All of the PS4’s launch titles have one thing in common: an absolutely mental number of particles floating around as you drive, run, shoot, fight, or engage in any other way through the levels. It’s as if every developer got together and shared a bit of code that turned their games from boring, flat, empty worlds into places filled with wonderful floating debris.
And I love it. I didn’t realise it before, but great particle systems can greatly increase how I feel towards the art style of the game, and I’m not sure I know why.
They are beautiful little specs of dust, foliage and sparks – or even voxels in Resogun – that can completely change the experience, making the world within the game seem more like an environment, as they surround your character left, right, centre. Some games use them to stunning affect, even those not on PS4: I remember being stunned by the Forbidden Woods in The Wind Waker HD earlier this year, because of these little glowing orbs floating around the space in which Link inhabits. But, really, why do they exist?
It’s certainly not something that’s been inspired entirely by real life. Think about it, right now – when do you see particles like you do within games? That’s right, when it’s an extremely sunny day in the middle of summer and – sigh – the curtain that you’ve closed just to get away from it all flaps open, exposing a beam of light in the darkened room, straight in the centre of your TV, removing you from your gaming experience and distracting you with bits of floaty dust.
So I hate it. I didn’t realise it before, but great particle systems can greatly decrease how immersed I am within the game. And I think I might know why.
Their functionality completely goes against what games should be trying to achieve. These systems of foliage, star dust and voxels no longer serve to immerse me in the game – they’re so noticeable that they’ll often pull me right out of it, as I see how bizarre the fact is that my character is surrounded by bits of white dust, and then how they float off the side of the screen but nowhere around me. They make the world seem a bit more fake, even if it is very pretty and the physics are sound.
Particle systems are effectively the Wilhelm Scream (you know, that one used in all the movies) of gaming right now. There’s that knowing nod from the developers that what they’re doing has been done before in a very similar manner, alongside the way it’s just plonked down into a section, not depending on whether it’s completely relevant but whether they can do it.
I think, as with that well-known scream, that one day the novelty of these screen-sailing specks will wear off. Perhaps they’ll still remain and we’ll just get used to them, or maybe developers will learn to tone them down and focus on advanced AI systems or more expansive worlds instead. But right now, they’re very prominent.
Yet I endure it, and even discuss it. I didn’t realise it before, but great particle make a talking point – look at what I’m doing now. And here’s a crazy theory why:
Bear with me on this one, but perhaps particles are just another marketing tool. After all, isn’t everything these days? You see, some of the times that they’ve destroyed my immersion, I’ve gone to Twitter. And then I’ve tweeted about the game. I even uploaded a picture a few days ago of Call of Duty: Ghosts’ numerous floaty white bits.
I am of course not being completely serious, and the fact might be that I’ve just not yet settled in to the new generation. I’m sure it was the same seven years ago, and the amazing HD visuals were more of a discussion point than the game itself, taking me out of proceedings. So, as I mentioned before, maybe it’s just the case of getting used to them, although it’s not as though they’re a new thing – they permeated late games of last generation, though perhaps not in such an in-your-face manner.
Perhaps 3D is the answer. It’s been written off time and time again, but it’s really a way to put those specks of graphics in between you and the screen, rather than between the game and the game. Just look at Super Stardust HD – a six and a half year old game, patched with 3D, which uses these effects to draw you in rather than push you out. It truly seems as though the developers Housemarque are the masters of multi-object rendering, and Resogun 3D would be an incredible feat.
Then again, maybe I’m just odd, clinging onto something that no one else really notices. Or maybe it is just like the Wilhelm Scream, and you’ll start noticing their overuse too now it has been pointed out.
If that’s the case, I’m very sorry.