How Not to Improve Visuals

I don’t often venture into the realm of graphics and graphic design. Making a game look great is a skill all its own, and I don’t really have it. Nevertheless, being at a design school I’ve at least learned some basics–and the forthcoming visual update to King of Fighters XIV is breaking with one of them. In the process, it’s missing what I think is the major problem with the game’s look.

For reference, here’s a video advertising the graphics changes:

Right away one can see that shadows on characters are deeper. That goes some distance toward making them look less plastic. Only some distance–they still don’t look lifelike–but it’s better.

A subtler issue appears 20 seconds into the video. Watch how Kyo rises into the air. More importantly, note how Kyo lands at 22 seconds in.

It doesn’t look right, does it? To understand why, take a look at this post by Blake Reynolds of Dinofarm Games. He compares Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike’s animation to how characters move in Street Fighter IV, and notes that Third Strike’s animations impart a much stronger sense of motion. Chun-li “looks full of adrenaline and intensity” in Third Strike, whereas in SFIV “the animation is just kind of dead . . . .”

That sense of deadness is the big problem with the landing in King of Fighters XIV. Kyo doesn’t hit the ground, he glides to a halt. (In pseudo-technical terms, Kyo looks like the programmers are moving him with a clamped lerp.) His clothing doesn’t even ruffle. There’s no sense of motion, of a weight coming to a sudden stop–and there’s no feeling of power as a result.

KoFXIV will look better after the update. Unfortunately, it’s still not going to be as compelling as such a long-running and beloved franchise deserves. New lighting can’t substitute for great animation, and KoFXIV still won’t have that.


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