Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I'm Not Dead Yet!

Ok, Ok. I did, after all, mention three posts back that "blogging would be light", didn't I? I suppose I didn't realize at the time just how light blogging would be.

Spore is a really, really evil game. It's not a game for the hard-core gamers; they would say that the gameplay is "light"--that is, you're not having to remember which key on the keyboard operates the pressure valve on the intake manifold on your third engine when you're operating in Silent Mode. It's more a game for the more casual gamers; those who don't want to face death every time they're in front of the screen. Casual gamers like those games with simple controls and uncomplicated, intuitive rules; where you're not under constant survival or time pressure; where you get to explore at leisure. The trouble is, games like that can take all month to finish.

So, here we are two weeks later, and none of us has finished a game yet. We've enjoyed playing (obviously), though we enjoy different parts of the game: My daughters are into the creation of new monsters and spaceships; my wife is into the early stages of the game; and I rather enjoy zooming around space looking for new sources of Purple Spice.

Hmmm... somehow, the thought occurs to me that we could work out an arrangement to make a game of Spore be a family affair, where everyone plays their own favorite bits. That'd work!

And it means that I'd get to play it the most, because the Space Stage in this game takes longer than all other parts put together. Sneaky, aren't I?


While we're on the subject of video games, I thought I'd take a quick stroll down memory lane. Anyone else among my readers get the game Myst when it came out? Remember that one?

Believe it or not, it was released fifteen years ago tomorrow. And I'm feeling really, really old.

Man, I loved that game. And it wasn't that it was particularly hard; when my parents got me a computer for my post-college-graduation present in 1995, I had the shop throw in a copy of the game, and I had it solved pretty much within two days. It wasn't that the puzzles in the game were so hard; it was that the game was beautiful, and that it had a sense of hugeness to it. You were exploring a complete world. No, strike that--you were exploring a complete multiverse, shifting between worlds as you discovered the links between them. As the histories of all these worlds were revealed bit by bit, it evoked strange moods and emotions--a sense of longing, a sense of nostalgia, a sense of loss.

It reminded me of the feeling of wandering through an old World War 1 battleground (which my family has done, by the way)--you feel ghosts around you. You know that terrible things happened here once; everything is peaceful now, but it still doesn't feel right.

The thing about Myst was that it wasn't just a game, it was at least in part a work of art. So even after I solved it, I found myself playing it again and again, just so I could look at all those scenes again, and see all those details--the brass nails holding together the table in the corner, the grain in the polished wood writing desk, the gears and cogs in the orrery, the model ship sunk in the birdbath....

Of course, a lot has changed in fifteen years. Most games have very detailed images these days, and some of them can animate them, with shadows and reflections, in real-time (while Myst used nearly all still images). And yet, there's still a beauty to this fifteen-year-old game that I think few others before or since have matched.

If you'll allow me to wax philosophical, I think this is true of Art in general; I'm not sure that Art has "progress". That is, in any artistic medium, there is great art from every period, and there is dreck from every period too. The fact that Medieval artists had not mastered perspective does not diminish their artistic accomplishments; the fact that Renaissance artists did master perspective does not make their art superior. Moviemaking was in its infancy in the Twenties and Thirties, with many of today's tools and techniques not yet discovered (including color, and even sound!); and yet Buster Keaton still managed to make better comedies than most of today's crews.

The quality of a work of art isn't determined by the medium; rather, it depends on the artistic vision of the artist, and an ability to understand and work within the constraints imposed by that medium. Some of the greatest works of art were only grudgingly created by the artists, at the demands of overbearing patrons--the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel comes to mind. And some of the worst, most self-indulgent dreck comes about when you give artists blank checks and government grants.

I suspect that the term "starving artist" contains truth: the best art comes from artists who are, in fact, starving. Well-fed artists do whatever the heck they want. Hunger has a way of focusing the mind....


Anyway, the game Myst is noteworthy not because it was the end-all and be-all of games, but because it made the absolute best use of the limited (by today's standards) hardware resources it had access to. They came up with a truly interesting storyline for the game. And they somehow managed to create hundreds of beautiful images, a fair amount of (admittedly postage-stamp sized) video, and over an hour's worth of well-composed mood music and squeeze it onto one CD. It was, to use a cliche and a pun all at once, a game-changer.

And it sold six million copies.

So if I have any readers left after my little hiatus, what do you remember about this game? Did you like it? Hate it? I'm curious to know....

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