1 August 2010

Eskil Steenberg's Love. Interaction and MMO's

This is not a review or a description of this game. Why would you care? These are thoughts on realism in interactivity and why it's a paradox.




It's a time of blight in MMO's... after WoW the games of this genre have to be accessible to everyone, they can't be complex or the mass won't buy them, and they can't be dissimilar from the previous games. But it's a trap, because even if you try to make 'em similar to the big don then you'll loose in comparison and the core subscribers won't move anyway(why move to a similar game that's probably worse and surely less comfortable?), but the market dictates that the mass wants a WoW clone, not complex and original products. What can we do to fight the market neo-nazism?

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What's bad in today's MMO's? Everything except graphics: they look splendid, realistic, immersive, medieval, you can count the grains of sand or the bricks on a wall. But you can't touch anything, or speak with anyone(because there's no reason to so you "can't"), hell sometimes i can't even have my character walk, the only dim trace of interaction is fiddling with a bunch of moves to get them most effective, but usually the sites tell these things for you, you usually cheat because you just can't stand to think too much.

This swedish gentleman Mr. Steenberg is well on his way to make his online game, LOVE...i won't bother you good gents with what most of the journalists do copying each other, saying how the man works, where, other known rhetorics. It's irrelevant in front of the god of interaction's stern expression while he's listening to us. My hands are motivated by sheer anti-conformism, i'll only write things nobody says.

First of all in this game you REALLY need to read a couple of pages of documentation and more than that watch(more like study) Eskil's own gameplay commentary video(works like a tutorial), otherwise you will have NO CLUE as to what you're supposed to do. It's a wondrous feeling that comes directly from the 90's, when one would play a great strategy game like Steel Panthers or an Ultima. And the feeling you have next, when you apply the theory also reminds of old times and it's extremely satisfactory, a satisfaction completely lost on today's gaming (as entertainment and lotsa joypads) mindset. Incidentally the game visuals are admittedly inspired by our beloved Eric Chahi's Another World, which is another link with the golden age of videogaming.

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Let's get to the point now:

Love graphics are very abstract. characters are oddly shaped, they jump pretty high, they take no damage from falling(one person said "falling in Love is never painful"... ouch) and they die touching water. But:

-What do you see in the game? hundreds of objects you examine with brief but solid descriptions... which maybe is why Eskil said Love is an adventure game.

-What do you manipulate in the game? Dozens of tools and structures that each make for a mini-game, one of those "game in-game" that might remind us of Ultima Online, what with carpentry, alchemy, that sort of jig... there's a thing called cable relay, you plant them in circle throughout a city, you access one, tell it to connect to the other until you got a skilift miles long... you climb on one, it takes you all around for miles... you made it yourself and set it to work. You can almost touch it and smell it, you set it electrically!

-What do you DO in the game? You build antennas, radios, power reflectors, wind mills, even bloody artistic crafts... then walls, doors, skyscrapers, the whole gameworld is bound to be a huge megalopolis, you can build tall skyscrapers as i said, and you can build underground to make prison mines of nightmare(who gets the reference here?). Every single structure has a purpose to give life to your city, and each of this has to be made to function in conjunction with other objects and for other people.

This is interaction... interaction is not grabbing things and tossing them, fire a gun, it happens instead when, to use an object, you have to understand its nature. Take the "bomb", for example... you place this object on the ground, memorize its position and set its preferred radio frequency to say 400mhz. Then you type boom in its display. You pick a radio, switch to that frequency, type boom and it blows up. It's not just what other programmers did and you just click and see a sexy animation, you're doing everything about it, you're the maker of it, infact what Mr. Steenberg gave to players is a tool that's pretty much like a programmer's engine... and this is the brilliance of it all, probably.

So to the final point : if videogames are interaction, realism can't come from visuals, but the manipulation and understanding of the functions of objects to overcome challenges; which is ipso facto the definition of interaction. That's why LOVE, an abstract looking game, is more realistic than any current MMO can ever hope to be.

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I teach history, literature, linguistics, philosophy and psychology. I believe in a cosmic order. I love each place on Earth because everything has its unique attractions. I worship the God of progress and That of biomechanics. I try to write novels in a strongly interaction remainding formulaic fashion. As i'm progressist, i am a socialist extremist. I wanna open a social library art chocolate house. I write lyrics for my musician metal-crazed friends. I wanna be a theatre master. I believe Star Trek vision of society can be realized, but people are afraid of change and Power frightens people because they are afraid of loosing their privileges. I am incredibly dense in astronomy but i philosophically love it. I can't live without spirituality. I try to find the the key to happiness, investigating, exploring the way nature works, understanding its mechanisms, its secrets and mysteries. I believe one of the goals of living is to make life better for everyone.