Jarvis, Nathan (2013) Photorealism versus Non-Photorealism: Art styles in computer games and the default bias. Masters thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This thesis looks into the prevalence of photorealism in computer games design in comparison to non-photorealism. The aim is to develop an understanding of the reason for this prevalence, and with this knowledge look into ways that non-photorealistic rendering (NPR) can be expanded or improved upon to bring balance to the two styles. This is done primarily through research utilising both journalistic and academic sources to seek existing opinions and theories on the subject, with subsequent experiments being used to provide evidence of whether these theories are true or not.

Two potential reasons were considered for the prevalence of photorealism, the first being that photorealism was simply the more popular style. Existing theories showed the possibility that photorealism is favoured amongst consumers for providing a more immersive and mature experience, with non-photorealism potentially having negative associations with children’s media by way of their cartoon-like imagery. A subsequent survey into the opinions of a group of consumers proved this to be incorrect; neither style is more popular than the other, both are in fact favoured equally.

With this proven, a second potential reason was explored; that photorealism was the easier style to produce. Existing research shows that photorealism is a natural fit for 3D rendering due to the both of them being technical art forms. Non-photorealism on the other hand is a form that requires much in the way of personal interpretation, a facet that is difficult for a computer to replicate without a significant amount of input from the user. This phenomenon can be described as the theory of the “default bias”; that 3D software (and by extension, game engines) have a default leaning towards photorealism to the detriment of non-photorealism. Subsequent experiments both proved the existence of the “default bias” within one of the most widely used game engines in the industry (the Unreal Development Kit), while at same time developing and documenting workarounds for the specific cases encountered.

The results of this research shows that there are flaws in the way some game creation tools are designed that have the potential to inhibit creativity by making any deviation from photorealism more difficult and time consuming than need be. These are flaws that need to be acknowledged. Additionally, the research is intended to be used not just by other researchers but also by those in the UDK community, the latter of which can use the information presented in chapters 7.0.0 through 9.0.0 to help produce their own non-photorealistic work.

Nathan_Jarvis_-_Final_Thesis_-_Jan_2014.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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