NyxQuest: Depth

The background art in NyxQuest does a more advanced version of the parallax scrolling that the coin-op games of yore utilized to deliver an impression of depth. Rocks, toppled pillars, and monumental statuary in various states of disrepair dot the dunes behind the action, losing focus with distance — there’s probably a transition point where 3D rendering is replaced with bitmaps, but it’s handled so smoothly that I couldn’t tell you where that point lies. In the haze at the very back of each level lies something distant enough that it doesn’t move at all, and the implication of distance makes it easy to suggest enormous size as well.

Such objects are far enough from the action that they’re clearly just scenery. But towards the end of the game, there are two things that suddenly bring the background to the fore. First, there’s a stealth-oriented level appropriately titled “Fields of Argos”. In the extreme distance is a colossal archway supporting a gong-like circle, which, the player soon learns, bears an eye in its center, as vast as Sauron’s and potentially as destructive. It spends most of its time closed, but periodically a sound plays, warning the player that it’s about to open and you’d better find a pillar to hide behind before it spots you. It’s a bit nervous-making when this happens for the first time, because the game seems to be breaking its own rules, suddenly making the background art, formerly static, suddenly not only active but deadly.

The final two levels have a roiling oversized sun sitting on the horizon, shooting missiles at you — and by “at you”, I mean in the general direction of the camera. By this point, you’re armed with cursor-aimed lightning, and can try to shoot them down before you have to dodge them. It’s a tricky thing, though, because doing so involves paying attention to two things, first-person shooting and third-person platforming, independent and simultaneous, one with each hand. I found that most of the time I couldn’t do both effectively at the same time, and had to stop moving in order to shoot and stop shooting in order to move.

The lightning itself adds a significant sense of depth too, because it’s the only thing that suggests a space in front of the action. Lightning blasts originate at the player. This is the point that most clearly shows the game’s platform of origin. On the Wii, you’d most likely actually be pointing the physical controller at the screen, producing a sense that lightning bolts are shooting out of the controller, through the screen, and into the gameworld (albeit only manifesting as lightning bolts once they’re through the screen). Playing with a mouse, it’s much more indirect and abstract: the actual motions of my hands and mouse represent in-world action without resembling it. I kind of wonder how other people perceive this. When I play games, I don’t normally feel like the gameworld is an extension of my physical space. Being absorbed in a game is, to me, like being absorbed in a book: the real world around me is forgotten, as in a dream. But this is a geekish phenomenon, and geeks are perhaps more comfortable with thinking outside their bodies than most people. The popularity of the Wii (and now the Kinect) among people who aren’t otherwise gamers could have a lot to do with the way it lessens that abstraction, making the player into a physical part of the action.

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