Saturday, October 31, 2009

Expressing story and atmosphere in 2D (part one)

2D is an interesting style of gaming, it is almost like when 3D became feasible on home consoles that the entire idea of a two-dimensional game was old fashioned and not as cool anymore, like a child discarding and decent old toy for a new one. Although some games have played around with the idea of intertwining two-dimensional game mechanics with three-dimensional visuals it wasn't until recently with the readily accessible online download services such as Xbox-live, Wiiware and Playstation Network as well as successful console based games such as Little Big Planet, that this genre is being explored again.

Why is this exactly? Do designers feel the idea of playing within two-dimensions hasn't been fully explored? Or that the constraints of a two-dimensional world easier to design for without over stepping the mark? Or is it a nostalgic trip, making games in homage to the ones we gained influence from as we grew up? For most I am guessing it is a bit of all of the above.

As I am playing around with different ideas and themes, I have become exceptionally interested in what a two-dimensional adventure game can achieve. Over the years I have played many games that have been side-scrolling or panel based in 2D, yet not many of them had a truly engaging story as well as a compelling atmosphere for its cause. There are a few games, especially from the 16-bit era. that did and two of those were "Flashback" and "Another World". They both had compelling stories that made you feel an integeral part of a universe outside of the game constraints as well as giving you believable purpose within the story world. Although most of the story telling was done through text both games, especially "Flashback" made use of rota scoped cut-scenes to build a believable picture of the world. Great for a 16-bit computer game! Yet in the modern day of gaming with games like "Shadow Complex" taking up the mantle of 2D/3D adventure games are separate cut scenes completely relevant? Imagine a completely integrated world where the camera can pan in and out showing a gaming view when needed and close-ups of scripted dialogue events seamlessly eradicating the need for cut-scenes. Half-life managed it from a 1st person perspective so how hard could it be from a two-dimensional perspective?

Excluding cutscenes in my opinion would help with the atmosphere of the game as it would continuosly keep you in the world of the game rather than taking you out of it. Other aspects of story telling used in three-dimensional games such as audio clips or written items could be used to expand the world you are in as well, or even use items in the world such as walls for text or televisions for audio to help piece together story in a more immersive manner. These are just mere ideas and examples and I hope to look further into it over the next week or so as I am designing my first level for the game I am currently working on. Next time I will look into some of these story-telling ideas in more depth and how by being innovative within the genre rather than purely inventive you might be able to evolve a genre in a positive way.

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