Friday, 29 June 2012

Game Feature: Automatic or Cinematic?

Now showing on a games console near you:

As the technology behind games grows increasingly more powerful, developers have been able to produce increasingly more complex game features. They have been able to reach goals that were unimaginable fifteen, ten and even five years ago. Better technology and sky-rocketing budgets have allowed developers to strive to blur the line between films and games, to create a more cinematic experience for the player. Games like Bethesda’s Skyrim, which allows Dragons to appear in random encounters for the player to fight, CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher 2, which contains a multi-layered, mature story with deep political and racial themes, and Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, which features set pieces worthy of a summer blockbuster, have all effectively transcended “games”. They have become experiences that would not feel out of place in your local cinema. But, as successful as these games are in what they aimed to achieve, other developers have taken different routes.

Now this, is cinematic!

    The difference between games and films is clear and well-defined. In a film, you are merely the observer to the story being told on screen. You have no say in what happens, no chance to defend the life of a damsel in distress, and no method of failure. In games, you are a participant. You control the protagonist and, although most games do not feature a branching narrative, you feel like your involvement has an effect on the progression of the story. In essence, the fact that you have control is one of the purest definitions of what is a “game”. But in an effort to become more cinematic, the player’s control is being increasingly removed.

    A perfect example of this would be the single player campaign of DICE’s Battlefield 3. It is a corridor shooter in the truest sense of the term. Players are funnelled down tight paths eliminating targets as they progress to the next quick time event. There is very little control here. The player’s path is surrounded by kill zones, areas where the screen is filled with static and orders to return to the mission are barked through your speakers. You are given ten seconds to return to your pre-determined path, or you face a game over screen. These paths are sometimes so small that even venturing down a small alleyway in search of a collectible is met with your squad threatening to “stick a boot up your ass”. Any meaningful action that happens in the game, happens via a cutscene or a quick time event where the player has no control over their actions. Even more absurdly, destruction is limited to a point where the only real destruction happens in a scripted event. In an engine like Frostbite 2, this is silly. With this engine, we can create our own cinematic moments, we shouldn’t be limited to one specific building that DICE has decided must come down. Some of the funnest moments in the Battlefield series is using the environment’s destructibility to your advantage, and Battlefield 3 limits this almost entirely. I apologise if this has come across as rather ranty, but I found these to be glaring problems with the campaign.

Beautiful? Yes. Are you in control? No.

Developers have to realise that games are not movies. Limiting our control of a situation, taking away that vital connection to what we are playing is not going to make games more enjoyable. We don’t want to watch the action, we want to be in it. Give us back control.

- Paul Brown


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