In an earlier post, The Problem Is Choice, I contemplated the concept of sweet spot, and how the player can choose to experience the real-time image in a way the developer, the author, would never have wanted the game to be experienced. This freedom of choice is exactly the reason why Roger Ebert says that video games can never be art, and I partly agree with him; art is too limiting and degrading label to the real-time image which is so much more.
As a continuation to that post, I started to think how the amount of spatial freedom the player has in any given game, relates to the visual fidelity of that game. It seems that high level of freedom results in either low fidelity all over, like in Minecraft, or highly uneven fidelity, like in Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X. In FS X the planes and cockpits are top-notch, but the scenery at large is dull and mostly repeats itself, excluding the particular landmarks, like the famous airports or certain parts of iconic cities. FS X is an example of a game with ultimate freedom that comes with the price of ultimate incoherence.
If we then look at the other end of the spectrum, like Street Fighter IV, the fidelity in SF IV is as high as it can get, universally, thanks to the extremely limited spatial freedom of the player (and thus of “the camera”). It’s hard to take a bad screenshot of SF IV, even if you tried to do so, in contrast to FS X.
In a way, it’s sad that the child-hood’s fantasy of “a game where you can go anywhere in the world and do anything” isn’t going to happen, not on our lifetime at least. Of course, one can create infinite worlds using procedural techniques, but procedural is never equal to the stuff that is made by design. I’m really not a big believer in procedurally generated content, but in some limited cases, it has its place, for sure.
As the friends across the pond use to say, freedom is not free.