Economies of scale

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The physics play­ground on of­fer to Early Ac­cess back­ers of Next Car Game (p52) is slight, but there’s a pleas­ant metagame be­neath its un­struc­tured de­struc­tion. Soar into the air and a sin­gle key­press un­hooks the game cam­era, giv­ing you a few pre­cious sec­onds in which to po­si­tion it just so and snap the per­fect screen­shot be­fore you slam back down to terra firma and watch your metic­u­lously mod­elled ve­hi­cle shat­ter into tiny pieces.

Driv­ing games are one of few gen­res that give play­ers free­dom over how the ac­tion is pre­sented. Sim purists can po­si­tion the cam­era be­hind the dash­board in­te­rior or on the bon­net, while those weaned on the ar­cade racer can fix it above and be­hind the car to give a wider view of the track. This sim­ply doesn’t hap­pen in ac­tion games, where the de­vel­oper sets the scale and de­mands that play­ers live with it. When Res­i­dent Evil 6 was patched to let play­ers tweak its field of vi­sion, it made head­lines.

With Be­low (p40), Capy­bara is mak­ing the kind of game nor­mally viewed from over the pro­tag­o­nist’s shoul­ders, the cam­era slightly above and be­hind the ac­tion, like an ar­cade racer with the Fer­rari re­placed by a fal­chion. The Toronto stu­dio’s new game is built on a com­bat sys­tem that re­quires a slow, pre­cise ap­proach, and that pun­ishes mis­takes heav­ily. Yet its cam­era is fixed high in the sky, its pro­tag­o­nist a speck on the screen.

There are clear artis­tic and at­mo­spheric ben­e­fits to Capy’s cho­sen scale, but it risks mak­ing the same mis­take as Res­i­dent Evil 6, al­beit from the op­po­site ex­treme: giv­ing play­ers a widescreen view of pro­ceed­ings but at the same time starv­ing them of the up-close clar­ity that ac­tion games in­her­ently re­quire. It’s es­sen­tial that play­ers see what they did wrong and what hit them, since it’s an in­te­gral part of the learn­ing process and very much part of the fun. Af­ter all, were Next Car Game’s wan­ton de­struc­tion viewed through Su­per Sprint’s per­spec­tive, it would, to put it mildly, lose its shine.

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