Welcome to Part 2! You can read Part 1 here.
In case you're confused, this is an ongoing series where I wax lyrical about some of my favourite videogame locations. I've been playing for over two decades, so I've got more than a few. Sometimes it's nice to pause (metaphorically) and admire the work that goes into virtual spaces, even if by today's standards they're not as 'shiny'.
I spent hours in Braid - and not because the puzzles were too difficult.
I'll state here that ALL of its backdrops are staggeringly good, but this is about selecting particular locations within games. World 3 emerged as my favourite over a period of weeks, as I played through and replayed this time-bending puzzler.
World 3 is a verdant wild forest, permeated with summer sunlight and rain. Ancient trees tower in the background, while the foreground is littered with ferns, flowers and wooden structures that allow our character Tim to climb higher in his search for puzzle pieces. The contrast between the distant burnished landscape and the vegetation around us is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.
Small touches like the glistening grass and intermittent openness of the wild landscape bring a tranquil quality to the game space, even as I got frustrated with some of the trickier puzzles.
There are darker edifices in the form of man-made caves and mines, where some of the nastier creatures lurk. These, too, provide a contrast that makes it all the sweeter when I finally reach the outside world again.
At the end of World 3 we find a castle (no princess inside, sorry), which seems to have been partially grown out of the wilderness and sculpted into a high-end living space.
For me, World 3 in Braid represents the glorious Summer days of youth. Things seem immune to the passage of time, there are pitfalls we have to learn from and climb out of, but ultimately there is that "little bit of magic" in the world around us. Pretentious? Maybe. Nevertheless, this remains one of my favourite locations in gaming.
Traveller's Tip: "Be wary of falling chandeliers."
from "Riven: The Sequel to Myst"
Remember this one? It was a big hit on PC back in '97.
If Riven: The Sequel To Myst looks too good to have been made in the late 90's, that's because the developer Cyan Worlds used this neat technique of photographing real textures, then wrapping them around 3D objects. Sadly PC's weren't powerful enough to let players move around freely in first-person, so instead you explore Riven as a series of still images with animated water, lighting and sometimes creatures.
Don't knock it 'til you've tried it.
Riven is a loose cluster of islands connected by rail cars, mine cart rides and linking books.
Forests, lakes, walkways and passageways, dotted with buildings and weird devices whose purposes aren't always clear. Riven is a world designed for immersion and exploration first, with puzzle solving and story left as optional. I was only 12 when I first played this game and definitely not smart enough to figure out the challenges contained within, but I didn't care.
I just sort of mooched around, looking for new areas to explore, riding the rail cars between islands, discovering the odd secret here and there.
Riven made me appreciate the effort that went into creating videogame worlds just that little bit more.
Traveller's Tip: "Don't touch the picture books. Seriously."
The Dark Rift
from "Skies of Arcadia"
Easily one of my favourite RPGs from the early 2000's, Skies of Arcadia sets its entire world in the clouds with continents and islands that float on the very air itself. Ships powered by moonstones soar between the lands, trading goods or cannonballs. There is a land beneath the 'cloud sea', but you wouldn't want to go there.
Cloud rifts are huge curtains of wind and moisture vapour that can stop ordinary ships from passing through. The Dark Rift is a much bigger, much more powerful version of these. And there comes a point in Skies of Arcadia's story where you have to go through it.
Before attempting to sail through this giant storm, you pull up at the port of Esperanza ("Hope"), where you find all the washed-up sailors who've come before you to try and get past the Dark Rift, and have since given up. They don't offer much encouragement.
Actually getting to the Dark Rift itself and beginning your journey through it is one of the game's highlights. The Omega-4 Relay of Arcadia, if you like. As you pass through the pockets of clear air between the vortexes, you get a glimpse of the ecosystems and creatures that have evolved inside this giant.
It's a foreboding dungeon area, which houses some interesting game lore in the form of "Black Moonstones", as well as wackier creature designs perhaps inspired by deep-sea nature shows.
If there's something Skies of Arcadia nails without question it's the characters' passion for discovery and adventure. The entire Dark Rift chapter sets up a huge challenge to that passion and, for me, it's the most memorable aspect of Arcadia's story and world.
Traveller's Tip: "Expect turbulence"
I've shown you mine. Care to share some of yours?