Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Deep As The Earth Itself

Today I was reading through The Brainy Gamer's latest post and his impressions of Afrika intrigued me enough to simmer some very basic ideas (all the screen caps from Afrika are his pictures by the way). So, I thought I'd childishly scrounge these "toys" all together and throw them in the metaphorical toybox.

Instead of reiterating what Michael already posted himself, I'll just quote his blog entry:

Sometimes, I explore just to explore. I wander around and watch the animals. The environments and animations in Afrika are astoundingly vibrant and detailed. Occasionally you may encounter a group of flamingos all locked in an animation loop, but such occurrences are surprisingly rare. For the most part, the world of Afrika seems to exist on its own, regardless of your presence, and its inhabitants do what they do...including hunt and kill each other, which you can photograph. If you're looking for violent content, that's as close to it as Afrika gets.

The game insists that you remain an observer. Some players may find this separation from the environment disconcerting. You cannot run over zebras with your jeep. You cannot kill or set fire to anything. If you bump into a shrub, it's like bumping into a wall. You can't destroy or otherwise alter anything in the environment. You can only photograph it.

---Michael Abbot, Brainy Gamer

It was that last line that really resonated with me. Not simply because of the limitation it provides, but because of the left over possibilities I see instead. Games like this and Pokemon Snap are often regarded with warm memories by gamers without that superficial and innate bloodlust. This is for good reason as well, and from the opinion of someone who has spent a lot of time with a camera, I can testify that Photography in general makes for a damn good time [game or not]. Just in the past month, I've probably spent at least ten hours photographing random stuff in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. I really hate when developers brag about visuals in games by slicing off the interaction with it. Though it's a superficial fix to simply add a camera into every game, ironically the presence of those cameras offer another lens into the methodology of play overall [I find that amusing].

So when I hear about a game like Afrika, my mind automatically wanders to the notion of how the camera works. Though I initially found it cringeworthy to utter, the first thing that jumped into my head was "depth". That in turn naturally led my mind to titles like Everblue, Everblue 2, and Endless Ocean. You know---any of those titles more about pure act of exploration than the gimmicky based nature of objective-oriented titles now.

Now, I could easily sew this into the nature of my last post and state that the cathartic nature of photographing things is yet another subset of [EXP-ism]. It's one of the crowning jewels to take back some sort of treasure from a constructed world, especially if one can share it and express their own experience within just one shot.

"A picture is worth a thousand words"
---Chinese Proverb

I think about the clutter of games in certain "families" right now and realize that some lineages are smaller than others. To offer an interactive experiment from my point of view, I'll ask any reader of this post to give me an example of an explicitly non-confrontational game that focuses on photography (or any similar action in conjunction with exploration). When you think about titles such as Pokemon Snap, it's evident that the world Nintendo created was through 150+ little animals of varying awesomeness; it's what made the handheld titles so fantastic in the first place. Photographing the little bastards was just a competent sidequest on the still-scorched path it's left on the gaming industry at large.

Now my head wishes to blend my aforementioned depth with this catharsis. This is not to make Fallout 3: Minus Weapons & Plus Cameras, but offer some further interactive grounds to give gamers a title thats the equivalent to 2007's Earth film [The U.S. only got it this year]. Given that it's not uncommon to see people watching the Discovery or History channel for kicks anymore, it's a nice time for a game to capitalize on that minuscule yet ideal plastic desire to grasp. I guess I am talking about something far beyond even Afrika [not to intentionally serve as its detriment], but is that unreasonable in these times?


I actually want to explore the world now. I don't want to run around shooting people in lush environments, I want to capture life in the wild on the level that would make any exploratory person gasp. In my comment left on Michael's blog, I cursorily traced around the idea of such a game that has more roots in stealth than anything else. Imagine trying to photograph lionesses in the dead of night [with various night vision equipment] with the chance of being killed by them, when you only have an extremely limited means to protect yourself. With completely unrelated titles [e.g. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories] just starting to wake up to how the absence of combat can enhance, it's an idea such as this that could simply just run wild with it.

As much whining as I do on this blog about narrative gaming, it's nice to have an out to something that requires no constructed script whatsoever (other than dozens of contextual obligations and artificial intelligence algorithms). Not to shit entirely on the directors, but do you know that Earth took 47 million dollars to film? I know gaming is getting to be pretty damn expensive itself [for far more stupid reasons]. However, the same kind of appreciation I got from a movie like that can be conveyed in a video-game now, given the right person in charge, and for a lot less money to boot. It also opens the door to digital and traditional artists to find valuable solace in nature for their work as well (i.e. this hypothetical title could very well look like Okami if it so pleased).

All the weird things that go on as this rock spins through space are fascinating, and could be pooled into a title without any one portion of it degenerating into a "pure gimmick" [*coughthatswhat40%ofgamesarenowandimbeingextremelygenerouswiththatcough*]. The ambition could vary (chronicling the typical life-cycle of a Great White Shark for instance), the environments could extend (observing the theoretical possibilities of any of the Gas Giants), and the gamers could finally fucking evolve [watch Tweet My Gaming for just ten minutes and you'll see exactly what I mean].


Do I even need to reiterate again on the theoretical possibilities for such a game like this in outer space? Considering the dismal job some fictional movies revel in when depicting "world events", it wouldn't be too hard to usurp the that flimsy wooden throne with a well placed game simply covering a simple trip to the moon and back.

Again, I ask are there any games I've not yet played that showcase such a tie to its own environment? I've only just started digging into the P.C. world, so maybe there's darkened grounds I've not yet fallen upon.