BITMAPS 92: Fuel for Thought

Like high-top sneakers, savings accounts, and waving-your-hands-in-the-air-like-you-just-don’t-care, accomplishing monumental works just for the hell of it has gone out of style. Sure, some crazy guy made a circular section of his building rotate, but it’s just not en vogue to do the really big stuff anymore. I’m talking stuff like carving the heads of dead people into a mountain, building a giant triangle out of really big rocks, and shooting human beings at stuff we see floating around in the sky – people just don’t aim high anymore. I envy the time when it was socially acceptable to burn through untold resources to make a statue of Jesus that’s just a little bit taller than the last.

Brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it?

At least game developers take a stab at bombastic creationism now and again, something that Fuel recently demonstrated to me. Fuel‘s virtual space is massive, as I discovered when trying to unlock one of its achievements (not that I’m compelled to do that or anything). The task entailed driving from one base camp to another without using any quick-jump abilities. On the game’s map, the trek only represented about a tenth of the total game area. Compared to any other open-world racer, this would be no big deal – five minutes, tops. However, I arrived at my destination after 45 minutes of driving, checking my e-mail, chatting on AIM, and getting up to go to the bathroom.

And this was but a fraction of the game’s total area. Trying to mentally extrapolate this out gives me a nosebleed. The amount of virtual space contained within the game is absolutely incredible, especially given how fast it whizzes by on a kickass dirt bike. The game world isn’t particularly empty, either. Broken roads, bombed-out old shacks, gnarled trees, and abandoned cars spot the landscape and prevent that cookie-cutter look that games with such expanse often feature. From this standpoint, Fuel is a technological achievement. Shame that it also has to be a video game, though.

Player action doesn’t necessitate or even benefit from such an open world. In terms of single-player career, Fuel offers several permutations on races, ranging from point-to-point time trials, and circuits which run through several checkpoints. Given the open world, drivers can pick their own routes to any checkpoint far more successfully than previous racers touting similar features (notably Burnout Paradise). Aside from races, unlockables like different paint for cars, and different shirts for the driver, are dotted about the massive game world.

There’s an unlockable item in there somewhere…

From the player’s perspective, the game’s world could easily be a tenth of the size and not impact the game in the slightest. Races would still allow players to choose their own paths, and the unlockables would be a lot closer together, reducing the time taken to nab one from ten minutes down to two. Fuel‘s expanse unnecessarily increases travel time, and represents a massive amount of content that the player will never experience. Unexperienced content equals wasted development time, which ultimately equals wasted time and money on the behalf of developers and publishers.

Aside from concerns about cost-effective development, Fuel exposes an interesting caveat regards game design. One would naturally assume that the more like real life a game is, the more realistic play will be. Fuel’s massive countryside is certainly a step closer to real life in terms of expanse, but given my frequent Gmail checking, is a good deal less immersive than a denser, less realistic game would be. As games progress towards immersion and realism, it’s possible that they will diverge from emulating reality as closely as possible.

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