Monday, June 04, 2012

Stop, Look and Listen...

Today I learnt how to drive a golf buggy.

Frankly I wasn't very good, but my husband seemed to enjoy being ferried about in a semi-Presidential fashion. I don't play, I was simply a spectator for the afternoon, I should add. When it comes to sticks and wee balls I have the hand-eye co-ordination of a slug with bad eyesight.

However, this meant that for four hours today I was right in the middle of Nature, which in places bore a remarkable resemblance to the Valley of the Four Winds. In fact there was a moment when we crested a hill and I half expected Mr H Nessingwary's tents to hove into view.

It set me thinking about in game ambience, and how realism in gaming is vital, even if you're fighting on a moon on the other side of the Galaxy.

Of course any moon's flora, fauna and indigenous wildlife is a far cry from the lush green hills I found myself in today: however the process of painting the picture to create them owes a lot to the way we take in the world around us. Its not just the trees, the flowers, the grass or even the clouds. Sheep played a big part in today's background ambiance: they may have only looked like dots on the hillside but their sound travelled a long way. I found myself looking for them long before I knew where they were because the sounds told me they existed. Gaming plays on this subliminal perception if it wants to create a sense of scope without the need for vasty complicated vistas.

Blizzard has long exploited this understanding of ambience in creating additional depth. Sounds become associated with places, sometimes long before you recognise the places themselves. Take the Shattrath mailboxes for instance, or the sounds in the Zangermarsh swamp, which will tell me I've landed well before I need to even refer to a screen. My husband tells me you can tell if a golf shot is good when you hear the connection of club head with ball. Sound is perhaps more significant a contributor to enhancing the experience than many people first grasp.

Then comes the trick of combining realistic visual backgrounds, marrying them with everything else to create a truly immersive experience. Pandaria is the closest I have seen Blizzard come thus far to creating what might be directly comparable to the world I know and live in, and I wonder if this is a deliberate move on their part to eschew the more fantastic elements of landscape. From what I have played of beta, giant talking pandas notwithstanding, there does seem to have been a shift towards grounding the new worlds in a more rugged yet naturalistic backdrop. We've done space, underground, destruction and decimation... now we return to the unspoilt majesty of nature.

Except of course, this idyll is not all it appears...

Next time you're lucky enough to be out and about, make an opportunity to appreciate everything in and around you. Even if you 'play with the sound off' find a moment to stop, look and listen at the world, because its easy to forget just how much all of your senses contribute to the gaming experience.

I look forward to the 9th tomorrow, where I'll remember to take pictures.... I wonder if I'll get to drive the cart again...?

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