A torrent of games has been unleashed upon the world with no signs of letting up. With such a plethora of games past, future and present it’s hard to keep up, but even more importantly look at what games are doing. One common thread that seems to have cropped up this year for E3 2017 is games using space. It’s not something noticeable or even something anyone one is saying outright, but it’s apparent. Games have been getting better with how they are using the spaces they create/occupy. It’s time to push it further, though, and games did just that during E3 2017.
Starting with the best example first, BioWare’s new IP Anthem seems to be going big. Only a fraction of the game was shown, but the possibility of knowing an entire lush ecosystem awaits eager explorers is exciting. Even before stepping outside of the city walls that are the starting point for the Anthem gameplay demo, the use of space is apparent. BioWare games, especially the Mass Effect series, always had a feeling of emptiness about them even though there where many people and things to interact with. The Citadel never felt lived in; just a highly developed environment with just enough of a facade to give off the belief that it’s a real place. Yet, walking not even two minutes outside of my own home, I can encounter more people than I ever will in a single hallway of the Citadel. Plus, they’re not stationary. Anthem feels like stepping outside of my home, it’s alive.
Anthem didn’t stop there, though, going a step further. Seeing the player launch off the platform into the dense jungle below was breathtaking. It was even more exciting that the player was using the full scope of the 360degree space they occupied. The moment being when, they dive underwater, because why not? It shows games understand environments are dynamic and the way people interact with our environments is just as dynamic.
It doesn’t stop with Anthem, though. Beyond Good and Evil 2 made a surprise appearance, and besides being the most unexpected thing, it also tackled its environment with foresight. In the breakdown video to accompany the initial trailer, Ancel talks the verticality they wanted to convey with the trailer. It worked. In another dev diary that was released almost in tandem with the first two, BG&E2 takes it a step further. Ancel talks about changing the time of day, big deal, right? It is. This isn’t changing time by moving the sun, it’s that everything in the universe players occupy is spinning on a separate axis. This is a game changer. It means every sunrise/sunset seen, is happening, because the ground players are standing on is moving even if the player is not. It’s space on a much larger scale using the spaces created to their fullest extent.
Even Nintendo is getting in on the action with the officially announced Mario and Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (didn’t see you there XCOM) title coming to Switch. It’s making use of space in unique ways that show there is still so much to explore spatially for games. The level design shown so far for Mario and Rabbids is smart because it’s building on things already in place. It’s combining the wacky worlds so familiar to the Mario universe with RTS. Example being, here is a level and we’ve introduced this mechanic, while it doesn’t affect the player directly, it’s more about effecting how to approach the space. If a Chain-chomp is sitting in the middle of the map, how does Mario reach his goal while also using the chain-chomp to his advantage? It’s design decisions like this that create spaces that are fun to play in.
The gaming industry is moving along at a rapid pace, in the best of ways. Games are doing things not possible and now these ideas are possible. The world we live in is random, chaotic and orderly. Contradicting itself, while maintaining a balance, games are finally reaching a place where this universe can be filled out in conceivable ways. It’s not just video game mechanics, it’s how our world works. How we live in this world.