Have had the pleasure of playing or reading about several somewhat odd games over the past few years. I remember a rather enjoyable piece of shareware called Crop Circles, in which you fly around in a saucer and beam up cows. There is Otto Matic, which features giant vegetables, monsters that look like nothing so much as brightly colored blobs of oatmeal, and the joys of flight inside giant soap bubbles. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
And then there are the games with plot elements that are, um, unique. For instance, I am currently playing through Divine Divinity, a pretty good RPG that includes such complex and gut wrenching quests as…. wash the dishes, find the teddy bear, and pick some flowers. I think the Golden Bird quest in Act III of Diablo 2 would fit into this category. The bulk of the quest consists of the game designers laughing to themselves as they send you scampering back and forth across the town.
However, what sticks out in my mind the most is the fuzzy logic of a number of very good games. This fuzzy logic can appear in the plot, the design, the art work, the music, even the manual. Consider the boss at the end of Act I in Diablo 2. What do we know about Andariel? She is tall, she likes poison, and, oh yes, she is afraid of fire. Cain tells us this. Not only does she not like fire, her utter lack of resistance to fire makes fire one of the quickest and easiest ways for most characters to kill her. So, where is the throne of this fire-phobic demon queen? In front of a line of bonfires, in that big chamber right beside the one with a lovely pit of lava. Perfectly logical! The throne room does look very much like you would expect the throne room of a demon to look. There are plenty of shadows and dancing flames, some dead bodies here and there, and a few packs of lesser minions. All very dark and demonish. It is only too bad we cannot push the green giant into that lovely lava pit. As it is, the lava pit does not really fit Andariel’s personality. Outside of aesthetics, it really does not make since given Andariel’s peculiar feelings about things that are hot. And despite the need for light, the row of bonfires behind the throne does not help the matter.
Another case of such fuzzy logic can be seen in just about all fantasy based games. Language is a prime factor, here, and not mechanics or plot. Think of the Undead of Warcraft 3, the Hungry Dead of Diablo 2, or any other type or group of walking corpses (not counting the Chicago Bears), and ask yourself, how do you get rid of these things? Easy, you kill them! Blunt weapons work best in the Diablo world, as well as many other systems, but even with pointy sticks, the intent is the same. To eliminate a walking dead guy, you … kill… the… dead… guy. See a problem yet? Like I said, this is more a matter of language than plot or game play mechanics. English does not have a word for what you do to do a dead thing to make it stop chasing you. Clearly, you cannot kill that which is dead. But until Mr. Webster comes up with replacement, we are forced to render dead that which is dead.
And then we have an old favorite of mine, which has been fundamentally flawed for a very long time: the all time classic board game, Battleship. This is an interesting and somewhat entertaining game that takes basic logic and common sense and leaves them looking rather like one of our walking corpses after a visit by an impatient barbarian. I am pretty sure that tactics used in Battleship are not taught in the Naval Academy. For instance, if you are in command of a fleet that suddenly comes under fire from another fleet somewhere else, what are you going to do? Why, drop anchor, of course! Anyone with an ounce of intellect would have the ships in motion, if not much of a motion, to make the task of targeting a bit more difficult. On the purely nautical side, has anyone ever tried to bring a boat to a dead standstill on the open sea? Naturally, currents and winds make this rather difficult. As anyone who has played Diablo knows, the dead most certainly do not stand still.
It is good that games seem not to be bound to the same rules of physics that burden reality. After all, games are fiction, and fiction need pay no tribute to reality. It is also good that games do not need perfect logic in order to still be very good games. In fact, I tend to prefer the games that dive into fuzzy logic without apology. For instance, I prefer Unreal Tournament to any first person shooter that has realistic weapon handling and actually limits how much you can carry. I have spent a lot of time playing such logic-less board games as chess (I know Bishops can walk in a straight line, I have seen them) and Battleship. Diablo 2 and the rekilling of the already dead remains an all time favorite.
On the other hand, it is very refreshing to find a game that admits not everything makes sense. If you can borrow, rent, or buy a copy of Divine Divinity, it is well worth the time just for a small cut scene in the middle of the game. Two skeletons begin to question the means of their existence and collapse in a puff of reason.
Maybe that explains the Bears.
Disclaimer: Salem?s Fire was written by Luke Blaize during 2002-2004, and hosted by Diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.