The impossible architecture of video games

version

Who loves ya, baby?
I liked in old games (it probably still holds for new games) how there would be bits of the scenery that you could see but never get to, or could only see a part of, so that you could imagine the world extending forever. The less sophisticated the graphics and storytelling/dialogue etc. the more stimulation there was for your imagination.

Those glitches where you'd fall through a wall or the floor in GTA or whatever and just keep falling through formless space or an inversion of the map until you restarted or inexplicably landed somewhere.

 
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version

Who loves ya, baby?
Racing games with huge loop the loops, roads suspended in space etc.

 
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poetix

we murder to dissect
Finding a "hidden" room or area in a game has been one of life's sweetest pleasures for me since at least Jet Set Willy. Often you stumble into it by accident, and only then realise that seemingly extraneous pieces of other rooms you'd visited were connected in some way to the secret area, and were meant to be hints directing you to look for it there.

Lots of "there's an item on that ledge, so it must be possible to reach it, somehow" moments in Bloodborne - at one point, there's a descent through the rotted rafters of a tower, making one nearly-fatal drop after another onto a beam you can just barely see in the gloom, which leads to a fantastic hidden area once you figure out the route. If only life were like that, ever.
 

luka

Well-known member
Staff member
That was another thing Doom was good for. A panel in the wall looking a bit suss, tap the space bar and it slides up. Lovely. Very satisfying.
 

poetix

we murder to dissect
I can't think of any examples of a game that deliberately misled you about the existence of secret passageways etc.

Imagine putting an item on a ledge it was just impossible to reach, so that players killed themselves over and over again trying to get to it. Unthinkable discourtesy.

There are a couple of rooms in the chalice dungeons in Bloodborne that contain an absolutely bloody unreasonable collection of rapidly-spawning and fast-and-powerful enemies, and reward you with completely crap items if you somehow manage to clear them. They are widely regarded as a kind of sick joke on the part of the designers.
 

version

Who loves ya, baby?
I can't think of any examples of a game that deliberately misled you about the existence of secret passageways etc.

Imagine putting an item on a ledge it was just impossible to reach, so that players killed themselves over and over again trying to get to it. Unthinkable discourtesy.

The closest I can think of in terms of that sort of subversion of traditional mechanics is Metal Gear Solid. There's a boss in MGS3 you have to commit suicide to defeat.
 

mvuent

Void Dweller
one part of the book ender's game that never gets talked about, but that really stuck with me as a kid was the weird psychology-based video game he plays. related to the idea of hidden or inaccessible spaces. really captured the desire you get to somehow wander past the limits of the game and find something else waiting for you.
 

version

Who loves ya, baby?
A Stairway To The Unconscious — Thief: The Dark Project, 20 Years Later

Sometimes you have to wonder if people who are predisposed to violence don’t at least partially get it from how monotonous and uninspired the design of our buildings and public spaces are. A lot of life is filled with small compromises we don’t even know we’re making, and our architecture reflects that. The blandness of so much of day-to-day life feels like a testament to the failure to dream of something bigger. A nondescript place of your own must have once been a big dream to escape the horrors of the past. But in the modern era, those spaces have become their own places of horror.

Virtual spaces, in entertainment and on the internet, have taken an ever-growing burden of providing us with some sense of meaning and purpose amongst the purposelessness. But they often just as easily fall into their own cookie-cutter molds too. The processes behind the creation of larger scale media becomes streamlined much in the same way that design of most large-scale buildings are as well. It’s rare that we ever get to have a truly authentic experience of something genuinely unexpected, in life or in fantasy. And even if we did ever get to have this kind of singular authentic experience, how would we know that we’d be ready for would come out of it?

Thief: The Dark Project, re-released later as Thief Gold, is a computer game that doesn't provide escape in its virtual spaces so much as a sense of curiosity mixed with eerie discomfort. Thief is mostly a fun action videogame. But sometimes it gets a little too close for comfort to hitting on something deeper.


 
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Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
A game like Doom for instance which had views out of windows into a space you could never access had a very magical sense of possibility. This forbidden space which is both in game and beyond game.

I'm playing Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, which is pretty good - very atmospheric and scary, like the first Amnesia game - but I've come across several cases of invisible walls that stop you getting into areas you're not 'supposed' to get into, but without any visible, tangible thing that would actually impede the character's progress. A sign of lazy level design and a bit disappointing.
 

poetix

we murder to dissect
I wrote a little more on Bloodborne: https://thelastinstance.com/posts/there_is_no_bloodless_myth/

Bloodborne’s level design is intricate and knotty, traversing many different kinds of space, from echoingly vast interiors and eerily vacant public squares to bogglesome mazes of corridors or forest paths, connected by systems of ramps, lifts, staircases, bridges and tunnels cut into the rock. There is a propulsive function to these connecting elements, through which the player moves insistently forward, ascending or descending: mysteries unfold in both directions. There is no place of safety.
 

version

Who loves ya, baby?
One thing which struck me about the opening (I didn't get very far) was that maze-like structure you're on about. I'd find myself appearing in the same spot via different routes and wondering what happened.
 

poetix

we murder to dissect
The early game makes you loop around unlocking things until you finally get a clear run at the first couple of major bosses - it really wants you to spend time in that environment, getting into its groove. When I first played it I got to the end of the main strip of the first section, heard the ominous banging from behind the locked gates, and assumed that was the boss and I just had to get through to that area to have a boss battle and hopefully unlock the next lantern. Lol, no. It's a minor enemy making a lot of noise, and you've got ages to go before you meet the real bosses.

Later on you realize that you don't actually have to kill everything in your path, because you're faster than most enemies (at this point, anyway), so you can just sprint through the roving mobs and get to where you want to go without having to engage them at all. You can literally sprint to the first boss without taking, or dealing, a single blow.
 
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