Posts Tagged 'Video Games'

Bringing the space opera into the media of video games is a tricky proposition. What players actually want from such adventures is a multitude of planetary systems, with populated cities and orbital stations, that you journey between via a space ship. A digital rendition of the paper-based RPG Traveller, for want of a better comparison. Or perhaps the conflated power fantasy of both Stars Wars and Trek. What you inevitably encountered, until recently, was a well-managed, walled garden that hinted at a wider cosmos somewhere just beyond the game’s limitations.

The original Elite, with its focus on trade and space combat, was the first video game to attempt the audacious endeavour of creating a galaxy of possibilities. It still didn’t generate any sense of character, or planet-based exploration, thanks to the technology of the time and the sheer amount of processing power required to achieve a wider perspective. Look to the latest iteration in the series today and, while there’s a lot more detail and personality on your journeys through space, it’s still all centred around your vehicle. Consider the diversity of population in the latest city-based Sci-Fi adventure, Cyberpunk 2077 – which, amazingly, brings road transport into the mix – then times this across multiple planets, with multiple species, and you can understand the processing debt programmers would have to manage.

Mass Effect did a laudable job of having a character-driven plot set against a sizeable universe with a good mixture of well-populated locations. It paved the way for the ever growing universe of Destiny (1 and 2), but both franchises still sadly lack the thrills of ship-to-ship engagements.

The procedural generation of environments was the cool tech solution that revolutionised things for Hello Games. After a rocky start, No Man’s Sky is among the first titles to tick all the required boxes of creating a playable space opera. While the ground combat pales against the slick execution of Destiny, the fact that you can travel, trade and battle across a mind-boggling array of planets is still incredible. The recent addition of a multiplayer only added to its levels of engagement – and that’s before you dig into the huge number of Sci-Fi tropes that are recognised throughout the game.

Elsewhere, Chris Roberts, of Roberts Space Industries, cut his creative video game teeth with the Wing Commander series – which was one of the first games to bring characters to an Elite-styled space shooter. His return to the genre is even more ambitious, but the development of Star Citizen has been arduous and plagued with complaints of dissatisfaction from its investors. You have to respect the scale of the endeavour, but it definitely feels like the preserve of the high-end PC gamer. That said, there is a development team in Toronto about to bring a similar experience to the Nintendo Switch. Although Starlink: Battle for Atlas is definitely skewed towards a younger audience, the combination of planetary exploration and interstellar combat looks like a great option to get your space opera fix while on the go.

What’s amazing is that while other video games feel recognisable and familiar despite their ambition – depictions of city life in GTA and Assassins Creed, fidelity and real world car physics in Forza – the playable Space Opera is still formative. Great strides have been made recently, but we’re still waiting that ‘killer app’ paradigm shift. Perhaps Bethesda Games and Starfield will be the ones to grasp that prize, perhaps not. Regardless, we’ll be among the first on the boarding ramp, space helmet in hand and intergalactic travel bag hovering at our side when it releases.

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It’s only in recent years that video games have really taken the lead over cinema. There’s a real sense of innovation and smart story telling coming through that’s indicative of a creative format truly coming of age. Although, as far as Hollywood is concerned, only the big game franchises are actually worth cinematic adaptation – which inevitably results in average to poor executions. Flip the coin, however, and look at how good Sci-Fi cinema has influenced games and you find a very different level of appreciation.

Speedball 2, the 1990 sequel to the Bitmap Brothers early future sports game is a very obvious homage to Howard Jewison’s 1975 film Rollerball. Strip out all the corporate control and politics from film, and you’re left with a fast and physical escalation of your team through the sport’s global ranks.

Looking to the bigger franchises, Alien has spawned a slew of games over the years since its 1979 debut. Sadly, a lot of these iterations have been unremarkable. That said, there’s been a lot of praise for Creative Assembly’s survival horror Alien Isolation but, here at Drozbot, Alien 3 on the Sega GameGear is still the one to beat.

Star Wars and Star Trek both follow suit regarding just how many games there are out there, but finding quality in among this blanket output is tricky. Have we here on Drozbot played any great games from these genre giants? Star Wars Battlefront, maybe…?

Returning to the less homegonised outliers, The Strugatksy Brother’s book Roadside Picnic became a very ponderous film in the hands of Andrei Tarkovsky in 1979. Both of which then acted as a launch point for GSC’s Stakler game series. While true to the alien zone notion of the origin novel, titles in the series have had a mixed reception. Whereas the same principle of our inability to comprehend the truly alien, still finds fertile film output in the guise of Alex Garland’s Annhilation (2018).

Pitch Black (2000) is also a worthy addition to the list. Coming out of a low-budget left-field and kick-starting Vin Diesel’s big screen career, it then went on to become one of the best film to game crossovers ever with Starbreeze’s The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay.

Finally, extraterrestrial linguistics have bought about some of the oddest examples of game adaptation. Not really explored in film until Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival (2016), it was originally tackled as a game concept in 1988 with ERE Informatique’s Captain Blood As with the translation mechanics of, say, No Man’s Sky, this game saw you creating an icon driven lexicon to help you on your quest. Jump forward to today and we find Inkle Studios revisiting the linguistic detective work with Heaven’s Vault.

There are a host of other titles out there that have taken some of the most influential Sci-Fi films and turned them into great games. While we’ve certainly done an injustice to many by not calling them out here, hopefully the kind of quality Hollywood engenders in game designers might one day be replicated back in Tinsel Town. Then again, perhaps a media that runs to hours upon hours of entertainment will always struggle being encapsulated into film. Here’s hoping Netflix bootstraps the already Half Life-esque Cloverfield universe into a full-blown mini series.

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Seems like video games are finally getting the research they deserve. While we can still expect tabloid headlines bemoaning just how terrible this form of entertainment is for adults and children alike, articles are starting to emerge that explore just how gamers are affected by their pastime. We’ve know for years that games have had to accommodate the strange ways the soft machines of our brains are wired. There’s the ‘normal’ and ‘inverted’ settings on a controller’s joy stick, how some people get travel sick from playing in a first person perspective, and how those without stereoscopic vision are lost to the 3D and virtual reality experiences.

A few years ago a study discovered that patients in a burns ward required less pain relief medication when distracted while playing games on Sony’s PSP. This experiment was then replicated in 2016 by Professor Dale Edgar from Australia’s University of Notre Dame, this time using a Nintendo Wii, with similar results.

Now, in 2017, we’ve already seen a couple of stories about researchers getting in on the gaming kick. First up is a group of scientists from the University of Washington who have created a gaming app that rates anyone folding a series of proteins. High scoring runs of Foldit are then analysed by the research team in a marvelous adaptation of crowd sourcing. Also in March we discovered that the Karolinska Institute in Sweden had been utilising the shape matching game Tetris to help lessen the emotional impact of those suffering from post-traumatic stress. As with the Australian study, it seems that the specific distraction of matching shapes to spaces can be just as effective with emotional pain as other games can be for physical distress.

We now experience haptic systems in our phones every single day, so it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to get to the full sensory feedback systems of Ernest Clein’s, Ready Player One. In this his protagonist, Wade Watts, transforms himself physically simply through the act of playing games while wearing a suit that generates a sensory image of the virtual world. A vision of the future? Keep an eye on the gamers, as they may well be the first to get there.

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Brainstorm

Don’t despair! There is a relevant, if not altogether happy, conclusion to the previous few posts about death and robots – AKA, killer bots versus puny humans. Welcome to the day when we group hug, make up and merge into one purely digital entity. All still a long way off – at least according to the Maria Konovalenko’s recent road map – but the idea of digital immortality is a discussion point that’s emerged time and time again on Drozbot.

Back in 2011 Aleks Krotoski reported on how our online lives were already having a massive impact on attitudes towards our ultimate demise, and numerous stories continue to emerge about friends and relatives working to back-up and sustain the online presence of the dead – as iO9’s recent interview with Sarah Cashmore exemplifies. But there’s one aspect of digital existence that has been repeatedly overlooked in favour of textual and image based legacies.

Gamers have been engaged with electronic megadeaths ever since Mario first encountered one too many barrels in Donkey Kong (1981). They’ve shown a healthy disrespect to shrugging off this mortal coil, but they’ve also been embroiled in multiple issues around their attachment to online avatars – the pertinent question being, after investing hundreds of hours in these virtual characters, what happens to all that emotional energy when the games company finally decides to pull the plug? Reactions have tended to revolve around one final blast of activity for those dedicated fans still playing and, perhaps, there isn’t any real need for avatar memory gardens as gamers possess an inherent hunger for the new. There’s also the contemporary shift of play time being invested in more disparate and less hour swallowing experiences. But bereavement counselling as the result of dead avatars? Heh, well, not to worry. That’s almost as ridiculous as people paying real money for digital goods.

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