Sunday 12 September 2010


I try to use the reviews at ASCII Dreams as writing experiments: from fiction writing, to New Games Journalism, to advocacy for games which I feel have been overlooked (good and bad). I started wanting to say something about Arma II, but ended up with a completely vanilla, and somewhat negative review. But luckily, I'd also been thinking about the similarities in design between Arma II and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - particularly the visual design and I suspect common texture assets - and how it would be great to play S.T.A.L.K.E.R. in the Arma II engine (or at least a sequel to the original) which has the open world capabilities that GSC were never able to achieve.

That is why my A.R.M.A. II review ended up as a mash up of what I originally wrote, interleaved with paragraphs from an earlier S.T.A.L.K.E.R. review. To underline the point - and give you a chance to figure out what was going on before I did the reveal here - I've shamelessly interleaved the majority of the Eurogamer reviews of Half Life 2, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to review another great mash up Half Life 2: San Andreas. (This second review also highlights the amount of interchangeable discussion about the hype each game warranted at the time which the reviewer felt they had to address).

Unlike other mashup culture, game mashups are unlikely to occur, unless officially sanctioned, because combining the disparate underlying technology is a much harder feat than remixing a song, or interleaving two strands of literature. The best known game mashup combines the rules, characters, art and level design of multiple different 2D games in a new game engine: 3D engines are more complex because of the need to decompile the 3D level which may incorporate textures, bump maps, lighting, collision and physics geometry, navigation meshes and scripting which may be implemented differently between engines. It is possible that a seam or gap in one 3D engine may be unimportant but might result in characters falling through the floor of the world in another engine. Similarly a 3D map - or even objects like guns in the HUD - may only contain geometry visible from locations that can be accessed when traversed using the rules which limit movement in that game; when accessed by an avatar which can move more freely, the map may fall apart like a Hollywood set.

Open worlds pose the additional challenge of bespoke map design: there is no common 3D standard for maps of the scale and streaming speed required of a particular world, whereas the BSP levels in Half-Life or static meshes of Unreal 3 may be interchangeable between games. It may be possible to virtualize the game in such a way that the video card representation of the level could be imported into another game to avoid having to build a custom import tool for the map itself: this would involve virtually mapping out the scene graph in the same way that special effects artists map out the geometry of the real world in order to digitize it.

The abstraction of games into engine, data and scripts (using common script languages like Lua) point to another possibility which has not been explored as much: importing the game data into another engine or rule set. Unangband's monster list consists in part of monsters invented in other Angband variants and then pulled across and reshaped to fit the Unangband game world.

Amateur enthusiasts are also prepared to spend significant amounts of time reimplementing older games in newer engines, but this is more to preserve the fidelity of the older game to keep up with the sensibilities of modern gamers than to mash up two games into a third. Open source reimplementations of games like FreeCiv allow different rule sets, to allow mashing up a game with it's sequels, but little beyond that. And fan fiction-like appropriation of one game into another, notably Little Big Planet's level's derived from Mario, Metroid and elsewhere, point to another possibility: user generated content allowing mimicry of multiple older games in a newer space. Think a Second Life world which has the island of Morrowind offshore from Liberty City.

What games would you like to see mashed up this way? Feel free to contribute a 'fake' review if you want. My inspiration for these particular mashups grew from playing both games at around the same time, and letting the ideas peculate and pollinate between the two in my mind. What games are you playing together at the moment?


VRBones said...

Minecraft and Dwarf Fortress .. (oh wait).

Sid Menon said...

Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry + Oblivion.

Someone added DMC-style combat to Oblivion via a mod, but the game isn't balanced for it at all so it's mostly for laughs. And the mod is no longer readily available.

Gothic + Bushido Blade.