Stolen Pixels

Stolen Pixels
Stolen Pixels #11: Finally!

Shamus Young | 12 Aug 2008 12:40
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Loading screens. Satan's immersion-breaking intermissions. Long enough to break the flow of gameplay, short enough that you can't just fire up the DS and play something else. It's a slice of time you're obliged to throw away, the gaming equivalent of sitting in traffic. You can't leave the computer but there's nothing to do. You sit slack-jawed and stare at the screen in anticipation of the computer getting back to the entertainment.

No matter how fast or powerful computers get, we can't seem to get rid of these joyless tollbooths on the highway of fun. The Witcher seems to delight in these little trance-inducing interludes. You can tell because the door of every house is a gateway to "please wait," and most of the quest NPCs are, insidiously, inside of houses. Usually, by the time the place loads, my wandering mind has forgotten what I even came here for. After a few seconds staring awkwardly at the inhabitants, I meander back through the loading screen to go outside, where I'll suddenly remember what I was supposed to be doing. The box promises the game will only last 80 hours, but I burned through most of that just looking for some guy in a village with six houses and an inn.

It's fun to imagine what this process must look like to the various characters you meet in the game. A legendary hero rolls into town, talks to a few people, and then begins wandering in and out of houses at random, blinking and looking confused like a mentally ill door-to-door violence salesman.

Which brings up an interesting question: What's the deal with all these heroes who just enter a house like they own the place, and ask the occupants for a job as if this was all perfectly normal? The NPCs are always good sports about this sort of thing, but I always feel rude doing it.

Bump mapping? Advanced physics? Elaborate AI? Screw that, I want a game where I can knock on doors.

Shamus Young is a programmer and writer by trade, videogame nitpicker by inclination. If you have the patience for more of his ramblings, they can be found at ShamusYoung.com.

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