Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Artist Influences

Where did it begin? What was the game which caused me to wonder about the opportunities, to let me explore another world?
The game which sparked the fuse was the PC version of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, published by EA and developed by KnowWonder, it was this game which as a young boy left a profound impact on me.

While if looking at it now from an critical point of view as an adult it would be very easy to scoff at such a game. However to the child me it fully immersed me in the world.
Due to the mechanics of the game, I was more than happy to spend hours casting spells at walls, hoping to find a secret passageway, the thrill of actually finding them was incredible, the developers rewarded the player for searching every inch of the Hogwarts they developed.
Despite being a tie-in game, they nailed giving the world its own spin, with the lighting and music adding a whole new magical and mysterious feel to the world which even the movies failed to capture.
From early on the in the game Harry randomly says out-loud, “Wow, look at the stars”, if the player looks up they're greeted with a bountiful night sky which I am sure most players didn't bother to see.

The sense of atmosphere and exploration from that game still inspire me today.

However of course as I have grown, I have fallen in love with many other games.
The one thing I am drawn to above all else is atmosphere, it's one of the key reasons why I personally hold Morrowind as the best of the Elder Scrolls series, from the distant moans of the walkers, the mushroom trees, abstract architecture, strange NPCs, hauntingly calming soundtrack and original beasts, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind captured a sense of wondering a strange land perfectly. While I have a soft spot for Oblivion and I enjoy Skyrim, I always felt that those two played it too safe when it comes to fantasy, it all has a sense of 'been there, done that'.

While there's many complaints to be had about World of Warcraft, the one thing I can ever criticise it for is the world itself. While there's stuff you've seen before, it has an unmistakable sense of charm to it.
Sure the forest in the human starting area is the same as a million other forests in gaming, but the soft light through the tress along with that iconic music gives it a sense which other forests lack.
If there's one thing Blizzard nailed, it's giving their zones a feeling of wonder (which makes me annoyed that the view-distance in the game is quite low in my opinion).
The character Li Li Stormstout described a sense of 'Wanderlust' with exploring Azeroth and I get where she's coming from, even with the repetive nature of the game, the environment are so interesting I almost don't even care sometimes.

But it's not just fantasy which can nail this, the cyberpunk MMO The Matrix Online, which was based on the Matrix films had captured a beautiful depression. The city is grim, it's often dark, it's gritty, yet it feels so inviting. Once again music plays a massive role in this, however the game was seeping with personality, to this day it remains my favourite MMO.

However when it comes to an original world, very few can beat Asheron's Call, an MMO which is 15 years old. It's dated both visually and mechanically, however it has aged gracefully for the most part, like a fine wine.
It isn't easy to play due to it being one of the earliest 3D online games, however once you get over the clunky controls, you'll witness what was at the time the largest open world in gaming. Even to this very day Asheron's Call boasts a world larger than most, where you can run from one side to the other without a loading screen (it uses progressive loading, something Vanguard: Saga of Heroes tried and used), you can walk into every building and dungeon without needing to load up a new instance, the windows are real windows, not just a texture.
It's quest system demands your attention, there's no mindless questing in this game.
It's a world which even with it's blocky graphics, you can truly get immersed in.
Interesting enough the game doesn't have any real music in the game, this was apparently a technical r, however it does have sound effects from taverns of laughing, crickets chirping, water flowing and the like.
With the only sounds being that of the ambiance, it gives a sense of loneliness which I think further enhances the world and gives a pure experience of adventure.

But to move in an entirely different direction, Halo is to me the quintessential FPS, the golden standard of which all else will be judged.
Everything is interesting, from the campaign missions to the mutiplayer maps, everything is full of love and care.
I used to just load up a custom game with just myself and slowly walk around the level looking at all the rocks, rivers, tress, buildings and the world beyond the boundaries. There's something peaceful about just standing still on Highground looking out towards the lake, satellite in the distance.

Sonic has always been a series which has interested me, even the terrible games I find some kind of pleasure from the world design.
Colour beyond measure, is SEGA's greatest pleasure.
Despite what could be easily ignored, the interaction between characters also helps build a sense that Mobius really is a living place, not just a stitched together video game land.
The brother like relationship between Sonic and Tails has endured through Sonic's many iterations, styles, genres and even mediums.
I take it as a fantastic example of how to correctly create a bond between characters, one which is believable and heart-warming. In an age where characters have as much emotion as a cardboard cut-out, having the uneasy alliance of Knuckles, one-sided love of Amy, tyrannical madness of Eggman and genuinecare of Tails all helps build Sonic up as a protagonist who feels like he really is fighting for something.

Artwork by Rowseroopa

Tetris, simple, yet addictive. Basic, yet compelling.
Tetris proves that you don't have to have amazing graphics, story, world or character in order to make a beloved game.
It's all about it's mechanics, the quest to make a line. While the iconic tune helps, fact is Tetris is fun even on mute.
I think there's something importance to be leant from Tetris, that at the end of the day, mechanics can easily trump all the aesthetics in the world.

Thomas Was Alone, a game about cubes. The game has less textures than Tetris, yet it's one the emotionally invested journeys I had ever been on in a game.
Thanks to the bed-side story like narration from Danny Wallace and excellent score by David Housden, it's game where you swap between different coloured cubes (with a mechanic unique to them), in order to complete puzzles and progress in the game.
They're AI, who are travelling a mainframe and who desires only basic human wants.
Friendship, Knowledge, Love. The fact that coloured cubes are able to become legitimately more interesting characters than characters with thousands of polygons I think proves that a masterful story can really thrive over big-budget gloss anyday.
If you haven't played Thomas Was Alone, I highly recommend it.

These are just some of the many games which influence how I view and think about video games as an art form.

No comments:

Post a Comment