Fives – Imitating Life 2

They say that art imitates life, which is something that for all intents and purposes we can pretty much agree with. And of course, depending who you ask, games are a form of art, so the saying must be applicable here. Now I was going to go on about how every work of art is different and represents life in a different way, but it seemed like such a schlep to have to go through all of that to reach the real point:

In this magical game called “real life” we, the characters, have to deal with nonsense like gravity and the very worrying realization that if a car should happen to drive into our homes, chances are good that we’re going to have new piece of furniture sitting in our living rooms. This is something that games everywhere try to replicate to make us shout “Wow! Just like in real life!” – Possibly from the passenger seat of the mauled vehicle which is now sitting conveniently in front of your TV.

Of course, as with most art depicting reality, game physics don’t quite get it right, leaving us with some really weird side-effects. Let’s count down 5 instances where games and their whacky physics have made us contemplate driving cars into people’s houses, just to see if they’ll bounce back!

5. But I shot you…in the head!

In the games

Guns and shooting and swords and stabbing have been staples in games since the days of the NES, with blocky characters shoving a blocky pointy thing into other blocky things to make them die. Naturally, we’ve come a long way since then. Well, sort of. You see, even though the blocky characters are now beautifully rendered models that always seem to shine as if they were covered in baby oil; the stabbing and shooting is still pretty old-school in terms of their impact on that which is being attacked.

Sword slashes man; man staggers and continues as if he were merely pushed back by a gentle shove. Gun shoots man; man stops and then continues as if he simply walked into an invisible pole. Flashbacks of the black knight from Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail are swimming through my mind. Either the metal used in these weapons is actually really a rare cheese, or the people you’re trying to kill are very, very persistent.

In real life

Well it’s all really simple, isn’t it? Someone shoots you and you’re going to go down. Someone stabs you and you’re going to be severely hampered. If you’re lucky you’ll get to play the lottery one last time, but probably not.

Explain yourself!

Fallout 3 gives you the wonderful V.A.T.S. system, allowing to you freeze time and target specific parts of your enemy. This system works beautifully for causing critical damage but also raises a few questions. Why, when I have crippled your head, can you still move around, let alone fire a weapon at me? Why, when I have stabbed your eyes bare, can you still aim at me with any degree of accuracy? And for the love of all that is holy, why, when I have firmly punched you in the groin multiple times, can you still be chasing after me, contents of your stomach still firmly in place? In all fairness, crippled limbs do slow people down and make them more inaccurate in their aiming – but they can still walk and hold weapons as if nothing was wrong.

What do you expect from me?!

I’m not suggesting games be true to life in this regard, (we’d all die far too easily making things insanely difficult) that would be silly. But it would be great to see some more realistic penalties, as it were, for specific injuries. Also, crotch shots should render any male enemy completely useless, naturally.

4. Disappearing act

In the games

You’ve just made your way through 20 enemies with a chainsaw; stopping a moment to catch your breath, covered in blood, you excitedly turn around to see the massacre and carnage left in your wake. Decapitated heads! Intestines! Courtney Love! The most gruesome scene ever to be pl- oh hang on a moment…where is everything?

Ok, so the above was mostly just for dramatic effect; usually it’s no surprise to you because enemies usually disappear right in front of you (though the quick ‘disappear while the camera’s not on us’ trick is also pretty common). Minutes of bloody handiwork, gone in seconds. What a waste.

In real life

We here at Dev.Mag don’t condone violent acts. But should you find yourself in a situation whereby you have made your way through a group of 20 people with a chainsaw, I’m afraid turning around and hoping the bodies will be gone when you look back again isn’t a viable solution. Better call a good defense lawyer.

Explain yourself!

Well, here we have two – and both of them are Capcom beauties: Dead Rising and Resident Evil. Good ol’ Resi-Evil took the “make them disappear unrealistically into some goopy thing which then also disappears” route. I assume this was so that they didn’t have to worry about Chris or Leon getting obstructed by corpses and having their motor functions hindered further.

Dead Rising decided to go with “disappear when the camera’s not looking” approach. The difference? Well, Dead Rising smartly ‘layered’ the act – that means that they didn’t all disappear at once (most of the time) so that by the time you started wondering why you weren’t up to your neck in zombie guts, there were a few zillion more corpses spread around.

What do you want from me?!

Having bodies remain on the map is probably very resource-heavy for developers, so it would be unfair to expect games with mass carnage to be true to life; however, if you’re going to have bodies disappear either make it flashy so that we don’t care, or at the very least wait until we leave the room so that when we get back we can create our own wild theories like crows ate them, or something. But seriously, disappearing bodies shouldn’t even be in the equation with most games these days. [An interesting point here: Gears of War 2 tends to keep certain gibs and decals around for ages. Some multiplayer games degenerate into slideshows as a result. Conversely, Doom 3 enemies evaporated into fiery clouds of evil dust, which made sense and solved this problem. Score one for id? – Ed]

3. Staying act

In the games

Speaking of corpses; on the flipside of the disappearing act, we have the situation where bodies don’t disappear. Some games decide characters should simply clip through the bloody mess, while others decide to apply the wonderful ‘rag doll physics’. As the name implies, this allows your character to toy around with the dead like a father with his red-headed step-child. Sounds good in theory, but boy do they get it wrong in practice.

While most characters appear pretty solid in life, in death they usually turn into weightless (and quite limber) husks of flesh. That and they emit some oily substance that sends them gliding across the floor. Seriously, only in games are most enemies more mobile in death than they were in life.

In real life

Have you ever tried to move a corpse? Man, it’s TOUGH work. Er, I mean, many people have reported that it is tough work. Does dead weight mean anything to you? You are more likely to trip over a corpse, than send it flying across the room in your stride.

Explain yourself!

Dead Space. You can pretty much decapitate corpses and remove various limbs by stomping on them with your 736-ton shoes. And then kick them around like empty milk cartons.

What do you expect from me?!

Make dead bodies heavier and less mobile. It seems so easy, yet no one’s done it right just yet.

2. Weight-watching

In the games

While we’re on this (aren’t you loving how everything flows?), mass isn’t something reserved for the corpses of those who stand in your way. Many games today (especially the ones who want to show off ‘dynamic lighting’) have started taking out the nails that have kept set-pieces tied to one spot for years. That’s right! Marvel as the vase casts a realistic shadow as I carry it around! That’s great, but it would be better if I wasn’t carrying the three-seater sofa in my other hand at the same time.

It seems in their excitement to make everything able to move around (well most things anyway), developers have forgotten that, generally, things have different weights – and that a door closing on a tin can causing it to roll a few meters, shouldn’t have that same effect on a trolley or life-support unit.

In real life

Well it seems a bit silly when you say it out loud, but in the real world a can and a couch are actually pretty different in terms of their weight.

Explain yourself!

I hate to say it, but Fallout 3 immediately comes to mind with Silent Hill 5 and Dead Space coming a close second. Dead Space allowed you to use kinesis energy to move a plethora of objects, but even running into things sent them flying about. I drew the line at a couch, which hurtled across the room because I looked at it funny. Silent Hill also had this weird habit of movement making everything in the room shake; but Fallout 3 is in a league of its own – running past a shelf makes its contents basically fly across the room as if an army of poltergeists were suddenly pissed off at you.

What do you expect from me?!

If you’re going to make it move, make it move realistically. Easy!

1. Selective Destruction

In the games

In any game involving weaponry and a smidgen of free-will, we have, at some point or another, tried to shoot the wall to see if it leaves bullet holes. Admit it, you’ve done it too. Thus begins the slippery-slope of destructible environments. It starts innocently enough. A bullet hole here, a bullet hole there. Then we start shooting at the windows to see if they shatter. The cans to see if they fly. The fruits to see if they explode. Soon we are taking the bonus chainsaw we found under the desk and attack anything just to see if it will break. Most of the time we are disappointed of course, but it is always worth trying.

Then came the age of physics. Surely if it moves, it can break? Surely if it’s made out of wood it can be cut? If it’s glass it will shatter? The box I hit, nigh seconds ago, broke with no problem so this flimsy looking box…? Sadly not. Welcome to the world of selective destruction, where there exists only two kinds of materials: that which can be broken, and that which cannot.

Don’t let appearances fool you; it may look like glass, metal or wood, but it’s either breakabilium or unbreakabilium – the only elements that govern the gaming world.

In real life

In the real world we have a much more diverse range of materials used to make things; and almost always they are destructible in some way. Usually a chainsaw works quite effectively. With everything.

Explain yourself!

Oh dear, where to begin? Perhaps it would be easier to simply just say Grand Theft Auto. Driving through the streets you’ll doubtlessly plummet through everything taking out cars, pedestrians, signs, street lights, traffic lights, small buildings1, large buildings2, national landmarks3 and small European countries4. Until you hit into a tree that is. With roots wrapped around the core of the earth itself, that birch isn’t going anywhere. Yes. Birch.

What do you expect from me?!

I guess we should be happy that developers are applying real-world physics to games at all, so, fine. Forget everything above, I’m happy that we at least get to enjoy the wonders of slip ‘n slide corpses and aero couches. But as always, there must be a line drawn somewhere. If you’re going to apply selective destruction in your game, at the very least, try to be logical about it. Please.


Fall from glory

Two words: Assassin’s Creed. Diving off of high towers? Falling great distances? Altair’s kneecaps should have shot up and taking his eyes out by now. Not that that would matter mind you, he’d still be able to walk around and aim accurately enough to kill you.

1No, not really

2This is a lie


4This one is true

About Quinton Bronkhorst

Quinton is a designer and random rambler that really likes referring to himself in the third person. That should make you wonder: is it Quinton writing this, or perhaps some objective third party? You will never know. In unrelated news: Quinton is awesome and attractive and everyone wants to marry him. Facts. [Articles]

2 thoughts on “Fives – Imitating Life

  • Nandrew

    Q-man, I’m waiting for the day that you have to cut a bloody swathe through the throng of beleaguered developers who undoubtedly seek your head on a pike. The upside being, of course, that their corpses will disappear as soon as you’ve dispatched them.

    I really enjoy critiques like this — not strictly because the problems can be realistically solved (at least, not without a helluva lot more work), but because it’s a humbling look at our quest for “realism” in games.

    This is why I tend to enjoy abstract titles more, or ones which shamelessly break the fourth wall. They tend to sidestep these problems more gracefully.

    As an added little tidbit, the Wolfire blog made some interesting points about games imitating life in one of their older posts ( Ironically, they say that players react with more incredulity when presented with game landscapes that *accurately* reflected real populations of flora! It seems that some developers have to deliberately tone down the “exoticism” of their environments to convince gamers.

    Guess that fact is stranger than fiction after all.

    • Quinton

      Ha ha that is quite an interesting link! And yes, I’d imagine most gamers, seeing those “true to life” formation in a game would scoff at its so-called “realism”. The thing with gamers is, well, we’re a fussy bunch – you can’t please one group without upsetting another. One faction screams for realism, while another screams that real life is boring enough and they don’t want it in their entertainment media.

      Over and above everything, my main ‘thing’ is that I don’t mind what developers do in their games – as long as it makes cohesive sense within their worlds, and doesn’t slap me in the face with illogicalities in execution.

      But bring it on, devs! You may gouge my eyes out with spoons, but in terms of the rules you have set up, I will not be hampered in the slightest!

Comments are closed.