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Friday, Jun 18, 2010
As worlds become more open they demand more attention, and there’s a clear trade-off between story and environmental details.

Last week I wrote about how the open world of Red Dead Redemption is constrained by its focus on story. Soon after, a friend started playing Mass Effect 2 and I realized that New Austin is practically a sandbox of imagination compared to the world that BioWare created, but both games still fall way short of the freedom offered in Fallout 3. These three games represent the full spectrum of open worlds, and each developer is a master of their respective type.


BioWare
The worlds of BioWare are “open” only in the barest sense of the word. We’re given a group of missions and we can choose what order to do them in, but the missions themselves are very directed. The Mass Effect and Dragon Age games are structured like an old school JRPG. There are towns, maps filled with shops that resupply us, and people that need our help. There are also dungeons, maps filled with enemies to fight, and there’s a stylized overworld that connects them all together.


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Friday, Jun 11, 2010
New Austin is not an open world, not in the purest sense of the word, not at first.

Red Dead Redemption and Fallout 3 will always be connected in my mind. I started playing the Western after discussing the Wasteland on the upcoming episode of the Moving Pixels Podcast, so I had Fallout on my mind during my initial exploration of New Austin, and the introduction to these two worlds couldn’t be more different.


At the beginning of Fallout 3, the entire expanse of the Capital Wasteland is open to us. We can literally go anywhere and there will be something to see and do. There are locations to discover, each with their own unique history. Abandoned buildings aren’t just cookie cutter copies of each other. There are quests to discover, hidden in the far corners of the world. I met multiple characters that friends of mine didn’t even know existed. There are items to discover, ranging from the practical (guns, audio journals, computer terminals, schematics) to the pointless (teddy bears, pots, boxes of irradiated food) and being able to pick up every object that we see gives us a powerful sense of interaction with the world. All of this is true from the moment that we leave Vault 101.


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Friday, Jun 4, 2010
When a game asks us to “Press Start", we get a glimpse of its aesthetics.

When a game asks us to “Press Start”, we can do as we’re instructed or immediately begin testing the limits of the game by hitting the A button (or X, depending on your console of choice). Like a linear game suddenly expanding into an open world, we come to the main menu, our first real taste of the game. We get a glimpse of its aesthetics (does it want to be charming or frightening?) and its priorities (does it value style over simple organization?), and through these details, the menu sets our expectations for the rest of the game.


Some menus do this better than others, and here are three of my personal favorites:


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Text:AAA
Friday, May 28, 2010
Alan Wake does not contain some of the worst product placement in gaming history. In fact, it's an example of product placement done right.

A lot of people are upset over the product placement in Alan Wake and I honestly don’t understand all the anger. I admit that there are a lot of in game ads, though they’re only really noticeable when you’re already aware of them and looking for them, and I don’t think that they’re at all intrusive or blatantly obvious, and surely they don’t single-handedly undermine the argument for games as art. In fact, I think the product-placement in Alan Wake is actually one of the better examples of the practice.


First there are the batteries, and the fact that they’re all Energizers. Granted, the first flashlight that we pick up has “Energizer” splashed across it, but that’s the only time when the brand name is easily visible. The actual battery packs are so small that I never even realized they were branded until I stopped and made a point to look my second time through the game. The only part of the package that initially stood out to me was the yellow color, which isn’t iconic of Energizer and, from a practical point of view, helps the batteries stand out on a shelf full of ammo.


Tagged as: alan wake
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Friday, May 21, 2010
Choice is meaningless unless we’re weak enough to be affected by it.

Choice is clichéd. We’ve been presented with so many different kinds choices so many times that the average gamer can look past the immediate conflict, whatever it may be, and see the machinations going on behind the scenes. From what suit we wear, to the survival of townships, to the outcome of wars, our choices change the world. All that power seems necessary. If the world doesn’t change, then our choices are meaningless, but that power also dilutes the consequences because nothing ever (or rarely) happens to us, the player. It’s the world that changes, and we feel the consequences indirectly.


In Fallout 3 we can save or destroy Megaton, and no matter what we do, we come out the other side pretty much unchanged; it’s everyone else whose life is at stake. Even in Mass Effect 2, in which our choices from the first game carry over into the sequel, only those directly involved with the original choice cause us to face any kind of consequence in the future. There’s a very linear progression of consequences. Nothing ever spirals out of our control.


Tagged as: bioshock 2
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