This week I was supposedly going to critique corner all up in the Homefront but due to me not actually playing the game, I chose not to do so. I was going to write on Portal 2 but decided against it after finally getting into the nitty gritty of Motorstorm Apocalypse. In fact, I reviewed the game for Screenjabber.com today, there’s something I’ve actually been meaning to argue in a long, long time. It’s that war of emergency versus linearity, whether games should be based around those player-generated moments or designer generated moments.
I argue mostly for player-generated moments as it’s ultimately more powerful to be playing with your own mind-goo. The best example of this is Minecraft in which people go about building giant things and exploring massive chasms. There are stories of people who have cried over their journeys, of seeing the sun rise up over the hills and them crawling out of a hole with half a heart and skeletons evaporating into flaming dust. These are randomly generated moments with mechanics designed by the designer, the Skeletons dying at sunlight, but with the player choosing to crawl out of the hole and him losing his life throughout that night.
The story we tell ourselves, or find was inside ourselves all along, is ultimately more powerful than one that revolves around a separate character or entity. It’s why I felt Red Dead‘s ending belittled the player’s control but Shadow of the Colossus played with the player’s feelings and let him or herself find out things about themselves they hadn’t realised before. It’s one thing to see a character discover themselves, but for ourselves to discover who we really are is the real powers of interactivity. Now, you may be wondering why on Earth I’m talking about all of this when looking at the title. I feel that emergent gameplay is an integral part of the new arcade racer paradigm.
Linear gameplay is usually most prominent in simulation racers. Illusions of player choice in the fine-tuning of your vehicles and tracks which change from either wet to dry or dry to wet. It’s downright boring and I don’t see the allure of it all. I’ve always preferred arcade racers because they’re downright fun. Recently we’ve had the likes of Split/Second going about trying to change up the formula with their player-driven environment that can be used to change the pace of the game. If I pull off enough stunts then I can make the building crumble in front of my opponent, crushing him, but this is downright frustrating.
Not for me, of course not, but when it happens to be me whose getting crushed by an aerial assault of concrete then it is frustrating. There’s a sincere lack of player empathy here in what appears to be a player-fuelled experience but turns out to be a linear one with them just controlling you like puppets. Apocalypse takes this in a different way, with the buildings crumbling on their own and allowing you to construct racing strategies around what you know will happen rather than what you’re not wanting to happen. However, and this is the important thing, Apocalypse honestly does shoot itself in the foot in many ways by still being a ‘racer’.
In order to ‘balance out’ the whole racing thing, respawn takes five seconds even in single-player mode. There’s an honest lack of player empathy here and we’re once again falling back into Split/Second’s mentality, that a linear experience outweighs an emergent one. I’m not saying that’s wrong, the buildings crumbling on their own is a linear construction but the racing strategy it allows you to create is an emergent one. By having respawn punish you for doing so confines it to a frustratingly linear mission rather than one of both linear and emergent components.
I feel that’s perhaps the best way to go about emergent experiences; with linear elements. Interactivity requires interactive elements that have to be designed. Minecraft is so powerful because most of that experience is emergent, but that’s what Apocalypse could be, a truly thrilling arcade racer rather than that occasional thrilling arcade racer. I’m comparing an arcade racer to a… well I’m not genre what Minecraft is. It can be a first-person shooter if you want it to be or an explorer game or a sandbox for you to build and build. Apocalypse isn’t a non-linear designed game but it could put those elements within its tracks.
I feel this could be the new arcade racer paradigm, what could utterly separate it into a sub-genre and away from the sim racers. An added dash of player empathy and an incorporation of emergent gameplay facilitation. You can’t intend on your player crying in a game, but you can build an experience that allows such moments to arise. New Vegas was so infinitely powerful because its mechanics allowed for utterly anything to happen. NEW VEGAS SPOILERS Boone’s linear story of heartbreak and Greek tragedy didn’t become an oxymoronic victim like Apocalypse is in some ways, but instead became something more powerful. I was given the power to euthanise Boone, or to not euthanise him, it wasn’t even hinted at. I did it because I heard his story and felt he needed this peace. NEW VEGAS SPOILERS OVER
You might think that is a far, far place away from Apocalypse but it’s not. For those who didn’t read the above because they didn’t want to be spoiled, it’s basically a linear element that supports interactions by the player. A story that lets you meddle with its ending, or to change the further course. In Apocalypse, the course is more literal but you can’t change it. What you can do is build your own course within it, weave your way through the destroyed buildings and find new moments of exhilaration. That’s what life is about: discovery.