Tag: first-person shooter

From the moment I step out of my building, I can see something strange is going on in the world.

Perhaps it is because I was playing Fallout 3 – the new painstakingly detailed First Person Shooter for Xbox 360 about the world after a nuclear apocalypse wherein a dictatorship like American government known as The Enclave continues to broadcast euphemisms over any available transmission source long after the holocaust – that I am particularly off-put by the ominous red glow hitting the bottom of the cumulus clouds – at noon on a sunny day.

Los Angeles sunset through volumetric fog from the fires, 2008. Photo by the author.

I comment on this to the cashier at the Lebanese Pizza/hookah lounge, about the color of the clouds and how hot it is and he assures me that where he comes from in the heart of Mexico, this would be considered a cool, moderate climate.  I get my food, and stop in to the Russian deli where I purchase some pelmeni and a jar of pickled mushrooms.

It occurs to me, as I drive down Sunset Blvd. on a very hot mid-November day, that John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie just wouldn’t make any sense were I at my cottage in Northern Ontario, Canada amidst the soft blowing tips of the spruces and the gentle rippling of the lake, but they sure do here;  punctuating the frenetic activity of these Hollywood streets as hundreds of drivers negotiate one another’s hierarchy and whether to let one another in, race past leaving a wake of exhaust and dust, or simply pull over for an iced mochaccino.

I am at a gas station where the price of gas is exactly ten cents less per gallon than the one directly across the street.  I pay the attendant and notice a flashy picture of Barack Obama, newly elected president of the United States, on the cover of TIME magazine flashing a suprisingly smug smile, with a monocle and cane, driving a Rolls – an article about Barack and FDR.  As I exit two gangstas climb out of their polished SUV, shuffle through the parking lot in their unlaced Timberland’s, giving me a once over.  No problems here.  A woman dressed like a gypsy sifts through the garbage at the bus stop.  Across the street people brunch on the sidewalk, discussing their screenplays.

I reseat myself behind the wheel, and the DJ from the radio is talking about how it is a tough day for Los Angeles:  Sylmar, a town just north of the San Fernando Valley (that’s the porn capital of the world to those of you living on Mars) is on fire – six hundred families have lost their homes overnight in a trailer park.  In Montecito, a paradise-like town near Santa Barbara, forty homes have been lost to the fires.  Similar stories in Corono, and Olive View – where patients ran from a UCLA hospital when a wild fire raced down the foothills of Los Angeles, burning nearby office bungalows.  There are several dozen more stories like this today.  I wouldn’t have known had I not turned on the radio.  Mom will probably call at some point to see if I am still alive.

I turn onto Hollywood Blvd. and spot a twelve-year-old kid with headphones like earmuffs jogging, red-faced, down the sidewalk, followed a block later by his chubby, aging father, who struggles to keep up.  I recognize that I am now closer in age to the father than to the son.  I got carded when I purchased cigarettes yesterday.

Jim Dickens plays “Ain’t Nothin’ Like the Blues” – his telecaster snaps back in anger, but he keeps beating it down; mean, and sultry.  It reminds me of a song by a band that used to play at the Whiskey – a racous epic having to do with L.A. women and how her hills are filled with fire.

Given the heat, I decide to close the venetian blinds in my apartment, smoke a cigarette and play Fallout 3 until it cools off outside.

Will Wright, the genius behind the SimCity/Sims Online franchise is on year who knows what of developing Spore – a profoundly complex AI engine that looks like a cross between Playdough and Lego Mindstorm on the surface. This is not by accident – when I saw Mr Wright speak at the Banff Media Conference several years back, he confided that one of the things that most influences his game design is Japanese zen gardens – the idea that though the landscape has been radically altered, dozens of iterations later it appears as though it had always been that way.

Spore is about building new organisms, or a combination of organisms from the uni-celled beginning to complex space colony end.

Sims is about moving virtual Barbie dolls around and seeing how they feel about each other and themselves. You can not micro-manage them, only give them subtle catalysts to work from.

But there is also another kind of playing God that doesn’t have any game-designer objective behind it. That is the merge between old terra-forming software like Bryce 3D and map-making for gamers who love first-person shooters.

I am hacker when it comes to playing games – most gamers are – we like to see what we can can break about it before we commit to finishing it. Even Will Wright admitted this; the first thing kids do when they encounter a new game is figure out what the limits are – can you walk off the path, flip upside down, self-destruct, kill others, etc. This is how we learn the laws of its universe.

When I used to play Everquest – I had no interest in actually questing – I was more curious about using it as my new instant messeger. I would meet people in Qeynos and we would wander over to a willow tree I had found and chat. The game for me was to see how long I could engage total strangers in stimulating conversation, enjoying the vistas, without ever having to kill anything. Why does that almost sound creepy?

So you can imagine my interest when I see a map-maker become available in a first-person shooter like Ubisoft’s Far Cry 2. Check out this vid:

I have little to no interest in shooting anyone. But I have a lot of interest in creating landscapes that I can walk through – not as some omniscient invisible Arrow Key Monster checking out my Thomas Kincaid wannabe digi-art (a la Bryce) but rather as a developed avatar with rich 3D, ray-tracing and texture on a next-gen console.

Halo 3 also worked towards this with its Forge software. And Bethesda’s Obilvion on a PC is simply a dream for world-building – there are currently over 4500 modifications online created by user that you can implement into the world and see how it unfolds. Not all the mods work together, and many are redundant in ways that prove disastrous to running the game without a crash – but when you get the combination just right, you can get a near-cinematic experience with endless variation that has no time limit and no rules. My girlfriend and I use to play with a hyper modded Oblivion and then go out to a garden and comment on how much nature looked like the game.

And if you were to believe Plato. or the Baghavad Gita’s discussions of maya – then you would recognize this is hardly a new idea.