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About


Oh hey!

I'm celebrity author and renowned street mime Panzadolphin56. This is my blog. I write things here.

...in case the blog bit didn't give that away.

Anyway! To the left you'll find my latest blogs, and beneath this you'll find a fairly comprehensive list of most of what I've written over the years (unfortunately some stuff does eventually get bumped off the list.)

I like to write from a fairly critical standpoint about games, usually analysis or talking about issues that interest me, I also do retrospectives from time to time, talk about games I've been playing, write the funny things that come into my head, and very occasionally do some crappy art.

I hope you enjoy what you read!

I also make videos a little now, so check those out if you'd like - http://www.youtube.com/user/godi3400

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A little about me:

I am mostly a story person, good mechanics are good mechanics but button pressing never does anything for me. I like Horror, I like Cyberpunk, I like Neo-Noir (especially crossed with Cyberpunk), I like good art and good writing, I like games that cut against the grain or choose to challenge social or industry norms in some way.

I don't have a single favourite game but I am a big fan of the MGS games, Snatcher, the Forbidden Siren series, Silent Hill 2, the old-school Resident Evils, Advance Wars and Power Dolls, among many, many others.

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Critical Pieces:

Of Inventories and Horror Games
Crafting A Good Game of 'The Thing'
Alien(s), Creative license and Borrowed Ideas
Crossing from TV/Movie to Games
Scope and Depth in the world of gaming
Boss Battles - When do they ever make sense?
Survival Horror Essentials
Colonial Marines: Well, that kind of sucked...
Disability, Disease in Games
Blood 2 and Post-Modernism
Topics, Tropes and Atmosphere in Horror games
Realism Vs. Fantasy - Who Wins?
The gradual drift away from the mainstream
Is There Horror in The Ugly...?
The Fourth Wall and taking games seriously
Are You Always Online?
Hype: Aliens Vs. Predator
To shoot stuff or not to shoot stuff?
Character Design and Choice in Games
Culture Vs. Creativity: Where do Stories come from?
Where you go Isometric-Strategy Games?
What's the Point of Games?
Do Horror games even still exist...?
Why are Characters Always so White...?
Choice in Games: Heavy Rain

A Magical Dolphin Plays:

Sepulchre
The King of the Wood

Retrospectives:

Resident Evil Remake
Aliens Vs Predator 2
Sweet Home
Forbidden Siren
System Shock 2

Pick up and Plays:

Call of Cthulhu and the Spectre of Good Horror
Story Books and Nightmares in Rule of Rose
B-Movie Bliss: Extermination
Along for the ride with Michigan: Report From Hell
Some thoughts on Wargame: European Escalation
Skyrim: Impressions

Funny/Less Critical Stuff:

Get Yo Summer Game On
Lazyblog: Box Art
Escaping into the Darkness of Hellnight
Diversity what what?!?: Black Mamba Edition
Why Do We Still Have Exploding Barrels...?

Art:

Dead Space 3, in a nut shell.
CROSSOVER: Mario X Siren
Boss: Learning the Tools of the Trade

Front Pages:
Tales from Skyrim: The skinhead shopkeep
Player Profile
PSN ID:karatedolphin66
Steam ID:PD56
Mii code:Hell if I know!
Raptr ID:Anarchicheron
Follow me:
Twitter:@acidmphino
Panzadolphin56's sites
Badges
Following (26)  


When it comes to games we're often led to believe that more is always better – making an FPS? Well if you want people to really enjoy it you'd better have five locales to visit instead of four, or thirty levels to play instead of twenty; but is it true that the larger the game's scope the better it is?

Setting aside the question of quality, and imagining for the moment that any games we hypothetically talk about will have a similar level of assured quality to one another, do we think that a game having more locations, more backdrops to fight across, more environments to wander through, necessarily leads to an overall better game?



I hesitate to put a real figure on the average number of locales or sections or chapter areas or regions – or whatever the game wants to call them, since it really does depend a lot on the game and the genre.

If you take side-scrolling 2D shooters like Metal Slug or Contra for example, each new level has it's own richly designed and intricate backdrop (speaking at least of their 16-bit iterations), but we don't tend to think of the individual levels as 'sections', so much as we group all the levels with a similar visual theme together.

Bioshock Infinite on the other hand, has only one location really, (not including the Light House), which is Columbia, but within Columbia we can group sections of gameplay together because of their theme and the story elements. It's like Rapture in that regard, there's really only one locale or 'site of the action', but we can divide levels within that locale into sections.

Then there's big FPS shooters like Modern Warfare 3 or Battlefield 3 which often have very generic individual levels but a certain number of 'locations' you visit, around the world, and the levels can be grouped by these different themed area – Modern Warfare 3 had a bit in Africa, a bit in Eastern Europe, and obviously there was the New York bit, aswell as a few others. I don't know all the locales in Battlefield 3, the singleplayer was so bad I almost poked myself in the eye with a fork - pretty sure it followed a similar model though!



What links them all though, despite the genre differences, is that rooms and locations are often disposable in most games – especially more modern games, we move through them once, do what we have to, then move onto the next, usually with the last area being cut off somehow. The scope of most (at least AAA) games is usually very large, there's usually not much focus on a specific location, just a journey across locations.

But is that necessarily a good thing?

Can we imagine a game that is (subjectively speaking) near perfect with only say three locales to play through?

What about a game with only ten rooms to move around in?

Or one room?

Isn't it possible that AAA games have overlooked the obvious, something that was understood for years and done simply out of necessity and the limitations of the hardware at the time, but seems forgotten now: That it's just as possible to tell a story in a confined location as across a sprawling series of locations.



The thought struck me while playing through the GameCube remake of Resident Evil - the original Resident Evil was heavily limited in scope by both the limitations of the hardware of the day but also the financial and human resource limitations of Capcom as a company at the time – they didn't have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend or the talent to work on a game of immense scale, nor did they have the potential market to recoup those costs if they had spent it.

What resulted from this was a model that would form the foundation of Survival Horror games for at least a decade or so, where a game would have principally one location (a mansion, a colony in a jungle, a secret base, a police station, a small town) and then repeatedly explore sections of that location as the plot develops and the locations change.

But the remake was made without those same technological limitations – limitations that even held back PS2 games in terms of what was possible; as was shown only a few years later with Resident Evil 4 the GameCube could handle a fast-paced action game, yet the Resident Evil remake still kept much of the limited scope that characterised the original Resident Evil's level and gameplay design.

Why?

Well in deciding to remake an older game the developer had bought into a model of game design that had generally been considered outdated (and still is) in AAA games. One that as I've already said favoured a much tighter scope, and largely a single location to explore – the mansion. Yet even though we've generally been led to believe that games must be bigger and better to succeed and qualify as good games the REmake was good despite having largely that one location, and that smaller, more intimate scope.



A game is an experience afterall, and as potentially pretentious as that sounds it's true, and being stuck in one location, having to repeatedly travel back and forth in it, is a very different experience to moving quickly from one type of area to another and never looking back. As indie games have shown in recent years we don't necessarily want a game to be everything at once or to do twelve different things at a time, sometimes we like the focus a game has of only doing one thing.

Though the REmake is quite old now (about eleven years old) it still shows that a game being limited in scope doesn't necessarily make it bad.

Now don't get wrong I'm not arguing that this applies to every game, limited scope makes sense in some genres, in others not so much: In a Survival Horror game, where the emphasis is on frustrating, confusing and challenging the player, having them retread the same area repeatedly can really wind the player up (in a good way) and add to that sense of tension, that sense of 'omg, when can I get out of here?!'; on the other hand with a side-scrolling shooter or even a modern FPS having only one backdrop or level to run around repeatedly would likely kill the game, because the point of the game is fast, non-stop action, and a single backdrop would frustrate the player in a way those types of games aren't supposed to.



It makes sense in some types of games to have potentially limited scope, not so much in others.

And note that I'm not saying that developers should be lazier or try less or be less ambition, but rather that there's obsession with length and width in games, and it sometimes seems like we've forgotten that depth can also be really good in games. Rather than a game having a hundred levels why not have ten, then use the person-hours you would've used to make those 90 other levels to build up the ten you do have – add random elements perhaps, make them feel more detailed, more cluttered.

There was a time when reusing areas and game assets was mandatory for shipping a game within cost and creating a playable experience that lasted long enough, and a lot of games, especially Survival Horror ones, took advantage of this limitation to make a unique sort of experience for the player. We don't really have that problem so much now, budgets have skyrocketed whilst the cost of making games has gone down and it's easier than ever for people to make games – there are free engines and tools coming out of the wazoo that can let you create a game, not a AAA quality one, but a decent-enough one. Yet somehow we've forgotten that a game feeling small doesn't necessarily mean there isn't depth to it, and that a larger scope doesn't necessarily equal a better game, just a different type of experience.



One of the things I've realised as we moved out of the era of which Survival Horror was largely king – arguably the PS2 era, and into one where the archetype of what is a 'game' has shifted more towards multiple locations and moving quickly from one area to the next and never returning, is that that early model of game design offered a completely different kind of experience to what we have now: that limited scope helped create the atmosphere and gameplay style that made those games have such an impact - the cramp corridors, the limited number of on-screen enemies at any one time, the frustrating control mechanics.

It's funny when you think about it really, because in a sense what helped shape those games and make them classics – one of the fundamental elements that ended up guiding their design model, were the limitations of the hardware of the time; the very same thing that no doubt stifled the ambitions of the developers to a great degree.

Speaking more generally that contrast in game models is most evident in the difference between the feel of Survival Horror games and more recent Action Horror games. Survival Horror being the more old school type games – Resident Evil, Fatal Frame, Rule of Rose, Silent Hill 2; Action Horror being mostly games that came after Resident Evil 4 showed horror could be action-packed, games like Resident Evil 5 and 6 and also the Dead Space series being good examples.



Whereas Survival Horror was very much rooted in the limitations of the technology of the day, and therefore typically involved very cramp, repeatedly re-used locations – sometimes pre-rendered backdrops that were very cluttered and had a lot of time spent on them, which aided that sense of frustration at not being able to escape; Action Horror focuses on much larger, more open areas, you're not meant to get frustrated or confused, and the locations, the areas, are meant to be pretty much sped through, most just being slightly dressed up long corridors.

If you've ever stopped at any point in Resident Evil 4 after clearing out all the enemies in an area you'll know what I mean – the locations are literally mostly corridors and spaces with (the videogame equivalent of) painted backdrops to give you the sense you're in a certain kind of location. And this is true of almost every location in RE4, in-part because of the limitations of the hardware but also for cost reasons and there was also no real need to. If you do the same in Resident Evil Remake though you find that though the areas are cramped and the enemies limited in number the backdrops are very detailed, and you have to pass through these areas repeatedly, which gives the game a very different feel.

Now arguably neither of these games is a good example of how scope works in modern games (they're both quite old now) but they serve as good exemplars of how the bare mechanics at the heart of each model work for different aims: In the case of the REmake, we see the limited scope of a PS1 game remade with the technology of a console that could do a lot more than it evidently had to with the game, and the end result is a more detailed, deeper gameplay experience; with Resident Evil 4 what we see is a game trying to do the best it can with the hardware at it's disposal to create a fast-moving action experience, but because of the limitations of the hardware though we see the wizard behind the curtain (so to speak) a lot easier.



Neither is really 'good' or 'bad' in the overall sense, but rather they exemplify different game design models, models that offer completely different gameplay experiences, which is something the mainstream industry hasn't really adapted to properly yet (though arguably it's flourishing in the indie market). Games like Modern Warfare, Resident Evil 4, Gears of War, benefit from that quick move from one area to another model of design, it's work intensive but the end result is an experience a lot of people enjoy.

Survival Horror games on the other hand, I would argue largely benefit from limited scope, it sounds counter-intuitive when you think about it, that any game would benefit from having less, but depth to what you have is the point. Survival Horror is principally about doing a lot of the opposite of what games usually do – making the player feel weak, frustrating them, making them uncomfortable or distressed, and limiting the scope of a game - forcing the player to retread the same areas over and over again can reinforce that sense of alienation that Survival Horror so strives for, if done right.

I do think though that potentially that limited scope approach to a game can have other potential uses outside of just Survival Horror, it's not just about reducing the workload or making games more cheaply but also about giving the player different gameplay experiences – we don't want everything to be saving the world, shit blowing up everywhere experiences. Games aren't one homogeneous block of experience, we like variety, we like difference, and hopefully in time the mainstream industry will come to realise there are lots of different types of gameplay experiences they can give us.



Like with film or books or even theatre we don't want one single scale of story– you can see plays, watch films or read books that are about vast wars that span continents, or ones that focus on the life of a city, or a town, or even just two people. Epic conflicts can be enacted between vast fantasy armies; couples can fall in love; a group of survivors can attempt to survive in an underground bomb shelter after an apocalypse; penguins can talk.

And while I'm not trying to argue any of those types of stories necessarily fit within a game, the potential range of scope as to what videogames can cover is much the same as any other creative medium, from the little – the interpersonal, right upto the big – the galactic wars, the fantasy conflicts, the political intrigue.

Personally for a long time now I've been interested in seeing games play around with limited scope more – sure I'd love to see more games with the old Survival Horror model get made, but I'm also interested in seeing maybe a game where you're stuck in a house and you literally only have ten rooms to move around in, and somehow the developer does enough with only ten rooms (perhaps having them change everytime you visit or every so often) that it keeps the player engaged and entertained; or even a game where it's maybe you and another character stuck in a single room and the developer makes that entertaining.

I doubt either of those last two ideas will come to shake the very foundation of AAA gaming anytime soon – indeed I'd expect if they did get made they'd be done by an indie developer, but the point is they'd be an interesting challenge to the idea that a bigger scope always equals a better game.
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When it comes to all the possible ways that people can express themselves creatively, and hope to succeed to a degree to be able to commercially benefit from that creativity, games probably aren't really on the easy side of the spectrum – atleast not unless you've got friends with deep pockets or are willing to keep the project quite small and do all the work yourself. When it comes to mainstream games the creative pool is especially restricted.

Unlike a book say where you may only need one writer, or a film where you may just need a camera and a few actors (which could be expensive, but not as expensive) games often require a lot more people, working a lot more intensely on a project for a prolonged period of time. As such you don't tend to get as many 'artistic' or visionary games – where you mostly just have one person's ideas or very niche themes explored, like you do with film or books.



Somebody could sit here and pen a story about a protagonist whose whole experience in the story world is centred around Nietzschean philosophy or the tenets of some obscure religion and potentially could sell it to all 12 people who'd actually be interested in reading it, and there might even be a market for it as a film, but it's unlikely a game would ever get made about the same sort of thing, principally because of the relative cost and the perceived market. Games with those sorts of unusual themes just don't tend to get made.

That's why Rule of Rose is so fucking weird.

Like, really, really weird.

And not in a sort of LSD (the game, but ok, maybe also the drug) way, but more in the sense that somebody sat down and decided to make a really interesting game involving a lot of uncomfortable themes that don't often get explored in any medium (let alone games). It makes sense as a sort of interesting exploration of those uncomfortable themes (which really, is what horror does best) but as a commercial product I'm surprised anybody in a suit actually sat down and ok'd the game's development.



Typically we expect it more from films or books but here you're actually playing it. In the last few years a number of small indie titles have started to explore all sorts of themes through the medium of games, with varying degrees of success, but it's interesting all the same that a game like Rule of Rose (that was released on the PS2) could get away with trying to do something so unusual.

I'm rambling a bit though, and perhaps getting ahead of myself. I should explain a bit about Rule of Rose.

Rule of Rose is a PS2 Survival Horror game. Principally set in 1930's England and about a teenage girl (she looks to be around 16/17) called Jennifer who ends up at an orphanage and is thrust into this very abusive, tight-knit social circle when she meets the children who call the orphanage home and has to do various tasks to gain their respect.



The 'story' such as it is, is a little vague at times to put it lightly. Though obviously there is a story which eventually pulls all the different events of the game together, the story isn't forced in your face and a lot of what you learn is more inferred than explicitly explained – which when it comes to a lot of the themes that seemed to be explored in the game make it an especially uncomfortable experience at times. For me the real substance of the game is the themes it explores though – typically when it comes to Survival Horror games people most associate the monsters of a game with the game, think of Silent Hill and everybody thinks of Pyramid Head, think of Resident Evil and everybody thinks of zombies, but in reality it's often the themes and issues that a Survival Horror game explores that have the most lasting impact on us.

Though the game centres around an orphanage - i.e. a place full of children that you might expect to be bright and lively, the atmosphere is so unpleasant, the children so unlikeable, and everything about the game so perfectly geared towards creating that oppressive atmosphere, that you can't help but feel a sense of tension building as you play and the story develops. It struck me quite early on that the game made me feel that same sense of oppressive caution that 'Lord of the Flies' has – there's this sense that on the outside the principal cast are adorable young children but underneath that though is something a lot darker and more dangerous, something that only comes out once the adults are out of sight. They almost become feral.



Indeed much of the game is characterised by Jennifer basically being bullied and pushed around by these young girls as they try to force her to do things for them, with little gain for Jennifer. Yet even though the scope of the game is so parochial, and basically centred around the mind of this one girl, it works as Survival Horror predominantly because as you play you get this unsettling, oppressive sense of atmosphere that drives the horror.

It's hard to explain why it works exactly, as obviously described like that it does sound horrible, but there's no glorification of any of it - the bullying is ugly, the children you meet are hideous creatures (though they look like beautiful little children) and even the few adults you meet are unpleasant people. What the game does though is build this up as part of the ugly world Jennifer finds herself in, a world that feels much the same to her as the zombie-infested world of Resident Evil does to Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield, oppressive, stifling and potentially very dangerous.

Everything about the game is geared towards giving you this oppressive sense of 'aloneness', that's common in really good Survival Horror games: the sort of chilling violin music, the impish enemies who are never really explained properly – and could possibly be a figment of Jennifer's imagination, the picture book stories that bookend the different segments of the game, and the thoroughly unpleasant and often treacherous way the children treat Jennifer.



Perhaps individually the elements may not amount to much but as a whole the game offers an incredibly interesting experience, atleast storywise. Arguably the game is bogged down by some crappy aspects though.

Pacing being one, it is a pretty slow game. You do actually complete different segments pretty quickly and pretty easily but there's not a whole lot of fanfare between sections so if you're not interested in the story (or even if you're just confused) it can seem a little underwhelming. That said I'd like to think the slow-pace is intentional – as the story and themes the game tries to explore are more akin to an old ghost story than something you might see in an action movie. Hence the slow pace.

Another thing that doesn't help the game very much is the combat.

The combat is very clunky, it's also often very hit and miss aswell – your best bet is to run away from most fights if you can. If you don't then it's more than likely that you will end up throwing the controller at the wall at some point, as you'll often find either enemies seem to be able to reach quite a bit further than it appears they can given their on-screen reach or that even though it looks like you should have hit the enemy your weapon went straight through them with no effect.

From what I can tell it's mostly that you catch them in certain parts of an animation cycle (like if they're getting up or swinging their weapon) and for some reason that stops the hit being recognised; so it's not like it's unpredictable, but all the same it is very annoying and makes the combat feel very loose at times.



Without it sounding too laughable a thing to say about a game though Rule of Rose is arguably not something you play for its solid or enjoyable combat mechanics – indeed like most Survival Horror games, what the game does so well is more the atmosphere, the story, the tension it creates as you play. This is a weird game, a very, very weird game, that explores some really interesting (but unpleasant) issues around the way children are treated, treat each other and how generally shitty and unpleasant people and life can be.

Rule of Rose is one of those games that will appeal to people interested in story, in exploring issues and the darker side of human nature but it won't win any awards for its combat or explosion quota.
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Bosses.

Can't live with 'em, can't have closure with genuinely satisfying gameplay segments without them.

...well, atleast that's what we generally tend to believe.

And who could blame us for thinking it, bosses have been an integral part of gaming for a long time now - but why do bosses exist in the first place? Do we need them?



While I can't sit here and argue about who was the first developer or what was the first game to decide that a boss was a good idea I think speaking more generally they've risen to prominence in games specifically because of what they represent. Much like the 'big bad' character that the protagonist ends up fighting at the end of a movie or book, or like the set piece action sequences you get, bosses in games help to signify the end of a block of story or a section of a game – in much the same way as you might change location between chapters or levels; its a sort of mental marker for our experience. They also offer a more prominent challenge or obstacle for the player, a change of pace – a unique character to fight who isn't 'just another' indistinguishable supernumerary.

Broadly speaking I think this is why bosses have been so integral to games for as long as they have – unlike in movies or books where obviously you don't have hardware limitations as to what action can go on (though you obviously might have financial and logistical limitations in terms of making a movie and Stephenie Meyer's hormonal teenager imagination with a book), games have hardware but also disc space limitations.



Hardware limitations are a big problem even today but were an bigger problem for earlier generations of console. You couldn't put a whole lot on-screen - nor in a whole lot of detail, and you also didn't have a whole lot of storage space for multiple sprites/models/textures.

So rather than doing less and keeping each fight sequence unique games instead opted to use repeated instances of the same enemies (think of games like Streets of Rage where you fight the same gutter thugs over and over again, that sort of thing), and supplement those repetitive fight sequences with (relatively) unique boss fights. It was a compromise based off the limitations they had to work with – hardware but also financial and physical – afterall, unlike with a movie or book if a game's developer does choose to add extra unique content that means more work for somebody. Bosses in that sense played (and still do play) a vital compromise role in a lot of games to keep them feeling memorable but also not unnecessarily limit the game in terms of scope.

However, the thing is that as the definition of a game has expanded in the last few decades, and the sort of things we can expect in terms of experience from a game have diversified, bosses in games have become one of those aspects of games that for some have just been taken for granted as necessary – even when they don't make a whole lot of sense to the game in question.

I mean where do we think it makes sense to have bosses?



Personally, I always think that Survival Horror and Shooters have tended to have bosses that have stuck in my mind as making sense, but does every Survival Horror game need bosses? Does every Shooter?

What about Adventure games? Or Puzzle games? Or Visual Novel games?

Where do bosses make sense and where don't they?

Arguably throughout much of what I write there are trends and recurrent themes, among them the sense that giving the player an experience that fits the point of the game is key to how much of an impact the game has on the individual.



What does this mean? Well, generally what we want from a game is a bit of fantasy but also a bit of vaguely realistic enjoyable entertainment – even when we're playing the most fantastical of games or watching the most fantastical of movies we still look for inconsistencies and things that don't quite work, even though we accept the more ridiculous aspects; I'm sure we all know somebody who watches Star Wars – or any sort of Sci-Fi show or movie and points out the minor inconsistencies yet happily overlooks the fact it's set in space on starships and there are aliens all over the place.

The best films, the best books, the best games, are those that seem to click for us, they may be fantasy, they may be unrealistic in a lot of ways but they're coherent within themselves – even if they don't make sense in the real world, they make sense in a world (their own), a little like dreams really.

Why does any of this matter?

Well, bosses like any other aspect of a game have to fit into the whole, the player has to feel they connect well with the rest of the game. If they don't then the game starts to make no sense and sort of falls apart.



Looking at why Shooters have bosses it's pretty obvious that it's a challenge thing – the point of those types of games is that you're challenged to fight your way through levels to finish them, and the boss is the last speed bump before you move onto the next level. Likewise they make sense in some (not all) Survival Horror games because essentially those games are also about challenge – a different sort of challenge, one based more around the weakness of the character and the need to survive rather than an empowering fantasy like most shooters are, but a challenge all the same. So again, it usually makes sense for them to have bosses.

The boss, again, represents that heightened bump along the difficulty curve as you progress towards your next objective, and serves to remind the player that even if they aren't particularly afraid or challenged by the regular monsters that there are always more dangerous foes about.

Take Resident Evil for example, principally say 2 (though we could easily be talking about any of them), the average zombie/zombie dog/licker, does offer some challenge and is a threat, but they can die. And once eliminated they're no longer a threat, unless more repopulate an area. William Birkin on the other hand represents a recurring threat, sure he's not all that tough compared to some bosses in other Survival Horror titles but in terms of the story he doesn't die, he keeps coming back, and the few fights you do have with him are tense and challenging.



In that sense, having William Birkin (and the other bosses in the game), makes sense to the type of story, the type of game, Resident Evil 2 is. The Resident Evil games are fundamentally about that sort of action-movie experience. They're hero stories, and having those boss moments, and emphasising the difference between those moments and ones with ordinary enemies, helps build that sense of accomplishment in the player when they finally do beat the game.

We probably don't need that in a puzzle game or an adventure game necessarily though – though again it depends on the type of game it is, maybe the point of the game is to encourage a sense of accomplishment through the challenge of overcoming unique enemies.

Probably the worst instance of bosses in a game not really making a whole lot of sense for me was Silent Hill 4. You play a man who one day realises he's trapped in his apartment and is unable to leave, as meanwhile a series of weird events seem to occur around the apartment building he's in – really his only way of monitoring the outside world being to watch out his window or spy through a hole in the wall, that is until a mysterious cavernous tunnel appears in his bathroom and he's able to climb through that hole to explore bizarre worlds to piece together the story of what's going on.



It's a really interesting premise, unfortunately the game is bogged down in rather mediocre gameplay, kind of pointless level design and crappy combat.

Oh, and terrible boss fights.

Admittedly, probably a large part of how terrible the boss fights are is how crappy the combat is, but generally they also don't make a whole lot of sense (like a lot of what makes up the actual gameplay). You end up fighting one of those classic 'hit the special weakpoint till an event happens' type final bosses, having to dodge and attack as the boss slowly alters.

It's boring to say the least.

It also doesn't make a whole lot of sense in the context of the story.

Whereas a game like Resident Evil 2 is about being a sort of action hero, and games like Streets of Rage or say Contra or even Gears of War are also to some extent also about playing the hero, and so it largely makes sense for them to have bosses, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense with Silent Hill 4.



It's been awhile now since I've played it, but principally I remember the game was about the story, a very slow, very old-fashioned story – I mean christ, you were 'stuck' in your apartment for most of the game, it was one of those stories that was by it's nature meant to be slow, if it was going to work properly. It was haunting in a sense, the premise atleast – you were basically exploring this sort of spooky ghost tale, and into that was shoe-horned combat and bosses because (I guess) they assumed it being a Silent Hill game meant it had to have those things, when really it would have made more sense for the game to have almost no combat and just left you to explore spooky, empty corridors.

I mean imagine if somebody took a Gothic Horror story and then inserted dudes with bazookas into it, it wouldn't make a whole lot of sense and would probably ruin the point of it being Gothic Horror :/

It wasn't quite as bad as that with Silent Hill 4 but it's that sort of attempt to merge two very opposing types of experience that they tried to do, and it ended up sucking. I daresay a part of why it sucked was how poor the enemy design was in general but having bosses didn't help any.

Which is rather ironic, considering personally I always felt that the bosses in the earlier Silent Hill games had worked really well and made sense overall, but with 4 it just felt nonsensical. And generally speaking this is where I think bosses either work or don't work - if they don't make sense in the context of the game then they may well fail as part of the game, or at the very least leave the player feeling indifferent.



Siren is another example of a game where the bosses feel a little odd, I wouldn't say they outright fail as with Silent Hill 4 - indeed some are very fun, but it never made sense to me that the game is essentially about survival and escape ...right up until the end when your character, despite being pathetically weak, decides to challenge the boss rather than escape (and this is true of the second game aswell actually.)

Again, it's that sense that having the bosses in the game doesn't quite match the intent of the game – the survival and escape aspect. Yet they put it in because they felt that games need bosses if people are going to want to play them. I don't think it helped Siren much that every level ended with the words 'Mission Accomplished' emblazoned across the screen (and not an aircraft carrier in sight) either, but that's another matter.

In the end bosses are like any other aspect of games, they have to feel like they largely fit the context of the game if they're going to work; obviously mechanics is a bit part of that, but if you're making a game that is primarily a slow ponderous puzzle game then a high-action boss fight at the end of the game might not make all that much sense.

Then again, it might just, it always depends on the game.
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So I picked up a copy of Extermination a week or so ago, and was able to play through the game pretty quickly (in about four or fives hours), and that made me think about and then eventually do a pretty long write-up about Survival Horror essentials, but even though it inspired the piece Extermination only really got mentioned in passing. I liked the game though, so I thought I'd do a short write-up about how the game plays.

Extermination is a PS2 Survival Horror game that follows the story of a squad of marines who are sent to investigate a top-secret Antarctic research base when contact is lost with the facility; unbeknownst to them the scientists at the facility have been working on reviving a prehistoric bacteria frozen in an alien artifact for thousands of years. This bacteria is unleashed on the facility, revealing itself to be a pseudo-intelligent lifeforce capable of infecting and mutating living creatures and turning them into monsters, driven only by the urge to in-turn infect others.



Now, granted even at the time I'm not sure the description sounded particularly ground-breaking, and you can probably already tell where Extermination is taking its cues from in terms of story – The Thing mostly, but nevertheless I found it interesting as it also borrows a lot from the Resident Evil games in terms of the general outline of the plot and the way events progress in the game. You have similar sorts of boss fights, and you spend much of the game doing those same sorts of fetch quests.

Overall the game could pass for being pretty forgettable for some (especially if the dialogue has anything to say about it!), but for a Survival Horror fan, and especially a fan of a lot of the mechanics at work in a Resident Evil game I was pleasantly surprised by a lot of the nice little things the game does differently.

The game features a fairly unusual enemy dynamic – whereas most games would have you fighting pretty fearsome or imposing enemies right off the bat, Extermination doesn't. For the first, maybe forty minutes, you don't really meet any of the usual sort of man-sized enemies you might expect.

Much of the first quarter of the game is actually spent avoiding or hunting down these small, leech-like creatures, that slide absently across the scenery and whose only real aggressive action is to spit infectious liquid at you. I'm guessing that probably sounds kind of dumb, and not all that exciting, and individually the creatures really aren't much of a threat – or atleast they don't seem it, but it's more a cumulative thing.



A big part of the game is your having to avoid getting infected, because if you do get infected then you have very little time (or the supplies) to get to somewhere where you can cure yourself. Though individually the 'bugs' (atleast that's what the game calls them, they look more like leeches) don't offer much of a challenge, as a group they can be very dangerous, and they often swarm areas in large numbers – and a fair few of the areas are dark and claustrophobic, just the sort of situation where you might find yourself slipping up.

For the type of game it is, telling the type of story it is, it actually works really well. The game centres around the idea of this infection getting out, yeah? And how do we often think about disease or infection working? Often we imagine a single case of whatever it is infecting somebody, then that spreading to other individuals, before it explodes outward and becomes incredibly dangerous as it spreads to the general populous. The virus in the story works a lot like this, and the way the gameplay and levels – and enemy progression, is designed reflects this really well.

Though the leech-like creatures don't initially pose much danger by themselves, as the game progresses that threat increases as both their number and the other threats in the environment increase. I think it also reflects the nature of the game that the biggest threat those small creatures pose is not one of bodily injury but rather infection – you're more afraid of losing your humanity and becoming a monster than you are of dying in those early stages.



The infection system itself is pretty interesting too, you have two 0/100 meters, one for your health, one for your infection level. Health works as you'd expect, if it falls to 0 you just drop dead. Infection on the other hand doesn't lead to death but rather you enter this sort of limbo state in which you have reduced health, a large prominent patch of mutated flesh appears on your back, and you have limited time to find a recovery station.

Another important mechanic worth mentioning (especially in the context of what I just said) is that you have health supplies but you also have these sort of 'instant recovery pills' that completely recover your health and infection rate, but you can only use them at recovery stations. And once you are infected they're the only cure you have, and though the game does give you a generous amount of these pills there are a finite number of them overall. So you have to be careful.

I do also want to mention in brief the ammo system and how the gun(s) work. Unlike other survival horror games you actually have unlimited ammo in Extermination, but you can only carry so much at a time (determined by how many 'magazines' you have), so when you are low on ammo you have to find a supply room with an ammo dispenser in it. Essentially you have limitless ammo but given how few and far between the supply points are, and how dangerous it often is to get to them, you're forced to be very frugal with your ammo. It struck me as an interesting take on the usual survival horror mechanic of scarce supplies.

The way the weapon system works is also interesting, rather than having multiple weapons you have a single weapon – an assault rifle, but that assault rifle can have a myriad of attachments that offer you different options in combat, including different sights, enemy tracking scopes, an underbarrel shotgun, grenade launcher and even rocket launcher.



Though one or two extra, secondary weapons, might have been nice, I do like the focus on having this one weapon with a single ammo reserve. I found myself worrying a lot more about having enough ammo than I did in other survival horror games, which is funny when you think about it - whereas most survival horror games give you a very finite, definite ammo supply, Extermination gives you unlimited ammo at limited supply points.

Admittedly there are a fair few things I didn't think were so hot about the game, I've mostly focused on the mechanics because they piqued my interest in the game – it messes with the standard survival horror mechanics (well, standard to Resident Evil atleast) to do something interesting, whilst keeping a lot of the plot and narrative elements very standard, which I liked a lot.

On the other hand though those actual plot points are pretty standard B-movie material, you have the heroic lead character, his ill-fated friend(s), the (sort of) love interest, and a general confuddle of events and happenings that don't make a whole lot of logical sense – at one point you discover that a few of the scientists have somehow survived and been leaving notes for one another around the infected base to meet up. How it makes any sense that two civilians could survive that long without having to be huddled in a closet somewhere and not a single soldier from the base manages to survive is beyond me!



I quite like B-movies though so I liked the plot generally, but it is admittedly very dumb at times. I don't think it helps very much how wooden and forced the dialogue sounds. And when I say wooden I do emphatically mean wooden, we're talking 80's anime/D-list movie level performances. For the most part it's ok, but like with a lot of not very well dubbed/translated foreign games I get the sense the original Japanese version probably made more sense and affected the player more (I could be wrong, the plot is still very B-movie, even ignoring the voice acting).

Overall I doubt Extermination is the sort of game that'd impress anybody whose not a fan of the genre but for a Survival Horror fan like myself I was pleasantly surprised by my experience with the game. Kinda glad I got it for next to nothing though!

:D
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So last week I happened to pick up a copy of Extermination, an old PS2 title from the early days of the console, a survival horror game. This year I've been a lot more interested in trying to look into old games from consoles that I never really got a chance to play when they first came out for whatever reason, predominantly horror games.

Having read up a little on the game I was interested to find out that some of the people who worked on it had also worked on Resident Evil, something which some actual playtime with the game confirmed for me. Though it's not Resident Evil, it has a fair few of the tried and tested mechanics of the early games.



That got me thinking again about the mechanics and tropes that help define Survival Horror, I've written about this before but I felt as though it could be interesting to write about again, especially considering how much there is to talk about.

And hey, it's not like I've ever said I wasn't a broken record on the subject, right?

;D

First and foremost I think perception of challenge in survival horror is important; not challenge in the sense that everything in the game must be hard to do necessarily, but rather the game must feel like a struggle of sorts. The player has to feel as though they're fighting an uphill battle as they play, they have to feel that they're going against the odds, and surviving through some combination of luck and skill.



Though we don't often think about it a whole lot most games are centred around the premise that you have power, or that you will have power, incredible power. And because of this they tend to fall into more action movie territory in terms of the kind of engaging experience you have. Survival horror necessarily has to try and oppose that if it's going to have any effect on the player – and note that the game doesn't necessarily have to be literally difficult or set large-scale obstacles in your way, it's more that the player has to feel challenged, they have to feel as though there's no surefire, easy way to solve their problems. Otherwise the game will lose it's sense of tension.

Good examples of this are Forbidden Siren (just Siren in the US) and Resident Evil: Code Veronica.

The Siren games feature purposefully clumsy controls, slow-moving, weak characters, they poorly handle firearms (the few there are) and are mostly useless with hand weapons. As such you as the player are forced to be a lot more careful about how you play, which keeps you on your toes. Your overall goal in Siren is never to 'win' or to succeed in some dramatic fashion, you're not launching a nuke or saving the world, you're just trying to survive, but the player's perception of how difficult that task is, given the gameplay, is in part what makes it scary.



Code Veronica (and infact many of the earlier Resident Evil games) is(/are) a good example of the other way that perception of challenge can work, though the game can be challenging and difficult at times it's largely designed to be a smooth ride (atleast smoother than Siren), and the tasks you have to do to complete the game are relatively simple, but the nature of the way the tasks are presented in the game is such that you as the player are made to feel that you're near enough the last survivor and that each sequence of events, each boss battle, is you surmounting ever larger obstacles, as still even larger obstacles are placed before you.

In both games you have the perception of challenge, but each handles it differently, with Siren the challenge is in the actual gameplay, your goal is relatively simple (to survive) but made difficult by the gameplay. With Code Veronica the challenge is more about how the narrative portrays your tasks and their scale, more than the difficulty of the gameplay.



More generally speaking it should be pretty obvious to say that if the ghosts you're fighting, or the werewolves you have to sneak past to end the level, don't pose any threat, and don't make the player feel afraid, then there's not going to be any sense of tension or danger, and hence no fear.

Realism is kind of a big part of that.

Though we don't tend to think about it a whole lot, a lot of the games we play are very unrealistic, and that's not just a reference to the obvious stuff – like Mario or Sonic, but also more generally to games like Modern Warfare or Uncharted. True those games may have a high level of visual fidelity, but you do play as characters capable of absorbing large amounts of gunfire, who are often capable of feats of inhuman skill, dexterity or strength and seem almost 'unique' in their ability to avoid death.

Not to say this is necessarily a bad thing, just that it's a fact about the games we play. Recharging health, respawning supplies (and enemies), boss battles, high scores, even stuff like cutscenes or how attractive videogame leads are, are some distance away from reality. There's a point to all this though, which is the enjoyability factor. A lot of these concessions to fantasy are made because we want the game to be fun, we want a smooth ride, and we want an experience that feels empowering in some way.



Like in an action film, if the lead character got (realistically) cut down by the first group of thugs he came across it'd be a pretty boring film, and over very quickly. He (or she) has to do inhuman feats because it's the fantasy of it. With games, different sorts of concessions are made to fantasy, with characters being bullet-sponges, capable of using firearms or heavy weapons with little or no training, recharging health, etc. It's also to some degree an acknowledgement of gaming's less technologically sophisticated origins, and also how complicated it would be for games to have 1-for-1 control systems, but that's less important here.

And note: again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the point is that with survival horror that distance between reality and fantasy must be considered carefully. You may want your character to be able to pick up a grenade launcher and take down groups of zombies but would letting them dropkick the zombies across the level be empowering them too much for the type of horror game you want?



It's very much a balancing act between the type of fun you want the player to have, and the type of story you're telling. You obviously don't want the player to be bored, but you also don't want to make them too powerful, in-case it ruins whatever tension and atmosphere you've created elsewhere in the game.

Again, using Forbidden Siren and Code Veronica as examples.

Siren made you weak, made you relatively incapable of using any weapon with any competence, and because of this it's punishingly hard at times but it's fun and very scary. The fact the gap between reality and fantasy in the game is so small makes the horror come alive in a sense.
Whereas in Code Veronica (and indeed all of the Resident Evil games) there's a definite edge of unrealism – Claire's ability to fit an ample supply of herbs, small arms and even a rocket launcher into those tight pants is the stuff of legend.



It's unrealistic but for the type of horror experience the game is trying to create – i.e. a sort of action-movie-esque one, it wouldn't do to have the main character (realistically) having to carry around a huge backpack and wearing body armour. It's also obviously unrealistic that Claire could get bitten or injured as much as she is during a zombie apocalypse and go onto to survive and be healthy, but it's a concession to the type of experience they're going for. Because the game is about fun at the end of the day, and the realism is just there to facilitate that entertainment more than anything.

With survival horror the emphasis on realism is paramount, sure like with an action movie or an action-anything your character may have moments of superhuman ability, but more generally they have to be shown to be fallible, to be just human, if you want the player to be scared.

I think a good example of how to look at how it works from outside of horror is the difference between playing multiplayer in a game like Modern Warfare and a game like Counter-Strike. Sure in Modern Warfare things can get tense but the almost instant respawns, the plentiful ammo and the (relatively) high health mean you don't worry too much about dying.



With Counter-Strike things are a lot different, you can die in just one shot if you're not careful, you often don't have much ammo (unless you've been playing for awhile) and you don't instantly respawn. You have to consider your actions a bit more, and because of that the experience is a lot more tense and can involve a lot more forethought.

A good survival horror game tries to give you that same feeling, it just tries to scare you at the same time.

I think it goes without saying that most people know a big part of survival horror is limited ammo and supplies, and it's a point worth making again. It's not just about limited ammo though but also about ammo and supply placement, and the way the gameplay is set up to encourage scrounging and to make the player feel as though they're lucky to find any supplies.

A good example of this is System Shock 2, where any large supply caches (only relatively speaking, you don't tend to pick up all that much ammo) are hidden away in boxes or at the back of storerooms. The enemies you do fight don't tend to drop much, so in many respects it's better not to fight (given the cost in health and other supplies there is to fight); and you spend much of the game weighing up whether it's worth the fight or whether you should try to sneak or run past an enemy.



I think part of the reason why Resident Evil 4 and onward (5 and 6) don't really work very well as true horror games is partly because of how they monetise combat, they make it profitable to kill enemies, to get more ammo and supplies, rather than encouraging the player to avoid combat so it's less scary. If you have to worry that you might not be able to find anymore supplies if you use them up fighting then you think more about what you're doing, you weigh your choices more.

It's also worth noting that how you fit those pick-ups into the game world has a big effect on the player's perception of the game. For example, if your random Spanish villagers drop submachine gun ammo or grenades (something real Spanish villagers don't do when they die, trust me, I've tested it) it does take away from the sense of realism somewhat. For the most part if you want your survival horror game to feel real then where the player picks up and finds those supplies has to feel real too – that means putting ammunition where one might expect to find ammunition, healing items where you might expect to find healing items, etc.



I've talked about atmosphere a lot before so it probably doesn't need expanding on a whole lot, but needless to say it's important that as you play a game that you feel a certain way: the environments you wander through, the situations you find yourself in, they all have to provide a certain kind of response, and note: this doesn't have to necessarily be about scaring the player shitless, but rather more about unsettling them. It's often better to be very subtle about the way you create atmosphere aswell, dead bodies hanging from walls have their place, but you might want to make the uncomfortability more subconscious – a broken window here, a smeared bloody handprint there, spent shell casings on the floor maybe. The point is to infer a story to everything, and let the player's mind fill in the blanks. Because frankly, their imagination is probably the scariest tool you have.

I have a feeling I've mentioned this before (possibly multiple times) but it's worth mentioning again, because I think it's one of those things that often gets ignored or overlooked in a lot of more modern horror games:

Breaks.

Downtime.

Pauses.

Any really good horror game needs good breaks between the fighting if it's going to have an effect on the player. Like in a good horror movie you need those moments where you don't know where the monster is, where you're sure something's going to pop out but you don't know exactly when. You need a sense of tension, a sense that you've sort of escaped but on some level you know you're not out of the woods yet (obviously, since the game hasn't ended.)



Long walks down quiet corridors, exploring empty rooms or moments where you have to backtrack are often good for this. You don't necessarily need to have something jump out at you, indeed sometimes it's better to just throw a few red-herrings the player's way – have a window randomly break with no consequences when the player's nearby, have a monster growl in the distance, have a door slam shut. Whatever makes sense to the type of story you're telling.

Build-up and tension is a big part of making horror work.

Sort of leading on from that is a sense of forethought to the world you create in the game.

Again, this is one of those things that I think doesn't get talked about too much in games, we tend to focus on the foreground elements a lot, but in horror games it's often the background that's most important to the effect you have on the player.



I think with horror, and particularly survival horror, you need to set the scene, you need to create environments that feel lived in, with characters and enemies that feel like a realised part of that world – this can be anything from having a table cluttered with personal belongings, to having a corridor smeared in the bloody hand prints of recently deceased scientists, to a security guard-turned-monster who still has an identifiable ID tag on the tattered rags clinging to his chest.

Again, it's part of atmosphere, tension and build-up, it's important to establish a sense, even if it's just subconscious for the player, that the things in the game world relate to each other in a real way.

Part of the reason why Resident Evil for the GameCube worked so well was it's attention to detail in the environments and backgrounds, everything felt a part of the story and that helped immerse the player. Siren: Blood Curse is another good example of this – I think the game has 1-for-1 unique zombies, and each environment has obviously seen a lot of attention to detail, with a lot of emphasis put on making them feel like really lived in rooms before the apocalypse. It's not about running through a series of empty, box-shaped rooms but rather realistic-seeming environments. So as the player you get this sense that you really are in this zombie-apocalypse village, trying to escape, and that in turn heightens the fear.



Though I don't have a whole lot that I can say about it, I do think music is also key. Music can play a huge part in the atmosphere a game creates, and as such it should always be an important factor. One of the more interesting ways I've seen (heard) it used was in Silent Hill 2, where in the background you can often hear what sounds like *something* without really knowing what's there. It creates a sense of dread and anticipation for a completely imaginary danger.

That's more direct, because it makes you feel as though there may be enemies about, even when there isn't, but even just background music can have an effect on the mood, if you quicken the pace of the background music while the player walks down a corridor, how will that change their mood? Will it make the game more or less tense for those fleeting moments?

Horror is often as much about confusion as fear - as the two are linked. Silent Hill 2 is a good example of a game knowing that and using its music to that end.



Something else I did want to mention that I think doesn't often get mentioned is the random element, or the unpredictable.

It's not often something that comes up in a lot of games because it's too much effort to implement but part of what makes us so scared is not knowing what's ahead. If we don't know what's ahead we can't be prepared. Hence why a lot of games stop being (as) scary when you replay them.

Once we know where the monsters are coming from we can know how to prepare for them, which makes them less scary.

Though I can't think of a proper example of a survival horror game that randomised enemy locations I think, funnily enough, Resident Evil 3 is the game that really solidified this principle for me.



Though it only does it in a limited way the locations of supplies randomly shifts between playthrough, and though you can know roughly where they'll be you won't know for sure till you check the rooms where the supplies randomly pop up.

Resident Evil 3's a pretty easy game, so apart from making speed-runs slightly more troublesome it's no big deal, but applied more generally random or unpredictable events, supply locations and enemy spawn points could have a big effect on how we play, and increase the sense of tension, as we lose our certainty about where we're safe.



And since Extermination and Resident Evil started this off, how about some runner-ups when it comes to what makes survival horror survival horror, huh?

-An annoying amount of backtracking
-Multi-stage bosses that just won't die
-Escaping on some sort of transport
-Heroes who don't know how to run away
-Tank controls
-Journals written by people who actually write ellipses in their journals
-Dialogue that sounds like it was written by a 10 yr old
-A master of unlocking

...And those are my thoughts! Thank you for entering the world of...

...SURVIVAL HORROR
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Panzadolphin56
6:30 AM on 03.06.2013

What's the first game you remember playing?

That you remember really vividly?

Do you remember the box art for it?

I played a lot of games as a kid, and I mean A LOT, pretty much all demos really because we didn't have any money. Some stuck with me, some didn't. I have vivid memories of playing (and loving) Midnight Resistance on my cousin's Amiga, the early Sonic games on the Megadrive, Streets of Rage, Sol Feace, Revenge of Shinobi, Virtua Racing 32X. I'm leaving a lot out here obviously.

One of the games I remember most vividly though is Doom.

Doom scared the hell out of me as a kid (I think I was about 6 or 7 when I first played it), I remember booting it up and creeping through corridors, fighting off imps, rushing to grab the chaingun or a rocket launcher the first chance I got, and a cold shiver running down my spine at the oh so familiar cry of a Baron of Hell. I don't think it helped much that I first played it on the Sega 32X (FPS gamepad controls weren't up to much in those days.)

What I remember most about Doom though, and specifically the first Doom, was it's box art.


(check the gallery below for a much larger version of the picture)

As a seven year old confronted with the cover of Doom I was terrified. Though I obviously wasn't the man on the front cover (despite having the best damn six-pack of any child in the neighbourhood!) I could relate to him and feel the horror of his situation to the best of the ability of my child mind. Assailed from every direction by nightmareish creatures, desperately struggling to beat them back as they reach out to snatch him away, it was the stuff of nightmares.

I don't think it helps much that I come from a part of England that is sort of atheist, sort of agnostic, but values the Christian traditions as part of it's middle-class identity, so the idea of demons and angels were familiar to me, and here I was, a little kid, face to face with actual demons ...atleast as actual as a really good painting seems to a kid.

It made an impression on me, to be sure.

I think the one thing I remember most about the picture, and that sort of sealed the deal (so to speak), when it came down to scaring me, was the single demon at the forefront of the box, to the left, closest to you. He's not looking at Doomguy like the others, he's looking straight at you. An almost mischievous smile on his face (on one of the covers his tongue actually comes down over the border on the box, almost as if the box is just a window), and a knowing looking in his eyes. As a kid used to reading and watching pretty passive media, to be able to 'play' a game like Doom and to be looking at this piece of art that almost seemed to break the rules of how pictures worked (in the mind of a child) with a character looking at us, it offered the terrifying prospect that what I was seeing and playing might not just be entertainment but real aswell.

Even now the picture still unsettles me a little.



Why is this important?

I think box art for games is important, not just as decoration for the cover of your game but to draw people in, to excite them. We may not be kids anymore, excited by dumb stories about muscle-bound action heroes and princesses that need rescuing, but that doesn't mean as adults we've lost our imaginations. Why else do we play games? Surely we'd just mess with spreadsheets or wireframe games if all that mattered were the mechanics.

Games are about imagination, action, excitement, exploring fantasies and worlds we never could in real-life, and I think the box art of a game can say a lot about the experience you're in for.

Maybe it's because of the gaming era I grew up in in the 90's but 'box art' for me (and I include board game art, videogame art, book covers and CD sleeves in this) is about conveying a sense of what the thing is about, sure some games work best with non-descript covers but I think there are games that would benefit from a strong piece of art on the cover, and for the most part games seem to have forgotten that they can impress us.



Granted I'm now a jaded old man so maybe my judgement's a little obscured, but I haven't really seen a piece of box art that really blew me away in quite awhile. I should probably admit aswell that I am pretty biased towards the old-school oil paintings that primarily used to end up being used on covers. The Doom cover is a brilliant example, but I remember the cover art for Revenge of Shinobi, Streets of Rage, Dune 2, Golden Axe and X-Com – the cover to X-Com especially I remember giving me similar vibes to Doom, with the alien seemingly lunging out of the cover.

I guess it's a part of the way the medium's changed that the covers have changed so dramatically – the culture around gaming was much more nerdy and closeted in the 90's, and tbh sort of orientated around children and the idea that you had to capture the imagination of the consumer to get them interested in your game, which considering the graphics of the day and the attitude that most people had to games was understandable. The culture hadn't really grown up properly yet, people didn't really know where to look to really find out about games so cover art could be a big factor in whether a game stood out to you and piqued your interest enough to make you buy it.

So the art was a lot more over the top at times, and a lot more focused on emphasising drawing the viewer in (hence using the fourth-wall so much). Now things tend to be a bit more subdued, most people know about a game before they pick it up (atleast there are generally more people 'in the know' than there were back then), so games don't try to wow people so much.



I kinda miss the art though, like I said I think good cover art serves an important purpose with anything we consume, we can't instantly know what a book, or a DVD, or a game, is about, and having that visual element can be important to making a good first impression on the consumer. Arguably the rise of digital has reduced the importance of box art, but aslong as physical retail exists, and indeed aslong as publishers try to foist collector's editions on us, there will always be some importance to good box art.

I think the MGS games were probably the last thing to impress me with their boxart, though that's probably more because I like Yoji Shinkawa's art than because they really captured the atmosphere of the game or made an impression on me.

I was kind of hoping given the topics and themes it seemed to be tackling that Bioshock Infinite would do something interesting for it's box art, but then it just turned out to be a white guy with a gun, and I felt somewhat under-impressed.

I 'd love to see a few games come out though and try to impress you with their box art. I know it'll never matter anywhere near as much as anything else about a game like the graphics, or the gameplay, or the sound - and rightly so, but it'd still be interesting to see how the box art may in the end help shape the impression of the game that the player has.

So what do you think? Is there a piece of box art that you think really stood out to you?

Is box art pointless?
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