I was reading a book the other day (Small Gods by Terry Pratchett if you must know) and I stumbled blindly across the age-old question;
Does a falling tree make a sound, if there is no-one in the woods to hear it?
Which is basically, when you wade through all the pretentious bollocks, questioning existence. Its playing with our presumptions and assumptions.
Usually I tend to avoid getting too involved with this stuff when I'm reading a book. Philosophy fascinates me, but philosophy also strikes me a way of wandering round asking stupid questions like "Is truth beauty?" while some other poor bastard is left to do all the bloody legwork. At the end of the day, its just being smart with words to make life seem better - whilst nothing physical or productive ever actually happens as a consequence. Sort of like religion.
You probably want me to start talking about computer games.So what's the dealio' yo? Games now have to exist within their own universe. This is important because it allows them to impose fresh rules that can be broken and constructed as the game permits. Niko Bellic can heal gunshot wounds by stuffing the bullet-holes full of hotdogs and mayonnaise? Sure, why not - sounds like a logical solution. Even the more abstract of games like Geomettry Wars or Space Invaders have rules and limitation which must be adhered to.
PLAYER 1: PRESS START TO BEGIN!!
So you are now in a pretensed virtual universe. You have instructions, rules, and an ultimate goal - its a game, duh! But what else exists in your universe? How much of the universe is physical, and how much is being left to your imagination?
I love the feeling of being a small part of something bigger, when a game gives you the feeling that you are merely playing through a chunk of the universe. The old one-man-army trick is now dead to me. I want the rest of the world to feel as real as the hallway I am walking down. I love watching the AI fill in the gaps of the story. I love it when you can see other squads running off in another direction on a different mission parallel to your own. I want to know what they are doing, it creates such a wonderful sense of scale within the game. Instead of simply telling you "Alpha team secured Bravo!" being able to watch Alpha Team securing Bravo off in the distance is so much more immersive.
Gears Of War 2 does this to startling effect. When you first drill underground you step out into the Hollow and its just stunning. As you progress you see your squadmates also dropping into the cavern in their pods - and you think "I just did that! Thats so awesome!". Watching the dust clear and other squads engage the enemy - being able to help them from your own path with Mortars and Sniper fire - everything contributes to the whole feeling teamwork, being organised, helping each other out. Every time Carmine revived me I blessed his cotton socks, every time he scored a headshot I was genuinely proud! Being a baddass is just as fun as watching someone else on your team be a badass.
What's also impressive is how much existence within the universe is implied through great scripting and sound. Hearing Marcus natter away to other soldiers like old friends makes you wonder - "How do they know each other? What's the history here?!" Watching helicopters and reavers punctuate the skyline, running past COG Soldiers on patrol, watching a Medic tend to a wounded comrade - it all contributes to the implification that there is more in existence within the universe than is immediately apparent, and that in turn makes everything seem so much more alive.
GTA4 went a similar route - but instead of just implying a huge universe, it actually gave you one. It leaves less to the imagination, but gives you more potential to experiment. Both examples are great games.
By contrast, Ryan pointed out on the Bombcast that this is a fault of Mirrors Edge. I heven't played the game, and don't get me wrong - I think it looks amazing and I WANT IT - but a frequent reviewer criticism is being unable to contextualise your awesome acrobatics. The First Person perspective may add a sense of adrenaline and allow you to relate more directly to your environment, but it leaves the landscape looking rather empty. You cannot see the awesomeness taking place, only guess at your full potential. Watching other runners bounce around you more frequently would have been nice.
I don't want to go on about Mirrors Edge because I haven't played it and therefore any criticisms are unfairly based - I feel like a dick for not buying it already. I need more money!!
So lets wrap it up.
- Games take place in a virtual universe.
- The universe can be manipulated through directive techniques that imply its size is greater than its physical state.
- The bigger and more fleshed-out the universe is, the more immersive the game becomes.
- Being able to exist within that immersive universe is awesome.
- Gears Of War 2 therefore, is awesome.
Thanks For Reading