World In My Pocket

I downloaded Epic Citadel yesterday evening and have been looking at it a little bit since then. The basic concept is that it’s Epic demonstrating their Unreal engine on iOS devices – in my case my iPod 4. So you pretty much get dumped into a medieval (or whatever) citadel and invited to walk around. It’s not interactive beyond traversing the space, so there’s no objective per se, just a personal tour of the area (there’s a guided tour, but that rather defeats the purpose).

Having spent some time with it now, colour me impressed. On the one hand, it’s exactly what you’d probably expect – a nicely rendered 3D environment on your small-scale mobile device. The navigation handles surprisingly well (though my thumbs felt a touch cramped at times). The graphics are, frankly, spectacular given the hardware. The atmosphere is about as flat as you’d expect in an unpopulated, unstoried demo world. The audio’s quite patchy in general, but again acceptable for the purpose.

My main feeling about this, though, is just how incredible it is to carry a little environment – a world – around in my pocket. While I’ve only played it at home to this point, I can imagine diving in on the metro on the way to work or in an immigration waiting room, say, and being transported for a while. In those cases, I can even imagine the lack of strong game goals being attractive – the objective would be to escape out of a boring reality (though we should always be cautious with that kind of thinking) and into a different world for a while. I suspect it would serve that purpose admirably with a more fully realised world.

What will presumably happen, of course, is a bunch of 3D games like the bunch of 3D games we already play on consoles and computers. The first release with the engine is some kind of hack’n’slash affair. Fair enough, but I do feel as though it may miss out on some of what seemed special in my brief experience with the system. I’d prefer something with a light, ambient narrative and not necessarily much else. Maybe a more cheerful version of the Wasteland from Fallout 3, without the death and dying. A chance to explore and be somewhere.

Actually, I’d love to see a game like Myst on this platform, as the slow-ass gameplay in that game would seem to translate well to a more musing, “worlding” experience. Above all, I like that you can just dip in – the setup doesn’t really encourage mammoth play sessions, and dropping into a world, rather than seeking to dominate it, would seem to go with that quite well. Perhaps a world that “runs” in the background and simply exists for you go to in – time, seasons, and so on, all going by, and you a visitor.

This is another living in the future moment, I feel. A world in my pocket? Really?

9 November 2010
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