The Stuff Dream Are Made Of (Is Clay)

Bless those wonderful people out there who are still, against all the odds, making point-and-click adventure games. Or, really, adventure games of any kind at all. For an vaguely “dead” genre, there are still a number of great games coming out. It’s like running into someone who speaks Latin at a party or something, if you really liked Latin.

So, Rilla and I have been playing The Dream Machine today, and plowed through the first two episodes of it. Even felt pretty disappointed when we realised there were only two episodes. Guess it’s pretty slow work making claymation video games. Guess we’ll hear all about it on Wednesday since the creator’s giving a talk at ITU in fact. (Also, remember that crazy claymation game Clay Fighter? Good grief. “Badmisterfrosty!”)

Anyway, the insane difficulty that must be involved in all the sculpting of clay and stop-motion shoots and so on made me wonder about the aesthetics of adventure games. (And, maybe games in general, just by extension.) I was fairly skeptical of the claymation idea when I heard about The Dream Machine, but I’d have to say the graphical style really is quite great.

But does it make a difference?

On one level, I suppose it kind of has to. I mean, you’re looking at it, and it informs your choices in the game, and if it looks great you think “this looks great” and so on. But I wonder to what extent the graphical style genuinely influences my experience of a game in important ways. I loved, and still love, Police Quest for instance. Blocky pixel graphics and all that, but it still conjures up dangerous “police situations” with aplomb. Likewise Monkey Island in its many graphical incarnations, from pixel-y to slightly odd 3D in the recent episodic version.

So would Police Quest feel radically different if it were in claymation? Would The Dream Machine be a changed game if it were in old-school Sierra pixels? Obviously it’s hard to say, but there’s a definite part of me that wants to suggest that these games wouldn’t be that different based on a change in visual aesthetic alone. Though of course there are central connections between representational style and what can be represented. The Police Quest graphics limit how many things can be represented (and thus interacted with) on the screen, for instance. Likewise I’m sure that modeling clay must have made its presence felt in certain design decisions for The Dream Machine. But on the whole? I’m not sure what the significance really is.

So, obviously, what I’ll do is on Wednesday I’ll demand that the The Dream Machine guy makes a total recreation of Police Quest in clay and we can just run a side-by-side test.

Am I right or am I right?

23 May 2011
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