What fortuitous timing. I was going to link to Edge’s extensive piece on DICE’s (i.e. The BF2 Guys) shooter when Eurogamer lob up some actual screenshots found by fansite. So now we can start with a picture…
Before going to give some choice cuts on why this Le Parkour-influenced FPS is – for me – the most exciting looking first-person game of the next twelve months.
Mirror’s Edge is about something quite simple – movement. It’s about trying to make a game where you have a sense of a player’s physicality work in First person. This is an enormous challenge, and that someone is putting it right at the heart of the game… well, this could be good. It’s something which I sense First-Person developers have to wrestle in – perhaps the thing about Bioshock that made it feel most old was how the character moves. If Mirror’s Edge changes this, it changes everything in a first-person game in a paradigm-twisting way that no-one has since… well, I suspect Half-life.
There’s always been a lot of focus on the gun in firstperson games,” says producer Tom Farrer, ruefully. “No one puts that much focus on the movement; how you move around the environment. We wanted to capture a real sense of physicality. Games like Unreal Tournament have movement – double jumps, rocket jumps – but it’s very abstracted. We wanted to place you in the world and convey the strain and physical contact with the environment.”
“The first thing we wanted to get was the feeling of actually sprinting, to get a feeling of speed and momentum in the game,” says O’Brien.
And, well, it works – and this is before motion-blur or any other full-screen effects have been added to accentuate the feeling of movement. But it’s not only the contact with the environment and the audiovisual feedback that makes the player feel so coupled with the avatar – crucially, DICE has nailed the sense of acceleration and deceleration. The latter is particularly obvious if you hit the crouch button while moving at speed – the avatar throws herself into a slide, feet outstretched in front (useful for evading slowly descending garage doors, for example), and, skidding to a gravellysounding halt, the viewpoint skews with plausible imitation of naturalistic head movement. It’s all suggestive of a friction with the surrounding world that is simply absent from other firstperson games – and perhaps it takes an effort like DICE’s to recognise that there even was a common disconnect occuring in the genre that needed to be addressed
“A lot of the moves you do are parkour moves,” says O’Brien. “We decided fairly early on in development that we wanted to do a game that was based in an urban environment, positioning it away from military and war and the big open spaces of Battlefield. We started off prototyping in Battlefield 2, and we found that one of the things we wanted to do we couldn’t, which was to move around the city on foot – we found that vehicles were quickly abandoned. In the narrow city streets people drove them for ten yards, jumped out of them again and ducked down an alley, or ran up stairs or ran into the subways. We’ve got a very vertical world, and found that people wanted to move around that quickly on foot.”
The game clearly isn’t about dispatching endless thousands of bad guys, however – your enemies represent a real threat, and one that, for the most part, you must outrun rather than outgun. “One of the conventions we were interested in breaking was never putting enemies behind you,” says Farrer. “Other firstperson games often have you moving towards your enemy, and clearing the threat. We wanted to give this idea of chase. The enemies aren’t there for cannon fodder; they’re frightening and powerful.”
But the fear of such authoritarian government is really a fear of that power being misused, as O’Brien explains: “Like any utopia, if you scratch the surface things start to fall apart. It’s being run by a coalition of corrupt politicians and police, controlling the citizens for their own means. For me, this is the core of the game and the message, if it has a message: the greater good has come at the expense of personal freedom. It’s what’s happening around the world a lot. How much personal freedom are you willing to give up for a comfortable life? That’s the crux of the game. A lot of people in this city don’t even realise they’re kept.”
“If you look at thirdperson games there’s been a lot of evolution there,” says Farrer. “We haven’t seen that in firstperson games.” O’Brien continues: “I think what we’re doing is cool and innovative, and we’ve broken a lot of taboos and overcome lots of problems – but I also think it’s the next logical step for firstperson. Like most great ideas, once you’ve done them everyone goes: ‘Well, yeah, why doesn’t everybody do that?’”
Think they can pull it off? And can it be even a fraction as fine as Pinball Dreams?