I was minding my own business a few weeks ago when I saw someone playing Red Dead Redemption. Now, I have quite a lot of problems with the game and have laid into a bit, mainly because of my own mental comparison between the claimed cost of development of the game and the level of quality of aspects of it, such as the AI and especially the horse riding controls and animations. I might talk about my thoughts on these things at some point, but not now. Not for a while. Actually maybe never, because some people get angry when I speak my mind about such things, and slur my name all over the place and… well you get the picture. I mean who am I to say anything bad about RDR, eh?
However, the thing that started me off on this negative view of RDR were the graphics: they looked simply awful to my eye. I mean anambiguosly terrible. The textures were poor, often glowing; the tail of the horse looked like it was caked in paint; the lighting was terrible because the back of the character would often appear almost black regardless of the backlighting from the environment… there was a weird bright edge to objects, no visual depth (the landscape looked flat) and objects in the mid distance seemed to have a painted quality about them, in an unpleasant way.
Now, what is fascinating is that I was absolutely correct; it really did look awful. But I was having tremendous trouble convincing people who were looking at the very same screen. After all, this was RDR and so many people had been saying how completely wonderful it was. But I was right, and only today did I find out what happened.
We have some plasma screen TVs to play our games on in what we call the “Playground”. The problem is that they have not been set up correctly.
First of all they have been set on “Vivid” mode, which seems to do something very strange to the colour values (I think this is where the glowing paint texture effect was coming from). Second, they were set to some weird “super dark” mode, no doubt added to the TV for marketing purposes. It appears to reduce overall image quality in order to make blacks “blacker than black”… to really show how these plasma screens have some ridiculously high contrast ratio, but as a side effect they remove any low level detail from the picture, making it black. Thirdly, the “vivid” mode has a pretty severe sharpen convolution filter that creates outlines around the image and makes the mid distance scenery look a bit “water coloury”.
Today I was looking at the XBOX 360 version with a student, and tried adjusting the TV, and by using “GAME” mode instead of vivid, and increasing the contrast, and reducing the sharpen filter and turning off super black mode, and increasing the saturation a little, I saw the game the way it was meant to be seen for the first time.
And, yes, then I saw the truth: it is gorgeous.
Funny that. So many interesting questions then come from this. How come it took a programmer to think of adjusting the image? How many people have looked at games and been mislead by what the TVs showed? How many people play games with bad settings at home? Or in shops?
How many people, like me, have been turned off a game simply because the TV made them look bad?
How are non technically minded consumers supposed to deal with this? It took me 15 minutes to figure out how to adjust the controls to get a good result. Can this be expected of any consumer?
Well, when I saw how nice the overall look of RDR was, I started to want to play it, where as before I had no interest in it at all. Perhaps this makes me look foolish, I don’t know and to be honest I don’t care, because I have learned something very important: that before judging the quality of the graphics in a game, make sure that you are viewing it on a properly calibrated TV. Obvious? Yeh, it is now.
I better check the settings on all the TVs in the playground before the summer break. Call that my penance it you want 😀