Thursday, December 2, 2010

Re: Science of Size

Kotaku posted an article that was of interesting to me because it seemed to highlighted a lesson I learned on Van Helsing for VUG way back when. In Van Helsing, the primary villain was Dracula, who -- when not in demon form -- is basically just a guy. On film a man-sized character like Dracula can be deeply impacting via music, camera cuts, context, dialogue, etc. But in play, when camera influence is drastically reduced, and regardless of how much all of those elements are used to establish the character or how huge the special attack effects are, Dracula is simply a puss. It doesn't matter if he can kill you with a hit, he just leaves little impression on you as the player and it does a lot to wipe out narrative immersion. I remember internalizing the lesson as follows: games are an un-subtle medium. There's really no way around it. If you want your enemy to be threatening, make him huge.

I'm sure there are exceptions to the rule but I've found this particular lesson quite handy in a pinch.

6 comments:

  1. It would actually rattle me if a boss got smaller during a phase in the battle.

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  2. I'm curious the scenario you imagine!

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  3. I was watching my sister play Chrono Cross a few years aback, and she got to this poor old man with sad, depressing music. After a typical JRPG conversation, the battle began. She started wailing on him, and he didn't really do much to fight back. I felt sorry for him, and gave her a hard time for beating the poor guy up. Then she started feeling guilty.

    Then he pulled out some powerful attacks and destroyed her. It turned out she had just gotten lucky that he had been using weak attacks, since every subsequent battle she died much earlier. She had to go read up on the battle on GameFAQs and we totally planned out a strategy until she could finally beat him. I think it was probably the hardest boss battle in the game for her (he wasn't the last boss or anything).

    The point of my story is that even though he seemed pretty pathetic at first, we thought he was plenty threatening once he started attacking :)

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  4. An interesting comment. It makes me wonder if my rule of thumb needs more caveats than I thought. :) I still find myself wanting to hold that there's a difference between a gameplay threat (yes, the little mouse will kill me in one hit) and an emotional one (that mouse is imposing, emotionally (?)), but I struggle being clear about the difference, to the point of wondering how catch-all my rule of thumb is.

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  5. This reminds me of something I read a year ago by the always-insightful Jesse Hamm on fear tactics and size and Hick's Law. (The Kotaku article, while never referencing Jesse, seems verrrrry similar.) You'd probably like Jesse's other posts on horror, linked from the article above.

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  6. That was a fabulous little link. Thanks for the gem.

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