Spirituality and gaming: surely a toxic combination if ever there was one? The former is—however broadly defined—about the serious task of attempting to engage with forces beyond the material realm, while the latter is often about sitting on a sofa, bashing bad guys and notching up high scores. What links the two pursuits is that arguably they are both concerned on some level with escapism, defined as the search for experiences outside the norm. Whatever their reasons, games developers have from time to time included religious and spiritual references in their games, resulting in the crossing over of these two usually disparate worlds. One particularly fascinating example that I’ve recently been reacquainted with is Bullfrog’s 1998 strategy game Populous: The Beginning.
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Every video game is fundamentally about creating a world. Sometimes it’s a very small, linear world that’s a series of paths with nice scenery. Other times it’s a broad, open landscape that leaves you free to roam. What makes these things represent a world is that there is always a rule system or logic guiding everything. In the same way that Harry Potter’s magical world has a series of principles that guides the character’s conduct, any game has rules that govern the player’s conduct. To fill in the details and perceptions of those rules, video games tend to borrow from a wide variety of mediums. Books, with their wide selection of science fiction and fantasy novels, are very adept at creating fictional worlds. What ideas can be borrowed from them?
An article at Wikipedia explains that for most writers you either start at the top or work from the bottom. That is, you plan the entire world out on paper, or you just create as much room as you need for the story. The space can be expanded as your characters move on to new areas and you have to think up new stuff for them to do. You can generally tell which one an author is doing by how much extraneous crap they shovel into the plot. When an author constructs an entire world, they tend to want to show it off as much as possible. An article by Heather Massey listing off unnecessary details in science fiction stories mostly consists of authors insisting on rattling off all of the technical details of the world. How does the ship deal with gravity, flight, the vacuum of space, pew effects, etc.? All of these are details that people don’t really need explained to them. Readers are familiar with the concepts and don’t require explanation to maintain a suspension of disbelief (“7 Unnecessary Science Fiction Details”, The Galaxy Express, 10 May 2009). It’s when figuring out these ways to plausibly have elements of the world discussed (without becoming tedious) that games get stuck, especially when borrowing from sci-fi or fantasy literature.
This week’s podcast contributors, G. Christopher Williams, Nick Dinicola, and Thomas Cross, discuss some recent indie releases. Our review includes Thomas Brush’s Coma, Alexander Ocias’s Loved, and Digipen’s Solace.
This series of games seem built more to engage and immerse than many similar titles of the Triple A variety. We discuss the virtues and vices of using games as a means to evoke emotion and whether they remain “games” in the familiar sense of the word at all.
The recent remake of Clash of the Titans was not a very good movie. The game was fine as far as movie tie-ins go, but as I reviewed it, I noticed several changes in the story that seemed odd. Now, I’ve played enough movie tie-in games to know that the story is often changed to allow for more action. For example, in the game Perseus had to fight a giant flying serpent as he crossed the River Styx, and there was no such fight in the movie. This change makes sense because the game must have more combat sequences to keep a player interested. A change that didn’t make sense was when Apollo gave Perseus the Ferryman’s Coin to cross the River Styx, whereas in the movie it was Zeus. This change resulted in no more action, so why is it different?
Then I read an article by Devin Faraci that went into detail about how much the movie changed through editing and reshoots (“BY ZEUS! THE VERSION OF CLASH OF THE TITANS YOU DIDN’T SEE”, Chud.com, 04 September 2010). To my surprise, the original story had more in common with the game than with the final movie.
I played hours and hours and even more hours of the original Starcraft multi-player before I played a minute of the single-player campaign. I’d just moved out to San Jose, California to start Cryptic Studios, and I was living in my friend Mike’s apartment. He and his co-workers had a regular, after work Starcraft session at least once a week, and Mike was kind enough to let me tag along. This was in 2000, and while online play might have existed, we were all about the LAN party. Their company had plenty of high-end computers and a very robust network, more than enough to handle the eight to 12 people who gathered to play those evenings.