Location, Location, Location

25th March 2005

Introduction

I’m told there are only three things to worry about when buying property or land. I’m sure you can guess what they are. What the funk has this got to do with gaming I hear you ask? Well It dawned on me yesterday that (for me) the most important aspect of a game is its location.

I’m not discounting that unquantifiable thing called Gameplay or enemies, weapons, puzzles, collectible items or any of the other things that go to make a good game. What I am saying is that the location overrides EVERYTHING else. I’m prepared to put up with uninteresting or completely crappy weapons etc but not locations.

As I sit here and type it sounds so obvious. The question I ask myself is “Would I want to be in this location”?. Make sure you separate the circumstances from location. I really enjoyed playing Unreal because I liked the idea or walking around an alien planet. But when I played Half-Life I was completely blown away. I really wanted to be IN Black Mesa. That’s one of the reason I download EVERY map and mod I can find, to see what other parts of Black Mesa map and mod makers imagine existed.

Heart and Soul

If I had the choice between a war-torn city and a military base then I would chose the MB every time. Now, I accept that that not everybody is the same, would Counter Strike have been the same if it was set a hundred years in the future on spaceships? I doubt it. The locations were it’s heart and soul! When I think back to some other games the first thing I think of is the locations. Unreal 2 invokes one maybe two locations that stick in my mind, Doom 3 sticks in my mind for negative reasons. The first thing I thought once I got the game loaded and fired up was “This base seems designed by a game maker wanting to provide atmosphere”. I didn’t want to be there and in fact got bored after a couple of levels and haven’t been back since!

Half-Life 2?

Although I haven’t written any reviews of games here at PP I do have opinions about them. I personally didn’t particularly enjoy HL2, I admit it was a beautifully crafted game BUT the locations left me wanting. This is of course an observation not a criticism because something like this is purely subjective. “One mans meat is another mans poison”. So where does that leave us? Well, it means that although I’m still downloading every HL2 SP map I can find I’ve little motivation to play them. I’ll have to wait until the total conversion begin to appear.

Sheep?

I’m not really qualified to speak but the Location of the game almost totally limits the map and mod makers efforts. Again it sounds so obvious but is it possible to get away from that influence? Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine a group of experienced mappers who were given the HL2 SDK BEFORE they played or in fact saw ANY publicity from the game. What kind of maps would they make. Are the textures the sole criteria for architecture? We must not forget the story because this often connects the location with the characters and subsequent mods are generally based on the storyline in some shape or form. But again, what if the mod makers knew nothing of the story, what would happen to the maps.

Boats, Trains and Planes

Lastly, the type of vehicles used in a game are obviously (there’s that word again) very closely linked to the environment and terrain. You wouldn’t expect to see a dune buggy in Black Mesa. AT first the vehicles simply add another aspect to a game or mod but on a deeper level they let you explore the environment in different ways than you could on foot. Not just faster but from different angles. They also reduce the time you have to actually enjoy the environment.

The Engine

Developers and mappers are always trying to get the best out of an engine and consequently build maps that they feel showcase the engine’s, and their, abilities. Why build another Black Mesa when you can build a beautifull beach scene or a very detailed city? I can see that point of view but do mappers build maps to showcase engines or for players to play? Those goals don’t have to be mutually exclusive but it does make me wonder.

The Journey not the destination

For me, and I’m not alone (although we are in the minority), the journey is as important as the destination. Similar to going on holiday and getting taxis everywhere simply to reach a destination instead of enjoying the place you chosen to visit! SO, make a map within fantastic locations and you have a friend for life.

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2 Comments

  1. el_espaniol

    Very interesting insights…!!!
    You know, I guess HL1 is far mor enjoyable game that HL2. It’s story line is really dramatic like a movie or as YOU are there…!!!…
    I think really that one of the cons of this game (HL2) is the lack of support in OpenGL.
    Nice Web and keep on…!!!!

  2. Joe

    Yeah, those are good poitns even though I personnally prefer the ruined cityscape location. I can also think of games that I loved because of the location (can anyone say Fallout 2?) I also love some of the arenas in Serious Sam 2, where the game is all about how crazy the arena can be made to be. I get sick and tired of levels for unreal tournament and the omnipresent “Ice Cavern” level that seems to appear in a lot of games. Location is important because it allows the rest of the game to progress and games like Psychonauts will use location to give character insights (War setting when in the Generals brain etc). Really, a character should react to his situation and location and if the location is fully developed then the reaction will be more involving for the player. If the location in fallout was a little less developed then I would have played as straight goodguys in order to reap rewards, because it is greatly realised I have my PC leaving NPCs for dead and killing kids because I recognise the situation as demanding this as a realistic possibility.

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