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“Online game settings are characters of their very own”
It’s like I’m actually there
One of many issues I like about video games is how a lot they lean into style fiction. Video games have by no means been afraid to lean exhausting into sci-fi, fantasy, westerns, apocalypse tales, and so forth. This implies we get a variety of tales that stand out with their distinctive characters, mechanics, and lore, however certainly one of my favourite points of video games needs to be how settings tackle a complete persona of their very own. Reasonably than serving as a backdrop for the motion, so many sport settings take a entrance seat within the story, driving residence its themes and shifting the plot ahead.
Maybe my favourite instance of nice settings in video games comes from the BioShock collection. Cities like Rapture and Columbia are constructed out with compelling, storied histories, full with uncannily stunning vistas that conceal proletariat factions at conflict with oppressive figures. They’re attractive, however with the categorical objective of highlighting the video games’ extra sinister themes. Visually beautiful areas like Fort Frolic and Monument Island present us how the respective founders of the cities selected to showcase their love of extra, whereas additionally making us perceive how every metropolis met its downfall.
Case research: Burial at Sea‘s Paris opening
Look, I simply actually love the BioShock collection (the place’s that fourth sport, 2K?), and a latest playthrough of BioShock Infinite‘s Burial at Sea DLC solely jogged my memory of that. I’ve to focus on only one extra second from that collection, as a result of I believe it’s so masterfully carried out.
Episode 2 opens on a road in Paris, the place Elizabeth is sitting at a restaurant having fun with a view of the Eiffel Tower. On this sequence, the entire residents greet her fortunately by identify, birds and butterflies flit about, and artists and musicians showcase their skills on the road — there’s even a bit boy dancing round with a baguette, you realize, just like the French are liable to do.
In fact, it’s all too good to be true, as a result of Elizabeth runs into Sally quickly sufficient, a bit woman who she used to kill this universe’s model of Booker. The entire thing devolves into a surprising horror set piece, the place Elizabeth is confronted by a tortured Little Sister model of Sally, having to confront her guilt earlier than dealing with her tough current in Rapture.
This opening isn’t an correct illustration of Paris, and it was by no means presupposed to be — it was as an alternative an idealized, sentimental one. One of many very first issues we discovered about Elizabeth in Infinite is that she used this rose-colored model of France as a type of escapism. When she was locked away in her tower, the thought of sometime attending to see Paris is what stored her going. Displaying gamers how the burden of all that she has carried out has permeated to even her happiest of fantasies is a chilling picture, and one which reveals us precisely how far Elizabeth has come as a personality, for higher and for worse. It’s certainly one of my favourite sequences in all of gaming.
The persona of a spot is necessary
BioShock isn’t the one collection that makes good use of its setting, nevertheless. The barren, hostile wasteland of The Final of Us‘ America principally locations the characters in a strain cooker, which forces them to make the tough, typically brutal decisions that make them who they’re. Mass Impact‘s expansive, different settings converse to the epic, large-scale storytelling of an enormous house opera, particularly when contrasted to the comfy familiarity of the Normandy. These are only a few of dozens of examples.
I believe sport settings stick out in our minds a lot as a result of we get to spend far more time in them than in different media. We’ve to decide on to discover them ourselves, and might then take as a lot time as we wish to acquaint ourselves with them as we please. We’re not restricted to what a director or creator needs to indicate us — if we see one thing fascinating, we will go test it out, organically discovering one thing that’s of curiosity to us. Nice sport designers know methods to draw the participant’s consideration to necessary set items, story beats, or areas of significance, and a powerful creative hand will solely assist a sport really feel prefer it has some good momentum to it, even when we will’t understand it at first.
After I boot up a sport that I like however haven’t performed for some time, it will possibly really feel like residence in a approach that I don’t expertise with different media. Downtime in a sport is de facto necessary, particularly within the gameplay loop of motion video games, as a result of it’s a second to breathe after a fight encounter, recoup, discover objects and power-ups, and so forth. That downtime isn’t solely an effective way to get to know the characters, but additionally the setting.
Studying each nook and cranny, remembering the place an merchandise is so you’ll be able to come again and get it later, discovering a hidden room you’ve handed by 1,000,000 instances — solely video games can do this, and I believe that’s stunning.
Story Beat is a weekly column discussing something and every little thing to do with storytelling in video video games.