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Blogged Out: 'Fight In The Shade'

Blogged Out: 'Fight In The Shade'

April 27, 2007 | By Jim Rossignol

April 27, 2007 | By Jim Rossignol
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More: Console/PC

Welcome to 'Blogged Out', the news report that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week: Doom maps, the masterful Clint Hocking.

Incredible Detail

It's worth keeping an eye on the development blog over at Introversion Software, where indie-dev champion Chris Delay keeps us updated on his experiments. After making Uplink, Darwinia, and Defcon it's anyone's guess where the team are going next. The only clues we're getting are those left in this blog. The latest news is that Chris is trying to procedurally generate office blocks...

After playing around with some really simple wall layouts for a few days, it dawned on me that I could make a fairly major progress leap by importing some map data from somewhere else (for testing purposes of course - not as the actual game levels!). All of the test offices that I'd built in my simple editor were extremely basic, because I'm not going to waste time building complex maps when the format is changing all the time. But there are hundreds of games out there with similar map data structures, and thousands of levels that have been made before, sometimes in incredible detail. So I had a little think and came up with the obvious answer - Doom maps.

So you heard it here first: Introversion's next game will be an Id-style FPS! Only joking... right?

Visual Style

Can films teach us anything about developing games? Perhaps, but not necessarily in the way you might think.

Quite a few people have linked to the blog of Ubisoft producer Clint Hocking this week, all of them highlighting his post about the Hollywood movie, 300 and the concept of convergence. Hocking writes about how the visual style of the film of the comic book of the Battle of Thermopylae can teach us something about the relationship between cinema and videogames.

300 is not, Hocking suggests, actually that concerned with telling us its story. It has other concerns, which Hocking spells out: "300 is about the human form. It's about the elegant simplicity of the physical. It's about the beauty of the human machine, and the nature of the reasoning mind that compels it to put itself into situations that will rend it limb from bloody limb."

From this perspective the film is a statement not about some courageous Greeks and a half thousand years ago, but about our own flesh-and-blood physicality, something about the fact that "we are men now, but we are animals first," as Hocking (via Plato) describes it. This has important ramifications for interpreting the medium of film as a whole. Hocking thinks that 300 demonstrates that film is at heart about a sequence of images, rather than a plot or a character. This, he reckons, tells us something about the problems with the popular concept of "convergence" across modern media.

This pop concept argues that different forms of media, such as films and games, cross over and influence each other, changing each other's direction and method and offering new solutions. As Hocking describes it: "a theoretical solution to the problem of expanding the market for games to include segments outside the traditional 18-34 year old male audience. It argues that game developers could learn from filmmaking creatives how to make their games more broadly or generally appealing."

Hocking thinks the concept is useless, pointing out that "saying that games can learn from film and vice versa - while not entirely untrue - is only as true as saying convergence between cooking and ballet would make ballet taste better and would make meals better express the beauty of the human form."

Our Shackles

Hocking argues that because films are really primarily about moving image and games are primarily about the interaction of a player with the game system, there's a kind of logical gulf between the two media. They cannot converge, and we the games industry should not expect to learn anything from Hollywood. American cinema is, Hocking suggests, our Xerxes, the Persian Emperor of the movie, who will crush games and force them into unnatural servitude if we cannot fight back now.

Hocking's post is, I believe, a call to cast off our shackles. Games should not serve the means of Hollywood - indeed, they need be nothing to do with cinema at all. They are their own medium, with their own methods and meanings. I've long argued that the first, best improvement that the games industry could make if it were ever to forge a code of conduct for development would be to ban cutscenes - never take the viewpoint away from the player's control, never remove us from the perspective of our play. A few games do this, and hey, they've been fairly successful: a little game called Half-Life springs to mind...

[Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK - his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]

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