part of the ucc make columns series...
I've always liked Ridley Scott. Since Alien, I've known he was an artist in the realm of directing films. For a science fiction movie of it's day, Alien had style...it blended horror and science concepts into a design that no other film had tried before, even though fiction for the longest time knew that horror, fantasy and sci-fi were but kissing cousins to each other.
I just returned from Black Hawk Down, a movie which for me reaffirms Scott's ability to throw art onto the silver screen (and also restates my feelings that Oscars don't know squat ... Beautiful Mind nominated for best pic and not this? insanity). Also, for those that actually wanted to read this column on time - it's late because I was curious to see what impact the movie would have on it...
...most of you, however, are just waiting for me to get to the point.
There is this scene in BHD where Josh Hartnett's character is raising his head after getting orders, after being crouched in cover from enemy fire. His helmet gets caught in barbed wire that had been wrapped in the remains of the wall that has been covering him. Hartnett has to carefully move his head out of the wire trappings before heading out with his men.
See the point yet?
Someone had to design that barb wire. They had to think about it being on that wall, why it would be on the wall (this is war-torn Somalia, not New York). It had to be placed, rigged, and setup perfectly so that when Hartnett turned his head to his troops, his helmet would be caught in it.
It's not a tense situation (well, no more than the other 143 minutes of the film). It's not important in any way for the plot. The barb wire doesn't come up later to help a character learn a moral lesson. To paraphrase your standard Freud critic, sometimes barb wire is just barb wire.
The barb wire is just one of about 1,000 details Scott uses in the movie to catapult the viewer into this world that basically none of us have ever witnessed. For us Americans, the Somalian incident was almost a cover-up...it received little of the news and editorial coverage it clearly deserved. BHD recreates a concept that we readily had no access to. Largely, it does this by the details. The barb wire, the spray paint on the wall, the children playing in the battlefield, the taping of one's blood type to one's boot - details depicting war. The great cinematography and visual effects are nice - but they don't trump the barb wire scene.
Games provide a similar experience to movies - they are supposed to give us an experience we do not readily have access to. How much we buy into this new world can sometimes be determined by the details. In literature, the success at doing this is called suspension of disbelief. In short, it is a contract between the author and the reader that the reader will believe in the author's creation and the author will give him justification for doing so. Whether that world is a war-torn country or an alien planet, the reader needs the details to accept the contract.
Sci-Fi/Horror/Fantasy writers rely on suspension of disbelief. It's a cornerstone for the genres. If the reader is unacceptable to the origins of Alien Race X, they are unlikely to care anything about Race X ... and possibly to finish reading the story. Games, in general, have a simpler task. They aren't bound, usually, by the same constraints of plot and character as literature. Many FPS games go by the "lone marine against a horde of evil" concept just fine. Even some old-school RPG games don't expand much more than "get this item and bring it back to me" or "find this villain and kill it".
The details you can provide depend on the technology you are using. The acclaimed FPS game Deus Ex has plenty of details - from the types of weapons you can carry, to the reasons why nano-augmentation works the way it does, to what a character will say to you. They're all part of a large design which makes that design seem believable - plausible.
I could ramble off example after example. Instead, I'll say this to mod-makers/mappers/general game creators: if you are thinking about whether a certain feature should exist, think about it not only terms of how it will effect the overall gameplay...but how it effects what the user will think about the game. If adding an element to the HUD of your game doesn't impact the play at all, but does lend the user to believe whatever world you are trying to create, it's probably worth it.
And if you do that 999 more times, you might make the Black Hawk Down of games.
Till next time, kiddies, brush your teeth and don't forget your barb wire.
Other ucc make columns
please reserve edits to minor changes and comments – RegularX