Experienced Points

Experienced Points
That's Innovation!

Shamus Young | 12 Mar 2010 21:00
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This sacrifice made sense in the 90's when we were struggling just to get characters on the screen that didn't look like they were made of blurry Tetris pieces. But over the past decade we've mostly wrapped up all of those graphical issues and can make some amazingly convincing photo-realistic environments. (Sadly, these new environments are crazy expensive to build. Just one of the areas of Modern Warfare 2 probably cost more than an entire game in 1996.) We're to the point where we don't need to cling to the old model of static worlds in order to have a playable experience.

Now developers are experimenting and seeing what they can do with this new-found power and flexibility. I think this move is long overdue. For several years we've had the hardware and the budget to do something besides just making the pixels shinier. I'm glad to see that time is being spent innovating other aspects of the game. Graphics make a great first impression, but they don't give us new or different experiences. Once the world is crisp enough to tell characters apart from the scenery, further graphics improvements just make the game prettier. They don't offer us more gameplay. I'm long past the point where I might be excited about shooting dudes in a corridor, but with 10% more definition than two years ago. (Okay, that's not 100% true. I can still get excited about shooting dudes no matter what graphics generation the dudes come from.)

The possibility of destructible (or changing) environments adds a great deal to the game. Games are about interaction, and the more ways you can interact with the world the more interesting the game can be. Physics were a nice addition a few years ago (and got even better once developers learned the value of restraint - worlds don't need to be filled with boxes exhibiting the physical properties of bouncy balls in order for us to notice and appreciate the physics) but giving a player control over the landscape is something else entirely. The ability to seamlessly change, build, and destroy the world around them gives the player a certain degree of authorship over the world. In the case of Uncharted 2, the ability to have a battle in a constantly shifting environment is going to offer a very different experience than the games where you just walk into a room and clean out all the bad guys. It's new gameplay instead of old gameplay with new makeup.

I'm not sure why it took this long. In the linked article, Naughty Dog warned other companies that this tech might be a handful to implement. I don't doubt that it was. But why didn't anyone have that same sense of caution when taking any of the last dozen graphical steps? Why is the industry always so eager to improve how a game looks and then have such trepidation to improving how it plays?

Unlike graphics technology, this new know-how will most likely be useful beyond the current generation of consoles and graphics cards.

It's not a guarantee of success, though. I still have to bring myself to finish Red Faction.

Shamus Young is the guy behind Reset Button, Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, and Stolen Pixels. Don't forget that DRM-pushing publishers are jerks, too.

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