I remember being completely blown away by one of the early Grand Theft Auto San Andreas’ screenshots when the game got announced. It’s not the one above, I couldn’t find it, but it was CJ barreling down a hill on a bike in the middle of the country side, back wheel off the ground, orange sunset silhouetting him. I think it must have been the organicness of the situation that had taken me. The country side was obviously the big show here, first time the series had got off the road so to speak. But I think the action played a big part, this little nimble bike clearly not glued the ground, in an environment that wasn’t predictable. That opportunity for things to go so wrong, but right there and then they were going right, that was cool. It was exhilarating even in concept, an emotion high of thought.
I’ve been feeling a bit anxious the past day or so. The two major projects on my hands is a multiplayer Portal clone made in Dark Basic, and a UDK level design. Neither of these are going poorly at the moment, they’re certainly not up to scratch yet, but things are moving in the right direction. What has me worried though is that like that moment in the San Andreas screenshot, the snapshot that is now is looking pretty good, but maybe a few seconds after it was taken CJ came off the bike. However, the schedule is looking good for the UDK level, and all the frame work tech for Dark Basic Portal is coming up solid, so rather than let me little moment of anxiety roll over other people with useless panicking, I decided to take an hour out of this evening to go driving.
Driving in San Andreas that is.
I like to go for walks a lot, with no objective in mind, no point to reach. Typically I will pick a direction, and walk. Simple as that. I will continue to walk until it gets boring. More and more I’m finding entertainment value in similar activities in the game worlds. Tonight on my San Andreas I mimicked the real world behavior in a lot of ways, I picked a direction, and started driving until the drive got boring. San Andreas and GTAIV for me share a similar design of having all this open world that exists to provide land marks and backdrops for a driving experience. You can explore them of course, these rolling green country sides or docklands or whatever takes your fancy, but the value in them for me in this scenario is that they exist. It’s like playspaces whose sole purpose is to back up the active play space. Vice City and even more so GTA3 don’t feature that, every mile in those games is used very well, but it means there is no dead space, no relaxation zone, no neutral horizon. And this isn’t anything to do with size, this is space use. San Andreas on the other hand has a lot of visually complex wasted space, cool things you see that at best come into mission play once or twice, if at all. This is what made the journey worth while tonight, being on the road and admiring all these complex spaces, but not having to engage with them, potentially with lack luster gameplay. Along with that is choice, this isn’t circuit driving. If I enjoyed that I would walk around my house 30 times instead of walking under the freeway into the industrial and port lands. It’s choosing which way you want to go, taking a gamble on what sights you see. It’s that little bit input into how the scenario plays out.
So from this I wonder, is there a possible interest out there in ‘relaxation’ games. Games that sit somewhere between making glowly lights by waving your hands in front of a webcam, and a full blown challenging gameplay experience. Say we took San Andreas, stripped out everything aside from the world and the driving, would it be as relaxing? Or is that part that makes it relaxing the act of me walking away from my gangster life, if only for 30 minutes, to cruise in visually stimulating country side. After all, isn’t that what I do when I go for my walks? Take the action of walking away from my computer and coding, if only for 30 minutes?