14. About Gaming, Part 2

The second-most immersive game I’ve ever played was Assassin’s Creed 2.

(apparently, wordpress does not recognize “immersive” as a word. Strange)

This comes as a surprise to most, but despite being a writer/storyteller, I don’t play games for the storyline. The same goes for movies. I get people coming to me all the time, saying, “Dude, you really need to check out (game/movie), the story is AWESOME!” And I’ll politely smile and tell them I’ll check it out, because I can understand where it’s coming from. When I choose a game to spend some quality time with, though, what I look for are these things, in order:

1. Gameplay

The experience is everything, and gameplay is a big part of everything that a game is. Between a game where I get to stab people, and a game where I get to interact with thousands of characters to find their stories and how their lives intersect, I’d go for the stabbing. You see now why I liked Assassin’s Creed 2 so much.

The first Assassin’s Creed was a great game in its own right, but the only thing I couldn’t stand were the endless exposition scenes that came with eavesdropping and the after-death sequences. I need to go back to stabbing people and throwing them into scaffolds!

To The Moon was one of the first games I played “for the story”, and I found most of the experience dreadfully boring. It was a great story, mind, and my pulse did quicken as the plot thickened and the truth about the subject’s life gradually came to light – but it’s not a game that I’d want to revisit. More than storyline, I need a good gameplay element. Give me a good enough game, and I’ll completely ignore your crap storyline.

(I’m looking at you, Tekken)

2. Visuals

I am a very visual kind of person, and I NEED my games to look beautiful. Colors, lighting, design, composition, and details all come into play here to create an aesthetically pleasing environment.

Doubling back to movies for a little while – this is the only reason I’d watch a Terrence Malick film. I have absolutely zero comprehension of the plot, or what the characters are talking about – but damn if every frame of the movie wasn’t the most beautiful thing I have ever seen committed to the silver screen. Makoto Shinkai is also this to me, but to a lesser degree. More on him later.

For this reason, I gravitate towards games that feature a wide-open sandbox environment, where I can explore every intricately designed pixel of the city. Mirror’s Edge could have been great because of how great it looked, but unfortunately it lacked the compelling gameplay element that I needed.

Now Assassin’s Creed 2 – renaissance Italy, a great lighting engine, and a wonderfully rendered environment that showed off years of research, all with that depth of historical accuracy. I couldn’t help but to fall in love with it immediately.

3. Sound

This covers both the soundtrack that accompanies the game, and the sound effect that comes with my interaction with the elements of the game.

Freddiew made a tutorial about sound design for short films, and made it abundantly clear that if you have great visuals for your film (or game), there is an even greater demand for you to have a great sound to go with it, or the whole experience just falls flat, and this couldn’t be any truer.

(“truer”. Is that even a legit word?)

Dead Space, Slender, and F.E.A.R. wouldn’t be one-tenth as terrifying as they were if not for the love committed to the sound. There’s a great video on YouTube that redoes the sound in the first episodes of Game of Thrones so that it sounds like a 90s sitcom instead of the low fantasy epic that it is – go check it out, and you’ll see how crucial sound is to creating the world of the film, or the game.

I mentioned Makoto Shinkai earlier, in Visuals. Like Terrence Malick, Makoto Shinkai’s movies are beautifully made – deeply saturated, lovingly crafted, and I appreciate how Makoto Shinkai’s films are a lot more comprehensible, compared to Mr. Malick’s. As great as his films are, however, what draws me even more to his work is the soundtrack composed by Tenmon. 5 Centimeters per Second and The Place Promised In Our Early Days are the finest examples of how stunning visuals coupled with a great soundtrack can create a memorable experience.

(also notable is When Five Fell, a 10-minute short film by Wesley Chan of Wong Fu Productions. Check it out)

The greatest sound design is almost subliminal – so discreet, so subtle that you don’t even notice that it’s there until you start actively listening for it. And I must admit that it wasn’t until Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood that I even noticed the soundtrack that played in the background at different points of the game.

Genius.

I’m going on longer than I had originally intended to in this post, but that pretty much sums up the top 3 things that I look for in a game: gameplay, visuals, and sound. The story, unfortunately, comes in fourth place – it’s a great extra, but if you manage the first three with finesse, I don’t even need a story.

The most immersive game I have ever played, though, was BioShock Infinite.

(to be continued)

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