Imagine that scene playing out splitscreen style alongside the scene from Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade in which Harrison Ford attempts to climb aboard a slow-moving tank. At one point, he dangles from one of the tank's side guns while the tank tries to scrape him off on a rock wall. Harrison Ford is visibly exerting himself to a great degree, getting his clothes and skin torn and covered in dust and grit. It's a much more exciting scene even though it's considerably slower, because it's grounded in reality, not space pixels. Except for the following bit where Indy destroys a cannon by blocking the end with a bit of jagged rock that didn't even seal it properly, but what do you want, it's Hollywood.
Now, Last Crusade achieved this effect because it was a real stunt occurring in reality between real, physical objects, which is virtually impossible to fully simulate in pixel space because of the millions of factors you can't possibly predict, like the movements of the thousands of dust and grit particles that cloud up and get in Harrison Ford's face. Video games obviously can't have that level of reality since they're made up from pixels by default, but looking like reality isn't the issue. Even if you could create something akin to the Crystal Skull example and make it look 100% physically real, it'd still be a worse scene than the Last Crusade example because it's just too much.
Picture an ice cream sundae. Looks tasty, doesn't it. Now imagine five ice cream sundaes in front of you that a moony-eyed Italian violinist seems to be expecting you to eat. It's still easy to picture and you may feel slightly nauseous at the prospect. Now imagine ten million ice cream sundaes in the same context. You can't, can you? You don't feel nauseous this time because you're not even sure off the top of your head how much physical space ten million ice cream sundaes take up. And while a psychotic Mediterranean forcing a mere five ice cream sundaes upon you sounds possible, if unlikely, ten million is just silly. Your brain rejects the notion. This is exactly the problem with video games today.
Look at that one bit in Force Unleashed 2 where you have to fight a giant monster the size of two velodromes, or at the start of God of War 3 when you fight an absolutely colossal man-horse-scorpion thing made of water and rocks. The sheer difference in size between the enemy and the player character was so massive as to be unquantifiable. The prospect of any human-sized man defeating the thing was so absurd that I lost any sense of fear. Meanwhile, I remember Condemned, or Escape From Butcher Bay, where I'm in a dark basement down to my last health nugget trying to punch a hobo's teeth out before he brains me with a bit of old pipe, and the visceral humanity of it makes me ten million times more scared and invested in the action. What's more, the excessive visuals of the former practice take up precious memory and are, I'm sure, one of the main reasons why I've played so few games of a decent length lately.
The problem with games like Force Unleashed 2 is a lack of editorial discipline, which is in turn a consequence of design-by-committee, the philosophy that is the source of all evil in mainstream media and which I have railed against for years. But what are you doing about it, mainstream games industry? What do I have to do to make you change? Shall I drop a swear? Will that do, you stodgy cunts? Or should I drop ten million swears until the words lose all meaning in my head? Worth a try, I suppose. Tune into ZP each week to hear me gradually work towards this target.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.