Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Drink That Bun!

I've been trying to think of a way to describe what makes a game click for me, and what kills something that is otherwise quite perfect. I could sit down and play Rune Factory for hours and hours, even though its just a grind sandwich with teaspoon rewards. On the other hand, I loved the funny antics in Red Alert 3, but couldnt play for more than half an hour before quiting, eventually just shrugging it into the bought-and-never-beat pile.

I opened and closed the new post tab again and again, trying to come up with an idea of how to describe it. I dunno what made this idea come to mind, could be my kitchen sink for all I know.

My favorite games are the ones where I can drop right down, stare at the world, and feel it all around me.  If I can describe the smell of the world I'm in, then I know I'm having fun. Pounding action doesnt do it, that tends to make me put down the game and try to calm down. If I can be calmed by a game, if I can stop, take a deep breath, and smell the air, then that to me is a great game.

So, examples!

Wind Waker smells like salt water, an ocean breeze. Most dungeons have that salty smell soaked into them, mixed in with a sort of algae-like mildew.

Half-Life 2 smells like rot, decay, and corpses. Even in the city environments, hot concrete still stinks like blood, like iron.

World of Warcraft has a loooooot of smells, but the magical effects smell a lot like ozone and frosting. Yeah.... frosting.

Guild Wars, the first tutorial area had a wonderful smell, fresh grass and flowers. Even down in the catacombs, you could smell the living over the long dead. Which only made its destruction all the worse... I was so glad to get to the fresh air of snow and pine in the mountains. Destroyed Ascalon was copper and sand and ozone, very metallic, and overwhelming.

Shadow of the Colossus has no smell. This is a strange one, because it was a world I loved to explore and stay in, and I did just stop and look around, breathe the air. The lack of smell comes from my perception of the area Wander is entering. A sacred place, an empty prison, a sanitized and uninhabited land. A strange dimension of reality that doesnt follow our laws, the land of gods. I imagined, even with all the plant life, this land was desolate, and existed in the same state that it always had. The rotting buildings were always like that, and always will be. There was nothing in that land to make any smells. Thats how I saw the environments that I wandered around in, a pet interpretation.

Minecraft smells like soil after a rainfall, unless my dirt texture is the Oklahoma red soil stuff. Then it smells like clay.

Some of the best horror games, Silent Hill 2 and Amnesia, are ridiculously immersive, but in the opposite way. No way do you want to sit and breath those worlds. Silent Hill 2 smells like corpses and mildew, and Amnesia is too damn freaky to really try to smell. Plus, Amnesia focuses too much on audio. I hear the insanity scratching and I think "mice, oh god, mice in the walls, they're going to bit me while I sleep oh crap." I play these in short bursts, beating them over the course of um... months?

This isnt completely why I play games, nor are those all the games I liked. For example, I really liked Persona 4 and Phoenix Wright. But those were more like watching anime than playing a video game. I have completely different standards for those. In short: those characters better be goddamn amazing or the anime will burn.

With all of this in mind, I've been recommended Borderlands over and over and over by my friends (all two of them). And I did give it a try, on my boyfriend's computer. I got up until the second questing zone, which probably isn't nearly enough time to get a grasp on such a large game. But after I got to the first town, looked around, and tried to get a grasp on this place... I couldnt. I love desert space planet settings, I like Trigun and it addicted me to the idea of space frontier GONE CRAZY. But Borderlands didnt feel alive. I couldnt just stop and get a feel... so it felt really weird to play. Maybe it was the art style, it seemed almost plastic. Or maybe it was the low interactivity of the world, it only seemed like a giant ammo/weapon dumpster. Or maybe it was the splash screens at meeting each new character, like we should be really, really excited to see a random human. Whatever it was, I couldnt breathe the world. I cant think of the place clogging my breath with sand, I cant imagine the stench of the mutant dog things. It just smells like rubber and plastic and numbers. It doesnt matter how funny that crazy scientist lady is, Steve! It wont make the color cartoon land of plastic prizes become Gunsmoke!

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