The Way We See Our Worlds

Posted: February 15, 2007 by Kendricke in General Game Concepts

Dasein said something over on the Nerfbat forums that got me to thinking:

Dasein wrote:

Why do you assume creatures are using sight? Smell, sound, ground vibration, pheremones, thermal signature, life force or magical aura might give away your position. I’ve always wondered why alternate forms of detection are not more fully developed in most games. I’d like to see a game at least take smell into account.

I think that would be great.

I actually had a rather interesting exchange on a very similar subject just 2 weeks ago in San Diego with one of the top SOE developers. I asked why the lighting in Everquest 2 was brightened at nighttime or within dungeons and why racial vision was essentially a novelty fluff item when it had the potential to be so much more.

The general response was that it was annoying to players to be unable to see farther, especially after they’d already gotten used to being able to see farther.

I see the point he was making, but I still disagree to an extent. I believe that a lot of the immersive “mood” in a game comes about from how well you can place yourself into the position of the character without having to think about it.

My friends and I love to mock the Blair Witch Project now. However, at the time of its release, a lot of us were buying into it and the first time I saw the movie in the theatre, I was scared out of my wits. It wasn’t because the movie itself was scary to me, or because of what I could see – but rather because of what I couldn’t see, and how I found myself thinking back to every camping trip I’d ever taken and how much my imagination ran wild.

Fast forward a few years and I’m playing Resident Evil 2 with the lights out, and every few scenes something else causes me to jump. Maybe something moves by the window. Maybe a lightbulb flickers just right. Maybe it’s a strange noise. Whatever it is/was, the game had me spellbound all the way through.

I think that having a darker world overall (especially at night, or in dungeons) where you can’t see individuals in your group if they move outside of your torch light. There could be spiders hidden in the walls or even on the ceiling of the cavern you’re crawling…but you might not see them till you pass right under them. I love that idea. It’s typically something horribly implemented in games like World of Warcraft or Everquest 2 (it’s slightly better in old Everquest, though).

Add in some additional “vision” types like sonic vision (think Pitch Plack/Riddick Chronicles), hybrid infrared/ultraviolet, or even “smell” vision and you could have an interesting (and useful) set of racial (or spell/potion) enhanced visions. Go one step further and take a page from the Earthdawn PnP game and bring in Astral Sight for casters, some artifacts, and perhaps a magically imbued race and suddenly you can introduce “true forms” of some fairly nasty planar beasts (or the ability to sense auras, etc.).

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