Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Infamous and Flying in Video Games

Infamous is a fantastic game. I became addicted immediately upon playing the demo. The reason? Like the levitation skill in Morrowind, the Infamous developers wisely gave the character Cole the ability to float using electricity. After I completed the demo, I had dreams I was Cole, floating down from the tops of buildings, some kind of guardian angel bringing justice in my wake, zapping the bad guys (known as Reapers and Dustmen), and resuscitating victims of the plague.

Not to complain, but Bethesda (the developer of Morrowind and Oblivion) was stupid to exclude the levitation skill when they created Oblivion, the sequel to Morrowind. Flying, floating, gliding, levitating -- these are magical abilities that no game should lack. As I marvel at my addiction to Infamous, and I observe the formation of an attachment to the new Batman game (which utilizes the Bat's ability to glide), I see a common thread. I feel no strange addictions to Oblivion (no levitating), yet the passion endures for Morrowind (levitation).

I understand it all now. Flying is the key. When Bethesda decided to scratch levitation from the list of skills for the incredibly forgetful world in Oblivion, they were essentially demoting the title from awesome to crapsome.

Man has dreamed of flight since his first glimpse of a bird taking to the sky. Do you remember your nightly dreams? If you do, which dreams are the best? Did you say flying dreams? I know you said flying dreams because those are the best dreams. They're about freedom, escape, joy, and power, and so much more. Even if everything else in your life sucks, when you have a dream about being able to fly, the most magical thing happens in your soul -- something to do with hope and not being constrained by earth and all its woes.

The caveat here is that the flying-type skill must be in direct defiance to gravity. It can't be out in space. It also has to be in human form, it can't be a man flying in a jet or anything of that nature. Because the dream isn't to be trapped in a jet or any other contraption (though I thank you Wright brothers), it's to be a person who can fly. Or float. Or levitate.

So anyway. That's the reason Oblivion, which could have been as awesome as Morrowind, failed to live up to its potential. It's why the new Batman game is next on my list, why Super Mario 3 was so amazing (the raccoon tail, remember?), and it's also why I had to buy Infamous immediately after playing the demo and having dreams about it.

The other night I was, of course, playing Infamous. I came to the quest where Cole must climb the tower of junk in the middle of the slum district with his friend Zeke. At this stage, the floating ability makes it possible to reach the highest platform, using a series of steel beams and discarded neon signs.

So as I was guiding Cole up the tower, Stoker was sitting next to me, watching, and I kept missing the last beam. I basically ran in circles enough to earn the Frequent Flyer Trophy (something for the online PS3 community) because I couldn't turn Cole to catch the beam just right. It was frustrating.

I probably went in circles ten or twelve times before I finally let Stoker take the controller to try it. He'd been watching, judging me to be an incompetent player I'm sure, thinking secretly (I'm sure), that he could do it--because that's what you do when you're watching someone else play a video game. You think, "Man are they an idiot? I could do it in like three seconds." Not that Stoker would EVER think me an idiot. But he was thinking, "I could do this. Piece of pie."

I gave him the controller and thought, "Good. Now he'll know how much skill it actually takes to master the floating ability and he'll have no choice but to admire me." I told him which buttons did what, and sat back to observe him as he failed to guide Cole to the top platform.

But he succeeded on his first try.

Now, you're probably thinking that I acted like a brat for being slightly humiliated--after all, Stoker hadn't played Infamous until that moment. I don't deny that I normally would have said something snide or excused my inability to accomplish this apparently easy feat with the complaint that my wrists were tired, or my thumb had started to hurt, or I had eye-fatigue. But I didn't do any of that, because you know what, sometimes it's cool to let other people be heroes.

Yes, I'm that great. I can let others feel that they're superior to me. But only because deep down, I KNOW that I'm the best.

Ha ha.

Stoker immediately gave the controller back to me, feeling very smug inside, I just know it. I said to him, "The floating ability is addicting, isn't it?"

And he said, "Yeah, it is." And there was a look of longing in his eyes to keep on floating. To glide down from incredibly high buildings, to grind across electrical wires between buildings and launch into the sky like a bird, and skate over monorail tracks like a human rail car. Oh yes. It's a great feeling.

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