This year, I turn 35. I am long past the age when I realized some things make me feel old. It was extremely depressing the first time I looked at a hot college girl and realized I was in high school when she was born. It was extremely depressing the year I realized that me and spicy food just don’t mix. (However, I did get a large amount of reading done that year.) As a gamer, it is really strange to be able to explain to my Castlevania-obsessed nephew about how a large majority of the games in that series over the last 25 years are about Simon Belmont’s relatives, and to remember playing all of them when they first came out (when I was 10).
Whether it is age or just my natural propensity toward nitpicking remains to be seen – but it seems that the older I get, the more certain things annoy me, both in gaming and in life. The thought that has been lately whipping my brain into a fevered desire to lecture all you young whippersnappers in how it was better in the good old days is that everything always has to be “taken to the next level” or everybody will think it’s lame.
I mean, if a character’s drinking a healing potion, why can’t they just, I dunno, pull a flask out of their backpack and drink it and say “ahh” as their health bar is replenished? Is it really necessary that they throw their head back and levitate in the air inside a pillar of light while the wind blows their hair around? Can a person not shoot an arrow without a giant glowing rune appearing behind them? Can a ninja not hit a man with a giant serrated edged broadsword without it looking like a fireworks factory caught fire during a landslide?
I love things that glow. I love things that sparkle. I love neon-colored stuff in general. But when I was growing up, these things meant something. It meant that you were pulling out the BIG GUNS. The glowing sword was the one that was going to KICK ASS. Games today add extra glow-trail effects to lightsabers. They’re LIGHTSABERS. They are already glowing. That is what makes them cool. You don’t have to add explosions. Make them cut something in half and make the wounds glow. That would be cool.
Why is everything so amped up? In videogames, I can see a need for this back in the days when graphics weren’t as detailed and you couldn’t really tell what was going on. In comics, you sometimes need motion lines and starburst effects to indicate motion or impact. We live in the year 2010. We don’t have flying cars yet, but we do have the ability to animate characters in such a way that I can tell when they’ve been hit with a spear without the use of a solar flare to track the weapon’s movements. Don’t believe me? Look at Heavy Rain. There are fights in that game that last several minutes and you never get bored. Exciting, grueling, viscerally interesting fights. Nothing glows, nobody reaches POWER LEVEL TEN THOUSAND OMG, nobody shoots a fireball at another person. There is no excess – there is simply good cinematography and the right cues (visual and otherwise) to engage the player. Admittedly, few games are done in the style of Heavy Rain, but its lessons can be applied to other formats.
Here’s the thing. There’s a reason they call them “special effects”. If every effect is special, then none are. They don’t make an impact anymore. It says a lot to me that the game with the fight scenes that really sticks out in my mind is the “plain” one. It also gives me the least indigestion. Now get the hell off my lawn.