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Wisecrack
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The source engine is interesting, because it has reached that stage of life where it's old enough to be remarkable-- in the sense that it could be called 'legacy', a sort of milestone in development practices and thinking, both in software, and design.

That said, a better look at it might be from the lense of *uses today*.

A lot of former source engine (SE) devs are now going to unity or unreal, I don't blame them.
But it's interesting to examine examples of games that haven't.

One such game is the freeware "No More Room In Hell". A couple online play throughs shows a wealth of well designed maps (and an even greater horde of shovelware maps, but hey, you take the good with the bad).

The age of the engine itself shows. Even in games like Left 4 Dead the engine's age can be seen. This, in some respects has been a drag, but also a blessing. Where other games could rely on their effects, shaders, and other tech, modders, map makers, and designers have had to rely on wit and creativity.

Enter "situated environments."

In an age where many people desire to travel, to go places, and have grown up doing the exact OPPOSITE, there is a great desire for variety of locations in games: not merely 'environmental' in the shallow sense of a 'theme' such as 'lava', 'tundra', etc. But in the sense of setting in general.

We want places that are both out of reach and yet familiar. Fire-fights happen in city streets. Apocalypses happen in neighborhoods where the skyline is both broken and at once something we know by sight. Open air markets, grocery stores, neighborhoods, all of these provide the back drops of popular games and series such as COD, Battlefield, The Last of Us, and yes, the example game, NMRIH.

I call this idea of 'familiar but out-of-reach level design', "situated environments", because familiarity with them, but *lack of real life experience* with them, on a day to day basis, allows people's expectations to fill in the gaps.

No one for example would argue the layouts of 7 Days To Die are familiar, but most of us don't spend all day in a junkyard or a high rise hotel.
So they *feel* familiar. Likewise with Skyrim, the villages and towns, both iconic and strange, our expectations formed by cultural inheritance, hollywood films, television shows, stories, childrens books, and yes, other games.

In a way, familiarity-without-real-in-person-experience is a shortcut for designers, one that lets them play with the player's head-space, the players subconscious idea of how a space and setting *should* work, what to *expect* out of the area, how to *operate* within the area. And the more it conforms to expectations, the more surprising an overdesigned element appears to be, rather than immersion breaking. A real life example of this is people's idea of chernobyl. When they discover the amusement park and ferris wheel they're blown away by the juxtaposition of the wasteland that surrounds them and the associations ('nostalgia' as it were) that such a carnival ride carries for many of us. It simultaneously *doesn't belong* and is yet all at once *perfectly situated in the environment*.

It is to say 'surreal', which is adjacent to the idea of *being real*, in terms of our "perception of what is and isn't plausible, if not possible."

This is at the heart of suspension of disbelief, because in essence, virtual worlds are a lie, like fiction, and good fiction violates expectations in order to tell us truths about reality. As part of our ability to differentiate bullshit from reality, there is to say an element in our bullshit detectors (doubtless evolved over many 10's of thousands of years), that is designed to not merely detect what is absurd in our limited experience, but to incorporate absurdity into everyday experience. In that sense part of our rationality is the acceptance of irrational experiences, learning from it, and discovering 'a proper place for each thing' in the "models of the world" we all carry around in our heads. Eventually we normalize the absurd, it becomes the new reality, and what remains unassimilated becomes superstition (real or otherwise), a figment, or an anomaly.

One of the best examples I've encountered is The Last of Us: Left Behind, a good chunk of which is spent in a mall. And they nailed the environment perfectly I would say.

Or for those who don't own a PS4, a more accessible example is a map in NMRIH aptly called "the museum", and few words better do it justice than to go play it yourself--that is, if you really want to know what I mean by a 'situated environment'.

What better way, during this pandemic, to get out of the news cycle and into your own head? Sometimes the best way to escape isn't outside, it's within.

Comments
  • 2
    Hopefully this year is going to be that promised Source 2 year finally. Everyone is expecting it since 2015...and nothing
  • 2
    @lamka02sk Lord Gaben is still busy counting his shekels. I hear he might be done counting by September to though.

    Nothing I wouldn't do.
  • 0
    its vs it's.

    I always fucking do this. I try to carefully write everything correctly. Forgive me gods of grammar. I am unworthy.

    Also what is a split infinitive *really*?
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