They create worlds: A Short Hike

One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.

Over the last ten years or so, the technical advances in video games have been breathtaking, even if this progress hasn’t always been matched by the creativity on display. I’ve walked Renaissance Rome and Victorian London, I’ve driven through a parodic version of Los Angeles and ridden a horse through the dying Old West. One of the most venerated gaming series, named simply Flight Simulator, is about to release its latest instalment, which lets you take off and land anywhere on earth. Judging from pre-release material, the way the game looks is out of this world – except it is this world. I half expect that if I were to buy the 2020 Flight Simulator and fly over its representation of where we live, I’d be able to catch a peek of a little virtual me, sitting at a computer and playing Flight Simulator. In terms of scope, fidelity and detail, video games offer amazing worlds – though all too often these worlds take a real, considerable toll on the people that create them.

What we’re seeing more and more, though, is small but beautifully realised worlds created by indie developers. Worlds that are more lo-fi and homespun, clockwork universes, even worlds made almost entirely of words. Worlds that don’t strive to recreate reality as much as possible so much as create a distilled version of a very subjective reality. These games may be much smaller in scope and shorter to play from beginning to end, but this needn’t make them any less breathtaking.

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They create worlds: Disco Elysium

One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.

The moment I wake up, I know that something is amiss. My reptilian brain and my limbic system talk to me, one in a snarling, jagged voice, the other in a hoarse, high-pitched whisper. They urge me, mock me, lead me astray – but who is this “me” they’re talking to? I drag my sorry body to the bathroom and look at myself in the fogged-up mirror – and there is no moment of recognition. I see my face, and it could be anyone’s. I’m a blank – and like a blank, I’m there to be filled with personality and meaning and purpose.

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They create worlds: Outer Wilds

One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.

One of the biggest differences between computer games when I first started playing them, back in the 1980s, and modern computer games is scope. Open worlds of the kind that we’re used to nowadays didn’t exist on the 8-bit and 16-bit computers of yore, but these days it’s not rare for a game to feature a world many square kilometres in size. In 2001, Grand Theft Auto III let us rampage in a Liberty City that measured 9 km2 in real-world terms; Grand Theft Auto V, which came out in 2013, covered an area of 127 km2. Things get even more insane with the possibilities of procedural generation, so that we got a 1:1 scale simulation of the Milky Way galaxy in Elite Dangerous (released in 2015). As game worlds get bigger and bigger, though, it becomes increasingly difficult to fill them with meaningful content, and arguably Elite‘s in-game universe is several light years wide and a nanometre deep. Which is one of the reasons why the toy-box solar system of Outer Wilds is so engaging.

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They Create Worlds: Device 6

One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.

Video games are so good at creating highly detailed, interactive worlds these days, it’s easy to forget that you can do the same using much less hi-tech means. For most of us, the first worlds we found, explored and enjoyed were created using much simpler building blocks: words, words, words.

Device 6

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They create worlds: Assassin’s Creed Origins

One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.

I have have climbed the cathedral of Acre. I have swum in the canals of Venice. I have prowled the streets, and the roofs, of Renaissance Rome. I have hobnobbed with the Borgias and with Robespierre, I have fought alongside George Washington, plundered with Blackbeard and listened to Charles Dickens tell tales.

And, just lately, I’ve added to my repertoire: I have run away from an angry hippopotamus – straight into the jaws of a Nile crocodile. Oh, and I’ve slid down the Great Pyramid, but it’s the tussle with the crocodile that sticks in my mind, much like I stuck in its teeth.

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They create worlds: Scanner Sombre

One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.

The absence of light is so absolute, it’s as if there’s nothing at all around me. I’m not even sure I’m there myself. The only thing I’m sure of is the scanner in my hand. I pull the trigger, I hear the familiar whine, and the blackness around me is gradually sprinkled with dots. Dot by dot, my surroundings come into existence – a psychedelic, pointillist ghost of a cave.

Scanner Sombre

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They create worlds: Lone Echo

One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.

To my right is the station, Kronos II, looking decidedly worse for wear. To my left is Saturn, its rings glittering with a stark beauty. I can see the mining asteroids and container fields in the distance – and the inscrutable anomaly, extending tendrils of pure energy in my direction. Everywhere else is the cold infinity of space, beautiful and deadly. There is only one thing to do: I grab hold of the railing and, slowly and methodically, make my way towards my captain and friend, Liv, pulling my weightless body through space inch by inch.

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They create worlds: Prey

One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.

It’s one of the staples of premises in sci-fi games: the abandoned space station where something has gone horribly wrong. Did I say abandoned? Well, not quite… You’re not the only one creeping through the station’s corridors; there are… things barely glimpsed from the corner of your eye, things that are not your friends. So, arm yourself with a trusty wrench, hoard every medkit you can find – and survive. Because there is no escape – other than the cold, empty vacuum of space.

Prey

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They create worlds: Hellblade – Senua’s Sacrifice

One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.

In the past, They Create Worlds has mostly featured games that create striking worlds for us to traverse and explore, worlds for the players to inhabit. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice does this too, but it is more concerned with interior worlds, and it brings them to life with an intensity that I’ve not yet seen in games.

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