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"Gears of War" and "Metroid Prime" have atmosphere, a question/discussion

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Both the Gears of War and Metroid Prime series have a great deal of atmosphere to them, with all kinds of stories coming through the very worlds we explore, seeing ancient statues, architecture new and old, and colossal accomplishments in art made years ago. Why does this create the atmosphere it does, and what can we learn from it? You can read my thoughts, or skip this and post your own, but I'm interested in hearing more thoughts on this subject either way. I would argue that these pieces of art tap into a subconscious knowledge that we all have, a thought that comes to mind every time we see a statue or an old building: history. We know that each piece has a background, a story to tell if only we look deep enough, revealing something about when and where it was made, why, by who even, and it creates depth. Whether these pieces do have a history is another matter entirely, we could have statues all over the place without having any feel of history. Most action games these days have a level where we travel through a hall of the elders, a museum, or a mansion, and see all kinds of important looking statues, but they act only as cover when dodging bullets. What makes Gears of War and Metroid Prime different then? Both of them give some degree of significance to these statues in the design process. We can actually see stylistic similarities between the statues and architecture, or sometimes differences depending on geography and location. This gives us the impression that some degree of reason lies behind them being similar, but still slightly different each time, and that creates a story of its own. When every piece of art tells a story together, each sharing its own part, then we recognize a common history there as well, and from that we see a common culture. What makes this so different from the culture of Mushroom Kingdom or City 17? Well one of them has the culture from the past, and the other lies only in the present. By having a culture in the past, we know that it must have influenced the culture of the present if signs of it are still around today. That is when the most incredible culture arises: when we see the past and the present at the same time, and directly see the influences history has had on the game's world as it is today. What is atmosphere? Dictionary.com defines it as "a surrounding or pervading mood, environment, or influence." When we see a common theme in the past, as well as the present, all throughout all artwork seen in the game, it truly does surround us, and creates a nigh penetrating effect, causing the environment to overflow with a theme or feeling. That is what I believe causes such rich environments in these two games, when we see culture, art, history, not only in the past, but the present, and also foresee and later come to see more of it in the future. That creates a certain mood that really makes a game feel like a place, and will someday be a huge part of what makes games art.

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I'm not the most atmospheric appreciative player. I didn't really get anything additional from Gears of War's atmosphere that I haven't experienced at equal level in other shooters. Perhaps because it's atmosphere wasn't my favorite color.

Other than cyberpunk (dark neon lit cityscape), I have noticed one other type of atmosphere that strikes me. It's the "modern concrete wrapped in vines" effect. Buildings and streets, half decayed, in mid day light, with green plants and moss growing all over them. For some reason, that effect always gives me goosebumps.

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Other than cyberpunk (dark neon lit cityscape), I have noticed one other type of atmosphere that strikes me. It's the "modern concrete wrapped in vines" effect. Buildings and streets, half decayed, in mid day light, with green plants and moss growing all over them. For some reason, that effect always gives me goosebumps.


Absolutely. I'm also drawn to ancient ruins that have decayed to the point that they're barely distinguishable from the surrounding terrain.

It invokes a feeling that the world around you is transient and that it'll continue long after you're gone. But at the same time, it connects you to the people of the past for whom the ruins were their present.


I think Shadow of the Colossus and the last planet of Mass Effect are great examples of this effect.

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Original post by Oluseyi
Congratulations, you've discovered art direction! [smile]

Seriously, though, that's what art history teaches us, and what good art direction recreates - a sense of coherence that ties individual items together into a larger whole.


Aha, well I'm glad there's a name for it. And that also explains why I this came to mind in the middle of writing an Art History paper.

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Original post by Kest For some reason, that effect always gives me goosebumps.
Everyone seems to have cirtain enviroments which noticably move or effect them in some way.

The atmosphere which really gets me is anything from the 20's through the 50's. Especially if feels stagnant and abandoned. Recent examples would be Bioshock and Fallout 3.

I don't know what it is about that time period which I find so intimately nostalgic and powerful. But put me in one of those environments and play an old record from that period and I will get some wicked chills.

It would be fascinating to learn what sort of influences create these 'sweet spot' atmospheres in people. I cirtainly can't remember what could have possibly influenced my affinity for the 20-50's time period. (It's not as if I was alive then.)

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Strange, I also seem to have a strong connection to the 50's, even though I was born in 1980. I like the music, bar/diner designs, dress suits, and hairstyles from that period. Maybe it's because of faint genetic memory. Or from watching Back to the Future too many times.

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If you were born in the 80, and your parents were 20-30 when they had you, then that puts them growing up in the 40s-50. Could be that you got some influence through them. I know my mom still listens to a few songs from the 50s cus she liked them as a kid.

Each person is going to have their own atmospheres that get to them. The better the art direction is done and the more moody it is, the larger an audience will respond to it. Its still highly subjective.

For all the kids out there that didn't know that this atmosphere thing is called art direction and is strongly related to art history, go take an art history class in college or if you are too young, get an art history book. Learn a bit about different cultures and how they expressed themselves as a culture artistically. If you looks carefully you will notice things about each culture's art that make it feel cohesive. Its the cohesion between different bits of art and such that make it feel tied together as a culture.

I haven't played Gears of War, but in MP:3 notice how similar the art is on Bryyo, how all the statues are similar in style, how all the wall art you find has the same art style, how those things are echoed in the architecture. Notice the lizard scale floors and walls, the lizard heads that aren't scanable statues, built into the ceilings and such. The whole effect is actually a little over done, but it definitely still gets the point across. This was a culture with a cohesive expression of who and what it was. The history you get to read from scanning the wall art is a big part of that, but even with out it, you still get the general feel, just not the details of their history.

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Original post by JasRonqIf you were born in the 80, and your parents were 20-30 when they had you, then that puts them growing up in the 40s-50.
Er, actually.
Taking the most extreme numbers you gave ... if someone was born in 1980 whose parent was 30 years old, their parent was born in 1950.

Your math is at least a decade off.
Add in the fact that people remember very little form the first 5~ years of their life and, I hate to say it but, your theory seems to have a few holes.


Your basic premise, however, does have some merit ... the atmosphere/environment cues that people respond to could have been somewhat influenced by their parents or grandparents.

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Another thing that really gets at me is exploring massive, deserted, obscured/underground facilities and laboratories, all alone. Especially when the facility is made completely optional by the game. Decent examples would be the Dwemer ruins in Morrowind, or vaults in Fallout.

It's fun to find my way around an ancient abandoned facility, discovering ways to light areas up, open locked doors, and dig deeper into it to discover more about the projects that were going on in there, learn about ancient tech, and maybe even find a rare weapon or armor.

Having a few critters or monsters scattering around is fine, as long as there are no NPCs or other people. I think most of the thrill comes from the illusion that no one in the game world has ever tread into the place. Anything found inside is bound to be very valuable as loot, or very interesting to identify.

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Original post by brent_w
Quote:
Original post by JasRonqIf you were born in the 80, and your parents were 20-30 when they had you, then that puts them growing up in the 40s-50.
Er, actually.
Taking the most extreme numbers you gave ... if someone was born in 1980 whose parent was 30 years old, their parent was born in 1950.

Your math is at least a decade off.
Add in the fact that people remember very little form the first 5~ years of their life and, I hate to say it but, your theory seems to have a few holes.

My parents were a little older than most when they had me. My mom and dad were 14 and 16 (respectively) in 1955. That's about the perfect time for them to develop nostalgic affection for it. However, neither of them seem to have clung onto anything from that time, so I have no idea why I feel attached to the 50's.

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Well, ok, so my math is off. Probably a good reason for me to stay an artist, eh? My parents were 40 when they had me, For those a bit older than me with parents of such age, I can see the situation I described being about right. I still remember listening to Niel Diamond in the car going to day care.

In any case, those things that are nostalgic for the people you grow up with, be that your parents or grandparents, can affect you, because you will be exposed to it as they enjoy their old music or films.

I think culture wide though there will be certain things that are likely to evoke strong moods. Abandoned old things in general will do that when we live in a world of fresh concrete and living cities.

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