[KamikazeTutor is the first of many that will be promoted to the front page for Destructoid's Monthly Musings. In this "Good Idea, Bad Idea", Kamikaze looks at destructible environments. -- CTZ]
This article touches the subject of how destructible environments can create an immersive or frustrating experience and how they can make a game look more realistic and the complete opposite.
Technology is capable of simulating amazing things. It’s been a while that computers are used to aid construction of seismic-resistant structures to aerodynamics, all through an immense blur of physics’ reproducing code. Now, even home computers can stand up to their massive cousins, allowing players to witness the power of physics firsthand as everything seems to fall properly and not bounce like balls. Wood breaks like wood, water flows like water, etc.
Most the time, physics are shown in games just like in one of my favorite science shows, Brainiac, where science is fun. If they keep exploding stuff every episode, that is.
The player is able to destroy the world, why not also the enemy? Doesn’t the player use the enemies’ weapons at some point? Does the developer choose to make that specific building indestructible?
That’s when the reality roller coaster crashes, and burns, and probably one man survives, goes home and slaps his wife. If something thought to react as its real counterpart through out a game is excluded from the set rules, then the sense of realism is broken.
A game where I believe the freedom of destruction is well controlled is Crysis. Not by altering the way the world reacts, but more on giving the player the upper hand.
Through out the game, the player understands what can and cannot be destroyed. It’s possible to explode metal and wood shacks but not concrete buildings. Thinner trees can be shot down, but not ticker ones.
Then imagine this quite absurd but possible situation: the player surrounds itself with garbage from its destruction, with no ammo to blow everything into smaller pieces. How does the player escape? At least in Crysis you have super-human abilities, which will enable you to jump or punch a way out.
I’m almost certain that the developers always planned on giving those abilities to the player before thinking about destructible environments. While I feel this was a given solution to a possible problem, one can wonder how badly the game design could have gone if the situation was the opposite.
A scene that amazed hundreds, and then kicked their collective groin, was from the 2003’s E3 first Half-Life 2 footage. In this particular scene, the player blocks a door with a table from a pursuing enemy which then starts forcing the door open, finally knocking the table over and resuming the chase. After the game’s release, players realized that scene was scripted; by trying to block other doors and having enemies simply walk through them, pushing away heavy objects without effort.