A Consequence of Action

Jump

I hesitate – now at the edge of uncertainty and self-preservation. For a second I'm confident that there is no way in heaven or hell that I will clear the gulf between the two ledges. I panic, break out in a leap before the runway at my feet expires. No going back now.

I sail silently between the two structures, deaf to the rushing wind that whistles around me. I could go on about the beauty of the view, the unbearable brightness of it all, the overwhelming sense of speed. I could let flow an unending gush of cliches about the lightness of the flight or pontificate about the perceived lack of gravity, but none of that applies at the moment. My blood freezes at the peak of my jump. My muscles tense, tightening themselves for the oncoming impact. The bottom drops out of my stomach as my heart pauses.

My arc winds down and, where there should be ground and gravel and halting, there is instead empty space and a sickening downward pull. I look up and I see that traitorous ledge move further and further away from me, mocking me with its stoic facade.

If only I hadn't panicked. If only I had taken that extra step. If only I could go back and change it all.

If only?

I'm no stranger to the agony of failure; the terrible knowledge that I have driven my player to ruin time and time again can be stifling, in fact. A miscalculation here, a failed jump there and I'm back to square one. The labor of progress is but a series of iterations - Pavlovian conditioning meant only to rid one of human weaknesses. This was a time when games were more than just entertainment, they were endurance challenges.

But as games grew up, their inner workings underwent the joys of puberty. Where once my choices were cemented into the ley lines of fate, I now could pick my mistakes up right before the point of error. I could revisit the fulcrum of disaster, even rewind time to ensure that an outcome favored my intentions.

At the heart of this radical change was the quicksave, a vehicle through which the alternate realities of consequence could be explored – the gamer's Cosmic Treadmill, if you will, powered not by kinetic force but by a Quantum Leapian will to set right what once went wrong. In many ways, the quicksave improved gaming for me, dulling the frustration that was previously endemic to the experience. The ability to create a pocket universe as a backup plan is an empowering option for any gamer, especially those with memories of the instant-death era. But there's a certain something lost with the ability to frazzle Clotho's linens. Forward progress.

There's an unavoidable herky-jerkyness to the stuff of time, a transitional space of awkwardness as you move from Now-Was to Then-Is that muddles the feel of it all. As fantastic it is to know the number of steps that Sentry 347 will take, or that my grenade won't clear the windowsill without a hop to give it some extra height, it's even more amazing to chance upon the wonderful combination of half-luck and weary skill that allows such miracles to happen on the first go.

Which is why I'm impressed by the ambiance of Mirror's Edge. There's hardly ever a moment when I feel a compelling reason to go back and try something again, just to make sure I get it right. Assuming I don't become a bullet sponge or street pizza, there's always a certain something pushing me to move ahead. The resultant sense of advancement is intoxicating, motivating me to continue the momentum I've built up, to vault, slide, and leap my way through the shimmering rooftops. The obstacles that exist are mere impediments to my motion, puzzles placed only to slow me down or stop my free-flow kinetic improvisation. No time to think or overanylize, only time enough to move. This is what the essence of gaming should feel like: a sincere, wholehearted attachment to the action (or actions) that one sets into play. It is a moment where the motivation at hand is intention only, whose aim is exploration and discovery, refined. It is the escape, distilled and realized.

Given the choice, I wouldn't hit the omniscient do-over button. I wouldn't try to get that perfect jump. Instead, I'd bear the consequences of my action because the failure leads to an eventual success. I don't need to be perfect. I need to let go and trust that there will be something there to land on.

It's the letting go part that's the hardest to deal with.

I run towards the edge, unaware of the landscape beyond its looming horizon. I almost stop. At the last moment my better sense fails me. An overwhelming thanatosian drive forces me to go on. This is it, I'm committed. No stopping now.

I clear the ledge by a hair. As the shock reverberates through my thighs, the world growing slightly darker around the corners, I realize that my moment of hesitation gave me the extra fraction of an inch I needed. At the edge, now, of certitude, I look back and consider what could have been. No need to linger. I turn and see a sprawling topology of vast possibilities, an infinity of failure and achievement.

I wonder which the next jump will bring.

Comments

thanatosian

Spaz, have I ever told you that you're awesome?

So is it just Mirror's Edge, or are there certain kinds of play experiences that lend themselves better to no-rewind clauses? I know that, for me, racing games always feel like they need a do-over or mulligan button... you're on lap 5/5 of a near-perfect race, girlfriend asks what you want for dinner, you say lasagna, and in the instant you look away your car smashes into a bridge girder and turns into a steel accordion. Restarting the race at that point is heartbreaking, and the only thing I really learned from the experience was to ignore and neglect real life.

Does that seem right to you?

Clemenstation wrote:

Does that seem right to you?

Richard Brooks? Is that you?

I'm a bounty hunter.

Clemenstation wrote:

So is it just Mirror's Edge, or are there certain kinds of play experiences that lend themselves better to no-rewind clauses? I know that, for me, racing games always feel like they need a do-over or mulligan button... you're on lap 5/5 of a near-perfect race, girlfriend asks what you want for dinner, you say lasagna, and in the instant you look away your car smashes into a bridge girder and turns into a steel accordion. Restarting the race at that point is heartbreaking, and the only thing I really learned from the experience was to ignore and neglect real life.

Does that seem right to you?

This is precisely why I don't play racing games anymore (except Burnout, and then only the ones where I can smash up opponents-- not time trials). Losing a race because of some niggling little mistake at the last possible second may be realistic, but it's not fun. Games should be fun.

doubtingthomas396 wrote:
Clemenstation wrote:

So is it just Mirror's Edge, or are there certain kinds of play experiences that lend themselves better to no-rewind clauses? I know that, for me, racing games always feel like they need a do-over or mulligan button... you're on lap 5/5 of a near-perfect race, girlfriend asks what you want for dinner, you say lasagna, and in the instant you look away your car smashes into a bridge girder and turns into a steel accordion. Restarting the race at that point is heartbreaking, and the only thing I really learned from the experience was to ignore and neglect real life.

Does that seem right to you?

This is precisely why I don't play racing games anymore (except Burnout, and then only the ones where I can smash up opponents-- not time trials). Losing a race because of some niggling little mistake at the last possible second may be realistic, but it's not fun. Games should be fun.

Interesting...That's precisely why I DO play racing games. I went back to Forza 2 after almost a year of neglect, only to realize that its demand on my attention and focus is the reason I play. It's quite possible that Mirror's Edge was the game that reinitialized the desire for this type of game. Because it occasionally requires a certain level of precision and accuracy (especially during time trials and speed runs), I have been enjoying it much more that quite a few other game I have been playing .

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

This is precisely why I don't play racing games anymore (except Burnout, and then only the ones where I can smash up opponents-- not time trials). Losing a race because of some niggling little mistake at the last possible second may be realistic, but it's not fun. Games should be fun.

Also, AI cars in Burnout (Takedown at least) are never too badly affected by a crash. They'll catch up with you eventually. The opposite is not true. One crash can leave you irrevocably behind the front-runner even if you drive perfectly.

In general, I try to play games without using any sort of Quick Saves because I like the feeling of improvising in light of the consequences of my decisions. This works very well in action games where failure and success are graduated with hit points and ammunition, but it doesn't work as well in games of a pass/fail nature like stealth games, racing games, and fighting games. In either case, my preference is for games that don't set me back an extraordinary amount of time when I die, like Half-Life 2 with its auto-saves or Dead Space with its reasonable check points. Few things make me quit a game sooner than dying from something simple, like a missed jump, and realizing that I have to play a huge chunk of content again.

But what this article most reminded me of was Braid. The most interesting aspect of the time mechanic in some of the later worlds was that rewinding time became an increasingly imperfect method of handling mistakes. It used the expectation that modern gamers have about being able to undo a mistake to examine the idea that mistakes cannot always be unmade.

Full Auto is another decent example of how "mistakes cannot always be unmade". You can rewind time to a certain extent. A single bad turn won't put you out for good, but if you repeatedly smash into enemy mines/grenades/whatever you will start to run out of Magic Rewind Power and eventually the consequences of your actions become less and less negotiable (read: giant fiery explosion). Still, though, I would rather be punished for multiple failures (I didn't learn anything, so I must die) than a single failure (I didn't even have a chance to adapt, back to the drawing board).

I suppose if you pull back a bit you see that every failure in a game like Forza is training for the next race, but I am not really l33t enough to pull off prolonged perfection for more than three laps in the first place. It's like trying to teach calculus to a tanuki.

I've always wondered if platformers could be made realistic. I wonder no more.

Have you played any Prince of Persia? Sands of Time had glimmers of a similar feel for me. I can't wait to see the next version here in a couple weeks.

Only instead of breathing in the headlong rush for the whole game, you felt like you were climbing your way out of an Escherian labyrinth where the higher you went, the farther into the depths of the spider's web you descended. But each successful maneuver brought that giddy sense of, "I MADE it!", even as you teetered on your heels at the edge of a long drop.

Clemenstation wrote:

Does that seem right to you?

Don't you ever go visiting my intentions.

Like it was said in the podcast, is anyone else getting huge Sonic the Hedgehog vibes from this game? That being said, Sonic never made me jump off the couch, grasp at thin air in front of my TV, and then fall on the floor with a sickening crunch...

I played through the demo last night. The first time around the game was more frustrating than entertaining. This time around I had a blast and my girlfriend was watching me the whole time.

*it does have a Sonic feel to it in that the better you are, the cooler it is to watch*

I'm thinking of picking this up

Anybody else would drop a 20 on the soundtrack? I love it. Is it available?

Any good deals on the 360 version of this right now (or for Black Friday)?