Perfection is something that can be quite subjective. Remember that age old line, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder... and the eyes are in the pockets of the stalker". I think that's how it goes.
The perfect game doesn't exist in the sense of a unwavering consensus agreeing that it's without fault. The perfect game may exist for individuals, but even then there will always be something that the player could put in a negative category.
Think of some of the most highly acclaimed videogames out there, even if you have or haven't played them, for the most part titles such as Fallout, Call of Duty, Mass Effect, Borderlands, Skyrim ect - they're all games that rank high on the list of what you should try or what is loved and yet they are not perfect, they have flaws. Now I'm not going to talk about what exactly makes the perfect game, no this is about what designers think is ok to let slide. They might work on a triangle ethic, where you can have good graphics and storyline, but not so great game play or good game play and graphics, but a storyline might be something they think they can wing. Now most games can pull off all three, but for some reason a game with not just one central story, but many branches and good game play such as Fallout 3 can be completely lacklustre in something like facial animation. You meet an assortment of characters in the Fallout wastelands, many of whom have suffered more tragedies than they have joyous events, yet you wouldn't know it from how their facial mechanics are.
Apparently it can survive with a plank of wood for a FACE!!
Fallout has some pretty good voice acting and yet even then sometimes, emotions are quite synthetic and robotic in a world where you'd think peoples faces alone would physically describe their lives to your Vault dweller or Courier character. Maybe Bethesda could cheat and say that's what they were aiming for. The war, the decimation and the hopeless bleak landscape have thoroughly drained people and they have accepted their fate and have used up all their emotive abilities. Yet I somehow doubt it. Skyrim suffers the same problem.
I married Mjoll the Lioness and I've never been in a more unsatisfactory simulated marriage. Yeah the woman cooks for me and makes a profit, she also CAN'T BE KILLED, but there's no love, no sparkle in her eye. Even the way she says "my love" is how I imagine a pot plant would say it to me.
I need emotion in my life, say something, move your face, tell me to fuck off just LIVE!
You may say that to implement intricate facial animation for all characters is a task that might harm the game or not be affordable, but we don't need extreme detailed movement and for it to be preset for all characters you encounter, we just need something. A frown, a smile, the eyes looking off into the distance or down at the ground.
So when is it ok to not put as much effort into a certain element of a game? Well maybe there is no ok moment, perhaps designers especially in this day and age should do their utmost to ensure every facet of the game is treated equally and thought through thoroughly.
Then again, certain games really don't need to be concerned with lacking little important details like Fallout. I think if a game is centered around a wave of emotions, be it personal or engraved into the gaming world, that then details like facial animations should be given attention.
Games like Halo focus on an all out war and the survival of the human race, these things are clearly a big deal, yet from the outset Halo's style in terms of graphics, colour palette and game play let you know what they are trying to do and they execute it successfully.
Look at those emotions, look at the feels!
You aren't as bothered by the lack of emotions from an NPC as you come across them after blasting your way through a horde of enemies, you get the deal, everyone does, you just want to get back to kicking ass and sticking neon disco grenades to enemies butts. It's not a bad compromise and it's not a negative, because of what the game is and what you are playing and seeing suits the tone.
Deadly Premonitions was a game that became a cult hit, it was batshit insane, every damn frame invaded your mind and it felt like a rampant wombat was having sex with a spoon on your eyeball.
Oh he knows exactly what I mean
But that game had the worst controls I'd ever seen. Maybe they tried to balance that out with the slow, groaning zombie like creatures but I don't think so. If that game had of just had decent shooting mechanics and less maddeningly clunky movement then who knows what sort of success it would have become. And those are things that would have been easy to get right.
Game designers overall can get away with leaving out certain elements if the overall game is well made and received well. The parts of the game that are thrown into a slightly negative slot, will be noted but undoubtedly not be responsible for a decline in sales. Yet should designers really be satisfied with that, should we? £40/E50/$60 is a lot of money for a disc with a computer game on it. Plenty of people say it isn't, but it is. If we pay full price, we deserve a game that is as well polished as possible. If we invest in a game not just for the sake of playing something, but for having something that substitutes a book or film with added interactivity, then shouldn't we get something that ticks all the major and minor boxes?
Are there really any excuses for focusing on one element more than another? If you want to encompass many elements in your game, such as RPG customisation, storytelling, shooting mechanics, driving ect, should they all be equally as close to perfect as you can get them?
Gamers complained about so much regarding the hobby they love (or perhaps they just love complaining and the hobby itself is secondary), but when its issues like online passes and shoddy company ethics it's hard to feel bad about it. Complaining about a game that's pretty awesome in our eyes, but that would have be intensified if a little change or input occurred here and there can be seen as the ultimate nit picking.
But does that mean we're completely wrong for doing so? Is it ok for game designers to compromise when they can afford to optimise?