Sunday, January 31, 2010

Space Invaders: A Prelude

I took a stroll this evening. There was no motive behind it, or no destination to arrive at; I simply took a stroll on a nice, cool evening, walking wherever my eyes and feet led me. On my travels I saw people speaking on their mobile phones, reading the newspaper, chatting on the side of the road, having a quick smoke break, and eating their dinner. I heard conversations about a TV station, computer components and even the amount of hours leave from work someone had built up. I saw a poor guy get hit by a car, checked to see if he was okay and then watched in astonishment as he got back on his feet, opened the door of the offending vehicle and initiated a fight with its driver -- clearly, road rage can happen anywhere. I saw the police chase two suspects who were fleeing. I gave an unfortunate homeless man some money when he asked nicely for it. I grabbed a bite to eat at the local fast-food outlet. And then, on my way home, it started raining. I couldn't help but be amused as I watched everyone start fleeing for cover or reach for their umbrellas. Weather like this always seems to cause panic amongst the population. Finally getting back home, I turned on the TV and channel-surfed for a few hours. Realising there was nothing on, I decided to have an early night and turned in, curious to see what awaited me in the morning.

If there's one thing I find extremely fascinating about videogames, particularly recently, it's their use of spaces -- otherwise known as the areas, levels, arenas and locations players interact with -- to convey their experience. These are the places where we get to experiment, learn, discover and explore; the places that provide our thrills, excitement, emotion and atmosphere; and the places where game designer and game player combine to create an experience that is unique to them. The leisurely stroll I described above could be one I took in real life, but the amazing thing is that this stroll was taken in Grand Theft Auto IV, a game whose city is renowned for the atmosphere it creates and the excitement its thrills provide; and, of course, Liberty City is ripe for experimentation, exploration and discovery. It's such a technical achievement, filled with so much activity and content, that it's easy to stumble across something you've never seen before -- the above example of a homeless man asking for money is just one of the things I hadn't seen before -- the end result meaning there is always something new to see around the corner and always something else to add to the sense that, yes, Liberty City is a real place.

Grand Theft Auto isn't the only game, or indeed, series, that provides incredible spaces to interact with. Other open-world games such as Fallout 3 or Assassin's Creed are obvious examples of games that use their space to convey much more than a means for the player to interact with their mechanics. Less obvious are linear examples such as the Uncharted or Metroid series. Beyond that, what about how racing games use their spaces? What about Burnout's playground that mixes sheer speed with destruction? What about the undulating roller-coasters that make up the tracks in Wipeout or F-Zero? How about the placement of pegs that make up each level in Peggle? Or maybe the spherical planets that make up each level in Super Stardust HD?

As you can see above, videogame spaces are much more than the thematic, atmospheric examples that open-world videogames usually strive to provide, and in this Space Invaders series I plan on exploring the spaces of any videogame that I feel warrants analysis and consideration. It will be an on-going series, covering the obvious games and the not-so-obvious, and due to my intrigue and amazement with how spaces can be used to provide a game's overall experience, I'm really looking forward to writing this series. I can only hope you enjoy reading it as much as I will enjoy talking about it.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Lovely idea, although I've not played Grand Theft Auto 4, so I look forward to reading about some of your other examples.