In this episode we were talking about the end of the Brown Age of videogames, when game developers finally stopped acting like mud and concrete dust were the magic ingredients to photorealism. Chris mentioned that Mass Effect 3 and Max Payne 3 both came out the same year. This created the strangest sensation of temporal confusion for me. It was like the time-based version of looking at an optical illusion. I can’t believe those games were contemporary.
If you’d asked me to guess, I’d have said Max Payne 3 came out at least two or three years before Mass Effect 3. I’d also have said that Borderlands 2 was much closer to the present – perhaps 2014 or so. But nope, it was also a 2012 title.
I think the reason for this is that when I can’t remember a specific release date I tend to judge the age of a game by how long it’s been since it was relevant. Certain crazy people were still banging on about Mass Effect 3 as recently as last year. Meanwhile, Max Payne sort of vanished from the conversation right after it came out. It wasn’t a bad game, but it was the equivalent of one of those movies you forget the day after you see it. The lack of serious flaws made it less memorable than the frustrating and divisive Mass Effect 3.
Regardless of my inability to put games on the timeline, I do think that 2012 makes for a pretty good endpoint of the Brown Age. (To be fair, the problem wasn’t really “brown” so much as a lack of saturation and contrast. But “Low Saturation and Contrast Age” isn’t nearly as catchy.) It does seem to be when things began to really brighten up. 2012 was better than 2011, which was better than 2010.
It’s not that I want every game to be some Willy Wonka funhouse of of colors. A low contrast game is fine if that’s what the tone calls for. The problem was that it was used thoughtlessly, to the point where it made games visually indistinguishable, frequently boring, and sometimes even confusing to play. I think we’re in a pretty good place right now, art-wise. So that’s nice.