Games and Premises

I took a little rest from work this weekend and picked up Mirror’s Edge. The game is fun, some of the play is interesting, but the movement gets tiresome and the controls are just odd for my hands; I’ve been stuck in certain areas simply because I couldn’t nail the order of buttons, especially on 90 degree wall runs.

I’ve also been playing Pixel Junk’s Eden and find the simple beauty of this game much more satisfying than the big EA game. A few months ago I also played through thatgamecompany’s Flower effort and was just wowed by the art, concept, and sound. Both Flower and Eden are Ten dollar downloads on the PS3 and well worth the money; they carry more value than fifty dollar games.

One item interests me about Mirror’s Edge and Shadow of the Colossus in that both of these games make for interesting relationship between the controller and simulated human movement. In Colossus, we use the controller to have a knight jump on a horse, climb a colossus, tumble, and leap to and from ledges. In Mirror’s Edge, a first person perspective game, much like Half Life, the controller is used for leaping, sliding, clambering, balancing, and grasping for edges. Such games are pushing game controllers beyond their usefulness, however. In Colossus, for example, the knight will often jump several times for his horse and miss badly and awkwardly. This is often the case when a colossus is coming close and the player is in quick need of the horse but can’t get on, and he’s standing just beneath the horn of the saddle. Similarly, Faith in Mirror’s Edge will take a great leap and miss a pole on a wall because the controller’s crosshair is off just a tad to the left or right. Or, she leaps up to a pole and the effect is the same (of course, when I can’t line her up and struggling to aim her into the correct position, I start to groan, especially as the bullets are coming). It’s not the avatar’s fault. It’s mine given the “limits,” but there is something interesting about this whole controller business: the programming and controller choices.

Complex simulation is a technical question in Mirror’s Edge–Faith responds to the environment, for example, but only within a predetermined set of instances and never as an intelligent agent. She can’t, for example, adjust an angle to correct for player error. An avatar can jump on a box with the click of a button, but determining how to simulate complex human motion and human response–for example, the influence of momentum or the various kinds of impact and velocity or given an element of fatigue–with the typical game controller is reaching a comical limit in games that aim for high fidelity.

What are the limits of the technical model?

In Eden, for example, minimalism drives the controller as the world demands a specific kind of interaction: jumping, holding, and spinning. Flower, for example, wants the user to turn and rock the controller, which seems natural, as flight has been tied to rocking and stick motion in and outside of planes. While Mirror’s Edge aims for a high degree of representational value, the method of controlling Faith, the protagonist, just seems primitive. And boy do I have a pain in my right shoulder.

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