Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Narrow Window

The medium is always a limiting factor.  Otherwise it would be not so much the medium as the actual, and that's decidedly not what computer games are.

I'm going to talk about the limitations of viewing the world through the narrow window that is the computer monitora.  At first it seems like this is a trait that computer games have in common with film, but film has had many decades of experience to overcome this limitation with tricks that are invalid for a game, because they rely on absolute control over the camera.  These tricks have made their way to computer games in the form of cutscenes, but as games develop and mature, I think we'll see less reliance on cut & pasting from that other medium.

In most computer games, control over the camera is given to the player, and that means a serious rethinking of its application.  In a film, the camera is a tool for the creator, but in a game, the camera is a tool for the audience.  How that tool can be used will have an enormous impact on the experience of the game.

Some games allow you to move the camera independently of the player avatar, some allow you to select first or third person views, some allow you to look through security cameras, at least one that I know of uses security cameras exclusively, some use only top-down views, and some allow you to view the world from any conceivable angle.  The choice of viewpoint is important enough that First Person Shooter and Third Person Shooter are two separate genres, with very different playstyles.  It’s clearly a big deal.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bad Reality

I was going to spend this post talking about Tetris, and the glories of the physics minutiae to be discovered therein, but then I got asked such a mind-meltingly st00pid question that I had to nip it in the bud before it became an infestation. My sister, who is so profoundly ignorant of computer gaming that she requires even the most basic and obvious elements to be spelt out ad nauseum, wants to know how realistic a computer game can be before it stops being fun.

That's an interesting question, and at first my smart-ass answer was, "It's the same as in film, or books, or any other media that attempts to mimic real-world things. If you're attempting to convey an experience, how much do you change reality for the sake of improving that experience?" But then I realised that that was way too Zen and glossed over all the points that the question was capable of raising, so I decided not to mention it but instead make a genuine attempt at an answer.

The question implies that realism is a problematic thing in and of itself, which is only partially true.  Also, there are different kinds of reality warping, for different reasons:  abstraction or omission to remove unnecessary detail and reduce scope; added convenience to prevent frustration; unavoidable technical limitations, both in terms of computing power and the limited interface; artistic license, otherwise known as stylisation; and of course, Bad Writing.  Each of these points is capable of becoming their own post, as I've discovered from the 2,000-odd words that I cut out from the middle of this post, but the question my sister asked me was to do with Bad Writing, so I'm going to stick with that for now.