Yoknapatawpha Crossing

Yay for innovation

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So that comment below about the semester going pretty well was a load of crap. This semester has been ridiculous, nonstop work. In fact, I should be working now, but instead I’m slacking off to bring you these wholly unelucidating comments.

Here, here, and this big old list all talk about Will Wright’s latest game, called Spore. It’s pretty crazy, and I’m gonna talk at you about it for a bit.

May I first just say how relieved I am to see that Wright has actually been working on something other than the damn Sims for the past little while.

May I next say that Wright has hit upon a problem that has been looming on the horizon for video games for some time. The next few generations of video cards and console systems are going to bring us to a point where we can render in realtime what are essentially photorealistic scenes. It takes only a cursory glance at the technology available today, however, to see that, while these environments might have ludicrously high resolutions and brilliant lighting effects, they will not look convincingly real because they will not behave in the manner in which we know the world works. They will not look convincingly realistic because no matter how many polygons or light sources or bump maps we add, we have not spent enough time developing the rules for how these worlds should move, and they will consequently always appear artificial.

By way of example, take the first two movies in the Alien series. In the first movie, suspense was created largely through atmosphere, and the fact that you only rarely saw the alien itself only added to the effect. By contrast, in the sequel, Aliens, we see the creatures much more frequently, and they are, at least to my mind, noticeably more frightening. Cameron pulled this off not by making the alien suit more detailed, but rather by spending months with the actors developing a convincingly scary way for the aliens to move. The costumes in Aliens are actually much simpler and toned down from the costume from the first movie; what makes them scary in the sequel is that they do not move like humans.

Game developers have yet to take Cameron’s lesson to heart. It does not matter if you have a perfectly rendered character; if they move like a blind drunk then the player will not be drawn into the world. At this point in time, it is the development of realistic physics and realistic character animation that should be paramount. The clarity of the picture makes no difference without these fundamental building blocks.

This actually is not the specific problem that Wright was addressing, although it is related. Wright pointed out that, as video technology develops, the cost of creating suitable content goes up exponentially. Creating a modern first person shooter requires a veritable army of artists and animators to paint the world, despite the fact that the gameplay is not fundamentally different that Doom’s. Wright points out that the relative value to gamers does not increase as the amount of work that goes into the game increases; in the words of someone else, “A game whose characters have 20,000 frames of animation isn’t twice as good as a game whose characters have only 10,000 frames.” As time goes on and graphics processors continue to become more and more powerful, the cost of producing even simple games will skyrocket, with no certain commensurate increase in quality. Wright’s solution to this problem is ingenious, and you should check out the above articles.

I think I’m about finished with my semi-drunken ramblings. Hope you have an excellent evening.


Written by Daniel Grady

March 18, 2005 at 00:19

Posted in Games, Movies, Rants

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