A while ago while I was on vacation I spent a lazy Saturday morning channel-surfing. One of the things that came on was Disney’s Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, and something about it immediately stuck with me: the iconic movement of its characters. Pooh clumsily waddled, Piglet frantically scurried, Roo playfully hopped, Eeyore paced at a glacial speed, Tigger carelessly bounced on his tail and Rabbit had a cocksure stride.
Without explicitly stating anything about the characters, these traits imbued them with an instant and very powerful sense of personality. It’s something videogames have been known to do as well, but not that frequently.
Of course any character trait can be memorable and evocative as body language is a pretty universal thing. Generic personality quirks, though, tend to be tricky. It’s very easy for quirks to become caricatures, especially if they represent some sort of a cliche, e.g., the gruff loner who always crosses his arms. They also cover a large field with plenty of subtleties that are not always feasible to implement. Then there’s the issue of plugging them in: do they happen automatically, or are they random, or only initiated by the player?
There’s validity to all these approaches, but movement is unique because it’s pretty much a guarantee. Your characters will move, so why not use that? It worked wonders for Sly Cooper and his fast and soft gait, and for Altair with his weighty, coiled-spring like movements. And hey, sometimes even cliches are preferable to no personality at all…
A new post on Gamasutra has popped up that deals with body language a bit more in-depth, so I figured I’d add a link to it.
DreamWeb is an old DOS/Amiga cyberpunk-themed adventure game developed by Creative Reality. The titular DreamWeb is what secretly holds the world together. Some guys are out to destroy it, though, so the monks that maintain it awaken you, the chosen one, to save the it. It’s all very Matrix-y, and, oddly enough, takes place in just a postage-stamp area of the screen. Unfortunately, the rest of the visual real estate isn’t used for your inventory, and the whole game has a pretty horrible interface.
Still, its dark graphics and brooding audio fit the theme, and it has a couple other notable parts:
- The projected 2D view is almost entirely top-down (which is very rarely used), helping to give the game a distinct look.
- The bottom-left corner of the screen contains a small window which shows a “zoomed-in” (i.e., scaled up) portion of the postage-stamp where the cursor is currently residing. This helps to offset the small viewport and enhances the investigative aspect of the game. It also makes navigation easier since the window contains a verbal description of what’s underneath the cursor.
- The size of the postage stamp itself is relative to the area the player is in, adding a sense of scale to the locations he visits.
- There are a lot of well animated cutscenes in DreamWeb that are seamlessly implemented in the game. For example, the player’s first assassination mission ends with him bursting into a room where a couple is having sex (yes, this is the somewhat famous sex scene). As soon as this happens, the naked woman scuttles away and hides under the bed, while Crane, the player’s target, grabs a pillow to cover his crotch.
- Although the player gathers various weapons throughout the game, they’re all context sensitive and only used during specific segments (which don’t even require the player to select a target).
- Putting on sunglasses is reflected in the game’s HUD via the player’s portrait.
- The game has a very brutal atmosphere, best exemplified by the second assassination mission where the player drops a heavy crate on top of his target during a live TV broadcast (this also makes very good use of the perspective).
Monster World IV is something of a semi-official sequel to Wonder Boy 5: Monster World 3. It’s a cutesy, large-sprited side-scroller in which the player takes on the role of a young girl named Arsha.
The game is mostly a linear platformer with some rudimentary puzzles and RPG elements, but its highlight is the cute little sidekick Pepe. It’s easy to initially assume that Pepe will help you fight the various enemies you encounter, but he never actually attacks anyone. Instead, he can be used to help Arsha traverse the game’s environments. This might not sound like a big deal, but the there’s lots of variety here:
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a non-linear FPS developed by Ukrainian studio GSC Game World. Thematically and conceptually it’s based on the novel Roadside Picnic and the movie Stalker, but gameplay wise it’s a mishmash of various genre conventions.
It’s also very much a hardcore game that’s difficult to play because of its mechanics and its dreary atmosphere. Still, there’s a lot of interesting stuff here:
In-game collectibles are a staple of platformers and play a big part in various videogame genres. They help to fill out maps, provide points bonuses and aid the player in overcoming the game’s challenges. They also flesh out the setting, sometimes even being used as part of its architecture, e.g., the coin-arrows in the various Super Mario games.
Collectibles seem to speak to the kleptomaniac side of our personality, encouraging us to take all that we see. In console RPGs, it’s common to break into people’s homes, rummage through their belongings, and generally pillage the entire world that you’re trying to save.
And why not, really? After all, as players we want to be rewarded for exploring. It’d be awfully dull going from one empty room to another, so letting us interact with the game as if it were an episode of Supermarket Sweep might not be such a bad idea.