Trig­ger Happy

Shoot first, ask ques­tions later

EDGE - - SECTIONS - STEVEN POOLE Steven Poole’s Trig­ger Happy 2.o is now avail­able from Ama­zon. Visit him on­line at www.steven­poole.net

Steven Poole con­sid­ers vir­tual real es­tate and the un­canny val­ley

What will videogame tech­nol­ogy do for prop­erty porn? That is the press­ing ques­tion as one watches Benoît Dereau’s re­cent tech demo for the Un­real 4 en­gine, which takes the form of a placid, un­event­ful stroll around a heart­stop­pingly beau­ti­ful Parisian apart­ment. I used to live in Paris, and while nei­ther I nor any­one I knew lived in an apart­ment like this, be­cause we weren’t bil­lion­aires, the Un­real Paris demo still some­how cap­tures an es­sen­tial am­bi­ence of life in the City of Light.

The so­lu­tion to our hous­ing cri­sis is clear: in­stead of pro­vid­ing de­cent living space at rea­son­able cost to all, just do a mass mailout of Ocu­lus Rifts so the less for­tu­nate can spend all their time in­doors with a head­set strapped to their faces and in­habit the do­mes­tic illusion of living in a designer Paris pad in­stead of where they ac­tu­ally are.

It still needs work, though. In­deed, tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances seem to ap­proach the long-held dream of ab­so­lute pho­to­re­al­ism only asymp­tot­i­cally. Un­real Paris is the most strik­ingly de­tailed and per­sua­sive sim­u­la­tion of a real place I have ever seen in a real­time videogame en­gine, and yet it’s still ob­vi­ous that it is in fact not real.

We nor­mally think of the Un­canny Val­ley prob­lem as ap­ply­ing only to hu­man faces. And yet in this un­in­hab­ited apart­ment the un­can­ni­ness has not dis­ap­peared; it has merely been dis­placed into inan­i­mate fur­nish­ing ma­te­ri­als. The big black leather cush­ions form­ing the bed’s head­board look eerily like real big black leather cush­ions, ex­cept you some­how know they would feel weirdly hard to the touch. The arms of the beau­ti­fully up­hol­stered white so­fas are an­gled just a touch too rigidly. The oak floor­ing looks just a lit­tle too con­sis­tently shiny. In­deed the whole place is un­nat­u­rally more clean than any place could be with ac­tual hu­mans living in it.

No won­der that soon I be­gan dreaming of throw­ing bombs around this dis­turbingly idyl­lic home. Not in a ter­ror­ist way, you un­der­stand. Sim­ply that I have lately been en­joy­ing a co-op­er­a­tive romp through Lara

Croft And The Tem­ple Of Osiris. No chance of the Un­canny Val­ley (of the Kings) here, as gi­ant pas­tel-coloured scarab bee­tles and enor­mous skele­tons (that for some rea­son, are on fire) all just be­come sur­real fod­der for one’s twin as­sault ri­fles or even­tu­ally (and why not?) a golden rocket-launcher. (Don’t ask why it isn’t far too heavy to wield.) Of course, the iso­met­ric Tomb Raider lin­eage is de­lib­er­ately more of an all-out ac­tion-fest ( Dead Na­tion among an­cient ru­ins) than the orig­i­nal games. But it’s still no­table that the best parts of Osiris, like the best parts of its pre­de­ces­sor Guardian Of Light, and the best parts of ba­si­cally all the other Tomb Raider games ever, are the parts where the run­ningaround-shoot­ing-guns kind of ac­tion stops, and the real core ac­tion of the game can bloom: ex­plor­ing a space at one’s leisure and fig­ur­ing out what to do in it.

In Osiris, the best parts are mostly rel­e­gated to the “chal­lenge tombs”. Here, in fine Tomb Raider tra­di­tion, you are left alone (or alone with your co-op part­ner) in a creepy room, with all the time in the world to puz­zle out a so­lu­tion to some slow-burning phys­i­cal prob­lem. You stand on that switch and I’ll stand over here; you turn that mir­ror this way and I’ll fire my magic blue stafflight at it, and so on. The clever­est me­chan­i­cal ad­di­tions are big rolling balls that are also time bombs, and must be ush­ered through a maze of spikes and other traps in time to blow up a con­ve­niently vul­ner­a­ble sec­tion of wall, be­hind which lurks some new weapon for shoot­ing swollen geckos or obese ex­plod­ing mum­mies. When I re­alised that we could use a re­mote bomb to jump one such time-bomb ball through a wall of flames, it was ex­traor­di­nar­ily pleas­ing. Meta-bomb­ing in creepy rooms: play­ing videogames does not of­ten get much bet­ter than that.

And the more time you spend in the Un­real Paris tech demo, the more its rooms, too, seem po­ten­tially creepy: the per­fect sort of en­vi­ron­ment in which a fu­ture Lara might be tasked with un­der­stand­ing what el­dritch mech­a­nism drives it. Dereau’s dis­tinc­tive, semi-mourn­ful aes­thetic of nos­tal­gia for a living space so per­fect that it never ex­isted turns even eerier as the walk­through vis­its the bath­room. We pass by the mir­rors, but see no re­flec­tion of our­selves in them. This, I de­cided, is quite ob­vi­ously an apart­ment be­long­ing to a Parisian vam­pire. When she fi­nally gets here, Lara’s golden gun had bet­ter be loaded with sil­ver bul­lets.

Meta-bomb­ing in creepy rooms: play­ing videogames does not of­ten get much

bet­ter than that

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