Why the Gravity Gun is brilliant
Anyway, I’m a console gamer, I love my Halo and I only played HL2 (and episodes) in 2008, 4 years after it was released on PC. It’s brilliant, but I only realized why on my 2nd playthrough. I tried to write a full essay about why it’s brilliant but quickly got intimidated by how much that entailed. So here I just want to rant a bit about the Gravity gun and the effects it has on our perceptions in-game.
*Ahem* The Gravity Gun is brilliant, I can only assume Valve knew exactly why it was brilliant, either that or it was a happy coincidence. I have three main reasons for thinking this.
1) It deepens how you can interact with the world. I mean, obviously. But what this DOES TO the player isn’t as obvious. With that increased ability to interact with the world comes a more complete sense that this IS a world, and that sense is invaluable. Lets say it like this, when you play Doom, every area ultimately ends up being perceived by the player as a combat arena, all you can do is shoot things. It essentially relegates visuals, story and anything else as window dressing around that combat arena. As much as I love Halo, it’s really only an extension of that. People talk to you, you shoot things, you get in a vehicle and you shoot things. Halo is a very big, elaborate, series of combat arenas. If you introduce platforming it changes how you see things. Cliffs and rocks are no longer a nicely dressed up wall, they’re tools for exploration. And that allows you to believe there is a physical world there for you to explore, which is WAY more interesting than a simple combat arena. HL2 takes that to a whole new level, you can throw a paint can around a room if you want to. Obviously there is little reason to, most of the time, but you know that you CAN, and that changes what everything around you looks like. A paint can on the ground in an object, with weight and distinct from the room whereas in most other games, it’s simply part of random crap they put around the room to make it not look so barren. Half-Life is praised for the every-day’ness that they made believable in their world and a massive part of that is because you feel it’s all there, all the little details are stuff that you react to and use. And that is all thanks to the gravity gun.
2) HL2 is huge on the player getting from one place to another and they integrate a few gameplay mechanics into that. You drive, walk and jump from place to place, again, increasing the tangibility of the world by interacting with it in so many ways. But that also comprises the main playtime of the player, traversing the environments. And a key part of that not being crazy boring is letting the player feel like the world was not made solely for them to pass through it. It of course was. But that’s why there is crap in the way, boxes, boarded up doors, shelving units, lots of literal stuff often sits in your way and you move it or bash it with the Gravity Gun to get past. Sure, that example is no great thing ON PAPER, but in practice it makes you feel like you’re forging this path for yourself. You feel like it’s not designed for you simply to pass through and it gives the player a small (but key) sense of satisfaction for fining that doorway (or whatever) and getting himself through it. In more elaborate instances, you're placing large floating objects in toxic pool to jump to, which has the same effect. HL2 doesn’t want to be a game where it’s core gameplay is shooting fools. So it uses gunfights as emotional peaks in the story and gives the player a variety of gameplay elements to overcome in between. The Grav Gun is key to that.
This relates to the next point... read and see!
3) The Grav Gun deals with a KEY element that often holds even great games back: PLAYER PERCEPTION, that is the perception of the player, by the player. Who do you feel like when you play this game? That is of course a huge question, but in the case of ninety-nine percent of shooters ever, you only, ever feel like a camera with a gun or a total psychopath. Obviously this ranges from player to player, but ultimately you (almost) always have a gun pointing ahead of you. That’s not normal. It kinda works for a game like Halo or CoD, you’re a soldier, you’re in battle. But even then, why do you not have the ABILITY to lower it when things are quiet or when an ally is taking to you? It’s just a gaming convention. In more… story driven games (than Halo or CoD) it feels kinda weird to always have a gun out, for your only ability in this world to shoot things. It makes the player feel disconnected, whether they’ve realized it or not. How can you REALLY believe a character is being sincere when they talk to you if you know that you have a massive machine gun between you and them? The Grav Gun changes that. Because ultimately (despite the name) it’s function in that world is a TOOL. This is also why moving all that crap in point 2 was so important, because it’s a tool rather than a weapon. And by putting crap in your way, and by making you do puzzles and throw stuff to move other stuff, the game keep the Grav Gun being your main crutch, NOT your GUN. HL2 almost makes a point to keep you using it at every stage, to keep it in front of the players face and to let the player see themselves more as a capable being that can think, solve puzzles, work through problems and come up with solutions beyond shooting fools. It lets the player see themselves as someone who is intelligent. And it lets them better believe in-game characters when they express admiration, appreciation, concern or warmth to you. They are not talking to a killer, a camera with a gun or a psychopath, they are talking to an intelligent problem solver, in this case a Dr. named Gordon Freeman.
This IS an old blog I'm re-posting, but I still like it (though it could use some tweaking) and I thought I'd give any visitors a look at what kind of writing I do.
Hope you like, I'm always happy to get feedback.