Everyone else is talking about it...

Thursday, May 8, 2008
I wanted to talk for a moment about GTA IV. Everyone else has said it already so I won't go into how great it is. I do want to say a few things about the level of detail in the game. Not detail in the graphical sense, even though the game looks fantastic, but detail in the little things. I've been playing this game for over a week now and I'm still finding new things to try and places to explore.

I've called games immersive in the past. Assassin's Creed was immersive because your character and NPCs reacted to every object in the game. Mass Effect was immersive in the number of reactions and natural flow of dialogue and story progression. But GTA IV does something I've never seen before. It makes me think about that game world in the same terms as I think about the real world.

I'm not saying that it's a perfect recreation of real life. The GTA series' world has always been a satirical caricature of real life. Within that world though you have almost limitless opportunity to do whatever you think you might be able to do in this world. If you and a friend get in an accident, you don't go wandering around looking for food or prostitutes to heal your wounds, you call an ambulance. And so it is in GTA.

Rockstar has always approached their series with an "if you can think it you can do it" attitude, but they've reached a new level with this latest installment. They've created a dynamic character in an intricately detailed world. Playing just the other day, I just stood on a corner for fifteen minutes watching the game world live and breathe around me. People walked by going about their daily routine, talking on cell phones, buying newspapers from the vending machine. Cars hurried through the intersection. Everything was normal. Then the police showed up, sirens blaring. A guy on the street dropped his coffee and took off running with two cops in hot pursuit. The guy was caught and escorted to the squad car where he was put inside and taken away. My character had no part in that action. It just happened. Just for good measure, I walked over and picked up the guy's discarded coffee.

This level of interaction is something I think we'll see a lot more of in years to come. Gamers are always clamoring for more open worlds, more choices, more freedom. Game companies are responding to this with games like Spore and Little Big Planet. This kind of gaming is where I think the real future of this industry lies. We've seen genres beginning to break down in the games we play. The most popular first person shooter today has elements taken straight out of classic RPGs. This is where we're headed folks. It's not about graphical power or iconic characters. It's about how the players and the characters interact with the game world. That is what will bring us together as players. That is what will show the doubting crowds of people that this is a real art.

"Where's the proof?" I know. Take a look at the record sales of the Wii in 2007 despite a price drop for the PS3 and it's Bluray player, the release of Halo 3 for the 360, not to mention a ton of great games that weren't even released for Nintendo's little console. The Wii gets people involved in their games, it got grandparents, kids, everyone to want to play. Not enough? Then how about Rock Band bringing entire families into one room to start a band and play or sing songs they've never even heard. I have been trying to get my parents and siblings to play games with me for years, and Rock band was the first game that really got us all together. If you're still not convinced, take a look at the release of GTA IV. Every major GTA release has been spiked with controversy over it's content. There has been next to nothing about in the news as I've seen it. Add to that that the major presidential candidates have barely mentioned it and you have to admit we're seeing something different. Again, that formula of immersion and interactivity has proven golden and garnered GTA IV an even wider fan base than before.

The face of the games we play is changing. The audience is growing with the content. People are being drawn into games like never before. Let's all hope this is the start of something good.