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The Indiana Jones void January 5, 2010

Posted by Cesar in gaming me.
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I noticed I’ve been having this conversation frequently: “don’t you miss the great action/adventure movies we had in the past?” Darn, it makes me feel old, missing something from more than a decade ago. But the point is that many do miss those great movies. I realized that I did too when I stopped to think about the current action movie actors. After Bruce Willis, Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Harrison Ford gave up on the action, no one was able to fill in their shoes. No wonder we saw many of them coming back to the genre for reruns (except for the Governor, who nonetheless saw a new Terminator movie be released certainly because of the success of Terminator 2). Don’t get me wrong: I like Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, but it is a different league. No comparison. They make decent action movies, but no remarkable action characters I guess.

Amongst all top action movies, however, the ones I miss the most are the Indiana Jones ones. The closest thing we had to The Last Crusade was, to me, The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull, another movie with the fedora hat hero (did you guys know his inseparable hat was made in Brazil?). Not as good, but still fun. Other attempts in the same style, like The Mummy and Sahara, were good, National Treasure not by a mile. But again: no comparison.

I don’t know if the appeal of these movies slowed down or if the lack of top action stars is behind the slowdown, but the truth is Indiana Jones and John McClane left a void that has yet to be filled.

Well… At least in the big screen. Because if you, like me, miss top action movies and happen to be a gamer, stop reading and go play Uncharted 2 right now. You know, I have had a 360 for a while, and it was only by the middle of last year that I got the PS3. But the two best movie-like games I have ever played were on the Sony platform: first MGS4 and now Uncharted 2. Among Thieves is an amazing game, great to play and great to watch. Such an immersive experience. So much that I never play it when I don’t have much time because I don’t want to stop in the middle of a chapter. I’m always looking for the next cut-scene, the next plot twist.

This week I am busy at work again. So I can’t see myself playing any time soon. I can’t wait for the next chapter. But at least I found a way to get my Indiana Jones fix.

See you space cowboys…


Less buttons, more immersion: Part III December 13, 2009

Posted by Cesar in thinking me.
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uncharted and verdi

The second reason for video game immersion is our mind and its incredible capacity for abstraction. This is the point games have in common with other art forms. Movies, music, literature, poetry, painting, all rely on the human mind to achieve immersion. But because we human beings have such a huge capacity of abstraction and imagination, most of these media still achieve immersion while offering vastly incomplete experiences. And that’s not a bad thing. A movie is very close to a full experience: it offers detailed visual and auditory stimuli. On the other hand, listening to a concert on an iPod offers nothing but audio and is still capable of moving us deeply. More impressive yet is abstract painting. Even with loose correlation to reality, it still makes us think and react. But perhaps the most impressive example is in literature. A romance offers nothing other than letters. Although it is not as interpretation heavy as an abstract painting, the feelings a book offers are completely created by the brain. The flat pages have no pictures, audio, smell or taste. But we are still capable of imagining all that from the otherwise meaningless letters and feel as if we were there, in a battle for Britain or in the middle of a rather funny version of the days preceding Armageddon (two of my favorite books by the way).

This is the immersion aspect that moves game technology the farthest. Graphics evolve at every new console or video card iteration in the search for immersion. But if you stop to think about it, isn’t this inconsistent with what I just said? If we can get immersion even from black letters on white paper, why struggle so much with graphics? Well, there’s a whole visual experience related to video games. It would be like asking Salvador Dali why he added so many details to his paintings. It is not just about activity immersion. Everything with a visual component can aim for a visual experience and for beauty. The same goes for all other senses. There are different types of immersion: you might love Assassin’s Creed II but still look at an individual screenshot and admire the beauty and level of detail in the 3D models and textures.

But that did not satisfy me either and I found the best answer from Richie Nieto, who helped me with my questions in the IGDA forums. Like he said, immersion depends on the suspension of disbelief. Which means our brain must fool us into believing the alternate reality the game offers (isn’t that the same thing we do with reality itself? Subject for another topic). The catch is that this depends on our experiences and our expectations. When a gamer plays a very abstract game, say Lumines, he’s taken to a weird world of falling blocks and intriguing sounds. We can, of course, admire the beauty of the graphics in combination with sound effects caused by gameplay. But in order for Lumines to be immersive, all it has to do is be consistent with itself. There’s no other world like it, our experiences and expectations are based on the game itself. Okami on the other hand also has a very unique art style, obviously non realistic. And while the lack of graphic realism does not stop us from getting involved, we have other aspects to consider. If gravity does not behave as expected, the player will notice. If the painted wolf’s head disappears behind a mountain due to a collision detection problem, it will bother us a bit. The experience is not ruined, but these details break the suspension of disbelief for a brief moment. It is even worse for a title like Metal Gear Solid 4. In this case, reality itself (well, at least as perceived by our senses) is the standard. That makes it so much harder to achieve immersion. Graphics matter a lot, as do sound, physics, movement, interactions.

So in short, the second reason for immersion is: the game must live up to its expectations and provide a consistent alternate reality. This alternate reality must not clash with itself or with the reality the player created in his mind, based on the game and on previous experiences.

Only one reason left. Keep on reading!

See you space cowboys…

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