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: 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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That Was The Year That Was: Matt’s favourites of 2019

And there goes another year and the ever more sci-fi sounding 2020 is just around the corner. We’ve had some good laughs, we cried, we watched the TV in terror, then disillusionment and then resignation, name-checking Kübler-Ross along the way – but that was just politics. In terms of media, 2019 hasn’t been a bad year at all, has it?

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