They create worlds: Tunic

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.

There are video games that strive to recreate the real world in one way or another: the Grand Theft Auto series, for instance, which satirises modern America in many respects, but in others it has been pushing for a more and more intricate, realistic representation of the urban everyday of New York or Los Angeles; or Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, where a Shropshire village in the 1980s constitutes the naturalistic setting for a cosy apocalypse that wouldn’t be out of place in a John Wyndham novel; or Dirt Rally 2.0 and its rally courses that have struck fear into the heart of this gamer without ever leaving the realm of the real.

Then there are games that create realities distinctly different from our own everyday reality. The likes of Paper Beast, which puts the player inside a virtual world with its own rules and its own forms of life coming to an end, or Device 6, which thrives on the kind of worldbuilding that is possible only with the written word, or Fez, combining the two- and the three-dimensional in ways that wouldn’t be possible outside the virtual spaces inside a computer’s memory.

Tunic is firmly in the latter camp, but that doesn’t make the world it evokes any less impressive.

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They create worlds: Dirt Rally 2.0

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.

Every now and then, I will play a horror game. Not often, since I don’t regularly feel the need to be scared, and because so many horror games will mainly run on atmosphere and jump scares, the latter of which I’m not particularly interested in, regardless of the medium. Still, every now and then, I want to be scared. I want to feel dread at being in a place that clearly doesn’t want me there. That is vast and uncaring, and if it is out to get me, that’s just because I am so small and insignificant, yet foolhardy enough to venture there and therefore it’s all my fault. The danger to me is incidental. I went to the dark place, so anything that happens to me while I’m there is entirely on me.

And when I’m there, I suspect that the words I will hear are “Turn, one left, don’t cut.”

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #23: The Guardian

Okay, to get this out of the way first: no, this entry in our weekly Six Damn Fine Degrees feature is not about the centre-left British newspaper famous for its idiosyncratic spelling abilities. Instead, it is about the main antagonist of several instalments of the classic series of computer role-playing games Ultima, a transdimensional being of immense power bent on conquest, a villain to match the likes of Marvel’s Thanos, DC’s Darkseid or the First Evil from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Or, as some fans of the Ultima series like to call him, the big red muppet.

This was the face that emerged from my screen when I started to play Ultima VII.
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They create worlds: Paper Beast

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.

So many video game world I’ve experienced were inspired by the aesthetic of cinema, and mostly by a fairly narrow range of movies: Star Wars, Aliens, James Bond, the Lord of the Rings movies and these days obviously the Marvel behemoth. Which isn’t a bad thing: I’ve greatly enjoyed inhabiting movie-inspired pastiches of New York and Los Angeles, I’ve had good times fighting my way through space stations, mansions and snowy castles. I’ve been wowed by the worlds that games create for their spectacle, but mostly it’s a familiar kind of awe: this is the best-looking Nazi stronghold or Death Star-alike I’ve ever sneaked through, this feels just like Blade Runner‘s futuristic Los Angeles or like Peter Jackson’s version of the Mines of Moria.

It is rare that a game world feels truly different, unexpected and surprising.

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They create worlds: Hades

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.

Stroppy teenagers. Authoritarian dads. Absent mothers. Intrusive family. Oh, and myriads of monsters, mythological creatures, divine powers, mythological weapons, snark, flirtation, style, and the best tunes this side of the river Styx. Who’d have thought that the underworld could be this much fun?

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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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