I Think I Just Inceived An Idea…

Finally managed to go and see Inception at the cinema (or biograffen, if you prefer). It’s pretty alright, pretty much the “Matrix of dreams”, as a friend said. Blockbustery fun with a few smidgeons of interesting “philosophy stuff” or whatever. A little complex, perhaps, but Primer it was not. I enjoyed it, anyway.

But the wild blathering that the movie pushes me toward this evening concerns, wait for it, video games. In particular, I was thinking just now of the whole “game length” debate – basically the issue of studios feeling they can’t release shorter games because reviews (and many players) depend on the size and heft of a game. Bang for buck.

In Inception, as they drill down into different dream levels, time dilates and takes longer and longer. So if at one level a van is falling off a bridge, say, at a lower level they’ve got all kinds of time to do a bunch of stuff before the van hits the water in the higher level. It was one of the nicer devices in the movie, I thought.

Such a “drill down” effect might work well for at least part of the “length problem” with games. That is, you could make a game that was short, say two hours. The “short games!” people are happy, they play it through. But within the two hours you could embed a larger game which people might or might not choose to pursue, a dream within a dream, say, the gradual unfolding of a complex structure. And the same could be true of the lower level, such that you could choose to play this game in two hours or twenty, depending on how “deep” you went.

Couple of problems. One problem is that we might suggest games already do this. I’m playing Mass Effect by churning largely through the main story. Admittedly it’s taken me about 12 hours so far, but I’m getting through it far faster than if I pursued the side missions. On the other hand, that’s not the kind of thing I mean by the dream within a dream, that’s just chucking a whole lot of “you could do this extra thing!” into the world of the game. Whereas if we imagine a game with levels, it might mean something like the difference between whether you actually play through a particular chunk of the narrative or not, depending on how long you want the game to take.

Another problem is that it doesn’t solve anything whatsoever for the studios making the games. It probably makes things harder, and thus more expensive. After all, you still have to build the game that takes 30 hours, it’s just you then have to bite your lip and allow people to finish it in 2. I don’t have a sense for how unpalatable that would be for the various people who make of the world of game development. I suspect it wouldn’t necessarily appeal. Further, for those who just wanted the 2 hour version, they’d have to pay the price for the 30 hours they could have, unless we were to develop some amazing system in which you buy particular “possibility sets” for a game, more or less equivalent to buying more or less time (or dreams).

Anyway, I kind of like the idea in a vague, I’m-quite-tired-tonight way. Maybe you’re playing a game and the phone rings. You might just ignore it, or you could answer it and end up spending 8 extra hours on play that fills out the main narrative.

Something like that.

6 September 2010
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