Padawan

12 February, 2006 at 9:27 pm (benjamin)

Thirty-two months ago, I was playing the video game Star Wars: Jedi Outcast and found myself pleasantly surprised to be doing pretty well at it. However, since it’s been thirty-one and three-quarters months since I put the game aside and I haven’t picked it back up to finish my mission during the interim, I don’t think I was doing quite as well as I’d hoped. Or perhaps LucasArts weren’t doing quite as well as they’d hoped in making the game addictive.

Photostrip of Ben and a BlasterOne of the aspects of the game I enjoyed was the essential first-person shooter (FPS) aspect of the game. I enjoyed pointing my camera around corners and sniping foes and trying not to aggro various stormtroopers, probe droids, bounty hunters, etc. To a lesser extent, I enjoyed using the lightsaber. The amount of “battle damage” it would inflict upon the environment always sent the render function into a bit of a tizzy, and the combat would demonstrably lag. And what’s the point in playing a Jedi game if you can’t wield three feet of neon fury?* Also, it took me a good slice of forever to complete two levels.

Peter and I share many tastes, but not many skill sets. Years ago we co-played a game of Grim Fandango. We’d tried this once before with a game where we swapped levels, but the amount of time it took me to finish a term made him impatient, and he just zoomed through the entire game one evening while I was absent. So why he agreed to sit at my shoulder and talk me through a puzzle game is beyond me. Peter, like many gamers, is a power premiere player: he gets a game early and the first thing he does is to finish it, burning through all levels as quickly as possible. Then, he goes back and enjoys the game’s replay value. When deciding to purchase a game, the shortness of the initial completion and the amount of replay enjoyment are the two costs he weighs.

But because of this gameplay methodology, my first-time meandering drove him grazy with Fandango. I’d wander down every blind alley and click on everything trying to find hidden functions and features. And I’m currently playing Star Wars: Jedi Academy in a similar manner. I’m trying to explore the whooooole map on each level. I’m not simply interested in accomplishing the mission, I want to look at the design and the tech and the amount of planning that went into making a world and a video environment. I like the sound editing, especially. The way the footsteps change from a flapping pat to a quick clang as the avatar wanders from desert dunes to corrugated corridors. And the constant machine noise of drones and whirrs… One of the best ways in which Star Wars was able to convince film audiences back in 1977 that it was a believable, tangible setting was not the archtypal characters or the Campbellian plot structure: it was the way the film sounded. We love the hum and crackle of the lightsabers and the howl if the TIE Fighters… even if they sounded like nothing we’d ever heard before, they sounded convincing. And the videogame sounds the same.

Meanwhile, I’ve figured out how to turn off weapon environment damage and reduce the quality of the texturing, so that Jedi Academy is able to run on my machine with only the occasional hiccup, despite having fifty fewer megahertz and significantly less visual memory than recommended by the manufacturer. And despite the added bonus of being able to design one’s own lightsaber and select a particular fighting style, I find myself once again most enjoying sneaking through corridors, weapon at the ready… inching around corners and catching my enemies unaware. Perhaps this time I won’t let almost three years pass before I get to level three.

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