2020 Redux

2020 Redux
Kill Your Darlings

Gearoid Reidy | 11 Jul 2006 12:02
2020 Redux - RSS 2.0

It seems somewhat bizarre to recreate the storming of the beach at Normandy in such detail as modern WWII games do, only to leave out the most crucial element: the very real, terrifying possibility that these could be your last moments on Earth.

One of the reasons gaming attracts so much flak is because it fails to show the consequences of your actions. If you die in a hail of bullets, you just press restart. While the idea that this leads people to become lunatics is dubious at best, the thrill of victory is even better when there is something at stake - something more than just escaping the tiresome bother of having to redo a section.

Consequences of your actions - at the least lasting damage to your character, at its best a change in the story or the course of a game depending on your choices - is the key to the struggle through life. With all its realistic physics and graphics engines, that is something gaming has yet to grasp.

You need the blue key: A world of painted sets
Since being propelled from the 2-D to the 3-D world, game designers have struggled to mark off their boundaries. The best games give you a world that seems near limitless, so you don't notice the restrictions; the worst bar you off meaninglessly with doors that will never open because there is nothing behind them and invisible walls that suddenly stop you from advancing.

Sadly, most games still resemble the western movie sets of old - entire towns that are really just 2-D illusions, only convincing from afar.

In what crazy world can a space marine with a rocket launcher not break through a simple window? Why does a kick-ass gun-toting vampire like Dante wander through towns full of closed doors without breaking some of them down?

Show me a door and my first instinct is to see what's behind it; show me a far-off mountain and I long to see what's on the other side. Games like Shenmue and GTA imperfectly but successfully create the soon-to-be-standard illusion that you can go anywhere.

If you think about it, games should be nothing but fun from beginning to end - the do-anything promise that Mario 64 began to elicit. Yet, far too many games have us running errands instead of having fun - collecting 100 golden whatevers or searching in every obscure back corner until you find some arbitrary key to progress.

Videogames need to think less like part-time jobs and more like playground games - where the fun is guarded by flexible rules, but within those rules anything goes. The fun is in figuring out what to do for yourself. Yet, success in too many videogames depends just on rote memorization - memorizing the track, the map layout or the boss movements - than on true skill or innovation.

Stepping out of the primordial goo
It's never easy letting go. But to create a new world, we must sometimes sacrifice those we love. So, so long, bosses, health bars and over-world maps. So long, 100 golden coins, closed doors and the 1-up. The future is built on the bones of the past.

Gearoid Reidy is a journalist working in Japan who would be very happy if he never had to memorize the movement patterns of another boss ever again. You can find him at www.gearoidreidy.com.

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