Exteriors as interiors

08 / 12 / 20

When I was a kid, I put a lot of effort into trying to understand how things worked without putting any effort into learning how things worked. I applied this approach to many different things, but it's the videogames stuff that I remember most clearly.

One day, at soccer practice, I was arguing with a kid about how cool the Dreamcast was going to be. It was going to be the best console ever made, I said. No, it won't, he said. I then told him that it was going to be so good because it wasn't going to have pixels. Pixels, I explained to him, were the blocky bits that make graphics bad. The Dreamcast was going to have such great graphics that it wouldn't have those blocky bits at all. It wouldn't have pixels. I don't remember where I got that idea, but I do remember that I got it from somewhere.

This other example I held onto much longer. It's also something I think I heard or read somewhere without understanding, but it makes just enough sense to me that until very recently (thanks to a tumble in some errant wave of humility) I was readily, knowingly regurgitating it as if I'd any fucking clue what I was talking about.

Most people who have played Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim agree that Morrowind had the best magic. Other stuff is up for debate (Oblivion is the overall best of the three--fight me), but that doesn't seem to be. Among the strengths of Morrowind's magic system is the levitate spell, which enables your character to, well, levitate. When Oblivion came out, I wasn't a smart enough gamer to miss much of the lost magical depth and flexibility, but I did notice the loss of the levitation spell, and the replacement of the naked vertical corridors in Telvanni mage homes with the teleportation pads. Instead of researching and trying to understand why Bethesda removed the levitation spell, I held onto an idea I heard that, in Morrowind, exterior areas were programmed as exterior areas, but in Oblivion, they were programmed as interior areas, and therefor could not handle character flight.

When I first heard this, it sounded just smart enough to be correct. It had an internally sound logic to it, and I'd recently heard the term "skybox" and figured that it must've been some new game development technique that, while probably for the best, did away with the free, boundless atmosphere of Morrowind. Plus, Oblivion didn't have any flying enemies, so the physical constraints felt universally applied and, therefor, all the more probable. I still don't know shit about videogame development, but I've learned enough about enough to assume this is a pretty stupid idea, and that even if it's not, I have little to gain by pretending I understand it when in reality I probably have a thorough apprehension of, say, quantum computing than I do turn-of-the-century game physics.

I got out of bed to write this because I read a post by someone in the Bay Area inviting others to come over and sit outside with him. I'd like to sit outside, I thought, but I can't--I live in New York! In New York, exterior spaces feel as though they are programmed as interior spaces.

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