Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Walk! Don’t Run!

Personally, I’m not one to play a 'realistic' looking game or one that relies on its graphics to provide an immersive experience. I’m the usually the kind of person that’ll play something that’s cartoony, slow paced or something out of the ordinary (like Geometry Wars for example). Realism certainly has a place in my heart, I loved GoldenEye in its time – the height of realistic gameplay – I was James Bond! I could shoot Sean Bean in the face from the top of the Cradle and he would fall off the small platform to his death before you went to have fun with Natalya in the nearby jungle during the credits sequence.

So what went wrong? As newer generations came round the corner, the graphical standards of games were obviously raised (for most games anyway) and characters had an increased level of detail. Link had almost doubled his array of facial expressions to five, Solid Snake actually looked like someone you wouldn’t pick a fight with and football players no longer looked like the same half a dozen people copied over and over again. Good. But if we were treated to an improvement in graphics then surely immersion and realism should have improved at the same rate? Wrong.

The simple answer is that computer game characters cannot run. I don’t mean that they are physically incapable of running – Zelda would’ve been worm food if Link could not run and Tommy Vercetti would’ve been fed to more pigs than there were chasing him. No, video game characters cannot run without looking as if they’ve been furiously molested by a lonely prisoner name 'Bubba'. In all seriousness, games cannot claim to have an immersive level of gameplay and realism if animators cannot sort out this problem. They, of course, can because in hindsight it was one of the better technical achievements of GoldenEye – guards ran properly, they stopped properly and stood fairly normally whilst they were shooting at you from a distance of half a meter. Barring their lack of reaction to being shot on higher difficulty levels, the animation created the required amount of realism to make me think that I was James Bond and that I just shot and killed Vladamir the guard from Severnaya, father of two and husband to a beautiful wife.

Meet Fred. He left university to join the Soviet Army. His hobbies include pottery and guarding top-secret facilities. Now, shoot him.

When I play current generation games or even games from the GameCube/PlayStation 2/Xbox generation that ask me to become someone, I can’t. I can’t because I find myself running down a trench or through a weapons facility and see guards running towards me with a broom firmly placed halfway up each of their individual digestive tracts; I will not see Steve and Jim, two best buddies since their recruitment days, running towards me. A particularly vile culprit is The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind and its younger sibling Oblivion. Any character that you see will, more often than not, run in a way that implies they're suffering from a particularly irksome bout of constipation. Even my own character moved in an unpleasant way, invoking a feeling that I would never eventually 'save the day' (and I never did).

All of this may seem somewhat unfair on what some might find to be a trivial problem or not even a problem at all. However, with all the money and time that is being spent on voice talent, graphical packages, animators, scenery, original blueprints and artwork, cross-studio collaboration, IP holder input (for licensed games), teaching, learning and sharing in the name of realism, you can’t really blame me for expecting something that isn’t akin to someone running along one of those moving walkways that you get in airports. I mean, if GoldenEye managed it then surely every next gen game and its mother can manage it?


Mumbo said...

Excellent picture addition Foo. :D