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August 22, 2011 10:35 AM   Subscribe

" ... there is a depth of field technique with a controllable aspect called 'bokeh,' which describes a certain quality of blur that we often notice in the more luminous parts of a film’s background and that varies considerably with lens and camera type. Bokeh is a photography term derived from the Japanese boké- blur, haze ... When implemented in games the technique encapsulates a certain kind of second-order removal from reality. We are simulating not the way things look, but how they look after they have been filtered through the eye of a camera." Independent game developer Mathew Burns takes a look at how video games reflect reality in his account of the 2011 Game Developer's Conference. Burns also writes the blog Magical Wasteland.

Burns writes about games from the perspective of a big studio developer turned independent (interview): Burns is currently working at Shade Grown Games in the development of an experimental music game Planck v.1

The Borges story mentioned in the article. Found via this thread at the saltw.net game design forums.
posted by codacorolla (28 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hahaha, I realized who wrote this at the very end - he's the husband of one of my friends.
posted by egypturnash at 10:48 AM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


We are simulating not the way things look, but how they look after they have been filtered through the eye of a camera."

They're simulating the way things look after they've been filmed and then projected onto a tv or movie screen, which is relevant, because you play games on a tv screen.
posted by empath at 10:49 AM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hahaha, I realized who wrote this at the very end - he's the husband of one of my friends.

Tell him I like his blog.
posted by codacorolla at 10:50 AM on August 22, 2011


We are simulating not the way things look, but how they look after they have been filtered through the eye of a camera.

This same aesthetic was the design approach used by Battlestar Galactica for all the CGI space shots. Even though the virtual camera could be placed anywhere and shoot with perfect smoothness the direction was to always act as though a physical camera person were capturing the shots. Sudden zooms, pans, and camera shake were all injected as a means of creating a world with more apparent reality due to the look more closely resembling other mediated views of reality that we now accept without question.

Making something look filmed is now a technique for making it look more real.
posted by Babblesort at 10:53 AM on August 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


This same aesthetic was the design approach used by Battlestar Galactica for all the CGI space shots. Even though the virtual camera could be placed anywhere and shoot with perfect smoothness the direction was to always act as though a physical camera person were capturing the shots. Sudden zooms, pans, and camera shake were all injected as a means of creating a world with more apparent reality due to the look more closely resembling other mediated views of reality that we now accept without question.

Firefly did it first.

(BSG even used the same VFX studio, Zoic.)

posted by kmz at 10:56 AM on August 22, 2011


Sudden zooms, pans, and camera shake were all injected as a means of creating a world with more apparent reality due to the look more closely resembling other mediated views of reality that we now accept without question.

If you think about it, you're vastly, vastly, more likely to watch news footage of a war, than to be in an actual war. And the experience of watching a war on the news is easily referencable, compared to the experience of being in a war.
posted by empath at 11:02 AM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Our illustrations of reality affect our perception of reality, and our behavior arises from both.
Hence the popularity of "duck face" on Facebook.
posted by Xoebe at 11:08 AM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Making something look filmed is now a technique for making it look more real.

I don't think this discussion is actually about what "looks real," or even about realism. Most of what the piece is talking about is actually just a matter of film styles — shots, tricks, and looks — propagating into games. It's less about a the meaning of realism for gaming as a medium and more about "how can our 3D shooter get that Shakycam faux-reportage look that early-2010s audiences take as a signal of immediacy and excitement?" Game-industry people talk about the reality-effect and use the word "realism" when what they really mean is the Hollywood look du jour.
posted by RogerB at 11:16 AM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not like the human eye has infinite depth of field, either. The pan-focused rendering in most games is every bit as unrealistic as a gratuitously narrow depth of field.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:21 AM on August 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Bokeh is a photography term derived from the Japanese boké- blur, haze ...

"Bokeh" is the name of Damon Albarn's next band.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:21 AM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love the "GLaDOS as Game Designer" idea, and I'd love to see a more detailed analysis of the game from that standpoint.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:29 AM on August 22, 2011


Kane and Lynch 2 is an extreme example of this. Gameplay is rendered as though it is shot by a guy following them with a camera, COPS style. It has everything from out of focus zooms to blurred out nudity. Best I can describe it is a playable Man Bites Dog.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:37 AM on August 22, 2011


We are simulating not the way things look, but how they look after they have been filtered through the eye of a camera.
I don't think that's really true. Your eyes produce depth-of-field effects in exactly the same way, and for exactly the same reasons, that a camera does. Focus on your hands at needle-threading distance, and objects in the background a few feet away will be blurry, as long as you don't look at them directly, which will generally cause most of us to involuntarily re-focus.

This is a nitpicky point and it hasn't diminished my enjoyment of the article.
posted by Western Infidels at 11:52 AM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Making something look filmed is now a technique for making it look more real.

I'd take it a step farther and say that introducing things like a bokeh goes a long way towards making something look richer and more expensive; consider the difference between a film shot with something like a high end movie camera, and one shot with a camcorder: the camcorder is going to have a huge depth of field, with everything from what is up close to the distant background in sharp focus.

Whereas the movie camera, with the ability to control the aperture, allows the photographer to use a very narrow depth of field, with the subject in sharp focus and the background just a pretty blur. We've grown used to seeing this difference between our home movies and what is on the TV and in the theater, and we associate seeing a narrow depth of field with better, more expensive photographic work.

But, from a storytelling perspective, it serves an even better purpose; it allows the photographer to control where the viewers attention is focused; on the subject, and not the background. By dictating what is in sharp focus they storyteller can indicate what it is in the scene that we should be paying attention to.
posted by quin at 11:57 AM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I thought bokeh was a resort town for retired Internet cats.
posted by condour75 at 12:30 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


0xFCAF: It's not like the human eye has infinite depth of field, either. The pan-focused rendering in most games is every bit as unrealistic as a gratuitously narrow depth of field.

Western Infidels: I don't think that's really true. Your eyes produce depth-of-field effects in exactly the same way, and for exactly the same reasons, that a camera does.

DING DING DING! Two winners! (Who each know more about what is plain in front of their own eyes than Mathew Burns does.)

"Bokeh" is an artistic term for a natural effect, much like "shading", "perspective", and "resolution". Any of those can be used to create unnatural results, of course, but to say that normal sight doesn't incorporate them... demonstrates a third-grade knowledge of science (assuming that third-graders don't realize their eyes focus).
posted by IAmBroom at 12:33 PM on August 22, 2011


It's less about a the meaning of realism for gaming as a medium and more about "how can our 3D shooter get that Shakycam faux-reportage look that early-2010s audiences take as a signal of immediacy and excitement?" Game-industry people talk about the reality-effect and use the word "realism" when what they really mean is the Hollywood look du jour.

1998 called. They want their lens flare back.


I love the "GLaDOS as Game Designer" idea, and I'd love to see a more detailed analysis of the game from that standpoint.


PORTAL 2 SPOILER FOLLOWS!

I like even better the idea of Wheatley as representing mod makers.
posted by straight at 1:04 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


But you only get real bokeh through glass from Solms ...
posted by scruss at 1:08 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


As long as they don't introduce cliche lens flare effects I'm okay with the practice.
posted by dgran at 1:42 PM on August 22, 2011


I work on photo shoots and have never heard anyone say the word "bokeh" in real life.
posted by bradbane at 2:23 PM on August 22, 2011


Andre Bazin said something similar about cinema: “realism in art can only be achieved in one way – through artifice.”
posted by Cantdosleepy at 3:00 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I work on photo shoots and have never heard anyone say the word "bokeh" in real life

That's OK. One is likely to go a long time without hearing things like "resolving power", "chromatic aberration", or "barrel distortion" during a shoot, either. But they're all important lens properties.
posted by ShutterBun at 3:08 PM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]



I work on photo shoots and have never heard anyone say the word "bokeh" in real life

differential focus takes ages to say though.

Very good article, thanks.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:35 PM on August 22, 2011


Firefly did it first.

I'm sure you meant to say "Babylon 5".
posted by WhackyparseThis at 5:30 PM on August 22, 2011


I'd prefer games to step away from reality, honestly. My brain will accept as 'reality' whatever I'm playing, whether its an abstract pixelscape or LA Noire's pretenses at realism.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:59 PM on August 22, 2011


A few other posts in the blog that I really enjoyed,

Fuel, A Tragicomedy in Two acts, compares a relatively poorly designed game to the play waiting for Godot, and looks at how even mistakes in game design can create a unique atmosphere.

Murder And Betrayal In The Dark Ages Of Ivalice, a brief post-mortem of why Final Fantasy Tactics is so much fun, despite being relatively opaque and outsider for a JRPG.

He Was Always Trying to Prove Something, a look at the seemingly constant need of the 'gamer' community to legitimize itself, while also mocking itself.

From the thread in the via, there are a few other great articles that people might like:

Quest 64 and Space in Virtual Environments (Introduction and Monastery) a, sadly, unfinished article series that looks at the mostly abysmal Quest64 game, and the strange, empty, mysterious environments that it contains.

A brief history of Czech homebrew games in the eighties. (PDF warning, although it's hosted on MIT's servers, so I think it's OK).

Unspoken Strangenesses looking at the strange realities that games throw us in to (a little woo woo, but great imo).
posted by codacorolla at 8:40 PM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


The part about the house in Oblivion is right on. By the time I finished Fallout 3, my little Megaton shack was chock-full of little mementos and trinkets from throughout the game, from a table displaying rare weapons to a copy of the Magna Carta stashed upstairs. Probably my favorite part of completing the campaign.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:16 PM on August 22, 2011


Rhaomi: "The part about the house in Oblivion is right on. By the time I finished Fallout 3, my little Megaton shack was chock-full of little mementos and trinkets from throughout the game, from a table displaying rare weapons to a copy of the Magna Carta stashed upstairs. Probably my favorite part of completing the campaign."

It reminded me how much I liked the home island in Endless Ocean 2. It seems ridiculous that one of the most sedate games of all time has 3 different ways to relax between missions, but I had some great times sitting around on that little island petting the dog you can find and then taking him out on the boat for a quick dive. A lot of game homes are throwaways, but that one somehow felt like it was not just my house, but my dream house. That's probably easier when you set a game on a tropical island than in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
posted by Copronymus at 8:02 PM on August 23, 2011


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