HD gaming has brought what I can consider one of the biggest sins of gaming, yes I speak of the normalisation of beauty. It comes few and far between when a game is both pretty and knows it, it makes a spectacle of its world and sets up various ways for you to stop and appreciate all the gruelling work put into achieving it. Not a set-piece that you watch something happen, something you live in and can marvel at, those moments in a game where you might go “hey……I like that”.
The image for this post is of the Slimy Spring Galaxy in Super Mario Galaxy 2. The entire stage up to a point is an underwater cavern with a weak ambient soundtrack booping along as you ride through the water. Dodging enemies and picking up all the extras as you go, you finally arrive after a handful of minutes to the end of the stage, coming out of the water to the oasis and the shining sky ahead. The music is erased and all you hear are the sound effects of birds and the crashing of the waves. The scene is set so remarkably I could argue this is the most fantastic water level in all of gaming.
Check out the stage here: https://youtu.be/Lv67MhOHk8E
In Journey for the PS3 there are a lot of cool moments, purely out of the novelty of the game and your interaction with the landscape. However both the marketing and the fans new there was gonna be one particular moment that struck people strongly, one little part of the game that would dominate the experience: the sunset dressed sand slide.
I didn’t even have to finish typing into Google to find this as the autofill shows how many people like to show off and relive this moment. The sun is beating down an orange glow onto the ruins and sand, the pillars set to make the glorious view flicker on and off to show you just how much of a difference it is making. Every review I saw when this game came out loved to go on about this moment, every time my brother plays the game it is the highlight of his playthrough. This game is gorgeous but more importantly it celebrates it and makes it a big deal, it like Galaxy 2 says “I am beautiful and the world shall know it”.
Even the God Of War series which is one I frankly have many issues with achieves some spectacle, even if it might be a by-product of setting a scale. The very first game has you go off the recover Pandora’s Box from, unsurprisingly, Pandora’s Temple. Upon reaching the location you see a long wooden bridge you must cross, halfway through crossing the camera pans back and up to show how large and foreboding the temple is compared to wittle Kratos and his sharp sticks of chaos. Not only does it show scale but it makes a big deal about the actions of the player, this isn’t a game where you kill a god in every other boss fight this is a game where one man takes on the seemingly impossible tasks of finding the box and killing a god.
When we arrived in the HD era and beyond there is far too much normalisation as I said, too much of bringing down the fantastical to the expected or uncelebrated. There are some beautiful games in the last and current generation but they don’t seem to believe it, their camera angles scarcely showing off the world created with areas of pure majesty and technical triumph. I believe this has been a player in the forming of the new standards and the graphical pushes of the last and current generation, they don’t care so we don’t really care or they tout the new fish physics or shuffling while on the floor to aim in all directions.
I really do like seeing the beauty of nature in the fantastic worlds video games provide, the lush green forest that can have a lone tree in a wide open space surrounded by a stream of water. Maybe the single flower in the desolate mountains inside a gap where the roar of the wind disappears, the light of the sky beaming in through a crack in the ceiling. Designing a game is so much more than the gameplay and so much more than the graphics, it is creating moments of wonder. I hope more games apply more spectacle and more gamers appreciate and celebrate these serendipitous moments they stumble upon. If a game is an experience then make it one worth remembering for every reason you can create.
What games have those areas or scenes or moments that really strike you? Do you think there has been a normalisation of the grand and glorious in the HD era of gaming? What games do you think had the potential to craft a single moment of awe but didn’t? Thanks for the read and I’ll see you later.