Walk as an Egyptian

Video games are great at allowing you to walk in the footsteps of any- and everyone. Want to be a burly, 100-foot creature destroying a metropolis? Play Rampage and you’re even given a choice of monster. Want to be H.R. Giger’s indelible toothsome ray of sunshine? Various generations of Aliens vs Predator games let you get in touch with your inner secondary jaw. There’s many games that let you slip into the physique of lithe, scantily-clad warriorettes, and I won’t even try to count all the titles that put you in the futuristic boots of space marines.

Yet there are some identities we’re very rarely asked to assume – so it’s nice when a game actually gives you such an opportunity.

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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.

Assassin's Creed Origins Continue reading

They create worlds: Grow Home

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 little robot’s steps are clumsy, awkward, as if both the use of his legs and the concept of gravity were new to him. B.U.D. is miles away from the usual video game robots – they’re often metallic warriors and/or cannon fodder – and closer to the likes of WALL-E, if Pixar’s garbage collector was a toddler. And like his precursor, B.U.D. is given a momentous ecological task: he must grow the so-called Star Plant on a faraway planet, and in doing so he has to scale the plant to a height of 2 kilometres – which would be difficult enough for the likes of Mission Impossible’s Ethan Hunt, let alone someone who is barely able to walk in a straight line.

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I’m Walkin’, Yes Indeed

In video games, you’re usually in a hurry. You’re saving the world, trying to save the president’s daughter – or, on the other side of the spectrum, you’re running away from the cops after robbing the First Bank of Los Santos or, if you’re less criminally inclined, a horde of infected intent on tearing out your throat. Under these circumstances, it makes sense that the player’s first instinct is to look for the run button or sprint command. More than that, though, so many games are about getting from A to B. This kind of behaviour is reinforced by secondary objectives like “Get to da choppa in less than 2:00” or by rewards inversely proportional to the time you took to do what you were supposed to.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate Continue reading

They create worlds: Assassin’s Creed

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’ve walked the Holy Land at the time of the Third Crusade. I’ve explored Renaissance Florence, Venice and Rome. I have crossed the cupola of the Blue Mosque. Five minutes ago I was scaling Notre Dame de Paris.

Allegedly I’m an assassin, member of an ancient order whose creed is “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” This is what I really am, though: a tourist. And I’m loving it.

Ah, Venice. (Avoid the dwarfs in red raincoats.)

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City of digital angels

There’s food porn. There’s nature porn. Apparently there’s even porn porn, out there on what is laughingly referred to as “the internet”.

I have virtual timelapse porn.

Since video games have become less Mondrianesque (read: big pixels in primary colours) and more visually rich, more and more bloggers, game photographers and videographers have been exploring their visual appeal beyond the simplistic “Great graphics, most realistic blood splatter, coolest lens flares, 9.5/10!” (I recently posted about the YouTube project Other Places.) It’s not so much about showing that games are approaching photorealism, at least not to me; it’s about getting to a point where the worlds created by games become interesting and arresting in their own right, and where they can be explored in various creative ways.

Are time lapse videos of game locales creative? Let’s put it like this: they can be beautiful, evocative, eerily poignant. There’s more to a good time lapse video than sticking a camera, virtual or otherwise, in one place and shooting one frame per second. And some games lend themselves more to such videos than others – I’ve previously posted about such videos made from the likes of Red Dead Redemption and Assassin’s Creed. To my mind, just about the best worlds for video game photography and videography are those created by Rockstar Games, and their latest, Grand Theft Auto V, is a gorgeous case in point. Ignoring the controversy around the game for once (there are already more than enough articles out there on whether GTA V is misogynist, racist, homophobic, or even (yikes!) a bad game), I am yet again amazed at how well Rockstar can take a real place and boil it down to its essentials. Their Los Santos, while clearly a fictionalised Los Angeles, is more than a Reader’s Digest version of LA – it’s as if the Rockstar artists had taken the world’s collective dream of Los Angeles and put it into textures and polygons. To me, there’s a touch of the hyperreal, and even of Neil Gaiman’s dream of the city in Sandman, and of Calvino’s Invisible Cities (sadly Marco Polo never talked about “Virtual Cities”, but then again, each of his invisible cities is virtual), in how these places resonate, even more so when put into the format of (wait for it…) a timelapse video. They make me want to inhabit Rockstar’s dream of LA, especially at night, when the street lights shimmer through the distant haze.

Do yourselves a favour. Let the entire video download before you watch it. Go for the highest resolution. And definitely, most definitely, go for full screen. If you still don’t see at least a fraction of the fascination these have for me, I’ll spring you a drink. I know this great little bar just off Vinewood Boulevard…

Seeing through the eyes of a gamer – and an announcement

There are some games that, while I’m playing them, change the way I look at the world around me. I remember times spent playing real-time strategy where in my mind’s eye I’d draw selection boxes around the people I’d see, or around a herd of sheep, and I’d plan out strategies of where to send these people to do my bidding. (I was young and silly at the time.) Or, when I was a teenager and had to bike to school, I’d see everything through the lens of the X-Wing and TIE Fighter games, zooming down the deathstar trench and evading incoming laser fire. Yes, I was and still am a geek.

One of the games I’ve been playing a lot of lately, Assassin’s Creed II, has definitely taken hold of my visual cortex – not least because of where I live. Check out these videos from the first and second Assassin’s Creed games, taking place in medieval Acre and Renaissance Venice respectively:

Living in Bern, I can’t help looking at the 17th and 18th century architecture and thinking, “Hmm… If I jumped up there and grabbed that ledge, then pulled myself up there and did a leap over to the other side… and the spire at the top should give me a great vantage point from which to plan my next assassination.” (Note: by ‘assassination’, I mean ‘shopping spree’. Or ‘cuddly kitten’. Or something else that’s inoffensive and doesn’t make me sound like a psycho.) Frankly, though, I think there’s only a slim chance that Assassin’s Creed III will feature the best of Swiss sandstone architecture – although Swiss banking would fit in nicely with Assassin’s Creed‘s conspiracy storyline.

More importantly than my geek musings, though, I’ve got an announcement to make that’s been a long time coming: a friend of mine will be posting book reviews on Eagles on Pogo Sticks. I asked him ages ago but then never got my act together. No more excuses, though – please give my friend a round of applause as he gets ready to introduce himself.