The Crappy Valley.
Rilla said something interesting in a talk she gave at the Danish Game Council lecture series about the issue of graphics when you’re making a “serious game”. But it applies in a much larger context, too – namely, the issue that if you’re not a major studio, then you don’t have access to all the graphical woos and wows that you might like.
One option is to do your darn best and make the best graphics you can (in the sense of schmancy 3D etc etc). But that will almost certainly lead you to having shit graphics, because the really great graphics we see in popular games take a lot of time and money to produce. In fact, your graphics will look even worse thanks to the comparison.
The other option is to embrace the lack of budget you have and to use “lower end” graphical styles. This is, naturally enough, the more common option and has led to the boom in pixel-graphics and so on in a lot of contemporary indie games. (One sadness, I think, is that a lot of the “serious games” movement people seem to feel they can’t go with pixel graphics – not fancy enough for their funders, perhaps.)
The whole thing therefore becomes an amusing corollary to the Uncanny Valley – the phenomenon in which graphics depicting people become more and more realistic to a point at which they go from looking fine to looking terrifying and creepy (and from there, presumably, to looking photorealistic). (Actually, I think I read somewhere the uncanny valley’s not necessarily all that real, but nevermind). In our case here, we can call it the “Crappy Valley”: The nadir along the curve between 8-bit graphics, which are “unsophisticated” but work well, and the “super rad” graphics of contemporary popular games. The crappy valley.
I wrote this entire post so that I could keep saying “the crappy valley”.