To me, it's a sign of a thoroughly-tested game when, after eight years and dozens of devoted playthroughs, you discover a new, miniscule detail that the developers have accounted for. Okay, maybe that's a bit complicated to use as a personal slogan, but that doesn't make it any less true.
I was recently playing though my all-time favorite game, Metroid Prime. This is a game I've been through at least thirty times. I know every nook and cranny of the game world. I've often stated that if I woke up in a random location on Tallon IV (the planet on which the game takes place), I would be able to find my way out...given access to the proper survival equipment. You get the basic idea. I am intimately familiar with this game - how it works, how it looks, and how it feels. Hopefully, you can understand my surprise when I discovered something new.
In the Chozo Ruins section of the Metroid Prime world, there is a room which contains a mirror. This mirror, to my knowledge, is the only accessible mirrored surface in the entire game. Taking place from a first-person perspective, the game does not regularly feature a full model of main character Samus Aran in order to save on space. Instead, most of the time, all that exists is a partial model of a gun hovering in front of a heads-up display. Thus, the reflection that appears in the mirror is not a true reflection, but a dynamic two-dimensional image. In other words, it's a picture that animates interactively, changing based on where the player stands. The overall effect is the appearance of a reflection. Now, I've looked at this image in all sorts of ways. I've turned left and right, jumped up and down, moved forward and back, and twisted all around. This time, however, something different occurred to me: what would happen if I entered into Morph Ball mode while looking at this reflection? This transition involves a swap from first-person to third-person view, and it's a custom animation which doesn't match the pose Samus holds in the reflection. I decided to give it a try. Sure enough, the mirror accurately matched the reflected image to the in-game animation.
I know, this seems like a fairly trivial observation. Indeed, it's a pointless addition to the game. It's hard to imagine that having that extra animation in there would have any impact on Metroid Prime's gameplay. For that matter, why waste the resources to make that mirror and program that reflectivity at all? The mirror is in place purely for aesthetic purposes, and its very existence demands the addition of this false reflection effect. Nonetheless, the people at Retro Studios took the time to not only add this effect, but take into accout all of the actions it must respond to. The end result is an object which, in fact, DOES affect gameplay. This mirror is unique, and its presence is enough to catch your eye, however briefly, and slow you down. Small details like this are prevalent throughout the game. Many go unnoticed, but their inclusion is genuinely vital. They each add to the illusion that is the game world, enhancing that ever-important concept of "believability". That believability is one of the key aspects that instantly made Metroid Prime into my favorite game of all time.
I figured Prime was a good topic of discussion for my first blog post about gaming and game design. Being the favorite game that it is, it's been a big influence not only on my overall design process, but on my very decision to become a game designer in the first place. I've thought for a long time about starting up a blog of some kind, but various things have gotten in the way. Chiefly, I've had trouble seeing the point. After all, who wants to see the rants and opinions of a nobody who hasn't had any real impact on the world? That's the big question of blogging, but it doesn't seem to bother the millions of other bloggers out there. Considering that, I figure, why not get in on some of the action?
More recently, my big block to joining the blogging scene is the fact that I didn't think I could maintain one. I have plenty to say, but typing it all out takes time. My attention span these days has been short, and it can be a long time before I actually get a complete idea sketched out. I didn't want to be waiting for weeks or months between blog posts. However, as I was recently advised, a well-thought-out and informative blog post made once a month can still make for a worthwhile blog. In the end, I obviously caved.
For the moment, I'm reserving this as a game-themed blog. I'll talk design philosophies, observations, and frustrations as I work to get my footing in what I'm quickly learning is a very unwelcoming industry. For instance, I had planned to wait until I held an industry job before actually starting this blog, but having waited more than a year for that plan to take shape, I've decided it's not worth it to hold back. So here I go, commencing my discussion on the world of games. Welcome to Gameland. I'll be around here somewhere. Help yourself to whatever you want...just try not to break anything.
Oh, and if anyone has any idea why I can't perform a simple copy-paste from Word into Blogger, please let me know. It's really annoying to have to type all of this up twice.