• "It’s not very hard for me to find fiction that’s ‘relatable’, that mirrors my own assumptions and experience of the world, because people like me write books and publish them. I find that fiction and I read it, often with pleasure and sometimes with admiration, but I look for books of all kinds that are not ‘relatable’ to me, books that are windows more than mirrors. If fiction has a moral purpose – it doesn’t have to have a moral purpose – it’s in letting us see our shared world from places other than our own and through eyes other than our own, giving us versions of human experience and history and geography that are not at all ‘relatable.’"
  • "…let's not kid ourselves. If you sell a game that's a first-person shooter, then no matter how many RPG elements you shoe-horn into the game, the shadow that hangs over every character interaction that you have, no matter who they are, is the question in the player's mind of "What happens if I shoot this person?" And that's our own fault! We've sold the player that; we've made a contract with the player that says it's okay to kill people. Why would we then chastise them for exploring that?" Patrick Redding is brilliant. This interview, with Chris Remo on Gamasutra, is great – Remo asks some smart questions, and Redding gives some really smart answers.
  • "The game insists that I focus, even for mundane activities like carrying groceries, on carefully following directions delivered to me visually on-screen. The simple act of carrying groceries is subsumed by the mechanical procedure of executing a series of prompts _for no apparent reason_. This, for me, is the primary disconnect in Heavy Rain. My mechanical game-directed actions don't amplify or add meaning to the in-game behaviors they execute. They don't pull me in; they keep me out. " Hmn. I've been thinking about something similar recently. Time to fire up the blogpostmatron…
  • Lovely, lovely article explaining just how the PeepCode Blog works. The blog itself features unique layouts for every post. There's no CMS, no database, but what's going on under the hood is at least as clever – and the flexibility makes the beautiful and clear pages much easier to build.
  • "…for reasons that baffle me, my TV can only receive the four terrestrial channels, plus a grainy feed from the building’s security cameras. Easy choice."
  • "There is a rhythm to hiking, as there is in walking. And once you find the cadence — after a day or two — your mind empties. All your social obligations related to work and friends and life are muted. They aren’t gone: they just no longer require your direct attention. There is a shocking beauty to this silence. It’s as if every day of our lives is filled with a white noise. And suddenly, in the presence of these unbelievable peaks, the noise is gone." Lovely pictures, but, more to the point, strong truth, from Craig Mod.
  • "DOOM doesn’t belong in a museum, not because it’s not worthy, but because it’s rock and roll. It’s too fast, too loud, too hard, and too fucked up to be in a museum. There are some games that will work in a museum and some that won’t ever and that, by itself, doesn’t say anything about their value. We need both." Frank Lantz is right.
  • "In this digitally distant world full of information that appears to only be moving faster and faster, you get to choose: how much will I consume and how much will I create?"
  • Fascinating article on pseudo-3D graphics, and raster-based road graphics in particular; coders and gamers alike might enjoy this, although it's quite technical. (And: Racin' Force is just beautiful; I forgot how gorgeous voxels could be).

There’s been some really interesting posts on the games blogs recently about the relationship between the player, their character, and the game’s camera. Obvious highlights include Mitch Krpata’s recent post about cameras, and his follow-up, about the camera’s implementation in EA’s Dead Space. In his first post, Krpata outlines the issues:

In a game, there are three entities sharing control of the experience: the player, the camera, and the character. The difference [between games and eg. books] is that these don’t exist on a straight line. They all overlap, like a Venn diagram. In a first-person shooter like Half-Life, the player, the camera, and the character are all the same. In a third-person action-adventure game like God of War, the camera and the player are distinct, but the player and the character are mostly one and the same. In a strategy game like Warcraft, the player and the camera are the same, but the characters are on their own.

Krpata in turn was responding to Corvus Elrod’s excellent series of posts about the camera in gaming. In one, Corvus comments:

…it’s only a matter of time before someone turns their artistic attention to the video game camera and implements a system so risky, so rewarding, so compelling, that it changes the vocabulary of game cameras forever.

Vocabulary is an interesting word; an important part of the process of understanding an issue is finding a way to express it, and I think a lot of the vocabulary of games-cameras is currently derived from cinema. We need to move towards a game-native vocabulary for cameras, and whilst something might change that vocabulary forever, I think it might be a slower, more evolutionary process.

And that all leads me to the post I wanted to write about originally, which is about a single thing the camera does in Alone In The Dark.

Alone In The Dark

I recently downloaded the demo of Alone in the Dark (hereafter AITD) from Xbox Live, mainly because I was curious about the game: its review scores were all over the place, and the best I could ascertain from the forums was that it was very much a thing of shreds and patches.

The demo confirms that. It veers from moments of brilliance (in terms of graphics engine and interaction design) to appalling control implementations and awkward combat. The in-coat inventory is a classic example – it’s a beautiful interface, and really appropriate, totally ruined by the way you manipulate it. It’s hard to call a game that takes so many risks bad, but it falls on its face in many areas. I’m really not sure I could face playing the whole thing.

But. There’s always a but. And in this case, it was something the game does with the camera that is so daring, so brilliant, I couldn’t help but be impressed.

The game begins in a first-person perspective. Your character is somewhat groggy, having been kidnapped, and his vision has a habit of blurring. The only way to clear it is to blink, an action performed by clicking the right thumbstick. In the first five minutes, you do a lot of blinking.

This is cute, but it isn’t the thing that impressed me.

After the initial sequence, you eventually come across a mirror, and the game jumps to a cut-scene, viewed from the third person, where your character sees himself in the mirror. The camera pans around him, taking him in, as he admits that he has no idea who he is. He doesn’t recognise the man in the mirror.

Then, you realise the cutscene is over, and the game has jumped to a third person perspective.

That’s what I thought was brilliant: the idea of tying the camera into the narrative like that. You’re only allowed to see your character when the character has finally seen himself; the perspective shift represents the amnesiac Carnby seeing himself for the first time. From this point on, you can toggle between first and third person (and you tend to do it a bit – certain actions are easier from each perspective), and the action loses its significance. But the first time it happens, it’s a real surprise, and it’s really smart: the game’s interface reflects the character’s understanding of himself.

That feels like a game-native understanding of camera: the idea that camera can be something that helps to express the seams between the player and the character. Which is, of course, what the camera in games is: a kind of boundary object between the player and the character.