Random thoughts on level design, maps, and art (and artiface)

Something I noticed and learned while working on Emberglass...

About halfway through development, I noticed that I was starting to approach maps and level building in a completely different way than I was doing it before. Before, I was coming into level design from a very gamable stance, in that these were areas to explore. It was more generic background material, but as I worked in emberglass I went more and more away from "this has a purpose in game" and more and more towards "this is a storyable scene in a movie". By that, I mean it went from "the entire purpose of this is just something to hang a game on" to "this has emotional, and aesthetic quality that has nothing to do with playing a game and everything to do with experiencing something". Whether that something is emotional, or philosophical, or what have you. 

I went away from wanting something just to exist as a game experience, and moved it towards an experience in itself. I really like this way of thinking, much more so than I was with Heart of the Bone Witch, and I think I might change a few of those maps when I go back to it. When thinking of laying out a map like a filmic scene, or a scene in a novel, instead of a thing for a game, it adds in a completely new layer, and I find myself thinking about it in a completely different way.

I was replaying FF6 lately, and thinking about how that and Chrono Trigger are pretty much set up in the same way. In fact, the player is funneled into cinematic scenes, and very rarely are they able to just wander and explore, but instead must experience this setup. Now, there are drawbacks to this kind of thing...video games as cinematic experiences are part of why AAA games feel so boring and lifeless to me. But then again, I think that's because the stories in these games are drab, and the environments are drab, and they're not that interesting. The filmic realism undercuts any directorial verve. But you get that kind of directorial eye in indie games like A Night in the Woods, A Short Hike, Gris, etc.

I think that primarily it's because these are 2d games (even though A Short Hike is 3d, it feels, in a way more 2d, if that makes sense), and film is a 2d medium. Even though it's filming things that occupy 3d space, they are flattened through the camera lens and filtered into our consciousness in a way that the cinematographer or editor or director can control on a very granular level, crafting an experience and emotional response in the viewer. I think 3d games, where you can control the camera yourself, etc, creates a wall between the filmic, artistic experience and the player itself, adding a distance to a narrative that doesn't truly leverage the power of video games as a medium.

Just some random thoughts....

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