Round Table, September of 2009: The Sight and the Fury

Isn’t That Spatial? Every video game has certain benefits and constraints in the way it represents space. Interaction fiction, arcade titles, 2D side-scrollers, isometric RPGs, and first person shooters all have advantages and disadvantages to how they deal with space–some technical in nature, some design-based. This month’s topic invites you to explore the ways games have represented the spatial nature of their storyworlds and what this does for the audience experience. Is it possible to ignore the constancy of spatial relationships in a graphical game? What would such a game look like? Are there ways of representing spatial relationships that we haven’t explored? Do you have ideas for games that could intentionally twist the player’s perception of space, or do you want to write about a game that already has?

Ah, the round table starts again! As good an excuse as any to start posting again, I suppose.

One thing that always fascinated far more the actual space of a game was how that space was presented. The simple fact is since most videogames are very strongly related to each other* there is already a very informal understanding of how different mechanics interact with the space that they are placed in. Indeed, there are several games now that could not exist without the developers having a solid understanding of the spatial relations of their systems**. While this is a fascinating topic, I would like to talk about something that is often lost amid all the talk of level design; camera design.

To most, the camera is a throw-away detail, another bulletpoint on the back of the box to further refine it's genre and clarify just what it's competing against in the market. This attitude is, to be blunt, fucking incompetent. That's a like a fucking movie buff coming out and saying, 'Movies aren't about camera's, they're about STORY'. fucker would look like a damn idiot. How we presented with something is just as, if not MORE, important than what that thing actually is***. To wit; God of War, as a system, is pathetic. The combat is shallow at best, and relies on QTE's to achieve even a semblance of the visceral quality of, say, DMC3. Yet, it is an inarguably brilliant game. It flows brilliantly, knows when to accelerate, when to de-accelerate, when to stop, to turn, and even to go in circles. This is caused by many factors****, but the one that EVERYONE ignores is how God of War presents itself. I'm not talking about the context; the gods, the myths, the monsters and whatnot. No, I mean the way that GoW allows you to see it. Let me put it like this;

God of War is the ONLY game that has a good camera.

What does this mean? It means that God of War knows HOW TO PRESENT ITSELF. It makes sure that you only capture it's 'Good Side'. God of War is a self aware game, not in the post-modern Lost Levels/MGS sense, but in the craftsmanship sense. Here is a game that is aware that people OTHER than the level designers will be looking at it, It takes pains to remove the camera control from you, not to put it in fucking worthless positions in the name of 'horror', or 'tension', but in the name of letting you have on less thing to worry about. To be clear, one can make a game that is all about wrestling with what it is possible to seen on-screen. This game has been made, and it is called Space Giraffe. However, every other game is NOT about wrestling with the camera/colors on-screen. God of War realized this, and thusly had the balls to move past the Miyamoto kludge of player-controlled camera.

Imagine that. A game that improves on a Miyamoto construct.

There's another post there...somewhere.

*The much derided 'Lack of Innovation'
**Imagine Gears without cover.
***The Moral of Advertising. Use it. Know it. Hate it.
****A respect for the player, an understanding of the shallow-ness of their combat, a legitimately interesting story and characters, COLORS, etc.


Three things...

In the Imagine Cup again.

Making a game about taxes.

I think I like Giga Wing better than DoDonPachi and Mars Matrix.