Welcome To The Desert Of The Real…
Having read many reviews of the mods posted on PP I quite often see players commenting that a map didn’t feel “real” to them. It’s always interesting to me that people should choose to use the word “real” to describe a place in a world that is distinctly fantastic. In Half Life 2 we’re presented with a dark future filled with aliens, undead foes and giant bugs but still feel that somehow, one map is more “real” than another.
Valve have been kind enough to paint a new reality for us in Half-Life 2 but that reality didn’t just pop, fully formed into our heads. It was layered there gently and ever so skillfully, until we totally bought into it.
With the right level of introduction and explanation, a player will accept any kind of new reality the mapper chooses to throw at them.
As an example take the film The Matrix.
At the beginning we see Trinity pull off some Matrix type action moves, running on walls etc. We’re wowed by the visuals and the action and want to know more (the age old trick of start with a bang to get the audiences attention). The film then spends the next hour, pretty much on exposition to answer the question What is the Matrix?
Every element is carefully set up, including acres of exposition from poor Laurence Fishburne, and all of it is put in place so that when the action kicks off, the audience are totally bought in to the world and the plausibility of what takes place.
As a mapper, I can bend or break the game reality as much as I like, as long as I take the player by the hand and carefully lead them through the idea first.
When a player says that something did not feel “real”, could it be they’re actually saying “you haven’t done a good enough job getting me used to this idea yet”?
In Half-Life 2 custom maps, we often find that the level of detail applied to a map will affect how “real” the experience feels to the player. The less detail added the less “real” it feels to the player. Even so, with a high level of detailing, a Half-Life 2 map doesn’t particularly reflect our reality here on earth.
There would be a health and safety uproar if red, explosive barrels were left on every street corner, or if boxes of shotgun shells were left lying about in the streets..
I mean some kid could just pick them up!
So the “real” is in the more static elements of the map. A drain pipe in the right place, a light looking correct or a watermelon in a refrigerator, wires hanging correctly from a telephone pole and the windows being at the right height… that kind of real… right?
So where does the attention to “real” end? Should every light have an associated light switch? Should you be able to open every door, every cupboard? Should every window be breakable?
When does real start getting in the way of fun? Does the addition of lots of real, add to the gameplay experience?
I really don’t want to play Real! Real is awful!
I’ve yet to play a game that accurately represents our reality. If I did obtain a game that attempted to re-create reality I’ve no doubt it would be awful. Real is incredibly dull after all, most of the time at least anyway.
You’d have to go find a toilet every two hours of gameplay, reluctantly go to the dentist every six months and visit your parents on Sundays from time to time.
Isn’t that why we spend our days playing games after all, to escape this reality into a new one?
A reality where we are a genius physicist with a penchant for casual violence with a crowbar. A reality where smart is the new sexy and geeks like us won’t be put down any more!!!
A reality where they may take our lives… but they can never take… our.. erm… Grav Gun!!!
22nd January 2012
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