Isn’t that Vignette Spatial?

Since September 4th I’ve been trying to write a post for this month’s Blogs of the Round Table. At first, I thought about discussing why Chris Crawford said that artistic expression through videogames is mostly limited to space (the part that starts at the 4:33 mark). Which after some reasoning was true to some extent, but such thinking got me nowhere. Then I just looked at our medium and tried to identify the inherent limits that it may present. Basically, I arrived at something like “we are only constrained by our screen and our speakers”, which is frankly anything but a revelation. Thinking about space in broad terms got me nowhere, so here, let’s approach the issue from another angle, let’s try to answer a simpler question: How many game design ideas can I come up with that deal directly with space? That number turned out to be 7.

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So, yeah, this post is about me throwing ideas out in the open. Well, rather than “ideas” I’d call them “gameplay vignettes”. Please enjoy. Or not, that’s entirely up to you.

  • An interpretation of how the creation of ideas work: The screen is filled with different nodes, each representing a theme in particular. Ideas are created when mixing and matching this different concepts to form something new (new nodes). The distance between two nodes is proportional to the difficulty of connecting these two themes together. The more creative the person is, the bigger is their maximum distance to relate themes.
  • An interactive fiction where the main character can’t move or look at anything. The only method to learn about his surroundings is through conversation with a character.
  • A blind protagonist: Third person camera. Everything in the gameworld is rendered in black and white, but only the things that are at 3 foots or less from the protagonist can be seen on the screen as black silhouettes. If it isn’t clear enough: here I’m trying to convey how blind people perceive space, or at least how I perceive space when I have my eyes closed.
  • Third person camera, ground completely flat, seemingly infinite space. But the moment the player walks, she’ll notice that her footprints are repeated in the ground ad infinitum (there’s only 100 square foots of real terrain). This is just a visual idea, but a powerful one if done correctly and in the right moment. Maybe moving crates/blocks around to get to the exit? Running at incredible speeds to then use a ramp and land in an impossibly high exit door? Maybe you would just draw complicated patterns in the middle of the air, dancing, letting movement flow and create a ballet with millions of backup dancers doing the same. Mmmhhh, dancing with yourself… that reminds me of something (“paint it red” to be precise).
  • A giant chess/checkers game that is played by itself (or by other players). It’s all played through the night, with only the lights of shots being fired illuminating the battlefield. The ride of the Valkyries playing in the background. Here, the player is controlling a small group of characters that are trying to avoid being squashed by the moving pieces.
  • Third person camera (wow, that’s a shocker). The world deforms around the avatar of the player whenever she walks. When she tries to move in one direction, the world stretches at the sides and the things that appeared in front of the camera start to look like they are getting closer. The more the world deforms the more force the avatar has to do to keep moving until she eventually stops (rubber band like). If the player let’s go of the controls at any time, the world snaps back into position, making it look like the avatar never moved from the spot.
  • A camera system for third person games: Let the camera go through the geometry, and everything that obscures the camera get’s turned semi-transparent. The concept is easy, the implementation is actually really hard. So much so that nobody has ever done it 100% free of graphical glitches yet. Still, it’s a neat solution to camera control problems, although for tight space it will probably eliminate the sense of claustrophobia, which depending on the intent of the game designer, this might be a good or bad thing.

I did have to discard some of the ideas that popped into my mind, mostly because of lack of interest. For the most part they were ideas that had already been done and that I couldn’t add anything interesting to them.

Ideas such as:

  • Circular spaces (see Aether, Psychonauts and Mario Galaxy)
  • Switching between spaces (see Shift, Super Paper Mario and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past)
  • Changes in gravity/perspective (see everything from Loco Roco to Symphony of the Night  to VVVVVV)
  • Space customization (see Love, Sim City and any tycoon or sim game ever made)

Of course, some games even combine two of these ideas, such as Super Paper Mario being a game about switching bewteen spaces by changing perspective, but still, I couldn’t think about anything of substance to do with these 4 concepts. That is, for now. If can come up with even more gameplay vignettes I’ll be sure to add them here.

Please visit the Round Table’s Main Hall for more entries on this month’s topic.

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3 thoughts on “Isn’t that Vignette Spatial?

  1. Tesh

    A note from a 3D game artist on the camera:

    Making geometry transparent isn’t a complete solution. Most of what you see in games isn’t “solid”, it’s a series of one-sided shells. You can see this if you ever happen to get stuck underground in something like WoW. Look around, and you’ll note that the “ground” is transparent from “underground”, simply because it’s not rendered from that direction.

    So, if you make an interfering wall semitransparent and shove the camera through it, not only does *that* wall need to be double sided (which can be a waste of resources and rendering power), but anything else that you might conceivably see needs to be as well. The floor typically only runs to where it meets the wall, for example. If your camera is behind that wall, you can see that the floor abruptly ceases to exist, and you may well be staring into the void where you’d think a continued floor would be.

    The fix for that would be to extend the floor, but again, that’s a waste of resources.

    There are some things like trees and other self-contained obstructions that can work with a semitransparent camera hack, but walls really won’t without more resources, and that’s hitting the rule of diminishing returns pretty quickly.

    (Oh, and semitransparency is trouble for other reasons. One, those trees and the like would *still* need to be double sided so as not to look stupid when semitransparent, and transparency is a bear to get behaving at the best of times. There are good reasons why most games use single bit alpha whenever possible. Z-sorting and render order can be terribly tricky or processor intensive in 3D.)

  2. Diego Doumecq

    Interesting. Isn’t cell-shading a rendering technique that consumes less resources? Would that help soften the blow of all that extra stuff you need to draw in order to have a camera that clips geometry?

    Even then, you could use an art style that requires less poligons and/or simpler textures.

    Yes, I can clearly see why every single game has a camera that strictly avoids cliping geometry, but that doesn’t make the idea invalid under certain circumstances. In fact, every single idea I posted here is pretty much a special case scenario.

    ….

    Mmmmhhh, that sounded kind of defensive, didn’t it? Heh, talk about a knee-jerk reaction. Sorry about that, and thanks for the information! I didn’t know it was _that_ difficult to do.

  3. Tesh

    *chuckle*

    No offense taken (or meant; it’s a good idea if implemented well). You’re right that such a camera technique could work in cases. I should have noted that.

    It’s just that there’s more to it than changing an alpha setting bit in the code, and even *that* has problems with sorting. 🙂

    Cel shading is an interesting beast. Sometimes it can actually be *more* processor intensive than traditional rendering. It depends on how it’s processed and what else is going on with the surface. You don’t have all of the texture data to process (sometimes, anyway; CO has textures *and* cel shading effects), but you do still need the engine to find the “edges” of the object as it changes in 3D space, and render the cel edge (or internal shading edges). Sometimes it’s faster to just give the processor absolute surface data and tell it to render it rather than tell it to constantly calculate how things should render based on the cel shading algorithms and 3D data (including changing meshes and/or camera angle).

    Zelda:Windwaker is a good example. They had to wait for the GameCube to make the game because the shading engine would have been too much for the N64, despite far simpler texturing.

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