Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pensieve Post #3 ~ Hitting the "Space" Bar

In case you haven't picked up on the vibe here yet, I'm a bit of a science buff. It's an academic forte that's come pretty naturally to me since childhood. Always accompanied by an insane level of curiosity [bordering OCD levels], it's the only subject I don't wear a "disdain badge" for when learning about it. English is too relative for me, history is "potently depressing", and mathematics represent the mascot of rationality, something I hate to its very core [yeah, yeah...I still acknowledge it's importance though, especially when it runs threads through and out of science]. I harbor intense passion for learning how things work and interact together, as well as the "natural art" they all form. I don't pretend to be an expert however, as that's like watching a sitcom where the friend decides to hold a small get-together with only a few acquaintances. That one jackass always lets the word spread and ends up bringing unwanted guests, who maim and trash the house to hell. The unwanted guests in this metaphor are hubris, careers, and the disgusting concept of "belief". There's too many things in society that taint "pure passion" nowadays and I respond pretty coldly towards them all.

One of my personal reining champions among the many sciences is astronomy, the study of just about everything that lies beyond the Earth's atmosphere. It's usually a passing fancy for children, but typically deteriorates as they leave elementary school. You know why that is? Ironically, the sheer enormity of what astronomy truly encompasses becomes absolutely crushed by the growing adolescent's fickle desire to run their own little lives as they come of age. This also continues throughout middle and high school, at the end of which it's simply replaced the young adult's desire to maintain their ideal lifestyle [i.e. college or job]. Like plenty of other things, my inability to obey modern social mores only made me embrace such passions more adamantly.

Photobucket
Sunshine, 2007. It's just a scientific mess left and right; despite that it's still one of the best Science-Fiction films I've seen in the past five years. That says something, do you know what it is?

So where has astronomy truly gone in video-games? Not too many places to be completely honest. In the past few years, we've gotten some admirable attempts no doubt [i.e. Mass Effect], but none of them really build the world I'm looking for. Even my beloved "Xenogames" fail in this regard, which is why I still hold so much love for the "saga" side of that series [which took place mostly in space]. Other RPGS have taken place on the final frontier as well, but most of the time the concept of space was simply a continent backdrop. This is usually the case for games. The better ones build their "admirable universes", while still showcasing the conceptual schism. Zone of the Enders, EVE Online, hell even Star Fox does the superficial job of being "out there".

What I enjoyed about Mass Effect in 2007 was the ability to explore other worlds. Granted, they were all annoyingly similar in design, and usually amounted to nothing more than time-draining sidequests. They still gave me a very shallow ability to explore things in a certain context [fictional or not, at this point I'm starving and don't care]. My greatest moment in Mass Effect was the most trivial in the game overall, it was when I spent three hours driving around the moon for no other reason than I could.

Photobucket
An infrared shot of the Helix Nebula.

In 5-4 I hypothesized the value of a game's education. Since gamers are still happily wading through the cheap highs provided by X-Box Live and titles such as Gears of War [No I'm not insulting the games, just people's perceptions of them], we won't be getting anything more for a while. Using reality as a template here rather than some ST-ST [Stupid Standard] is where the crown rolls around on the floor for me. I don't need a game to teach me the finer points of physics, I just need it to spur an interest in topic while obeying the best interests of the game. No that's not impossible and I'll kick whoever says so in the face. If anything, Space is the most nurturing breeding ground for creating alternate realities. Most of the facts and known quantities for the worlds beyond our own remain purely theoretical. Any minute number of changes in this Solar System could effect how simple [unappreciated] constants work [i.e. the effect that the Sun's life has on our own].

I'm not even whining about the open world possibilities yet either, as that's a insurmountable task even today's tech couldn't keep up with. No, I'm referring dictated single-player experiences that find ways self-perpetuate while sparking some curiosity. I won't even try explaining that either, it's too broad to try addressing, and I simply don't have the patience at the moment.

Going back to my earlier example, what Mass Effect did well was translating that space opera vibe in video-game form. Most fans of Battlestar G., Star Wars, and Star Trek had a twinkle in their eye when this game came to release [for good reason too]. It was one of my favorite games from 2007, but it's greatest flaw for me was that it was speaking a dialect which belonged to another medium altogether. The diametric example [which is ironically another 2007 game] is the quality of Super Mario Galaxy. As evolved as that title is at reinterpreting the old 1980's formula, it's still only hammering rudimentary concepts in the players head, competently translating them to gameplay [which has been Nintendo's greatest flaw and strength for over twenty years now]. The most obvious example for said game would be gravity of course, something "we" didn't appreciate until a god damn apple fell on "our" heads [If you apply that literally, I'll shoot you].

Photobucket
If I can get a video-game relative of Sunshine someday, I'll be a lot less bitchier I promise.

Yes, I'm also ignoring the multitude of shmups that take in space as well [e.g. Galaga], particularly since they were the best that games could accomplish at the time. Now, there's just too much T-n-T [Talent & Tech] lying around for the results not to be more varied. I'd appreciate being granted the wonder outer space by a game, but it simply hasn't happened for me yet [hence my current bitching]. I've really only gotten "IOU"s from the medium---in the form of titles such Bioware's aforementioned space opera.

~sLs~