How Pygnosis’ iconic racer brought games to a whole new audience.
Over the past several years, I’ve spent much of my professional life working on firstperson shooters in different capacities, and have spent a good deal of my gaming time playing them. In striving to better understand the FPS, I have tried to develop some formal tools to allow me and the teams I work with to discuss and compare different aspects of various shooters. One of the tools I’ve used in the past is a lens for examining the experiential curve – or waveform – of an FPS.
After wrapping your fingers around his throat, you smash his face into a burning hot-plate and hold it firmly against the bright red steel while his skin chars and blisters. His screams hint that he’s about to give in and rat on his friends. In Splinter Cell: Conviction, torture is a gameplay mechanic. Put a new disc in. Now you’re Ezio Auditore Da Firenze jamming knives into the throats of your family’s enemies – a particularly terrifying and gruesome way to be murdered, if it’s possible to rank such things.
As I wandered thirsty as a cloud round this year’s Eurogamer Expo show in London, I was struck by how many of the games on show were, fundamentally, games about moving successfully through corridors. At the same time, lots of showgoers were obediently shuffling slowly down invisible corridors in queues, wrapping themselves snakelike around innumerable booth corners for the chance to sprint through the lightly disguised corridors of the hottest playable preview code, such as COD Blops 2 or Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. While they were inching down their queue-corridors, many of these people were playing other games on their 3DSes or Vitas to pass the queuing time. These games, I fervently hoped, were also about moving through corridors, so that these happy expo-goers could be described as being in the ultramodern position of navigating virtual corridors while navigating wall-less corridors until they could navigate other virtual corridors, before going home by navigating the corridors of the Underground.
Anyone who makes the erroneous claim that videogames are all about ‘escapism’ probably hasn’t powered on their game console in several years. We’re always online now, our activities broadcast to whoever cares to look. The theory is that we want to be social, that we’re entirely happy with being reachable no matter where we are or what we’re doing. Why else would we carry mobile phones with us at all times?
Eric Chahi’s most recognisable game is a distinctly linear experience – Another World, the classic 1991 “cinematic platformer” offers a couple of very short branches, but ultimately funnels you down one path. It’s punishingly difficult, too. His most recent game, however, and the one I want to talk about, is the exact opposite of that.
Did you cry at any point while playing Journey? If so, you’re not alone. Upon the game’s release, I noticed several testimonials cross my Twitter feed of people who claimed to be moved to tears by Thatgamecompany’s latest project. But why? The game has gorgeous stylised artwork. Then again, so did Wind Waker. And as sublimely fun as Nintendo’s cel-shaded Zelda may be, it doesn’t put a lump in your throat.
Over the years, I have had many discussions about the value of design documentation. Some developers dismiss it as designer busywork, while others give lectures about it. Some developers are openly dismissive of design documentation – refusing to even read it, and claiming it is detached from reality. Some projects produce hundreds of pages, while others produce hundreds of pages of trash. A great deal of design documentation is nothing more than really bad fiction writing, and much of the rest is little more than really cumbersome code.
You know what there’s an awful lot of on the Internet? I mean, obviously, apart from that. It’s little games that waste a few moments of your life, use up a few watts of precious, precious electrical power, and make you feel good about yourself. I love them. When I’m asked to, I even pay for them.
At a time when there’s a sense of genre fatigue for most commercial games, it’s titles exploring intriguing new themes that end up seeing the most buzz. We’re generally happy to be patient for BioShock Infinite, excited to see how its ideas about American exceptionalism take place in a city in the sky. Dishonored is among 2012’s most anticipated games for its imaginative marriage of industrialism with magic and gadgets. And early teasers for Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs, a game about urban wars waged with information, got people hyped up at E3.