Inspired by Professional Circumstances, I’ve been playing Just Cause for the last couple of days, and it’s got me thinking about the play-off between freedom and bugs. And, to a large extent, how much I enjoy a good broken bit of game.
Just Cause isn’t perhaps the most laden of examples, but in creating a world as huge and as free – most especially a game which allows the AI room for something akin to improvisation – it can’t help but descend into delicious farce. Driving down a stretch of road, and seeing some unusual movement in the distance, it’s nothing but excellent to see three cars driving sideways down the road, each seemingly trying to push the other off a cliff. Or see a gunfight break out between two factions, leading to them blowing everything up in mad confusion, including themselves. Or watch a mad helicopter fire missiles indiscriminately into crowds of innocents. Yes, it’s not realism. But then in a game with infinite parachutes expecting any such thing would be idiotic. But I’d argue it creates a world one hell of a lot more realistic than that in most games. Because in the real world, idiotic things do happen. In the vast majority of games, the likelihood of the unexpected taking place is close to nil. But once I looked out of my window (high on a hill) to see four hot-air balloons deliberately bumping into each other repeatedly. One time on holiday in Sweden, I saw a man skiing down the snowless road. So dammit, why shouldn’t games have room for the same? And the only way to achieve this is to allow too much freedom to its AI.
This doesn’t always work out. Boiling Point for some offers hours of fireside stories, mostly involving flying jaguars. But for me, every faction in the game decided I was their enemy, despite the peaceful arrangements I made with their leaders, meaning I was killed instantly everywhere I went. My relationship didn’t last long with Boiling Point.
Perhaps the best example of this ever in the history of the universe is Soldner (SOLDNER! – Ed). Anyone who has played Soldner has a similar story, and sharing them is a thing of joy. It’s worth paying up to a pound for a copy of the game to create your own unique experiences to add to the collective pool. It had ambitions – a German game trying to be a bit like Battlefield. What was released was probably the most fantastically bugged game of all time, creating a cross between a war game, a 1960s French surrealist play, and the Chuckle Brothers. Here’s my favourite anecdote:
I was driving toward a large building, instructed to go there for Some Reason, when I was ambushed by two tanks. Well, “ambushed” is a strong word. One drove in circles around a large oil drum in front of the house, while the other repeatedly backed up and drove into the side wall of the building. The two of them were locked into this dance of madness until I shot at the one driving in circles. This inspired it to drive headlong into the oil drum which politely exploded, destroying both itself and the tank, but leaving in its place, eventually visible through the clearing smoke, a green Jeep, with a soldier sat at the wheel, who was wearing a red beret.