He connects three places: the alien zones in Roadside Picnic, the decaying landscape in Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker and the very real exclusion zone around Chernobyl, which has been, itself, turned into a decaying, alienating zone in the video game STALKER (which I have yet to play).
The production team at GSC Gameworld, a games studio based in nearby Kiev, intended to use the derelict zone as the basis for environments in their action shooter, STALKER: Shadow Of Chernobyl. The team went into the zone and photographed urban dereliction: a snapshot of an abandoned Soviet Union. They would go on to fill their game world with the zone's rusting fences and collapsing grain silos, but that was not all that came with the material: the landscape and its decaying architecture was already charged with mythology—with narrative.
The game references both Chernobyl as well as Stalker (the film); a film that, as I only realised through this article, was made way before the actual Chernobyl disaster. Yet, strangely enough, foreshadowed it in a rather scary way.
Tarkovsky's film manages to imbue derelict industrial landscapes with a terrible sense of threat.
There is a new book by Cory Doctorow, and it's about games.
In the virtual future, you must organize to survive
At any hour of the day or night, millions of people around the globe are engrossed in multiplayer online games, questing and battling to win virtual “gold,” jewels, and precious artifacts. Meanwhile, others seek to exploit this vast shadow economy, running electronic sweatshops in the world’s poorest countries, where countless “gold farmers,” bound to their work by abusive contracts and physical threats, harvest virtual treasure for their employers to sell to First World gamers who are willing to spend real money to skip straight to higher-level gameplay.
Mala is a brilliant 15-year-old from rural India whose leadership skills in virtual combat have earned her the title of “General Robotwalla.” In Shenzen, heart of China’s industrial boom, Matthew is defying his former bosses to build his own successful gold-farming team. Leonard, who calls himself Wei-Dong, lives in Southern California, but spends his nights fighting virtual battles alongside his buddies in Asia, a world away. All of these young people, and more, will become entangled with the mysterious young woman called Big Sister Nor, who will use her experience, her knowledge of history, and her connections with real-world organizers to build them into a movement that can challenge the status quo.
The ruthless forces arrayed against them are willing to use any means to protect their power—including blackmail, extortion, infiltration, violence, and even murder. To survive, Big Sister’s people must out-think the system.
Even some years after the event, this feat pulled off still amazes me:
Thanks to a brutal betrayal of trust by an Eve player, the Something Awful superpower has used the game's strange organisational mechanisms to take their arch-rival's name away from them. Band Of Brothers (BoB), once the most feared of alliances, is now gone for good. The Goon victory wasn't a great battle, nor a tremendous war brought to an end. Instead it was an inspired defector that led to the dissolution of one of Eve's most significant brands. It was a classic instance of underhand warfare tactics from the real world: sabotage by a traitor, trashing vital infrastructure, and leaving the gates of the fortress unlocked.
So what does it all mean? And how did it all come to pass? What it means is that upwards of several million man hours of work have been instantly obliterated, and a relatively peaceful region of Eve Online has been plunged into fresh war. The equivalent real-world costs are almost incalculable, given the sheer number of factors involved, and the thousands of people who have contributed to BoB. But it's safe to say that we're talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars in virtual investment put at risk.
Offworld had the story. It's a bit of the future very densely packed there.
Part of a good game may always be how the AI enemies react. An article on AIGameDev goes behind the scenes of Thief and looks what makes it tick.
[A] sensory system is a pipeline for managing information about events that occur in the game. If you implement this right, it shouldn’t be limited to any of the human senses. You can easily fake any kind of sensation by pushing information into the pipeline at the right place.
Meaning: you are not limited to the human senses, you can make up any data and feed it into the system.
Sometimes though, you need to make the system dumber than it actually is:
“Most interesting is the snippet that restrains the AI’s ability to see the player until seen by the player, which is purely for coordinating the player’s entertainment.”
As a matter of fact, the game's difficulty level can be adjusted by making the NPCs more predictable in their reactions and/or stating their current state clearly.
But then again: Is this really necessary? Can't we assume grown up players that have learned to deal with missing information and ambiguity?
Unfortunately, as a second article about Halo 3's AI system shows, have gamers a tendency to
attribute the easy parts to poor AI and the hard parts to evil level designers.
The Halo 3 paper has another 40 tricks how to make the player believe that there are intelligent agents acting.
This is the article that got me into wanting to play Silent Hill 2:
In the ongoing evolution of computer games towards a mature art form, we see many blips on the radar that fade away after some time. But there is one game that never goes away. Silent Hill 2. There’s something about that game that is so intensely inspiring, beautiful and moving that it continues to give hope to everyone on this path.
By creating some of the most important artistic aspects of both Silent Hill 1 and 2, Takayoshi Sato has been one of very few people within the games industry that have been of major importance to our own activity at Tale of Tales. His work demonstrated that there was room in the games industry for subtle art work and complex stories, something which is easy to forget in the ongoing onslaught of infantile entertainment that the industry continues to excrete. Mr. Sato approaches the medium as an art form. A medium that allows us to talk about human stories in a sophisticated and beautiful way. And he does this with impressive commercial success to boot.
Elite, the Metroid series, Dungeon Siege, God of War I and II, Half-Life (but not Half-Life 2), Shadow of the Colossus, the Grand Theft Auto series; some of the best games ever (and Dungeon Siege) have done away with the level mechanic and created uninterrupted game spaces devoid of loading screens and artificial breaks between periods of play. Much like cut scenes, level loads are anathema to enjoyment of game play, and a throwback to the era of the Vic-20 and Commodore 64 when games were stored on cassette tapes, and memory was measured in kilobytes. So in this era of multi-megabyte and gigabyte memory and fast access storage devices why do we continue to have games that are dominated by the level structure, be they commercial (Halo 3, Portal, Team Fortress 2), independent (Darwinia) and amateur (Nethack, Angband)?