For all the discussion of how cinematic video games are, there is not major thing that separate them from film: they attempt to preserve your sense of a continuity of space. For instance, the famous hotel in The Shining has a variety of impossible apartments and windows. Kubrick, naturally, wasn’t interested in creating a hotel, but a set. The first video on that page begins:
A few years ago I was shown a 3D reconstruction of The Overlook Hotel that had been designed as a level for a computer game called Duke Nukem. I was told by an email correspondent that the designer, in constructing the 3D replica, had stumbled across spatial impossibilities in the Overlook sets that had made the continuous 3D level impossible. The result is that the Overlook Hotel featured in the game mismatches the one in the film in order to be continuously playable.
But what happens when the player’s feeling of continuous space is broken? (Spoilers for Thirty Flights of Loving below)
Perhaps the most jarring aspect about Blendo Games’ Thirty Flights of Loving is how the game insert cuts in your journey through the airport. In fact, at one point, you are given choices as to which way to proceed–and none of them matter, as you are cut to the next stretch of hallway. It is a wonderful–and thorough–subversion of everything I expect from first-person video games.
You are consciously denied any hope of creating a mental map of the airport–something that violates game logic since Pac-Man, a game of maps and of spatial awareness. Even Adventure–the earliest ‘text adventure’ game, from when they were still adventures–allows you to create an accurate map, either in your head or on a piece of paper. It is, after all, a spelunking game based on a real American cave system.
But this subversion of player expectations is not, after all, absolutely novel: it is preceded, in some ways, by fast travel.
Take Dragon Age: Origins. Outside of the cities, can you actually remembered where all the little waypoints are oriented according to the map? Why way is ‘North’? Not just ‘what is north of this point’, but when you’ve taken control of your avatar once again, wandering around a map–which way is north?
You even fast travel within the Dwarven Tunnels, for the love of pete. Those tunnels don’t even pretend to give you a sun with which to navigate, merely plopping you down at the beginning of a tunnel and saying “forward.” The only connection between them is the map.
The result is not being familiar with a world, but merely being familiar with vignettes. Ah yes, Random Event in a Grassy Pasture #3. Pleasure to see you again. But unlike Thirty Flights of Loving, Dragon’s Age pretends these disparate locations actually are linked: with that map. That map with its bloody footprints showing your progress on your most recent trip. A map that gives you some sort of sense of an epic journey.
Compare that experience with the Ocarina of Time. You know the land. You’ve crossed it all. It all fits together.
It seems the age of fast-travel might have a deleterious effect on the sense of inhabiting a world. Instead, you visit a world, skipping everything that might cause you (or the developers) to expend more energy than is necessary. And this feels like a great loss.