“Spider-Man actually gets his web from cartridges that he makes I think. I’m pretty sure the film got it wrong.”
No, the film did not get it “wrong.” They got it “wrong” in the same way that the comics got it “wrong” – in the sense that both depict things that do not exist in real life and never will except in various mass-produced forms of merchandise.
I have a concern. After the inevitable apocalypse and however many centuries needed to bring humanity back up to a broadly speaking civilized level, I’m concerned that the archaeological evidence of Spider-Man merchandise will show precisely the same patterns as objects used in deity worship. And this led me to a second thought: has this happened before? Have we misjudged, say, the ancient Vikings because we mistook their mass market science fiction for a religion? And this in turn led me to the third thought: could this same mistake have been made with a religion that is still practiced? Is every Muslim in the world making pilgrimages to what was originally intended to be a comic book convention?
But that’s not what I wanted to talk about this week. The Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions review made me wonder: do I always express myself clearly? Do I use understandable language? I know I have a tendency to employ a mix of international slang, which can confuse some people. On one of these columns I wrote the word “Botty,” a colloquial and uniquely British shortening of the word “Bottom,” but Russ seemed to think I had mistyped “Booty,” and edited it so the whole text sounded like it was performed by Destiny’s Child.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about when I use reviewer-isms, or normal words used to give an impression of a larger picture that might be difficult to explain in detail. I normally do it when I’m giving a broader gut feeling of the work as a whole. For example, at the end of the Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions review, I described it as unfocused. And almost as soon as the floaty arty critical ponce side of my brain typed the words, the more grounded, rational side asked me what on Earth I was blithering about. Was I playing it with my glasses off?
And it’s not the first time I’ve done this sort of thing, so I thought it might be a good idea to devote a week’s column to a small glossary of such terms. Not that I wish to imply that you’re all a bunch of unread thickypoes who don’t know what the words mean (although you’ve definitely never heard the word “thickypoes” before because I just made it up). The fact is, this is for my benefit as much as anyone else’s. I’m not even sure I know what the hell I’m talking about when I describe games in ways like these.
A game that is focused keeps its attention narrow. It has a small number of core characters who behave consistently and ideally enjoy appropriate developmental arcs, while its levels, encounters and set pieces follow a logical progression. Therefore a game that is unfocused splurges itself out over so many pies that it would be swiftly asked to leave the bakery. See also: “Arbitrary,” “Thinly spread,” “All over the dang place.”
Usage: “What a very focused game ICO is. Only three characters and it all takes place in the same castle, but nonetheless a breathtaking emotional thrill ride. It’s the complete antithesis of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, which is so unfocused you can go to sleep in 1930s Chicago and wake up in a circus on Mars.”
Not, as some might tell you, a game that feels like you’re actually playing it for real like you’re totes on the Holodeck, man. My own definition of immersion is the point when you have stopped noticing the actual nuts and bolts of the game and can enjoy the experience as intended. Basically anything that makes you think “Hmm, the developers kind of dropped the ball there” breaks immersion, such as glitches, clipping errors, pop-in, dodgy art or animation and people talking in broad Valley girl accents in 13th century Denmark. The trouble with immersion, though, is that, like The Game, you lose it as soon as you start thinking about it.
Usage: “Wow, Condemned is so immersive I can almost feel yellowed hobo teeth bouncing off my spectacles. Oh no! Now I’m thinking about it and it’s unimmersive again! Fie!”
The player’s sense that they are constantly moving towards a goal, which can be brought across both in broad terms, by making their objectives clear, and from moment to moment, by allowing them to maintain constant forward motion. A game with no sense of flow is frustrating, because videogamers are obviously busy, important people and without the feeling they are making progress they will stop playing to go be the CEO of a large business or whatever.
Usage: “I imagine Mirror’s Edge would have a great sense of flow, with its constant motion and seamless switching between parkour moves, if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve had to restart this section nineteen fucking times.”
An unplayable cutscene, often prerendered (noun), or having the qualities of linear film (adjective). Generally to be interpreted as damning with fine praise when found in a review, since the interactive nature of gaming is kind of the whole point. In the past, however, I have used the term with an alternative, positive meaning when a game manages to make me feel like the protagonist of a well-directed film while remaining within controllable gameplay, something I begrudgingly admit the Uncharted games do quite well.
Usage: “Final Fantasy XIII is so cinematic I might just pop out for a piss while I wait for it to shut the fuck up.”
Story and character in any medium has depth if they have complexity beyond initial appearances or a degree of emotional profundity (thanks, Dictionary.com). In gaming, environments can have depth if there’s a lot to be found through exploration or if the story is told in background elements, and gameplay can also have depth if the game explores the possibilities of a mechanic in more ways than one. For example, you might be able to take cover from bullets, but if the cover gradually gets destroyed, that adds a layer of depth. It would be deeper still if, say, you had to make your own cover by forcing a giant horse to open their mouth so you can hide behind their bottom row of teeth.
Usage: “Hey, my cover’s totally getting destroyed. That settles it: The gameplay of Space Invaders has more depth than Kane & Lynch 2.”
What you are. You are fat.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.