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The Curious Incident of Gaming Logic

The vast majority of videogames inherently demand a suspension of belief. In a medium where we spend so much time gunning down aliens, rescuing the entrapped maiden from the evil sorcerer or smashing cars into walls only to see them replaced on the road near-unaffected, perhaps it would seem sophistic to focus on particular idiosyncrasies that we have long since accepted.

And yet, there are some elements which are so fundamental to games nowadays that we take their almost slightly comical peculiarity for granted. Have you ever wondered why shooting games are so obsessed with explosive barrels? Or where the double-jump originated, and who conceived such an outlandish concept? We take a look at some of gaming’s more unique qualities:

Recharging health

Recharging health. If you’re looking for someone to blame, that’s easy: Halo. While Bungie’s seminal FPS wasn’t the first game to feature a recharging health bar (G-Police being an earlier example), it was the first massively popular and most successful title to do so. Before we knew it health bars and medkits had become so quaint and passé; shooters were clamouring to give us new spins on the discreet recharging health mechanic. At least Halo had a plausible justification – it’s only the Chief’s shield which recharges, as the technology has been copied from the Covenant Elites. Quite how developers might suggest characters in Call of Duty or Gears of War can regenerate is something I’d be interested to know.

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Explosive barrels

We all know that videogame bad guys aren’t the most intelligent folk, as I’m sure anyone who’s played the likes of Killzone or Army of Two can attest to. Perhaps this would help explain their irrepressible compulsion for stockpiling a multitude of explosive barrels and canisters and placing them in sensitive and destructive locations. Furthermore, perhaps they all exhibit mild suicidal tendencies, which could help clarify why they are tenaciously determined to seek refuge within close proximity to said explosive objects. Self-preservation has rarely been so amusingly nonexistent.

Crates

In real life, when was the last time you honestly saw a crate? There may be exceptions – perhaps you work down a dockyard, or in a crate manufacturing plant, or something equally fascinating, but it seems videogame developers are convinced these elusive items are ubiquitous to modern day living. Additionally, should any sort of hostilities and/or Armageddon break out, you can feel assured with the one inevitable fact that the streets will be strewn with objects and masonry just high enough to crouch behind (not forgetting those omnipresent crates!), for when the inevitable eleventh-hour counter-attack happens.

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Peculiar puzzles

“Let me see . . . How can I get through this locked door? I don’t have a key; all I’ve got is this red jewel I found in the grasp of a statue. I suppose I could see if it does anything when I put it in that small oval hole on that pedestal, but what are the chances it will unlock this door…?”

If videogames lie about anything, it is the frequency with which we should encounter strangely irregular objects or items, and their subsequent usefulness in illogical puzzles (okay, they lie about lots of things, but this is one of many). What are the chances that – anywhere – statues can be moved to reveal hidden passages, that firing an object at a discreet and oddly-placed switch will open up unknown doorways or there are inconspicuous pressure points in the floor which have, until now, impeded your progress? Videogames are very misleading in this regard. About the most interesting puzzle we face is finding the car keys.

Invisible barriers

Nothing breaks the feeling of immersion and interactivity more than good old invisible barriers. It makes you wonder; why do developers bother creating an area if you’re not allowed access to it? Seems like a waste of everyone’s time. At the very least, clearly and visibly block the entrance to it so the player is never mistaken into thinking that they might or should have access to said area; Hell, even just putting an impassable wall or ditch or perhaps a hazard like a body of water or fire is preferable to the ol’ transparent force field effect.

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Time manipulation

Ever since The Matrix and its cool-as slow-motion sequences, every single game ever has felt compelled to shoehorn in some sort of time manipulation or slow-motion element. The thing is, while games like Stranglehold and TimeShift are still pushing such gameplay mechanics in 2007/08, they started to feel tired back in about 2003. “Oh look, I can slow time down and jump through the air!” So what? Max Payne basically perfected that seven years ago. Hell, Superman was flying around the world in a matter of seconds and reversing time itself thirty years ago, which pretty much trumps anything anyone can come up with. So there.

Indentikit enemies

Fiction has an ongoing if intermittent relationship with clones, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at their apparent consistent inclusion in games. At least, this might help explain why games (shooters in particular) are designed with only three enemy character models which are subsequently each reused fourteen thousand times. Honestly, giving them different clothes and/or different weapons doesn’t trick us.

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The double-jump

One of the most famous videogame moves, there is little more puzzling in its implementation and conceptual origins than that most physically impossible of acrobatics; the double-jump. Believed to have originated in early arcade game Dragon Buster, it is now a staple of modern fantastical action and/or adventure games. But the real question is why?! How has something which is so unequivocally, indisputably impossible come to be so readily accepted by the masses? Are we to allow this blatant deceit of science to permeate every aspect of the games we play? Need we ready ourselves to accept more literal impossibilities, like the inclusion of aesthetic damage in Gran Turismo?! Madness.

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2007.

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