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copilotlindy avatar 11:21 PM on 01.20.2014  (server time)
Stop. Look around.

Here's a gaming habit I hope to break.  I often find myself racing through beautiful, meticulously crafted environments just to complete some objective, progress the story, or collect some thing to upgrade some other thing.

But there was totally a set-piece back there.  Somebody spent hours, days, months working on it and I blew right past it.  The artists in this industry are incredibly talented, and their work deserves more than a passing glance.  

Next time you're gaming, do yourself a favor:

1.  Stop doing the thing
2.  Look around.

Check out the art on the walls.  Note how the environment is lit.  Observe some minute detail you think the artist never intended anyone to look at.  Take it all in and just exist in the world for a moment.  It seems obvious, but too often I find myself just flying through checkpoints, forgetting to stop and take notice.  

I'm starting to realize that this is hugely important for the sake of enjoying games, and not merely playing them.  

Consider Exhibit A. The Pittsburgh Apartment in the The Last Of Us.  Here's what you find in the living room.

Naughty Dog
Pittsburgh Apartment
The Last of Us
In-game engine

Yeah, ok.  It's a decoration on a wall.  At the risk of waxing intellectual I actually found this sun/face wall-art remarkable.  It looks like a Pier-1 Imports find, or something from the home decor section of Target.  Something someone would actually buy and hang as a center-piece.

The environment artist could have copped out, thrown a generic Bob Ross-esque painting in a damaged frame and called it good.  Instead, he spent time creating something more real to draw the player in.  And it worked.  At least for me.  The visual storytelling couldn't be clearer:  

You are in someone's apartment.  The people who lived here bought this tacky, metal Sun and hung it up.  Now they're gone, most likely dead.

It's the details that make a setting believable, and this detail totally hooked me.  

Exhibit B.
Here's another, albeit larger scale, stop and stare moment from recent memory.

Sony Santa Monica
The Trial of Archimedes
God of War: Ascension, 2013
Modified God of War III engine

The Trial of Archimedes floored me.  It's a surreal mechanical fantasy and the perfect dream-like counterpart to the Lantern of Delos before it.  The elaborate detail in the floor and columns, the frosted glass and whirring gears.  All of it.  Gameplay-wise this section was a bit of a chore.  Aesthetically, though, it was a marvel.  

It's the reason I'll buy anything SSM releases.  I can't help it.  Their environment design is some of the finest in the industry.  The Realm of Hades from GOW 3?  The Labyrinth?  These guys build worlds that demand to be seen.  Period.

I love it when gamers take time to stop and identify true greatness in games, be it character design, environment art, music, what-have-you.  Recognizing kick-ass work is equally important as criticizing what sucks when it comes to moving the medium forward. 

I could have gone on at length here, we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to phenomenal art.  The floating city of Columbia.  The deteriorating test rooms of Portal 2.  Pretty much anywhere in Dark Souls.  

What environments have left you awe-struck recently?  What little details have pulled you in?  What studios consistently impress you?  Clearly I'm a sucker for level design and aesthetics, so I want to know if I'm missing out.

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