Environment as Character through Experience

This Polygon Story really blew me away, Tracey Lien’s Exploring player agency through art.

It may help that I’m dangerously tired at the moment, to a degree that random things are taking on near-spiritual significance. (and banal things deliver disturbing tangents I probably shouldn’t mention. like my swirling of the cream in the bottom of my coffee mug, to see if I’d already dumped in some sweetener – which led to some grotesque meandering thoughts on the nature of sperm as sugar from a disposable packet, helping ovary receptacle space to fill with self replicating disease, incubated within hardened dirt that had been painted to look pretty. … yeah? ok forget I mentioned that)

But in this case, i think the thought process inspired by this article is worth recording. Perhaps revisiting later.
two reasons:

1) I’d heard about this Second Quest kickstarter before, repeatedly, but dismissed it as the (visual) artist behind Braid criticizing Nintendo. I thought it was snobs cashing in on a great franchise they couldn’t hope to ever create. But It turns out I was completely wrong. (90%)

The artist (David Hellman) keyed into an essay by Tevis Thompson, and decided he wanted to work with him. I LOVED this sort of modern day connection between talented people.

And what really impressed me throughout the Polygon article was this notion of older video games fostering a unique sense of mystery. That it’s not just nostalgia, but a genuine failing in modern video game design. (90%). I feel like this concept ties into to something I’ve been trying to express recently about the difference between the original Doom’s level designs, and the strive towards reality that we received in Doom3. When you enter the cave, in the first Legend of Zelda, and a random old man says “<a href="http://www.ohmz.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/its-dangerous-to-go-alone-take-this.jpg"It's dangerous to go alone! Take this.” then vanishes – it is a wildly magical moment. Much closer to literature, where you fill in the gaps, than to the modern hand-holding hollywood blockbuster mentality of game design.

The concept is further explored with regard to the specific flavor of openness in the environment. Certain stone walls have a flaw. If you lay a bomb on them, your suspicions are often rewarded with content you can otherwise completely miss. that’s a uniquely beautiful experience that you can’t get from the passive nature of a novel. it’s a sort of reward for scrutiny. It’s like you leaned in to study a simple phone box, and accidentally found a huge space inside. normally you’d expect such scrutiny to deliver less food for thought, not more. Magic.

And on and on, there are are other cool ideas in the article (and no doubt within the original essay, which I haven’t yet read). Go read. I mostly just wanted to record all this, because I thought it rewarding.

2) Plus, separately, I was struck hard that maybe I’ve never fully understood what people were talking about when they described environment “being it’s own character in the story.” But it occurs to me now. They mean you need to work out what you’re going to show, and why.

In my own comic book experiments, I’ve often been frustrated by having to draw some flower vase atop an antique table, or garbage can half crushed in a slimy back alley, because I just need to establish a setting for the scene. Similarly, over the years, I’ve grown tired of taking photos that don’t have people in them. It’s all because I wasn’t treating the environment as it’s own character.

I should’ve been thinking “what is interesting in this environment? And how can I show it to the audience over a series of frames so that it has it’s own little dramatic arc?”. Just showing the garbage can and some trash so I can quickly convey “see, it’s a back alley. lets get back to the people,” is much like just showing some tits to convey “see, it’s a girl. lets get back to what the dudes are saying.” I should be thinking about all the elements that define this back alley, and metering them out with a certain pacing, to heighten the goals of the scene. To help build tension and offer some pay off at some point.

Not considering the arc for the environment seems like just having your lead actor constantly cry. maybe you get that he has deep emotion. but it’s kind of boring. … Or maybe it’s more like having some character in your scene with no reason for being there. It smells funny to the audience. … or maybe it boils down “you never know what the audience will scrutinize in the scene, so all of it should be worth looking at.” … or maybe i’m captivated by the way there is no reality in a drawing or within a game. So there is no reason to pursue an objective perspective. you pick each line to draw, just like you pick each limitation for the game, so it has to be subjective in the end. …

… not sure if this all conveys what struck me, completely. There’s mayvbe something in there about offering the audience a way to reward themselves for their scrutiny. That seems like an important aspect. But there’s also a sort of “competent mystery design is within all things” aspect. eh.

and blah blah. i’m very tired. hope this post makes sense when I wake up.

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