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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Meaningful Explosions

Blame Corvus for this one.

At some point, games started to emulate cinema more and more. This is pretty much accepted fact, particularly in realm of 3D games. Also at some point, games become storytellers. I can't tell you how many times I've read a post from a mod team which is something like "You are a vampire hunter in the service of the Vatican" or "You are a renegade police cop out for justice" ... shooters in particular suffer from this need to define the character and plot of the game and we can see it stick closely as you radiate out from that perspective. It's natural to impose a persona on a perspective (despite what Valve will tell you), and as personal as third and first person perspectives game are ... so is the need to narrate.

Whether this is a good thing or not, another debate. I will say that games-as-movies detract from what Chris calls Neo-Retro design and in turn leaves a wealth of previous games collecting dust in terms of what they might have to say for game design. While Freelancer could have been Elite with better graphics, it still felt the need to tell a story ... and to do so within a confined and normalized space. Two things one could never use to define Elite's "space playground".

However, Corvus talks of what's inherent in the conflict when story-telling. For those who haven't suffered through a writer's workshop, I'll tell you that conflict is oft considered the lifeblood of a story. If Jack and Jill just go up the hill, get some water, and return home for some cake ... well, readers wonder why they bothered reading it in the first place. But once Jack tumbles - boy-daddy you got the makings of a yarn now.

What seems missing from many games these days are meaningful explosions. While some eye candy is little more than what Fristrom refers to as cowbells - in other words an explosion which is more than just backdrop, but I would assume less than narrative, some eye candy can be brought about as the result of real conflict.

There are explosions which just happen, and one just keeps moving on. There are some which results in more tangible effect - like blocking your path or killing all your squadmates. There are some which perhaps the player is excited to cause in the course of his quest, a sort of self-controlled cowbell if you will.

And then there can be some with real meaning. But these are few. The only I can think of right away is when I got revenge on Anna Navarro in Deus Ex. I never liked Anna. I knew she would probably betray me the moment I strayed from my appointed tasks and I knew that perhaps at some point I would have to take her on. I also knew I didn't stand much of a chance.

Course, she didn't expect me to place five proximity mines in the room and then hide by the toilet. Not terribly heroic, but it worked.

Now that was an explosion with real meaning, and the finale to some actual conflict. And one of the reasons I played that game so many times.

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