Friday, October 28, 2016

Pillars of Immersion

Do you know what this is?
It's a picture of two of my characters in Pillars of Eternity cranking their arbalests. See, as crossbows became more powerful that immensely high tension in their strings quickly became too much for anyone to pull back by hand so you had to ratchet the damn things back to re-load them. That Futurama joke about the wind-up guns? They actually did that in the middle ages.

I rarely praise visuals in themselves. Game developers seem to be of the opinion that video games are all about the video and even the most disgustingly primitive, repetitive, dumbed-down kiddie hack'n'slashers will often benefit from beautiful, even inspired visual artwork... to the detriment of everything else. Same thing goes for movies. It's one of the few areas in human culture where quality gets appreciated more often than not. We're primates, members of an entire sight-dependent order and have been for fifty million years. (Unless you're religious, in which case Jesus... or some such nonsense.)

We appreciate purty pick-a-chures.

This is not one of those cases. PoE's graphics were decent, but nothing to write home about. They were enough to tell the story Obsidian wanted to tell, and that was that. However, PoE also serves as an excellent example of a company doing more with less than their competitors. Those crossbows aren't all that high-res or minutely textured but by gum, dey's gots cranks!
Old cranks.
But enough about me.

The simplest little bit of extra effort frequently goes a very long way, like the flavor text appended to the houses in PoE's obligatory zombie-themed portion of the main quest:
Yes, you already know that entire city district is full of zombies, but the word "rancid" worked into that setting as you casually pass by the streets really adds something to the decor.

And, needless to say, I want this chair!
Yeah, anybody could've sat an ogre skeleton down to suggest sitting on it but it takes an artistic mind to make it look... functional. Pad it. Make it look like something someone would actually use on a day to day basis and it becomes all the more grim and sinister even without a skull appended, even without triple-shaderly bump layer mapsotropic filter fapping. In bullet time.

Finally, perhaps one of the least appreciated (yet often lacking) elements of immersion is creating and maintaining coherent themes for various areas of the game. While Savage 2 was crashing and burning despite being a decade ahead of its time in terms of its combat mechanics and various other strong points, I posted a critique on their forums addressing, among other things, its misconceived artistic direction. The first Savage game had placed players in a post-apocalyptic setting with loinncloth-clad humans fighting Moreau-ish elevated beast-men among the ruins of our long-lost civilization. The humans used cold, sleek medieval mechanicals and projectiles and the beasts had bone clubs and nature magic. Savage 2 mistakenly eliminated the distinction between the two factions, both of them using magic and overusing flame graphics for total badassness like oh emm geez so awesumz!
I tried telling them: if the humans use fire, the beasts should be using water. If the humans have swords, the beasts should have spears.

You can also see this as part of the decline of the Elder Scrolls series. The various cities in Morrowind all had their specific personalities as military garrisons or imperial ports or magician enclaves built out of spires with no ground entrances, but years later Skyrim, while it did wonderful things with landscaping, was disappointingly banal in terms of architecture. Every town looked the same, despite the buildings being arranged differently.

Here, on the other hand, is PoE's gate to the core of the temple of the water goddess, Ondra:
It's made of water.

And the music you hear throughout the temple is the instrumental accompaniment to the ballad about the water goddess' lost love which the bard sings in the tavern back in town.

The extra mile. There's more than one way to walk it.

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