Look, very few other people will lay this out to you as simply as I'm about to, but I feel it necessary. Are you ready? OK. Here goes: The reason that most early videogames were about, or took place in, outer space was because space, with all of its inky blackness, was easier to draw.
It's true. Want to make a space game? Can your hardware do a black field with occasional white dots? Yes? You're golden.
A colleague and I were discussing the "demise" of the space shooter sim genre recently, and we came to the ultimate conclusion that space shooter sims died at approximately the same time it became possible to realistically create actual scenery using computer gaming hardware. Once gamers had been treated to land, sky, buildings and trees, the dark void of space became just another has-been.
Take, for example, one of the most recent "space games," Dead Space. It has the word "space" right there in the title, for crying out loud. Yet how much of it actually takes place in space? Practically zero. Aside from the obligatory zero gravity sections, the derelict space craft in which you spend all of your time wandering around may as well be in a state park in Iowa. Hell, thinking about it, that title pretty much sums it all up doesn't it?
Yet in spite of the fact that game developers dropped the outer space setting about two decades ago like a hot E.T. cartridge, the fine art of accurately presenting anything else has come along slowly. Dirt is fairly easy and, looking back, many, many games have relied (and are still relying) on the brown end of the color palette for lending their creations a realistic edge. But there's more to Earth than brown, and it's those blue, red and green bits that have been giving everyone tremors.
This day and age, what we can safely call the "teens" of the 21st century, you can't swing a shrubbery without hitting a game that takes place in some lush forest setting or tropical island, and it's damn nice to see that things like water and trees are finally getting their due. Therefore, this week, to celebrate our 250th issue of The Escapist, "Blue Planet," we're bringing you an archipelago of articles exploring the heady nuances of re-creating the natural world.
Ryan Lambie gives us a documentary-eye look at survival of the fittest in Viva Pinata, Ronald Meeus looks at SpeedTree, the middle-ware program used to create many of the trees you enjoy and destroy in today's games, The Escapist's own Nova Barlow explores the aquatic environs of the Endless Ocean series and Robert Zacny gives us a truly haunting look at an underappreciated genre: hunting games. For all of the talk about when/if and/or how videogames will make us cry, it may surprise you to learn that the hunting sim genre has drawn first blood.
In all, we hope this issue will remind you that some of the best escapes are right here under your nose, and some of the best gaming is inspired by the world we inhabit every day.