The Subtle Torture of Fixed Backgrounds & In-Game Scenery - mbellacio Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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The Subtle Torture of Fixed Backgrounds & In-Game Scenery

 

 

Let me give you a little backstory before I get on with my ranting. Several years ago on a road trip out of town, I looked off to the side of the highway at an exit that I had ignored numerous times over the course of ten years or so. It was one of many ways to get into a town that I visited quite frequently. But for whatever reasons, I always took the same road to get to the same destination, and see the same things that I had always seen.

It suddenly dawned on me that as trivial as it might seem, that one exit I had never taken represented a small chunk of the world that I had never explored. The size of the world I lived in, and was aware of was limited by my unwillingness to take a chance on something as simple as taking a different exit. It's not as though I would have gotten lost. I had just subconsciously resisted the unknown.

The next time I found myself on that highway, I decided to try something different and take the exit that I never had. As it turned out, that day ended up being a great discovery. The town that I thought I knew so well had two distinct areas. The newer part of town was thoroughly modern and filled with all the types of stores you would expect to find virtually anywhere. The older, historic part of town was much, much cooler. The main street was lined with block after block of trendy boutiques, odd little shops and great places to eat. A simple turn off of the freeway had introduced me to what is now one of my favorite places to hang out.

It almost seems melodramatic to say it, but that moment changed my thinking about how I live my life. I realized that we often limit ourselves to seeing only the parts of the world around us that we are comfortable with, and in doing so, we miss A LOT. I vowed to never let that happen again.

So that little "epiphany" got me thinking about video games. And the reason is because if there is one thing I love about video games, it is the freedom to explore and experiment with new things. Some of the best video games ever made reward players for their curiosity. But their have been many games that tease you with the hint of something greater, only to never deliver. Throughout my years of gaming, one of my secret pet peeves has been the ever present fixed background.

I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. They can be found in almost every game you remember from the days of the NES on up till now. Your character may move  about freely and interact with other characters/items in the game, but the background remained the same, never moving. This would have been fine in many cases, but some games featured in-game scenery that just seemed too interesting to not be able to explore them. Below are some of the games that always kept me wondering.

The Marble Zone

Sonic The Hedgehog

Though Sonic was a blast to play in 2D, I used to obsess over where the hell those little barred windows in the background led to. As ridiculous as it may sound, it irritated me BADLY that you couldn't go back there and check it out.

 

Which brings me to...

The Scrap Brain Zone

Sonic The Hedgehog

Yep. Sonic, again. I used to play through this level thinking, "Where the hell is this city in the background supposed to be, and why can't I see more of it?" Was it earth, or another planet? Was it some city completely controlled by Dr. Robotnik? And if it's the "Scrap Brain Zone", where are all the scrap brains?

 

Then there was...

Flashback

Flashback was nothing short of incredible for it's time. The attention to detail that went into it's superb design left an impression on me for quite a while. The environments that the levels were set in seemed incredibly large and immersive for a 2D side-scroller. I always wanted to see more of that world.

 

 

Streets Of Rage

Streets OF Rage was always good for it's bright, colorful backgrounds that tried their best to portray the 16-bit, seedy nightlife of a town overrun with thugs who never seem to travel without metal pipes, knives and other handy instruments of pain. It used to bum me out that I couldn't take my character into any of the buildings to see what was inside, or break things.

 

 

DOOM

Don't get me wrong, some will take any criticism of Doom as blasphemy, but it always seemed to me that somehow we were being cheated of the full horrors that existed in the world of Doom. As in the picture above, you could always see those huge black mountains in the background, but could never know what was out there. If the buildings in Doom were filled with all the horrors we came to know, what happened when you went past those walls to the mountains beyond?

 

 

Grand Theft Auto 3

Let me just say this. Without a doubt, the people over at Rockstar have given us gamers some of the best times in gaming since this whole thing started. The open-world sandbox, do whatever the hell you feel like, design of GTA 3 was nothing short of genius. But, BUT, to have us play through all that open world goodness, get to the very last island, find the airport, and the only flyable aircraft was the Dodo??? Pure @#$%&* evil. That my friends, is some sick and twisted minds at work. Pure Machiavellian evil.

 

END OF RANT

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