The Little Things

I’m not quite as old as dirt, but sometimes it feels like it. In my thirty or so years of playing games, I’ve built up a cache of experiences that I draw from every time I play a new game. It’s not a conscious or purposeful thing. I don’t play games to snidely compare them to others like them. It just happens. Sometimes it’s inescapable comparisons of ‘big’ things, like gameplay, mission structure, or premise (think Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row, or BioWare and Bethesda games).

Sometimes, though, it’s the little things, and these are the things that catch me off guard and make me think about how far games have come in terms of graphics, design, and narrative. Given the casual, personal nature of this site, I want to write about some of these moments as they happen. I don’t feel like they warrant much attention, but as the whippersnappers say, ‘I do what I want.’ So this will be the first in a series of such observations and commentary.

Having said that, I’ve been playing a lot of Dying Light lately, and I’m enjoying it pretty thoroughly. I’m a fan of Dead Island, though, and this is basically Dead Mainland, so it’s no wonder I took to it so easily. Early in the game I was running around, bashing zombies repeatedly in the head with underpowered melee weapons in the bleak urban setting, when I decided to cut across one of the few grassy areas on the map. As much as the game is designed to encourage constant movement, I had to pause at the top of the hill to admire the grass and other plants.

Dying Light Field
Dying Light – Field

I don’t know if Dying Light has the most beautiful digital greenage ever, but it’s pretty dang pretty. There is a diversity in terms of size, color, and type, and the placement makes it feel like it’s fairly realistically wild, with clumps and gaps placed where it seems they should be. A static image like this does it little justice, though, as the movement of the plants as they sway adds a lot to their realism. It’s oddly calming to behold, despite leaving you utterly vulnerable to the zombies ambling around you.

After admiring the lively field for a few moments, I moved on, but my mind kept working it over. One of my first thoughts was how, as beautiful as it was, it was still far from where it would need to be to exist as a realistic simulation in terms of an immersive virtual experience. I’m hoping that the new wave of virtual reality ‘experiences’ takes off and ushers in a new era of gaming (and general entertainment), but how long will it be before I can bend over and handle a single blade of grass, pulling and tearing it realistically, zooming in to observe individual cells? How long before leaves bounce and twist according to actual laws of physics and the variable wind patterns instead of pre-programmed swaying motions? When will I be able to pluck an apple from a tree, extract the seeds and plant them in fertile soil to grow a new tree that looks different than the last, all in a virtual world where this isn’t some core piece of gameplay? To create a truly realistic virtual reality, it’s these kinds of details that would have to be addressed. But that seems so far away, right?

At this point I was back to hacking at zombie faces in the game, but the thread of thought continued. How far we’ve come. My first memory of an open field in a 3D game was my first steps on Ocarina of Time‘s Hyrule Field.

Ocarina of Time Hyrule Field
Ocarina of Time – Hyrule Field

Stepping out into this field felt magical at the time. A real world in three dimensions. Grass, trees, mountains over the horizon. When compared to recent games, of course, it’s bland and bare, closer to the wastelands of a Fallout game than a lush and realistic field. The ‘grass’ is blurry dabs of color stretched over a flat canvas, and trees are likewise flat images pasted together to give the appearance of branches and leaves.

Hey, I’m not griping. At the time this was breathtaking, and some of gaming’s top designers worked on this. But we really have come a long way in terms of not only graphical capability, but artistic cohesion when it comes to piecing graphical elements together to make a realistic world for players to traverse. If we’ve come this far in twenty years, what will another twenty do? Maybe, just maybe, I’ll live to see a virtual world where I can pull those individual blades of grass or plants those apple seeds that I got from crushing a newly plucked apple from a tree. That would be pretty neat.

 

Welcome! Kinda…

Let me start by saying that I am transferring over my blogs from another site, so this first wave of posts will have their original publication dates on them. Like this one, my welcome blog (kinda) from my other site:

(May 29th, 2016)

Okay, here’s the deal: I set this site up for selfish reasons. I wanted a place to write about games. A place where I can muse about gaming news, games I’ve been playing, rusty old gaming memories, research related to my academic work with gaming, and other odds and ends. To be frank, most of the people I’m connected to through social media don’t care what I think about most of that stuff. Which is understandable, since I usually find myself annoyed by people who post very frequently about a single topic, even if I’m somewhat interested in it.

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So I wanted a place where I could vent freely about this hobby which I love so much, where I wouldn’t intrude on anyone’s already lengthy feed. I don’t expect anyone to read what I write, and I don’t mean that in some kind of hipster, too-cool-to-care way. I don’t want the pressures of writing for an audience, so I’m not going to worry too much about it. If you read my stuff, cool. Thanks. If not, cool. Thanks (well, not really, but it sounded cool to mirror the other phrase). I put immense pressure on myself when I consider the various audiences that may be reading my work, so I won’t be doing that here. Which means, if you should choose to stick around, you can expect plenty of semi-coherent tangents, rants, and pointless mental wanderings. These aren’t essays. They’re not even editorials. They’re just logs of my thoughts, on the web. You might call them web logs or, you know what, just call them blogs, for short. I should copyright that. I’m sure no one is using it.

I also have little intention to keep to a very strict publishing schedule, especially once the fall semester starts back up and I’m buried in research, reading, paper grading, etc. I have plenty I’d like to write about, though, so I’ll probably be posting fairly regularly. Keep an eye out, audience-that-I’m-pretending-doesn’t-exist.

Some topics I’m already considering: “Wow, ______ is a cool game”; “Wow, _______ is NOT a cool game”; “I am old and I never have time to play games, please pity me”; “E3”; “There aren’t enough boobs in video games”; “There are too many boobs in video games”; “Just kidding, I won’t be writing about either of those two last things”; and much, much more.

As you can see, I have so much to contribute, but don’t look forward to it too much because I don’t want to imagine that anyone cares about any of this because then I will freak out and just shut down with crippling writer’s anxiety.

Thanks,

Joey