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Look at games! The sky. The trees. The grass. The water. All of these things look real. And games will continue to get more real-looking as technology throws us ever closer to a promised land of perfect visual fidelity. Just this week, for example, Rockstar's LA Noire will introduce character faces so real - so mind-bendingly authentic - that they may cause some God-fearing types to be sick over themselves.
Above: One of these heads is from LA Noire. The other one is Jocelyn Wildenstein. There was a point to this, but we're not sure what it is now
This blistering hike to the peak of Mount Realism with our backpacks full of dreams and excitement and oatcakes doesn't simply end with things 'looking' real. Games have to 'feel' real. With real emotions and real experiences. We want the real deal and we want it in HD and we want to play it from the safety of the sofa.
But here's the actual reality. There are things in games that will never be realistic. Mostly because it would be stupid if they were. But that doesn't matter. What does matter is that these are The Top 7... things in games that will never be realistic.
How many times have you been playing a game and your character is given a complex weapon, computing device or piece of heavy machinery with barely a 'here's how you turn it on' before being sent on your merry way to defeat the baddies? Example: Yes, admittedly, you're a monkey Diddy Kong, but you look smart enough. You're wearing a baseball cap, which is always a sign of intelligence, so here, take this jet-pack. You'll figure it out in no time.
Above: If Diddy had received adequate training he would realise the potential fire risks associated with a jet-pack that is made from wood
This is not realistic. The amount of supervised tutorage and training needed to make a primate understand the principles and operational demands of jet-pack powered flight would be an extensive process. And that's not even taking into account all the mandatory health and safety training before a Diddy Kong would be allowed to come within a banana's length of any kind of propulsion device.
You might think this is silly. Monkeys? Jetpacks!? Absurd! But let's flip it over and look at it another way. Gordon Freeman is not a screeching, knuckle-scraping animal. He doesn't wear a baseball cap. He's a clever man of science. Yet he's given a crossbow and expected to be able to sniper-kill dudes shooting at him from windows at the far end of a street that's littered with highly explosive red barrels.
Above: At no point does this happen in Half-Life 2
Sure he's smart, but to be able to execute such lethal accuracy under the pressures of such dangerous conditions is something that takes months - years even - of training to achieve. Also, the fact he wears glasses gives us a clue that his eyes are a bit disabled. And how many snipers do you know with disabled eyes? Exactly.
Ah, space. The mysterious, incandescent celestial realm in which all known reality hangs. A never-ending place of infinite possibilities, sensory wonders, and really cool explosive battles. That’s in games and films, anyway. Real space though, is just a bit inconvenient, and would be really bloody boring to deal with in a game.
Examples? There are many. First, and most obvious, is sound. In space there isn’t any, due to an inherent lack of atmosphere. So all of those epic space battles in every space-based game you’ve ever gleefully blasted your way through would take place in complete silence. Even the likes of Dead Space, which purport a more realistic version of exterior space combat, just quieten down and muffle things a bit. And the reasoning isn’t just to make things more exciting. It’s a basic game design thing too. Sound design and audio cues are more important than you might think in video game combat. If you can’t hear where that unseen star fighter or Necromorph is coming from, you can’t make a pre-emptive tactical response, and so for the game to be fair all your enemies would have to come at you in a straight line from directly in front of you. Which would be bloody dull.
Above: ...ultimately translates to this in reality
Other problems with video game space? Asteroid belts make one hell of an exciting clusterf*ck of hazards to navigate or eliminate (or be bloody irritated by their pole-axing of the game flow, in Dead Space’s case), but in reality they’re never anything like as dense as you’d think. They look impressive at a distance, but in the middle of one? Let’s just point out that the Cassini probe only saw one asteroid at a range of 1.6 million kilometres as it explored the belt in our solar system. Starfox, it was not. Similarly, with no force to hold something as small as gas particles together, all those cool multicoloured nebulae that ships hide in or fly through would be so low in density that you’d never even see them if you were that close.
And you can forget the visual splendour of explosions just as quickly as you forget the aural pleasure. With no air to transfer explosive energy – or to slow down its expansion - you’d be looking at a very brief flash before everything spiralled off too fast for you to even register it. The cool, Top Gun-style dogfighting wouldn’t work either, as that stuff relies on air-based Earth physics.
Basically, real space = dull and annoying. So games will never follow suit. Because games need to be exciting and fun.