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Turn Left at the Zombie (10 Sep 2004)
Because games today are crazily complex, sometimes unmanageably so. Unlike a movie or an album, you can spend 30 hours with a beloved game, yet never come close to seeing everything. Even the most weakly designed title is chock full of byways, tangential characters, and hidden power-ups you'll probably never see. Modern games are designed for teenagers with infinite hours free for exploration. For us time-deprived gamers with jobs or kids, guides are the only way to make sure we're not missing out on something really, really cool.

Game guides are, in essence, travel literature. Much as a Fodor's guide makes sure you don't overlook a key building in Prague, the Doom 3 walk-through tells you to be sure to look behind the mangled steel doors to find a hidden pack of shotgun shells. Game guides aren't merely utilitarian, though-the best ones point out intriguing bits of architecture and design that might be overlooked otherwise. The Ghosthunter guide suggests that you should enter a house and look down a dark well, lest you miss the giant dead fetus. ("Creepy," the author shudders).

Creating a travelogue for a virtual world requires a strange bouquet of skills-everything from a knack for descriptive writing to cartography. Dave Hodgson, a veteran writer for Prima Games, says he faced a typical challenge with the driving-shooting game Driv3r: He had to illustrate a sprawling 162-square-mile virtual world into a single two-dimensional map. Hodgson has also trained himself to be a surrealist wildlife photographer, luring zombies out of the shadows so he can get that perfect screen shot. Like most professional guide writers, he usually works directly with the game designers to make sure he finds every hidden ammo pack. Sometimes he even gets special versions of a game that run in slo-mo "bullet time," making it easier to pick apart complex maneuvers.
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