Friday, April 4, 2008

Why Doesn't It Rain On Me?

Quite the odd topic to talk about but it is one that has been on my mind for a while now, why do most games lack rain or just general weather effects?

Now I can understand that with the older consoles technology might not have allowed for it (or if it did, other game design choices had higher priority) but to me we should be seeing it on the current generation consoles and we're not. Why is that I wonder? Is it because developers can't be bothered adding them in? Is it because with water effects now looking pretty damn realistic, developers aren't adding in rain or snow because they want it to be on the same level of realism as the water is?

I guess the only people who can answer those questions are the developers themselves so rather than question the concept of weather effects in gaming (or lack thereof), let's change course and talk about weather effects and gaming in general.

Most examples of games that I can think of that have rain, wind or weather effects are survival horror games. Games like Resident Evil use weather effects to set the mood of the scene/level of the game. It's used as a technique to create atmosphere which ultimately adds to the immersion the player has and therefore the level of hesitation they might have from what may or may not scare them next in the game. Take Resident Evil Zero as an example and the game's opening moments on the train; it's absolutely pouring down outside and when you combine that with the train that is speeding along the train tracks and of course the zombies that are on the train and it sets the tone for that particular section of the game. It creates the sense of urgency while also giving an eerie feeling to the player as they become more and more anxious to not only find out what's going on but also to get off the train as soon as they can. It's brilliantly done, does exactly as intended to and is a technique that many similar games use to set the tone and mood of their experiences.

Take another genre like racing as another example and the use of weather effects changes again. Depending on the type of racing game, a wet track can completely change how you approach your racing line and/or overall race when compared to a dry track. The tarmac is slipperier, it's easier to go off the track and you as the player have to be a little more cautious with how you drive. One thing I have noticed with racing games though is that it is actually quite rare to see rain, or indeed general weather effects in most racing games that get released. If tracks are going to be wet, it won't be because it is raining. It will be because it has rained, or at least that's what the developers want you to think. It seems somewhat ironic to me actually; I can remember more games from the SNES and N64 era that featured weather effects than I can from the current and previous generation and yet technology is arguably allowing developers to include these effects these days. The only recent game that I can recall that had rain and weather effects (and did it bloody wonderfully I might add) is Project Gotham Racing 4. I was very happy to see rain falling down on the windscreen (literally, thanks to the joys of the in-car view) with wipers moving back and forth as I was trying to avoid puddles on the track and still race fast enough to win the race. It was totally awesome racing around the Nurburgring Nordschleife in the snow for a change, rather than the dry versions of the track from say Gran Turismo 4 or Forza 2. Put simply it was a welcome addition to the game and was one that has made me desire to see it in other games.

Changing genres and examples again, look at open world games like Grand Theft Auto and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. They both feature rainy weather and many other open world games do too. Sure it may not add or hinder the actual gaming experience but to me, it adds to the immersion of the experience (especially if the game is supposed to be based on real life) and the experience can only be better for it. Sure, your average joe won't notice something as trivial as this but after playing games like PGR 4 and the upcoming GTA IV (which has been shown to include weather effects) it would be nice to see more games start to include weather effects and I honestly don't know why the majority of games lack such effects. What can you do, though?

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