Details

I am finding that there’s a substantial difference between the games of old and the game of today.

Namely, it feels that there’s a lost attention to detail in these games. Granted, we’re not talking about graphical detail; that would make me look like a total idiot. Rather, what I mean is detail in the subtle, smallest things that most people won’t even notice. The small things, the little sparrows of the game world that their designers see fit to feed and care for, even when the rest of the world is in such a frenzy to move to the next big thing.

Take, for example, World of WarCraft’s newest expansion, Mists of Pandaria. 2004 isn’t that old, but the same design philosophy applies when we’re talking about later expansions in WoW’s life cycle. In the Pandaren starting area, the Wandering Isle, you eventually learn that you’re actually on top of a giant swimming turtle (suffice to say, this isn’t a huge spoiler for the observant). This information, told to the player in quest text, is pretty basic and literally only exists as a cool set piece. Right?

Well, some writer went to great lengths to make the concept really, REALLY clear. And then integrated that information in a tiny little place in the game that you can find. We call these “easter eggs”, but this was definitely meant to be found. On your way to rescue the Wind spirit (whose name I can’t remember) from his fright of a dragon, you walk across a bridge:

Yes, that’s my character. Kongming is from Romance of the Three Kingdoms; look it up.

It’s a nice place, really, but who’s expecting anything to happen of any significance between one quest node and another? Certainly not me. Having played the beta version of this exact same questing area, I just assumed I would run across and continue bandying about the Wandering Isle. But something stopped me in my tracks:

For whatever reason (even in my badly taken screenshot), there’s a guy in the middle of the bridge telling people that stories are being told about Shen-zin Su, the name of the turtle which is the Wandering Isle. This piqued my curiosity; since this wasn’t in the beta, I figured that whatever was down there was either 1. a weird aside or 2. some new content. I’m a sucker for WoW lore (having bought all the novels to date except the latest one), so I jumped at the chance to find some new information.

So, down the stairs I went. I was greeted with this sight:

More like a class than a “storytelling session”, it’s something in the vein of oral and written tradition. As the women teaches her class, the other male pandaren sings a song in “the old language”, to which we can only guess. Of course, there’s an accompanying music track to go along with it. It’s the song of Liu Lang, the first pandaren who left Pandaria. At the time he was alive, Azeroth had just experience the Sundering – the cataclysmic event that divided its landmasses into various continents. This was not known to Pandaria, which was protected by the Mists their elders had set in place for generations. Believing that a great world lay beyond the oceans bordering Pandaria even in light of this Sundering, the scholar Liu Lang took off from his homeland on the back of a turtle he found on the sea shore.

It should surprise no one that he found success; he returned every five years to Pandaria to regale the populace with tales of distant lands, mythical creatures, and all sorts of oddities. He continued to explore, and as the years went by, Shen-zin Su grew larger and larger. Eventually, his shell had enough space to support a whole colony of Pandarens raptured by Liu Lang’s wanderlust; in that sense, it’s not a surprise that the turtle was called the Wandering Isle. Liu Lang even has his own song:

Russell Brower – The Song of Liu Lang

Sung by this fine gent:

So where do you get much of this information? Including the fact that you’re really on a giant turtle, even if it’s difficult to perceive with the way everything works? Here, of course, in some little side area with a unique version of a theme that’s only found in this little subsection of a massive game. It’s completely optional; you don’t have to go here, yet it’s placed in the game just for curious people like myself to discover. It’s that sense of wonder, something even an open world game like Skyrim or the recent Fallout doesn’t do: make a world interesting. While it’s true that Blizzard has the time, money, and manpower to create all of this lore, it still amazes me with its depth and the obvious consideration that goes into every single facet of the game. No stone is left unturned, no glitch left to rot, and no story element contradicts another (unless they retcon something, but that’s their right). You don’t find that level of detail with many games.

Star Fox 64 is another excellent example of this. From one perspective, it’s a short, linear game with a bunch of different levels for variety’s sake. On another level, it’s a game of exploration and seeing the different worlds Nintendo designers can create. On yet another level, it’s a game of figuring out how to get into various levels by fulfilling specific (and sometimes obscure) objectives. On yet another, further level, it’s a game of high scores and trying to get medals to unlock new modes and ship types for multiplayer.

Frankly put, the detail in this seemingly simple game is enormous. How many other games, for one, have this much voice acting (and rather hilarious/cheesy voice overs too)? How many tried to create several different planets and space areas, each with a unique visual style, a huge variety of enemy encounters, and so many different paths through one game? Not many! What seems a pretty linear and simple games ends up being a lot more interesting than a first-hand glance would reveal.

The best games, from my view, reveal themselves in continued play; they don’t become “great” on one playthrough, but sustain themselves in multiple plays at different time periods. These two games definitely hold to that standard. That someone, or a group of people, are out there putting so much depth and playability into these virtual worlds is almost astounding at times. Who else are they creating these for, except for other people’s entertainment? For other people to have a great time exploring the worlds of their own creation? That’s a weird idea, to be sure.

That God created us for much the same reason should offer that same feeling, I imagine. When God calls Jeremiah to a life of prophecy, what other response could you have?

1 The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the exile of Jerusalem in the fifth month.

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
And before you were born I consecrated you;
I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “Alas, Lord God!
Behold, I do not know how to speak,
Because I am a youth.”
But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
Because everywhere I send you, you shall go,
And all that I command you, you shall speak.
“Do not be afraid of them,
For I am with you to deliver you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me,

“Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.
10 “See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms,
To pluck up and to break down,
To destroy and to overthrow,
To build and to plant.”

Usually this particular verse (1:5) is taken out of context entirely to refer to “everyone”, not just Jeremiah, but it’s more remarkable with that context. God appoints all of us to a particular purpose. This purpose, though it must be divined with the help of the Holy Spirit, was sent by God for your benefit. That isn’t to say you’ll like it all the time (because, trials and tribulations), but hardship remains part and parcel of the Christian life. But that’s part of the discovery. When an explorer makes his way into an unknown land, it’s not all cute bunnies; unknown terrain requires a calm mind, steady nerves, and the ability to not die because you weren’t paying attention. You know, getting eating by an unknown creature or monster probably isn’t fun.

Christians all explore and discover those details meant for them specifically. But they’re put there by the Creator, so it’s obviously been designed much better than these video games. God tells you where to go, and you go. You aren’t afraid because God will deliver you in His time. God put His words into your mouth through the Holy Spirit; take kindly. Put on your crash test helmet and get out there. Explore. Find the details in everyday life. They’re there, but you need to find them.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • I never had the chance to play WoW, but those details are really amazing. I am so impressed that Blizzard took the time and resources to build such a rich foundation for their game. I believe these kinds of rich stories are what bring life to games! It’s great to see such a model example at work.

    • @solarle  Good RPGs, especially, need this kind of thing. Playing the RS remake, I’m finding that I’m just not that engaged in its world at all, and that’s a shame. Maybe it’s just not compelling enough, or maybe I’m just lazy.