Friday, August 28, 2009

Fear 2: Project Origin: Game Deconstruction

What follows is a game deconstruction of Fear 2: Project Origin. It is by no means a review. It was an assignment in which I had to analysis the structural make up of a game to get a better understanding of how a certain type of game is made and played. WARNING: It is interesting, not entertaining.

Game Deconstruction
Fear 2: Project Origin

Fear 2: Project Origin is a first-person action shooter with elements of supernatural horror released in 2009 and made for the Xbox 360 and PC. The story revolves around the supernatural multi-dimensional being named Alma whose rage against those who wronged her as a child causes an escalating paranormal crisis that threatens to devour and replace reality with her own. You play as a Delta operative named Michael Becket whose initial orders are to take scientist Genevieve Aristide into protective custody. It is later learned that you are a key player in Project Harbinger an effort made by the ATC (Armacham Technology Corporation) to brain-wash those with high levels of psychic abilities to become psychic commanders designed to control thousands of troops through telekinesis. Unfortunately, the high level of psychic energy within you is exactly the gateway Alma needs to permanently replace reality with her own twisted version. It is up to you to survive both the ATC and Alma and avoid the destruction of the world either by the invasion of a super powerful scientific corporation or a sadistic supernatural little girl. The game includes all the usual features of a major action shooter title such as a large arsenal of weapons and various enemies to destroy, however it also offers; slo-mo combat, martial arts attacks, enhanced A.I. and the ability for you and your enemies to push objects over to create cover.
To deconstruct the gameplay experience of Fear 2, Espen Aarseth’s (2003) multi-dimensional typology method will be applied. Aarseth’s method is predominantly used for the categorical analysis of games rather than a critical evaluation. It does, however, provide thirteen elements of game identification that can be used to evaluate Fear 2’s gameplay. The thirteen elements are divided into five categories; Space, Time, Player Structure, Control and Rules. To analyze the gameplay of Fear 2 the effect each element has on the experience of playing the game will be observed and critically evaluated. As well as Aspen Arseth’s multi-dimensional typology of games, Christian Elverdam’s (2007) “Game Classification and Game Design: Construction through Critical Analysis” will also be used as a direct improvement on Arseth’s open-ended method. Elverdam found some inconsistencies within Aarseth’s typological classification and sought to improve on the core foundation Aarseth set. Elverdam has eight categories each with their own elements; virtual space, physical space, internal time, external time, player composition, player relation, struggle, and game state. The use of both of these methods will allow for a much deeper analysis of Fear 2’s gameplay experience.

Aarseth begins with space and the three elements that lie beneath it; Perspective, Topography and Environment. Perspective is the player’s overall view of the game environment, being either omni-present or vagrant. With an omni-present view the player is able to see the entire game environment like a game of chess. However, Fear 2 has a vagrant perspective where the player’s view is restricted to the avatar’s eyes, namely, Michael Becket. This restriction of the view enhances the gameplaying experience of Fear 2 in various ways. Fear 2 relies on a reaction- based gameplay where the player must use his/her reflexes to shoot and kill enemies that appear in view. If the player had an omni-present view of his/her surroundings then he/she would be able to pre-empt the enemy’s movements thus eliminating the reaction based gameplay Fear 2 is known for. The vagrant view also enhances the horror aspect of the game. The scary moments in Fear 2 are unexpected and this is because the view of the player is restricted to the eyes of a person. Topography (or Positioning) is the freedom of movement the game allows the player and the way the player determines his/her position in the game. Aarseth believes that a player’s movement is either geometrical or topological. Geometrical is the continuous freedom of movement in all axes of the three-dimensional world, thus the player’s position is the world is indeterminable, where as topological is the restriction of movement to specific co-ordinances designed by the games rules. Elverdam disagrees with Aarseth’s view of geometrical topography in that he believes the player’s position is actually determinable in relation to surrounding objects; therefore the topography is either relative or absolute (topological). The topography of Fear 2 is relative, for the position of the player is only determined by his/her relation to other objects within the game. As with Fear 2’s vagrant view, the relative positioning of the player lends its self to the unpredictable nature of the game’s reflex based gameplay and therefore greatly enhances it. The games Environment plays a particularly interesting role in Fear 2. Aarseth describes the environment of a game to be either dynamic or static. Dynamic meaning the player is able to directly change the functionality of the environment and static meaning the player is unable to change the environment at all. Elverdam believes there are instead three aspects of environment; free, where the player is able to make additions or alterations to the game space, fixed, where such alterations only alter the status of predetermined locations or none, where no changes to the game space are possible. A predominant feature of Fear 2’s gameplay is the player’s ability to flip over and move objects to create cover and gain a tactical advantage. Considering that these objects can be moved multiple times and in any direction it is hard to say that these alterations are fixed, they therefore must be free. The ability to affect your environment to this extent adds another layer to the gameplay of Fear 2. It enhances the interactivity between the player and the environment therefore immersing the player in the game space.

Another dimension of gameplay is the nature of time. Aarseth argues there are three categories of time within a game; Pace, Representation and Teleology. Aarseth describes pace as either being real-time or turn-based, where as Elverdam breaks this down further into three separate categories; haste (whether the passing of time alters the game state), synchronicity (whether game agents can act at the same time) and interval control (whether players decide when the next game cycle begins). For Fear 2 the pace is quite straight forward. It is played in real-time, haste is present because the mere passing of time changes the game state, synchronicity is present because the game agents act at the same time and interval control is absent for there are no game cycles for the player to begin. Again, the typological elements are lending themselves to the fast paced, reflex based gameplay that Fear 2 incorporates. In this real-time environment the player must make spontaneous decisions. If this spontaneity is taken away, the core gameplay is taken away and the game would become an entirely different type of game. Representation, according to Aarseth, is whether the game reflects the way time would pass in the physical world (mimetic) or whether it is disjointed from reality (arbitrary). Time in Fear 2 is mimetic for the passing of time and events reflect how they would pass in reality. Not only does this again lend itself to the fast-paced action of the game, but it also draws the player in and immerses them in a world quite similar to their own in terms of rules (physics, time etc.) whilst still begin fantastical in nature. There is, however, an exception to Fear 2’s mimetic nature, for the player is able to enter “reflex-mode” and slow down the passing of time for a short while. Neither Elverdam or Aarseth address this inconsistency, though it could be suitable to add another element under the category of time and name it Time Control to identify not just games with “bullet time” but games such as GTA which allow the player to “sleep” and control the passing of time. The teleology of a game describes whether the game ends at a given time (finite) or if it could, in principle, go on forever (infinite). Due to the presences of an over-arching narrative it is inevitable that the teleology of Fear 2 is finite. Although a finite game must end at some point it still possesses a few characteristics an infinite game may not. An important part of Fear 2 is the story of Alma who was betrayed and killed by her father when she was only a child. A story with a beginning, middle and end means that the game could not go on forever. Therefore the finite teleology of Fear 2 provides an entire narrative and experience for the player.

Next Aarseth describes the player structure of games as either being singleplayer, twoplayer, multiplayer, singleteam, twoteam, multiteam. The player structure is quite simple for Fear 2 as it is restricted to single-player only. It could be argued that the game would benefit from a single-team (AKA co-op) option to share the experience of the game with another player. However, due to the “scary” nature of Fear 2 the atmosphere and experience of the game is enhanced if the player plays alone.

Control of a game is paramount to the experience of playing a game and is Aarseth’s next category of typology. Control involves three elements; Mutability, Savability and Determinism. Mutability is always an important part of a game because it is the way in which the player enhances their avatar and its position in the game. This can be done through either power-ups or experience-leveling. If there is no change to the players avatar it is static. Within Fear 2, as the game progresses, the player is given access to increasingly more and more powerful weapons. These are power-ups as they are a temporary mutability that can be rendered useless (eg. Out of ammunition). Weapons are a central gameplay element in Fear 2 as they provide the player with the means of completing and experiencing the game. Savability is the nature in which the game state is stored. It is either conditional, unlimited or non-saved. As the game state in Fear 2 is saved automatically at predetermined increments throughout the game it is conditional. This introduces a risk aspect to the player in that if the player loses all his health he must begin from the last save point designated by the game designers rather than their own chosen point. A common gameplay theme within Fear 2 is its non-deterministic nature that lends to its unpredictablility. The enemies are controlled by a randomized code that affects where in the gaming environment they will move. With the inclusion of the advance A.I. the player will never play through the same situation in an identical way.

The last dimension of gameplay Aarseth describes is the rules, of which there are three types; topological rules, time-based rules and objective-based rules. How these rules are applied to a game determines what a player can do as well as their purpose within the game. Topological rules are rules that are determined by a specific condition at a specific location in a game world. Fear 2 employs these rules in order to trigger conflict between the game agents. For example, the appearance of a group of enemies is triggered by the player’s presence in a particular location. The gameplay and pace of Fear 2 is governed by these types of rules. The more these rules are triggered, the more interaction the player has with his/her environment. Time-based rules are determined by the mere passing of time and are not present within Fear 2. Objective-based rules however are constantly present within the game and are the main force behind the progression of the game and its narrative. The player has no choice but to complete the objectives given him. This effects the gameplay in that the player has limited freedom to explore his surroundings and is therefore always on a linear path.

By using Aarseth’s typological categories and the improvements Elverdam made upon them, an in depth deconstruction of Fear 2: Project Origin’s gameplay mechanics has been made. This has allowed not only the concise classification of the game but also an observation as to how these classification elements effect the overall gameplay. By critically assessing Fear 2 a better understanding of the fast-paced, reflex-based action horror games has been gained as well as the ability to easily critically analysis any other type of game.

Aarseth, E. (2003), “A Multidimensional Typology of Games”, p. 49-53
Elverdam, C. (2007), “Game Classification and Game Design: Construction through Critical Analysis” p. 4-16
Monolith Productions (2009), “Fear 2: Project Origin”, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

No comments:

Post a Comment