August 17, 2009

Making Sense of It

So, I picked up Mirror's Edge the other day, gave it a shot. I like it a lot, it's good gameplay and great art design. The story is meh, but I'm not super worried about that. The important thing is that it's beautiful, fun, and relatively intuitive thanks to clever game design. Everyone says it, I'm sure, but the use of color is really clever. I think they didn't nail everything, and that a sequel (standalone would be better than direct) is well justified. There is one thing, though, that the game does really wrong... and it raises an interesting problem.

See, the game plays in first person. This is a good thing overall- in third person, you wouldn't get that same sense of speed, motion, and of being the character. The problem with it, though, is the same problem many other first person games have- there is no sense of your body. For example, if you hold your arms at your side, in real life, you know where they are. You can feel them, and you don't have to see or hear them to know where they are. Video games, of course, cannot replicate this- they have no way of actually making you feel like the character on screen is your body. It's not so much a problem of bad game design, as it is an inherent flaw in the medium. How can you become someone only using two senses? To be yourself is to feel, and smell, and taste, not just see and hear.

And it's a big problem for Mirror's Edge, because the game is all about positioning. You have to be in the right spot for a jump, you have to know if your feet are actually running on the wall, and within that, you have to be able to tell when you're about to lose traction, and more. But most importantly is for fighting. When you are going to have a melee combat system, in first person, where the camera actually leans into the punch, and twists with the kick... you have a mess on your hands. Every punch or kick because a brief "where the hell am I" until your head rights itself. It's a fundemental problem, a lack of sense of position. And really, I don't know how to solve it. That's not my purpose. My purpose is just to understand the problem to the best of my ability.

That's where you find yourself so often in Mirror's Edge... uncertain as to what will work and what won't, because you can't feel yourself. You walk along a narrow ledge, and you don't know if you're about to slip until the world slides away. You sidekick, and you don't know if it connects. There are solutions to this that games have used over the years- meters for balance, little flashes or glows around the screen to indicate hits, and the like... but I challenge Mirror's Edge 2 (don't call it that, come up with a better name) to come up with a more... organic solution. Hard? Yes. But I wouldn't offer the challenge if I didn't think you up to it. Good luck, gentlemen of DICE.

Oh, and by the way, I still haven't forgotten about the shit you pulled with Desert Combat, that was a real dick move, but I can at least let it go for now

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