Saturday, 14 November 2009

Verisimilitude

This post was originally written (by me) and published on March 23, 2007 here.

One of the most annoying things about cutscenes is the fact that you don't have control of your avatar while they take place. More annoying than this, though, is the fact that your avatar inevitably behaves like a total moron during the time you don't have control of them. So, why the long word? Well, for those that don't know, verisimilitude is a word bandied around quite a lot in the pen and paper RPG world that basically refers to how believable the world is, and it's something that I think a lot of games ignore to expedite the plot. A lot has been said over the years about how game writing needs believable characters and compelling plots.

Never mind compelling, let's just start with rational. I think the majority of the most frustrating sections of gaming I have experienced come not just from the fact that I keep dying over and over again, but also from the fact that there is a far easier solution that simply doesn't work. I have recently finished Gears of War on insane, and about the tenth time I died fighting General Raam, I started getting incredibly annoyed at Cole and Baird who were sitting nearby in an enormous gunship with a dazzling array of enormous weaponry, not firing a single damn shot at the enormous bad guy. While the gunship's role reveals itself later, unless Baird and Cole just want Marcus dead there is no good reason not to at least join in.

The example of poor reality that sticks in my mind most was in The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay. After having sneaked, shanked, and shot my way through a score of guards plus a few sentry guns, and engaged in a close quarters battle with Xzibit during which I got shot a dozen times or so, the game went to a cutscene. Two guards walked through the door and Riddick (notice the change to third person) meekly capitulated and headed down to the mines. Now, if I had been in control of Riddick during that cutscene, you can rest assured that the guards would quickly have been reduced to groaning piles on the floor, and I would have flown out of Butcher's Bay without looking back. The fact that Riddick got sent to the mines led to some awesome gameplay, but the method by which he/I was forced there absolutely sucked.

Another classic is Star Wars games, where your character invariably ends up with a lightsabre. For some reason, said lightsabre doesn't have the ability to cut through almost everything like they do in the movies. Is this a sacrifice made for the sake of the game? Yes. But, then again, the developers did choose to set their game in the Star Wars universe, so they should step up and make sure that the game fits within the established rules of Star Wars.

Now as a general rule, I care more about the gameplay than the story, so why do I care about this verisimilitude stuff? Because this kind of bizarre cutscene reality over which the player has no control reefs you wholesale out of the game and introduces totally unnecessary frustrations. When a game gives me control of a character, especially a character who is a total badass, I expect the character to at all times behave at least as badass as he does when being controlled by me. If a game doesn't present me with a story at all, but instead just a disconnected series of awesome missions, that's fine. But if a game is going to have a story, it better make sure that the story makes sense and operates within the rules of the universe in which the game is set.

I'm sure everyone has screamed, or at least thought loudly at, a situation or an NPC, or even their own character in a cutscene "Why won't you just do something sensibly, you half-witted moron?" I look forward to playing a storied game in which all of the characters' actions make some sort of sense.

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