Tag Archives: Virtual Reality

The Tetris Effect

I bought Tetris Effect, an uncommon manoeuvre for me. The desire to have more games to play in virtual reality, combined with a strong attachment to the work of Tetsuya Mizuguchi, got the better of me.

The first impression is that something is missing. It is strange to see a celebration that evokes the spirit of the original so little. I was hoping to catch some reference to the iconic music, glimpse some pyrotechnic effect that felt… Russian. Anything, really, that would kindle my memory of afternoons spent in front of my cousin’s Amiga 500, hypnotised by that simple but simultaneously diabolical game.

Instead, this is a celebration of globalism, of Brazilian and African rhythms and of the European disco spirit with which I grew up, with a hint of Asian soundscapes thrown into the mix.

The Tetris game is not the center of attention here; it is the tool which transports us on an audio-visual voyage around the world, through the depths of the ocean, and occasionally beyond the planet. It is a spectacle of sound, visual and cultural metaphors in which the unit of connection is the game Tetris.

And in a way, it makes sense. Tetris is one of the few games that can boast of being a worldwide phenomenon. In its early Nintendo incarnation, it was one of the games that managed to appeal to millions outside that restricted circle of “video game fans.” Even today, few games have achieved such a feat, and if connoisseurs of the art can debate the artistic virtues of such other “for everyone” games, Tetris’ credentials are unshakable. It’s an unforgettable game, unforgettably addictive, and a strong candidate to the title of best game ever.

What better game to take us around the world than one of the few that was played and loved in every country, in every culture?

What Mizuguchi was able to achieve here is what distinguishes him as an artist, as opposed to a mere creator of games. He was able to see beyond the game, its aesthetic and mechanical components, and understand what the game means in a cultural context, in the context of human experience. He then portrayed this very thing in his tribute.

I still miss that Russian iconography and sound. But what a wonderful journey this was.

Déraciné

Déraciné is, first of all, a story told in video game format. So the question is always: “Would this story be better told through another medium?”

Because it usually is. Most RPGs would be better books than they are video games. Most action games would be better movies than video games. When one make a video game and the focus is the story, one must make sure that they are telling a story that benefits from the medium. Alternatively, and even better: a story that could only be told through that medium.

I am pleased to say that Deráciné falls into the first of these categories, that is, while its story could have been told through prose or film, it would have been poorer for it. This alone is such a rare feat that it is worth celebrating.

Déraciné uses the gimmicks of time-travel and supernatural powers to explore the themes of fate and mortality. However, the thread that connects this is one of intimacy – an intimacy that the game builds by letting the players explore the world on their own, uncovering little tidbits of information about each character, like digital archeologists. 

Indeed, this approach could be replicated, let’s say, in literature. One could write a novel where now and then a paragraph would be written in code, and it would be up to the reader to figure it out. 

However, it does flow much better in an interactive setting, and doubly so through virtual reality, where the process of shuffling through drawers or peeking under the gap of a closed-door feel much more physical than in a first-person or point-and-click adventure. It also helps make the characters feel much more human and alive, even if they are, for the most part  – due to narrative and technical reasons – static.

So Déraciné is a success on three accounts: it does a good job of exploring the themes it sets out to explore; it is a better story for being interactive, and it is a better interactive product for being presented in virtual reality. 

That is pretty good.

Virtual Reality

I don’t get teary-eyed easily. It’ll happen at the epilogue of a particularly rousing movie, or upon reading an especially touching bit of prose, but it’s rare. Virtual reality, though, has reliably produced the “feels” over the last couple of years.

I’m a terrible VR subject. Astigmatism in my right eye doesn’t play well with VR headsets, making about 60% of my right sight’s range blurry. It means that whenever I put a headset on, I have to play for a bit while feeling something’s wrong until my brain smooths the signal over by attributing dominance to my left eye. Essentially, I am a one-eyed man in a VR situation.

That’s not what makes me tear up, though. I have the good fortune of being neither fatigued nor made sick my VR (with the particular exception of driving cars, something that makes me sick in real life as well).

I get emotional at the sheer beauty of it. So far, I’ve failed to see others having a similar response, so I guess this is a “me” thing, but I am just awash in wonder at being able to put on a helm and be transported to a different place, looking all around and realizing that I am in a different room, with different rules. It’s like lucid dreaming, in a way.

It’s beautiful. It’s magical. Everyone should try it at least once.

Photo Credit: Philicious Photos Flickr via Compfight cc