Monday 8 December 2008

I have two hands and with them I touch the world

I have two hands, and with them, I touch the world.

In the post release discussions of Far Cry 2 that I have read few others have mentioned what I think is perhaps the single most genre-innovating aspect of the game. The first person shooter’s de rigeur level of interaction is based on weapons – usually guns. Since as far back as Doom and earlier however, the ‘fist’ or ‘gauntlet’ or other hand-held melee device has been a present reminder that a person can readily do other things with their hands than simply aim and squeeze a trigger. Far Cry 2 takes note, and says ‘alright, let’s see what that means for the FPS’.

The things my hands hath wrought in Far Cry 2 are as varied as their real world counterparts – they are utilitarian, opening doors and containers, picking up objects like weapons, briefcases and diamonds. Immersion in the first person perspective is apparently paramount, and the realistic application of my hand to a door-handle is one small detail that is by no means lost on this author. The ‘procedural animation’ system makes my hand always appear to touch the object I am reaching for, twisting, collecting, opening. While it is intentionally perhaps not quite as versatile as the animation system in Spore, it doesn’t need to be. Yet it remains a significant raising of the bar for the standards of first person interaction. We will see only in time whether those standards are met, much as I suggested in my initial post on the game. If Gillen, et al. are to be believed, the Half-Life cycle of influence takes approximately two years, and I would add that the case of Halo seems to follow a similar pattern. That seems an unfortunately long time to wait for someone who, like me, is now well and truly ensnared by the Far Cry 2 immersion factor.

My hands are also my last saving grace when an explosion or gunshot wound renders me close to death, and given sufficient time can work their restorative magic upon the rest of my body. Indeed they themselves appear to miraculously heal from wounds that were inflicted mere moments earlier – an interesting parallel with the gradual healing of whole body wounds which we now take for granted and which are, admittedly, perhaps even sillier in concept than the somewhat arbitrary hit-point ‘n’ health pack combo paradigm they seem to universally have replaced. However I would not wish a return to those heady days of fighting Nazi’s on 5 hp as a result of an inability to find a health pack within arms reach. After all, the health pack only allows me to increase a semi arbitrary numerical value that somehow represents my ‘wellness’ and distance from death. Admittedly, auto regenerating health and body parts vastly improves game flow and rhythm – but it remains an abstraction. Still, even on that front Far Cry 2 proposes a slightly more refined version: Take too much of a beating and your health won’t regenerate beyond a certain point. That is, only until you stop to pump some more morphine into your blood stream – delivered via your hands and lower arms, of course – a novel mix of the arbitrary health pack and the auto regeneration systems.

Lastly, my hands are more than up to the task of bringing swift retribution to those who would visit violence on my own body. After all the above, this almost seems like the least interesting possibility, and I wonder whether compared to the amount of time spent holding a map in your hands or steering a vehicle, this last option does not actually plateau into a more even distribution. My hands are, after all, the most prominent manifestation of my avatar that I see through the game – and that they should spend most of their time trying to kill and maim others starts to seem oddly nihilistic. Then again, that is what the game’s about isn’t it?


Anonymous said...

Hmm, very interesting post. I do wonder if the hands actually mean anything more than giving us a Half-Life style 'I am the camera' immersion. Essentially, don't the hands just give expression to the actions we've been able to perform in all FPS since the dawn of time, as you rightly point out? Very interesting though; for all intents and purposes in FC2, you are just a giant set of hands.

Ben Abraham said...

And what a fantastic set of hand they are. That point cannot be stressed enough. I don't know what voodoo the animators had to use to get them that lifelike (probably sold their first born or something) but they really are so... er... expressive!

They're also different for each character, with a bit more than just a simple re-skinning to add tattoos to one or another. There's clothing and accessories on each. It's the little touches that consistently impress me.

Anonymous said...

You are a modern poet in the videogame world.

Erik said...

They certainly did do a good job of rendering and animating the hands, with neat little details like freckles and tattoos, depending on your character choice. It reminds me of Bioshock, in a way. As I recall, Bioshock had similar focus on hands, using them as a primary "weapon" (much like the magic in Oblivion) as well as conveying meaning through them.

I also remember that I liked the way Max Payne turned the magical health pack mechanic into the abuse of painkillers.