A WALL OF TEXT APPROACHES, COMMAND?!
Okay this went to all sorts of different places, and it’s a pretty massive wall of text even for the Squad so I’ll put the most important part out there first that wasn’t discussed in the ‘cast
Imagination is the key
Imagination fills the blanks that aren’t addressed whether by lack of focus or lack of capability (graphical or otherwise) Imagination is how Jeff can know the smell of Zork. The game worlds that really speak to us is based on our imaginations fleshing out the world for us. This is the same reason you can read a book, then see the movie and be very very disappointed. “They don’t sound that way, the dinosaur isn’t that big. The Sphere looks totally different.” It’s been with us forever.
Speaking of being with us forever, it’s the same place that nostalgia comes from, if a game world can hook you, your mind will fill in the blanks and create a much more complete experience then you objectively took part in. Games can do this better then other mediums because they have a better chance to engage you as an active participant rather then the passive participant of theater/books/movies.
Zork is actually an interesting example of a lot of game world effects, If you remember the commands you can interact in the dark by memory. The concept of a world that doesn’t change that becomes progressively easier simply by the adaption of the human player is interesting. Roguelikes like ADOM also function this way. The player becomes more experienced, invested and involved in the world despite not having any continuous character. Like beige will remember the Star Control 2 map I think that no matter how old I get I’ll always remember where the first 1 up is in Mario 1-1, or where Baba Yaga’s hut is in Quest for Glory.
The thing about the models of existing worlds is interesting, Rome which is certainly not real Rome speaks to someone because it’s compelling to them. LA Noir didn’t fire on all cylinders for @beige, but someone who say, worked as a beat cop in LA could easily find it more compelling then Rome, and the alternate might apply for an enthusiast for renaissance architecture. I’d argue that while any given game world might be more or less compelling (Persona 3 vs Doom) The world also becomes more or less compelling in relation to the player.
Nintendo vs Sega, good worlds after all?
That being said I’ll reverse that in a push back on Nintendo’s worlds rather then levels. Beige talked about how he’ll always remember where for example the Zot Fot Pik are in Star Control, but I’ll always remember a certain portion of the secret overworld entrances in Zelda 1. I won’t remember because the pixel art held any inherent power, but rather because when I realized every overworld square of that first game held a secret that I could discover I was powerfully engaged by what was there.
Arguably Nintendo owes part of it’s major brands victory over their Genesis counterparts to its ability to create game worlds that stuck with a player over their competitors. Do you remember the angry sun from the desert level? Do you remember Giant’s World from Mario 3? How much of Super Mario World do you remember, and is it more or less then you remember of Green Zone from Sonic? I’d argue that Nintendo’s great victories have been coached in creating compelling worlds for interesting characters to exist in. Sometimes from imaginative design, Mario 2 through World comes to mind, and I don’t think Kid Icarus became a 20 year pining desire from Nintendo fans because it was the most technically polished game ever made. Brinstar, Hyrule, The Mushroom Kingdom all of these have powerful places in some people’s minds just as Zork has a powerful place in Jeff’s mind. Spyro certainly has its place in someone’s head despite whatever graphical fidelity it might lack. Don’t forget that to some people the duck in Adventure was legitimately scary. =P
Hell, for as much as I feel it didn’t reach as many people as Mario’s world the Sonic series arguably did well enough to become a component of some people’s sexual identity, not that it’s an honor unique to Sonic, but it certainly speaks to the game world’s power to affect *someone* in *some* manner, so clearly most game worlds are relevant to some one, it depends on what you spent your childhood on I expect, that time where your imagination is much more likely to reach out and bring a framework to life.
I hear you out there “Aha! Nintendo can mostly credit its superior character design more then its world design for that!” Well yes, I hear you. Still, the feel of the game world is powerfully influenced by its character. Imagine the world of Devil May Cry. Then mentally remove Dante, and replace him with a Space Marine. Even just thinking about it it’s shockingly different. Put Duke in the place of Bayonetta. Totally different games.
To Pete’s point on WoW I’d note that one of the most common comments I’ve heard on Cataclysm was the following “I was very surprised how much I was affected by seeing these places I’ve been in for so long, be changed.” It’s like going back to an old town you lived in and seeing “oh man, they put in a dairy queen?! There’s a roundabout here? It was just a 4 way stop before.” WoW has the benefit of an absolutely massive playerbase so the percentage of people who feel a deep affection for Azeroth are a large number of people. (Also, to Jeff’s point, I actually recall that when people complained that some of the flight paths were too winding increasing flight time, the developers said “We purposely designed the flight paths to show off interesting and impressive vistas, a straight path, would be too mechanical and rapidly get boring.”
being attached is definitely the start and the end of the game world.
Star Control’s fuel increasing the interest in the world is not surprising, it gets you as a player invested in the world, “How far can I go?” the possibility of running out of fuel or starving or running out of time (Fallout 1) it makes you pay attention to the world in a deeper sense. There’re are places out there which are “unknowns” and if you want to get there you have to get invested in the world to achieve that. Once that happens, well… Food you worked for tastes better doesn’t it? The difficulty of the task magnifies the payoff emotionally, I’m sure Mark with his +1 Difficulty Game Habit is familiar with this.
Morrowind and Oblivion
Another interesting aspect, Morrowind, Oblivion and the like, their game worlds and side stuff are often more interesting then the main storyline. The Guilds and random discoveries and the like. Unfortunately this ultimately dead ends for most people and somewhat nullify its inclusion in the discussion, except, what about Daggerfall? A country of thousands of cities and towns all defined. I remember always traveling to certain capital cities after escaping the dungeon to buy certain magical items I could depend on being there.
One thought for the later bit of the podcast, Perhaps you don’t shore up the game with Bioware lore, but with Bioware events. I can guarantee you that there’s a fair amount of people who while they may only tangentially remember much of Final Fantasy 7, can tell you exactly about where Aeris was killed. Humans tend to assign feelings to places by way of events, this is seen from everything from ‘haunted’ houses or people’s reluctance to build on say, burial grounds, to national monuments and the like. I’m not sure how much this impacts, but I can certainly tell you that some games just “feel” a certain way, and I expect its because I was coming back after having certain experiences with that game. KOEI is my horse for that one, “Inidio: Way of the Ninja” particularly, though honorable mention goes to Gemfire and Ghengis Khan 2
You can probably extend a game’s world by its lore, but ONLY if you can get your audience to care about your lore. Often this is most effectively done by contextual stuff, as when a majority of people sit down to play a game, they’re unlikely to smile if you hand them a book instead. (Though for the more avid readers, well hey! If it’s written well)Portal is a very good example of this, credit for pointing that out on the podcast
Myst and persona
Myst is very interesting in a Ren-Ai sort of way. There is almost no characterization for anyone ever. The game IS the world, and using and manipulating the world. I’d argue that Myst: The World is bigger and more characterized then any other part of the cast. Myst is also extremely successful because the story of the game is used primarily to shine a brighter light on the world. I’ve yet to meet the person who played Myst without trying to imagine “What happened here. what was this used for” when faced with the game’s environments.
Persona 3 also changes by reason of events, the way the towns in Persona deteriorate and change causes more impact to the player since they’ve become invested into that little corner of very normal life. It does this far better then your traditional town backdrop might. You start to feel over time “This is the place I live” and once you’ve invested, to see it changing on you has a far stronger emotional impact.
On the Halo element…. Well, Shooters tend to have “conceits” rather then stories, or worlds, though there are some very notable exceptions there is not a lot of incentive for them to create a stunningly realized world. It does bear mentioning though that the target audience for shooters does tend to be somewhat lower. Not to sterotype, but if someone has played mostly Madden and isn’t shall we say, a big reader. To these people Halo might be the most realized world/fiction they’ve ever seen.
I haven’t played it, but I’d suspect that Amnisia owes a lot of its horror to the ambiance of the game and the long periods of silence. Without the silence, the fear and violence becomes the default tone of the game experience, and you’ve lost your impact.
Star control 2 is great for the same reason Star Trek is great, the species are basically characters, they bring life to the universe and you are always interested in what new weird experience is around the next corner… tune in next time!
For the witcher, Geralts amnesia is a strong component that makes it easier for the player to adjust to an unfamiliar world while still keeping book personalities in the game. I wonder if Geralt has his amnesia in the books, and how long it lasted. With it already grandfathered into the games, it might be hard for them to let go such a convenient element.
The Dead space gym was totally killable by 3 Ripper blades and no health lost if you were willing to do a bit of rubbernecking, give it a try next time you’re in the area =D
The Witcher 2 kicks ass
Oddly though, I poked in the game guide from GoG that you get with the game in reference to that amulet, it seems that it’s a sort of Magician’s Choice, if you tell him to go on into battle, he dies and you loot it from his body, if you convince him not to, they give you the amulet. Or at least… that’s how it’s supposed to work, honestly I’m not at all sure I still have it.
I’m really… very sorry ¬_¬