Good game art can hide a multitude of sins

I've been thinking a lot about the role of art style since playing through Firewatch earlier this week.

Subtract the little location blinker and this is me on every hike, ever.

Subtract the little location blinker and this is me on every hike, ever.

I bought Firewatch on the strength of the art alone. I watched the trailer and thought to myself, "The game is so beautiful, even if all I did was walk around the whole time, I think I'd be fine with that." Turns out, that's a pretty accurate description of what you do. And yes, I was okay with it. Criticisms notwithstanding, the beautiful art and curious storyline were compelling enough to get me to "play" all the way through the game.

This reminds me of a funny but illuminating experience I had when testing Factor Samurai. I had been working a ton on polishing the core swiping interaction and fine-tuning the leveling logic, and I took it to a group of friends to get some feedback. We had also just imported all the nice graphics we had commissioned.

The first person launched the app, and this eye-popping title screen popped up:

Judge me based on my graphics. No, really! Please!

Judge me based on my graphics. No, really! Please!

The friend turned to me, still jut admiring the title screen, and said, "Wow... Nice! This is fun!"

I thought to myself, "But you haven't played the game yet!"

Upon viewing the title screen, my friend had made an immediate evaluation of the quality of the game. He was in essence extrapolating an assessment of the visual quality of the game into an assessment of the game as a whole.

I genuinely believe that the most compelling thing about Factor Samurai is the gameplay. That is certainly what we are most proud of: The fact that the game tightly fits an interesting game interaction with a concrete learning objective.

But when I consider people's reactions to the artwork, I wonder how many people have downloaded the game on the strength of the screenshots alone.