Since the release of Apple’s Bootcamp software, Intel-based Macs can now dual-boot between Windows and Mac OS X. This in turn has opened up a whole new world for Mac gamers – no more waiting for up to a year (if at all) for a Mac port of an AAA PC title. With Bootcamp you have immediate access to current releases and the ability to play groundbreaking older games that as Mac users we’ve had to watch (enviously) pass us by.
It’s Apple’s ambivalent approach to gaming that kept a port of Half Life 2 from our desktops. Gaming as a core priority is something they’re only just coming round to embracing with the success of games on the iPhone and iPod Touch. As rumour has it, there are those at Infinite Loop who are none too pleased with the mighty iPhone becoming something so lowly as a gaming platform!
Recent news is that the lead designer and writer of Halo Wars is taking up a position within the iPhone division of the company which, unfortunately, doesn’t help the desktop gaming situation. Thankfully I’m now in possession of a Bootcamp enabled Intel Mac so I can gorge myself on the greats of PC gaming past and present.
(PC gaming isn’t in great shape itself… but that’s another story.)
This, finally, leads me to introduce this /irregular/ series of posts on games that bear some merit of distinction, be it an innovative 3D engine, engaging story-lines, cutting edge gameplay or, for this inaugural post, exceptional art direction…
Just over a year old now, Mirror’s Edge is a highly stylised FPS (first person shooter) that is actually the first of its kind and should really be termed as a FPP (first person platformer). It places you in the Tabi-style footwear of Faith. A highly agile information courier known as a Runner in a near-future city where the movement of its population and information is closely monitored by an oppressive totalitarian administration. Runners are part of an underground network that couriers information covertly, for a price. The game follows Faith as she tries to uncover who is behind the murder of a mayoral candidate for which her sister has been set up.
The core gameplay has its routes in Parkour, a mixed gymnastic / acrobatic discipline focused on moving from one point to another as efficiently and quickly as possible within an urban space. It originated in France and has progressively gained popularity in the last ten years, most notably with the chase sequence from the Bond film, Casino Royale (2006).
In Mirror’s Edge the rooftops of the city are traversed through jumps, vaults, slides and even wall running. An experienced gamer will be able to sequence these moves together to create a seamless flow through the environment.
And it is the environment which is the most striking aspect of the game. Using a unique modern aesthetic, so refreshing from the standard testosterone sci-fi apocalypse of many games. Rendered in white with controlled pockets of bold colours, there is nothing else like Mirror’s Edge. The lighting system even uses global illumination, a 3D term for light that is reflected not just from the main source but also bounced off objects to bleed their colour to other surfaces around them, enhancing the look and feel immensely.
The rooftops are infested with pipes, power conduits, extraction fans, railings, service access units, scaffolding and other such building utility details. Which in turn creates a rich environment for Faith’s unique method of travel. In any normal photo-textured game this over population would be visually intense but the white colouration balances it out superbly. It’s almost like running around a highly detailed architectural model. There is just something about these roofscapes I find so beautiful, and reminds me of a time when I used to wander around Birmingham, camera in hand, photographing the angular concrete of the central library, the construction of Brindley Place and the new Bull Ring.
For me it was the beginning of my appreciation for the aesthetics of construction and architecture and, as such, I like to pause for a look around in-game to explore these rich rooftop set-pieces (being chased by armed police in helicopters notwithstanding!).
As of writing, I’m still working my way through Mirrors Edge, amazed by the touches of detail like the reflections of brush strokes on artwork within the building interiors or the glistening wet walls of the city’s storm drains. And while its innovative style didn’t translate to major commercial success, there is a sequel in development.
Let the ‘l’art du déplacement’ continue…