Gish: Look

Sometimes, the environment in Gish looks downright photorealistic. Which is strange, because it’s not. At all. It’s a tile-based world with lots of regularly-repeated textures, and while it contains moving physics objects (such as blocks suspended from flexible ropes), those objects are largely made from the same size of square tile as everything else in the environment. But sometimes, just sometimes, it gives an impression of looking close to real. I think I can identify a few factors contributing to this.

First, there’s the darkness. This is a dimly-lit game, and this helps to hide the imperfections. Second, there’s the light. Gish features dynamic lighting. Now, “dynamic lighting” usually means “moving shadows”, which may or may not make things look realer. (In Diablo II, for example, I felt the shadows just made things look odd.) But in a dimly-lit game like this, it more often means moving brightly-lit areas, sometimes shadow-striped. Add a moving shadow-casting physics item in the middle of this and you get a convergence of visually convincing stuff, forming an island of concentrated realism.

And that “island” effect is a big contributing factor. When things suddenly look real, it’s partly due to the contrast with the way they normally look. The monsters are grotesque cartoons, visibly hand-drawn. Gish himself looks like an animation cel, with big yellow eyes and a toothy mouth that’s only rendered when it’s open. But sometimes, when the light hits him just right, he gets spots of dynamic reflection that suggest a curved and shiny surface. It’s particularly striking when the light is colored. This is one of the best visual effects in the game.

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