwin

            March 5, 2013 at 11:19

            Its true, they are mesmerizing. The fact that, umm, other features, are also prominent is also win. But damn, just something about those eyes

          • ElNicko

            March 5, 2013 at 11:36

            its because those eyes are staring into your soul.

          • Admiral Chief Erwin

            March 5, 2013 at 11:44

            The soul man, the soul

  2. Admiral Chief Erwin

    March 5, 2013 at 10:37

    I’d say it depends on the type of game.


  3. Sir Rants-a-Lot Llew

    March 5, 2013 at 10:40

    I much more prefer a stylistic approach. Photo realism has it’s perks and if used right can still allow one to escape in to a really amazing world (AKA: Metro2033).

    But I’d much rather have the more fantasy style graphics (Dishono(u)red, Borderlands, Etc) because it then feels more like a game rather than the real world.


    • umar bastra

      March 5, 2013 at 11:07

      agreed, and Metro showed us and schooled so many games on how to build and create an unique and endearing atmosphere that’s tense and also believable


  4. Brady miaau

    March 5, 2013 at 11:00

    Am I playing a game or an interactive movie?

    I prefer to play games. I think it is called escapism.


  5. Joe Moer

    March 5, 2013 at 11:05

    damn, she’s hot


  6. umar bastra

    March 5, 2013 at 11:12

    the photorealism of the aesthetics isn’t really an issue but rather when mechanics are trying to be more real. It all depends on the game, but a more stylised aesthetic gives more creative freedom as you’re not bound to the constraints of reality


  7. Eric Viljoen

    March 5, 2013 at 11:41

    Dont forget the cell shaded Prince Of Persia 4.


  8. Squeege

    March 5, 2013 at 12:40

    Agreed. I too enjoy games with a more gaming feel to it like borderlands, the darkness etc because it steers you away from worrying about how things look, because they have already taken care of that, and you become more focused on the story and aim of the game and this in actuality makes the game far more enjoyable.

    Games that adapt these stylized designs are much more mouthwatering to the eye, if one could say that and like you said we want an escape from reality in the end.


  9. JHN

    March 5, 2013 at 13:18

    One of the most beautiful games I played was the Prince of Persia reboot that was done.
    No it didnt look real but it was a work of art.


  10. Purple_Dragon

    March 5, 2013 at 13:27

    I agree, it’s nice to know you are playing a game and not shooting real people in the face. I remember a while ago someone did a mock COD FPS experience using real people to give a viewpoint of a “realistic” game and man it was so creepy.

    Games are all about a fantasty world and I don’t really want to play a game that is an extension of the real world.

    However I think there is one genre exception and that would be sports. I personally would love realistic graphics for a sports game. Imagine playing a cricket game that looks like it does on TV. Man that would be awesome.


  11. OVG

    March 5, 2013 at 13:31

    HEADER WIN. To top it off the official model for the game looks cartoony as it is HA.

    But Im with you. STYLE over REAL any day.

    REAL SUCKS. Now where did I place Ken Levine’s address? I need to go have an ART DIRECTIONGASIM outside his HQ to thank him for shafting the big wigs and cutting out Multi player in order to focus on HIS canvas.

    BIOSHOCK was my first game back in 2007 and the FAT LADY is going to sing at the end of this month.


  12. Banana Jim

    March 5, 2013 at 14:51

    I’m not a fan of photo-realism either (and yes genre plays a role here). A photo-realistic GTA for instance changes the very essence of the game. What might have been a cartoony death by car, turns into something quite vile and potentially disturbing. It’s a different story all together when you deal with simulators or even sports titles. Photo-realism in Gran Turismo or even the Fifa-Madden or even the boxing titles, definitely ads to the experience.

    For a game like Bioshock, that presumably comes with some very controversial topics (unless this has changed), it’s message might be best served through stylistic graphics.


  13. Captain General

    March 6, 2013 at 09:50

    “I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it up to the eyeballs with videogames that strive to achieve photorealism”.

    What are you talking about? There’s been maybe 2 games in the entirety of games that have tried to achieve this. And if there’s more, then they’re just useless at it because if they did it well then I would know about it. Seriously, you’re saying you want games looking less like Crysis 3 and more like Wii tennis? Because I promise you, no one is going to confuse wii tennis for real life tennis.

    Your point about escapism makes no sense. Just because a game looks like real life does not in any way mean that it makes you feel like you’re just stuck in real life and can’t escape. Come on, have you ever read a fantasy book? What does your imagination paint as you read? Does it paint lego blocks and flat textures with bright ridiculous colours? No, it paints a real life picture.

    I don’t think anyone has ever played a game and thought “wow these graphics are so good it feels like I’m at the office and I have to pick up the kids in 20 minutes.”

    Games are getting too caught up in creating realistic GAMEPLAY, I completely agree with that, and that is making games very dull, but graphics? Graphics should look God damn real to ENHANCE the fantasy.


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