giovedì 24 marzo 2011

The Art Of Gaming: The Half-Life Series

The center of my heart thrives for awesomenss.

Or, in simpler terms, i dont care what form beauty and ideas take to get to me. When something great, beautiful, innovative, genius gets to me and causes any sort of emotion, i recognize its greatness.

In the last couple of years, thanks to one of the man i'll always be grateful to karma for having made us meet, my buddy Tony, made me understand the beauty and art in great gaming.

For people who live their life, limiting their perception to the simple side of things, thinking that movies are a way to kill time, music is something you play in the background and art is a nice painting of a dog to hang over the wall to fill a space, games are probably a juvenile thing that kids sue to waste their time. Or something violent and stupid. This isnt completely false. As in any medium, theres a LOT of stuff that exists for pure entertaining purposes, nothing wrong with that, and theres stuff that is created. And when i mean created, i mean made through creativity. Theres game designers in the world that have great stories, great ideas and use the medium of videogames to defy the limits of narration. To give emotion, create characters, tell stories. To make an alternative worls that takes you somewhere else where the impossible is possible, and you can be part of it.

It isnt just about Suiper Mario or Grand Theft Auto. Or, as lamne people love to say, "Tetris and Pac-Man" (which seems to be the only games that most people played in their life)

One of the developing houses i learned to admire and love the most, for their many creations that seem to tie together crowd-pleasing smarts and purely artistic insanity is Valve.

And while most will wax poetics about their genre defying invention masterpiece "Portal" (and i might talk about it in the future), i wanna spoend some times about the project i love the most: The Half Life Series.

Half Life started as a series of sci-fi themed shooters. The story was pretty simple at first and got incresingly complex with the following game and shorter "episodes". But while the original Half Life was intelligent and brave, its the second chapter and its appendixes that really changed my ideas about gaming forever.

See your main character is an engineer. Not a brute, space hero. You're a scientis. And you're silent. No voice acting for the character of Gordon Freeman. You're in his head and his voice might as well be yours. Still hes far from a dork or an ironically meek character. The game constantly makes you pull stunts tahat are epic, dizzying and gorgeous. Sometimes solve-able with pointed logic and a bit of inventive destruction. And when you accomplish them, the results will make you feel like a god. You'll destroys gigantic enemies, work with mysterious alien machines, solve wars and save cities. At times with special guns. Sometimes with a frakin crowbar.

The game makes you feel like you are actually special and makes you care about whats happening. the simple but amazing graphics create this look (that inspired directly the gritty yet sterile look of the future of movies like "City Of Men" or "District 9", whose contrast between rotten and rusty slums and surreal, numbing "high towers" is exactly like the magnificient City 17 you'll wander through) that oscillates constantly between realistic, threatening and utterly jaw dropping.

You'll see worlds exploding, hordes of enemies that are scary while beiung comical, Robots that are human as actors, thanks to Valve's perfect sense of giving everything a soul through simple poignant details and animations.

And then you'll meet Alyx.

In the world of gaming heroines seems to be necessarily sexy, probably cause a way to keep the teenagers' attention at bay is giving them sex objects to play with. What Half Life 2 and the episodes give you is a friend. And i dont mean that in some weird, nerdy way. Even with the limnits of technology, Valve has created a secondary character that not only looks, acts and talks liuke an actual charming twenty-something girl, but actually gives you a strong motivation to play. Yes you'll want to blast stuff, solve puzzles and just be a badass. Of course. But this animated bunch of polygons called Alyx Vance will make you wanna fight for her. And not for weird prurient reasons.

Valve has made her interact with you, somehow. Her chacter cracks jokes in tense situations. Reacts like a human being. She's pleasant, helpful, funny. She comments on your destructive actions lovingly.

She does thousands of tiny gestures that get at you. Places a hand on the door to say goodbye while you take an elevator to your possible death. While you ramp up a terrifying place, sheì'll keep following you from afar, like an ctual person would. And this with no special AI or tricks. Simply, Valve did a lot of real testing, asking players what they would like and love and what came out was an actual person. A real, non-cheesy, companion.

And this companion, when the story gets to its last cliffhanger.... She will..... Make your heart break...

No matter how jaded you are.

Trust me, if you're skeptical, try playing those games. Skip the original, try HL2. You might change your mind and you'll discover that while its still "gaming", its also "art". Of a completely different kind.

2 commenti:

  1. Well put. Half Life 2 and the episodes are among my favourite games. They are the first example I'd give to what not only shows games can be art but what makes games distinct from other media.

  2. first time i was emotionally involved in a "game", and actually the one where i was most involved in anything fictional. and the plot itself isnt that insane. its the way they tell it to you and make you part of it. and blahblahblah geekitygeekitygeek.