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What's better: funicular fights or elaborate corridor architecture?

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Last time, you decided that throwing knives are better than active reload. I enjoyed the spirited discussion over which throwing knives are good and which are bad. I can't help but feel active reload didn't get a fair shake because so few games do it outside Gears Of War, but the results are science and we must continue. This week, I suppose our choices are both about architecture, but in very different ways. What's better: funicular fights or elaborate corridor architecture?

Funicular fights

You know, I'm not sure that the machines commonly referred to as funiculars in video games are actually funiculars. I think most of them might be inclined elevators. They're different mechanisms (and, I found out, governed by different EU regulations). But video games misuse/repurpose terms all the time, and you know what I mean by funicular: those diagonal lifts, the industrial moving platforms which shuttle things up and down a slope. You know, the place where you fight a dozen guys.

Funiculars might be all over video games but they're rare in reality, so it's an exciting mechanism to encounter. Big, loud, chunky, wonky. Thrilling in a way no regular left ever is. Feels like stepping into Akira. They can be fun places for a fight, too.

Temporarily trapping you in a limited space can make for an intense fight. No running away, just hold on and fight for your life while the mechanism of this giant machine grinds and roars. Or sometimes there's a pleasing (or tiring?) unreality where the transit is bound by how long the fight takes, forever moving up and up and up until you finish that final guy. I do like little moments where games break reality for dramatic effect. Or it can be pleasing when that space isn't bound by the fight, and maybe you do just need to hold out until the journey finishes. Maybe you can even try to escape the funicular, if you dare. That's the case in my favourite funicular fight.

Early in Half-Life, at the time when it still feels more like a horror game than a first-person shooter, Gordon Freeman must ride a funicular into the depths of Black Mesa. And a torrent of headcrabs slide down the shaft after him. It is an exciting moment, riding this giant machine. It can be a funny moment, watching headcrabs whoosh past over the edge and down into a water pit. It can be a horrifying moment, discovering they can use that split-second of contact to leap at your face. It can be a terrible moment, panicking and slipping over the edge yourself and discovering that water hides a giant industrial grinder. It can be a chancy moment, trying to slide down the ramp on the safe side without going so early that you hit the bottom at a painful speed. A lot of possiblities in this funicular fun. Very good.

Elaborate corridor architecture

A corridor is rarely exciting in reality. Office corridors are straight, white, and barely illuminated by depressing fluorescent tubes. Maybe a potted dracaena or two. Radiators. Some bad art. But largely just plain straight walls. You know, corridor. My own hallway at home has the interesting detail of a fridge-freezer wedged into a nook, because my kitchen is tiny, but yep, otherwise it's just straight white walls. Most places are. Not in video games.

Few video games are happy to have simply a corridor. It's boring. What if people get bored. And if we can do something nice, shouldn't we. So, what if the wall on this side had a giant angled cutout? And it was braced by regular pillars with embedded little lights? And it was covered in panels with nice bevelled edges? And grating ran down one side? And lighting behind the grate cast interesting shadows? Ooh what if behind the grates you can see throbbing blue energy coursed through the walls? Oh what if it had some solarpunk twist and plants hung suspended to purify oxygen? And ooh maybe dangling cables? Is it too much if we add stone carvings and crystals too? I would get a headache living in such a space, but I adore seeing it in video games.

Dead Space cannot abide a simple corridorWatch on YouTube

In my telling of video game history history, elaborate corridor architecture exploded around the time of Half-Life and Quake 2, especially in their mod scene. Better tools, fancier game engines, and ever-faster graphics cards meant 3D games could do a lot more than boxy spaces. And boy howdy, people wanted to! I remember reading (and following) many mapping tutorials which chided straightforward corridors as bad to play without cover and, worst of all, boring to look at.

I like how unrealistic these corridors are, unbound by materials, physics, safety standards, or budgets (well, other than development budgets). A utopian fantasy of video games is that even the hall leading to the bogs could be a beautiful feat of design and engineering.

I am reminded most of the 'Winchester Mystery House', a labyrinthine 160-room mansion in San Jose, designed by the widowed heir to the Winchester rifle fortune. With rooms within rooms, doors that go nowhere, hidden passageways, sealed rooms, a hallway containing only a load of fireplaces, and all sorts of odd details and quirks, it grew room-by-room over decades of near-continuous work, rather than following an overall plan. The world is littered with ornate buildings funded by violence but Winchester Mystery House stands out as contrary and illogical design. Legend (and marketing) has it that Sarah Winchester felt haunted by the ghosts of those killed by Winchester guns, and was attempting to house all the spirits, or hide from them. I prefer the simpler explanation that she designed these rooms and built this house because she liked them, and because she enjoyed doing it, and because she could. That's video game corridors.

But which is better?

Love a fancy corridor, me. They're excessive and garish and unrealistic and absolute health & safety nightmares, and I adore them. But which do you think, reader dear?

Pick your winner, vote in the poll below, and make your case in the comments to convince others. We'll reconvene next week to see which thing stands triumphant—and continue the great contest.

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About the Author
Alice O'Connor avatar

Alice O'Connor

Former Associate Editor

After ten years at RPS, Alice returned to the sea.