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.
Warning: There may be spoilers for the video game Red Dead Redemption 2 in the final paragraph.
Dear Diary, it’s Matt again. How have you been? Going out, having a cappuccino, a glass of wine, going to the cinema? What, me? No, I’ve been a total homebody. Barely left the house, except for the occasional brief stroll. Though that’s not entirely true: I did leave the house – just virtually.
Join us every week for a trip into the weird and wonderful world of trailers. Whether it’s the first teaser for the latest installment in your favourite franchise, an obscure preview for a strange indie darling, whether it’s good, bad, ugly or just plain weird – your favourite pop culture baristas are there to tell you what they think.
Stop me if this sounds familiar, because I’m sure I’ve written it before: the thing that makes gaming in Virtual Reality fundamentally different from playing on a regular screen is that it removes a layer of abstraction. You don’t look around by moving the mouse, pressing a stick in a certain direction or pressing a button: you look around by looking around. It sounds like a small difference, but it feels entirely different whether you look up at an enormous, ominous gate covered with runes glowing red by moving the hand holding the mouse a few centimetres away from you or whether you lean your head back. You perceive size and scale entirely differently, and as a result things feel more intimate, more real, for want of a better word. Present-day VR aims at reducing abstraction even more by means of room-scale solutions (the virtual space is represented by the actual space, so you can walk around in-game by walking around in the available space – until you bump into the nearest wall or trip over the cat) and of controllers that replicate hand and finger movement, so you grab things in virtual space not by pushing a button but by using your actual hands.
I’ve written about it before: as much as I love virtual reality and its sense of immersion, we haven’t quite arrived at the holodeck yet. You can’t really touch things, though with the right kind of controllers implemented well it’s amazing how well you can fool your brain into believing that you’re actually holding that floppy disk, handgun or lightsaber in VR. However, what is much more difficult, at least in the comfort of your home, is walking. Sure, you can walk a few steps depending on how much space you have, but after more than a metre or two you’re likely to bang into a wall. And since few people live in empty warehouses or vast, echoing halls, not to mention the cable by which you’re generally attached to the PC, developers generally have to find workarounds.