Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Oblivion Newbs

There's a rash of newbs whose first exposure to the Elder Scolls series is Oblivion, which is a crying shame. Of course, the fact that I didn't come in at Arena makes me a n00b too, but I'm less n00bish.

I have to rank Morrowind over Oblivion so far. It seems that the level of detail in Oblivion has hit the uncanny valley, where things look so real you can't help but notice it's fake. Like the animatronic Hall of Presidents, your subconscious keeps interjecting and telling you what you're seeing is fake... like an animated corpse. Your mind is constantly aware that something is awry, albeit minor, grinding away like annoying grains of sand. Shaders being too shiny, grass shaders eating frame rates alive, leaf pixmaps popping in and out of the Z buffer as they sway on branches... these all just serve to remind you that what you're seeing is a damn close approximation of the real world, but something is out of place.

Morrowind had its cutting edge (at the time) water effects, which made people swoon as soon as they had a DX9 card. Otherwise, however, it was obvious you were living inside an American RPG. Dialog was text-based, little voice acting was done (don't get me started on Dagoth Ur), and magic effects basically looked like Quake 2 runes. The vistas were still stunning - hell, Morrowind even has photography guilds. Towns were a seamless collection of buildings, just like they should be. Oblivion attempts to optimize framerates and create hard edges to the world with the old fasioned stupid game mechanic of we-built-four-hundred-foot-walls-around-our-entire-city-so-players-can't-just-walk-inside; the engine can then unload a mega-texture landscape setting and load a much more finite city setting. Morrowind accomplished the same thing by only spawning new areas within buildings, which is a much more natural transition. It makes sense to start a new area inside a building... you're going outside, in. You could just stroll into a city using whatever means necessary... just levitate in if you want. The bounds placed on cities in Oblivion are much more artifical and abrupt, with NPC's "teleporting" inside of city gates instead of just stepping through the freaking door.

Then again, I could just be waxing rhapsotic for Morrowind's storyline. I'm drawn to the "creationist" or "origin" adventures, the type where you find out that the world wasn't created using the schema you've always believed. It's a bias I've carried with me ever since I was first hooked into the RPG genre - with Final Fantasy Legend.

Aaaaah... those were the days. I took my glass sword and beat the livin' snot out of Creator many, many times in that era of my life. There, the big reveal was after ascending the monolithic tower that stood in the middle of every realm of existence you came face-to-face with the creator of the world. Then, for reasons that are still completely hazy, Creator starts getting all up in your grill. Then your party feels stilted and a fight ensues. Not sure why. But after you destroy your (C)reator, you can ascend into the realm beyond creation (the door behind Mr. Creator de Jerkbutt). But the party starts feeling nostalgic and returns to relive the adventures they had and the people they helped along the way. It was epic. Good times.

After that, I moved on to Phantasy Star III for the Sega Genesis. There, you find out that your world is not some rotating sphere circling a medium-sized star... instead your on a freakin' space ship set into orbit to save your civilization. The world isn't natural... it's completely mechanical and manufactured. Take that!

Morrowind goes back as far as any other Elder Scrolls title I know of... all the way to the very creation of the mortal realm, the inception of the Dumner, the extinction of the Dwemer and the very heart of a god. If that's not freakin' epic, I don't know what is. It frames things in a very religious context, with a healthy reflection of the Roman's assimilation of Greek religion and Nordic roots. There's very much the sense that the current faith was one built up around, but in displacement of, the old pagan ritual and history. Here we find that the volcano that erupted in Morrowind wasn't some natural disaster... it was an ancient, advanced culture that had harnessed the power of an actual god. Kinda like if we discovered the Aztec's actually built a Cray out of steam power and the pancreas of an immortal then teleported themselves to Mars.

Morrowind even had a book in-game called "On Oblivion", something to lay the path for the current title. In fact, there's a lot of literature that's shared between games in the series. This battle in the Daedric realm was a long time coming evidentally. Maybe we'll see another reference to the Numidium. Maybe another big reveal about the true origin of the Elder Scrolls world.

I'm happy enough to ride the current title out and give it a fair shake. Currently I'm engrossed by my kick-butt Rastin wanna-be, looking pale and sickly, clad in only a monk's robe. He can't carry much of anything, can't swing a sword and can't take a punch to save his life. But he can cast like freakin' motha.

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