Talking about game semiotics last thursday, along with the new readings on embodied interaction made me think of one of my favorite games ever, Jet Force Gemini. I’ll try and explain some of the tacit knowledge of being a gamer that semiotics has given me, along with trying to briefly being able to describe the embodiment I find in this game.

Quick Backstory

This game is about three space travelers who are fighting against the evil bug-robot Mizar. Our protagonists are Juno, Vela, and Lupus, and this game was originally on the N64. The story so far is that they have seen the evil Mizar enslave a happy set of bear-people, called the Tribals, into doing his evil bidding. The video here places the player at the first “level” of Vela, on the starship Sekhmet. The video also starts halfway through the level, as well.

The Tacit Knowledge

So here’s where the gamer and the tacit knowledge take part. The first room the video takes place in is a “safe room”, as there are no baddies. This is due to the fact there is someone the player has to talk to in order to get a key and some important weapon pickups in there. It’s also a plain square room that doesn’t feature that much else as well, which communicates that the room is just to be used quickly and just for the items (even though the player needs to come back here).

Then the player goes back through some small tunnels to get back to a large room (the tunnel’s purpose is just a connector, and some fighting occurs here). This large room was the scene of a lot of fighting, as the different walls in the room afford cover for the player and the baddies. This room also is a springboard to other areas of the level, but only if the player has the jetpack accumulated later in the game. This is communicated through the small tunnels at the very top and back of the screen, which tells the player: “haha – I’m here but you can’t get to me yet!”.

The next room affords a lot of information for not only the player, but the viewer. A ton of baddies come flying in from the top of the screen and from in front of the player. This speaks to the player that they need to enter first person mode and shoot them all. When this happens, the player moves the targeting crosshairs over the targets, which then make a sound every time. This indicates to the player that he/she is locked on to a target and can begin to fire. When the player successfully removes a target, the baddie makes a sound, whether it be an explosion or a death scream. This indicates to the player that he/she can move on. When all the baddies are removed, the door at the end opens (because it’s green, and the camera centers on it, and it has been a mechanic the player has gotten used to by now).

Once done, the player moves into the next area, which has a maze on top of the boiling lava. This immediately tells the player that not only a physical challenge is needed to traverse this lava, but also that there might be more trouble ahead, since there are almost always baddies in every room, unless the music changes or there is an NPC in the room. Once completed, the player moves in the next room, which has a walkway. This immediately connotates to the player that it is meant to be walked on and followed through the whole time to get to the next area, even though there are jumps to complete and elevators to use as well. Other cues in this puzzle are from Floyd, your robot friend, who alerts you to baddies in the area – he makes a sound and glows red (and is accompanied by red arrows on the side of the screen to tell you where the baddies are). All of these help to make the challenge easier.

Also, I didn’t mention that the elevators move up and down, which also tell the player you are meant to use them in that fashion. The tribals in this room on unreachable platforms also tell the player that he/she needs to come back with something that will make this area accessible. There is also the usage of a blue glowing corridor to help point out to the player where the goal to get to is. Without the color, it makes it a little harder to figure out where to go. The music also spurs the player on, since it is epic and awesome, that action is needed to keep the story and the action going, too.

Then there’s another small room again where the player has to destroy a lot of baddies to move on, but this time they move faster and shoot back a lot more, which tells the player that this type of challenge will have to involve accuracy and sidestepping/strafing. But the player also sees the cue that if this challenge is completed well, this is actually a rewarding encounter, as there is a lot of life (the pink gems) and ammo boxes around. The next areas also feature the same type of cues (long hallways full of baddies, and small rooms full of items and respite). These are the types of cues gamers can pick up on, and really utilize them in crafting an experience that will let them be a better player.

For me, this type of reading makes for me a full embodied interaction with the game, as not only am I literally in the game, but I am also reading it and making a conversation about it. I may be talking to the designers through the game, or with other people about the game, but I just really like how these things can truly “get me into the game”. And that’s the embodied experience I go for.

Epic Rant

Unlike the following:

This is the much hated and loathed Krauser fight in Resident Evil 4. (Start at around 2:20, and this is not the GameCube version that I know, but it’s still roughly the same game). Heidegger has finally given me the words I needed to explain why I hate this:

He argues that the mouse exists for us as an entity only because of the way in which it can become present-at-hand, and becomes equipment … only — through the way in which- it can be ready-to-hand.

Resident Evil 4 is a game through which all of the action looks like a cutscene. It is in letterbox, a long time cue to the player to take a break and enjoy the story. This game takes the opposite view, and makes all of the action only available through this type of view. The fight that you see is the hardest in the game, in my opinion, as the player is not only being exposed to story, but has to have lightning-fast reflexes to get through the 6 or 7 challenges to press buttons in order to survive and see the story (and also, why does a knife kill him instantly, but zombies can’t?). The point here is that the cutsene makes me think it is time to take a rest, the present at hand view of gaming that I have. But, no, they like to force me to realize the story IS the game, and then the game forces me to take it as ready to hand (hope i got that right). Anyway, the combination of being forced to do this challenge, while transforming the current notion of story as (instead of) being present at hand, where I can enjoy it, to something as ready-to-hand, where I have to confront it in a way that makes me really really really really really really angry. I will always try to skip by and pray I get through this part due to this type of change in the game and the style of gaming.

Looks like it’s time for another post to be done.