The Future is Frame Rates

By | February 16, 2010 | 1 Comments

It’s not easy being as lazy and unfocused as I am and still get things done. I mean, if you were to install a high-speed camera in my office in order to make one of those time-lapse videos of me writing a book, you would think something had gone terribly wrong with the experiment when it showed me sitting at a desk, dozing, for sixteen hours. You’d wonder how in the world I ever get books written. The answer, as with everything else Jeff, is booze, but I’ll leave the actual details of that ancient Somers secret to the imagination. Let’s just say my body can’t take much more of this, so they better make that Avery Cates movie soon so’s I can retire and get some rest.

Anyways, one of the ways I waste valuable time is by playing video games. Specifically, First Person Shooters. You can blame my old friend Ken for this; back in 1991 he installed Wolfenstein 3D on his old 386 PC and I was addicted instantly, and in 1998 he bought me Half Life as an Xmas gift and that ruined me for life. It’s been downhill for my attention span ever since.

Even today, when I work on a Linux platform and thus can only play games that are about 5 years old, I still lust after the new FPS titles that come out, and I note that Bioshock 2 has just been released. I played the first Bioshock (despite it’s loathsome anti-pirating bullshit) and really enjoyed it, and if I had a Windows PC and less disdain for SecuROM and its ilk, I’d be happy to play the sequel. This makes me think, again, that the obvious future for a lot of entertainment is going to be the First Person Shooter.

For those who have never played an FPS: A First Person Shooter is a game where the “camera” of the game is from your character’s point of view; you move the mouse or the controller and you see only what you would see if you were actually there in the game world. The potential for immersion is huge, and as graphics cards and video drivers like OpenGL or DirectX get more and more powerful, the detail and animations in these games is getting more and more realistic and movie-like. I mean, look at this screen shot from Bioshock:

BIOSHOCK

Damn.

Anyway, the first-person shooter is a visceral, immerssive way to tell a story, and the stories in these games tend to be very complex and novel-like in a lot of ways, except that you as the “reader” have some limited ability to choose your own path. You can, for example, linger in a particular “chapter” of the story and poke around, seeking Easter Eggs or secrets, or just looking at the details the creators of the game have placed there simply for your entertainment or your immersion. The fact that FPS titles are dominated by Science Fiction stories (and War scenarios, like Call of Duty) makes sense: They aren’t limited by what you can physically film and believably act – you can make the game about anything, make anything happen within them. Hell, you’re actually creating the physics of the entire damn universe. If that isn’t a technical ability that screams for SF/F writing, I don’t know what is.

I see a future where these games get merged with movies. After I’ve played a game, I like to go into God Mode (a cheat mode left in by the developers that makes you impervious to damage) and just wander around the levels, trying things. When enemies appear, I just get rid of them and then go back to my business, and i really enjoy this secondary walkthrough of most games. When you’re actually playing, you’re usually too amped up fighting off enemies to notice a lot of grace notes. Going through a second time is really fun, and I think that you could make an entire game – similar, in ways, to MYST – that had no action elements, so fighting, but was just you engaged in a story as the main character, experiencing everything as the character does, and – most importantly – able to linger in scenes when you wanted to, extend interaction with other characters if you wished, try different things just for fun. Of course, a natural extension of this would be to allow the “audience” to affect the plot of the game/film. Their choices would branch off into different storylines, and there would be multiple possible endings. This has already been done to some extent in games, where choices are presented that determine what ending you’ll see.

This would be some time off, of course. Right now, though, you can see the merging of your home computer with your entertainment system, and I don’t think the time is far off when you no longer have a separate PC and a cable box – you’ll have a merged system, and your TV shows and movies will be run through your Internet connection to your ginormous television. When that happens, why wouldn’t they put out, say, Lost as an interactive game/film, where you played the role of a survivor and you got to make choices that determined the story? You could be as involved and experimental as you wished: Just go along for the ride if you wanted, with a preset story, or jump in and start playing with everything, trying to see what you could make happen.

Since these games share a lot with the novel – the plots for some (say, Half Life) are epically huge – this would be a place where novelists get merged into the whole thing. Screenplay writing is very different from novel-writing, obviously, but the lines blur in these FPS games. Sure, there is a visual and voice-acting element just as in television and film. But the stories are usually very novel-like, rich in detail, backstory, and allusion. So this might be a conversion point where it all becomes one new kind of category. And I think that would be kind of cool.

Then again, there is my aforementioned laziness and booziness, so I might simply be in the throes of yet another unfortunate depantsing event here in Hoboken. Cheers!

One Comment

  • jayf says:

    I see similar convergence out there, also being a big fan of FPS games. I’m currently re-addicted to Fallout 3, and enjoy immersing myself in the world, exploring, battling, even resting at certain points. It is all about the experience and the depth of the setting created. Reminds me I need to go back and finish Bioshock before I even try at Bioshock 2.
    Sometimes I get lazy half way through and put that world down for a while…

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