Have you ever just stopped playing a game to just bask in the intricate and elegant atmosphere created around you? The scenery that has been painstakingly crafted for you to enjoy alongside your enjoyment of fun mechanics or immersive storylines? Perhaps, things are just so fast and frantic that you just couldn’t find a breathing moment to assess your surroundings beyond the core functionality of the level design. Do you only have the time to notice things like the objective, where to go next and where you can reach? It’s an issue that has always been on my mind when playing games. Am I really taking this all in, or is what I’m really seeing the equivalent of the green falling numbers in the matrix? Just a series of code that I’m picking up on and responding to appropriately.
I’m sure everybody has taken a moment to take it all in, on occasion, but maybe the opportunity doesn’t come up all too often. For a lot of us, gaming is a luxury we can often ill-afford, so when it comes to actually playing something, standing around looking at stuff isn’t really an option. We know it’s there and appreciate it on a somewhat stunted level, but rarely look at the detail so much, other than in instances where a huge advancement has been made, or a drastically unique design has been presented… but that doesn’t mean that less than huge advancements or not so drastically unique designs have nothing to offer. Never were that more the case than for writer/youtuber Andy Kelly, creator of the series Other Places.
He’s created a series of videos that simply admires the work that designers and developers have put together, looking over the little details that many of us may have missed. Have you ever noticed the way the clouds cross the moon or the cracking and bloating of an aged bookcase? There’s no narration, no description, just scenery and appropriate music from the game in question, and I think it’s fantastic. So, here’s a couple of my favourite examples.
To a long time Elder Scrolls fan, Skyrim was a clear and apparent upgrade from Oblivion, but beyond being in the Frozen North and clearly having a higher graphical fidelity, it never really popped for me. Sure, it looked really good, but the way I saw it, it was another fantasy environment ala Elder Scrolls, and I’d seen my fair share of them before… plus I had dungeons to pillage, dragons to slay and chickens to scream at. Suffice it to say I wasn’t paying enough attention. Take a look at this video of Solstheim, the small island off the coast of Morrowind, from the Dragonborn DLC.
Next is Drangleic of Dark Souls II and, if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’ve always considered the worlds of From Software’s Souls series to be somewhat analogous of an orphaned child. Now, before you pick up that pitchfork and torch, hear me out. Look at the world of the Souls games, look at the stories, as much as you do or do not know about them. These places all have, or perhaps at some point in the past, had within them the capability of whimsy. To be a world of heroes and legends and though hard times would have come, said heroes and legends would have valiantly thwarted the efforts of evil or malevolent forces. But with the Souls games, something went horribly wrong, and it seems to be in every quiet and combat free moment. Drangleic is a perfect example of how the child stands strong and defiant, remaining as beautiful a world as any other while clearly being irreparably altered by its unfortunate past, and that plays a larger role in my return custom than my being a glutton for punishment or penchant for the macabre.
Last but not least, a location that’s somewhat contradictory to my opening. The City, where the events of Mirror’s Edge unfolded. A lot of people, myself included, would, in retrospect, consider The City to be almost entirely designed by function. Due to the unique approach to gameplay Mirror’s Edge encompassed, being aware of what was what was a crucial feature the designers had to consider. Simplicity was not the name of the game, however, and the design was not focused solely on “if it’s red, run at it, everything else is meaningless” as the video below will show. Perhaps while The City may not be as alive as Watch_Dogs’ Chicago or Grand Theft Auto V’s San Andreas, the heartbeat is apparent. This clean futuristic city is a sight to behold in a world where the most important thing to look at is where you plan to land, and how far of a fall it’s going to be to reach it.
The efforts of Andy Kelly are far from unappreciated by this observer. He can consider himself one subscriber richer and I would encourage anyone to head on over to his website, follow on Twitter @other_places_, or via the YouTube channel UltraBrilliant to check out plenty more places, like City 17, The Normandy, Dunwall and The Mojave Wasteland.