Thursday, October 23, 2008

imperfections and details

Again, I'm going to use a comment of mine as my post for the day. I have many good games right now that are demanding my attention (Fable 2, Dead Space, Saints Row 2, Spore, etc).

Savid Daunders asks whether or not imperfections, like flawed architecture of a building, are important to good level design. Well, consider these examples.

My first thought when commenting on his article was of modeling human faces. Modelers learned long ago that old people are easier to simulate accurately than young people, because the skin imperfections make the skin seem more real.

Another example is tree modeling. Trees generally don't look realistic without variation. Each tree is shaped by its response to unique challenges (ex: competing for sunlight) and setbacks (drought, bugs, disease, etc). One might argue that a perfect tree is one unhindered by any obstacle. The variety we see in believable tree simulation replicates the plants' struggles to survive and conquer. In other words, good simulations mimic the results of tree vulnerability to conditions and interactions.

Now consider item placement and arrangement in interior settings. Games started simulating building interiors more accurately when they started to include random objects and messes, like magazines scattered on tables and floors. When an interior setting is entirely neat and orderly, it feels unnatural. This might only suggest that someone recently cleaned it up for a special occasion, like guests coming over, but that's still an impression that should be deliberately created by artists when it exists.

Unlike novels and films, games are still only conceptual presentations. A concept is abstracted enough to lose many particulars. It's used as an inexact representation of actuality, begging forbearance from the reader or listener who is well aware of what detail the abstract omits or blurs.

Compared to best-selling novels and films, games include far fewer and, generally, less accurately rendered details of every setting, object, and character. An average book or film places dozens of high-detailed objects in one room which the audience might only witness a single time in the story. For example: in the film I, Robot, only five minutes of the movie occurs in the AI creator's home office; yet there are bookcases full of unique books (individually titled, colored, shaped, etc), many pictures and framed photographs, loose stationary, and countless other peripheral elements of setting... including a cat.

One of my creative writing instructors used to say that good fiction, like good lying, is in the details. Good storytellers make ample use of peripheral details to project a setting that can't be accurately portrayed with adjectives.

Technical limitations are certainly at the heart of this shortcoming in games, but also production focus. Developers make a conscious choice to focus on expanse, rather than depth and detail. It's a balancing act, and the proper course won't be the same for any two games or teams, but it's a necessary consideration in the process of planning and implementation.

There are many ways to tackle this issue, of course, but I recommend making it the sole concern of one employee to create details for the game's settings and characters. Let one person focus on fleshing out the presentation.

Anyway, the game industry still has a long way to go before our stories and experiences are as detailed as other media. And I say that will due respect for the admirable amount of detailing in games like Dead Space and Mass Effect.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.