Recently while watching a tutorial video, I heard the creator talk about what he called "visual noise," or random little details meant to add visual interest without necessarily adding function to the design. If I've learned one thing from observing the real world (and absorbing ideas from art) it's that form follows function, and it's a little bit disappointing to look at models and concepts in games I play and find myself wondering exactly how much of the detail I see actually matters in the workings of the world.
When I was younger I'd be amazed at how games could present an entire world for me to experience, and my mind would reel at how many countless hours they must have spent thinking about how to build each tiny part of it from the ground up. But, if it's all for a visual or emotional hook it loses meaning in my opinion. Are we looking to actually create something here, or just trying to sell the most interesting concept and finish the job? How much of it is emotion and how much is function, i.e. how much of it would really matter if the object actually existed? If someone inside of our fictional world was trying to sell the object to consumers, would those random visual cues be important to potential buyers? Would it come off as silly looking?
Another, perhaps more important question, is: Do designs created with meaningless doodads and shapes, which only try to look cool for the project, fare better than those based first upon function?