Wednesday, May 27, 2009

EXP Podcast #27: A Game's Travel

Our bags are in the trunk, Teenage Wasteland is playing on the stereo, and our coffee stained road map is on the dash: On this podcast, we're hittin' the road. This week, we draw our discussion from prolific and esteemed games writer/pseudonym L.B. Jeffries and his excellent article on Popmatters. Early last month, Jeffries discussed his thoughts on travel in videogames and raised some interesting questions. This week, Scott and I tag along with our own journey through videogame travel, hitting such topics as basic math, warp tubes, and boredom. As always, we encourage you to share your own tales of navigation in the comments section below.

Some discussion starters:

- Do you ever use out-of-game distractions during in-game travel?
- Are games allowed to be boring? Not just calm, or unexciting, but actually boring?
- Do you use landmarks, or any other tricks, to help make sense of space while traveling?
- Which games capture your definition of travel best?

To listen to the podcast:
- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes here. Additionally, here is the stand-alone feed.
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking the title. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

-Run time: 25 min and 53 sec
- Travel in Video Games, via Popmatters
-Music by Brad Sucks


  1. A very interesting topic!

    I think the best concept of travel is captured by games where getting somewhere takes a long way and you get a sense of scale to the world.

    MS Flight Sim, for example, gives this impression as you come in to land at a distant airport at a long flight, as does MS Train Sim as you pull into the station having just driven the length of the route. Test Drive Unlimited also captures the feeling of travelling a very long way (because it does take a long time, even at 200mph!) to traverse O'ahu. Likewise, the trucking sims out there (Hard Truck, 18 Wheels of Steel) convey the real feeling of a hard day's driving very well.

    Whether or not the above are boring or not is entirely subjective (though many would laugh at people who play Flight or Train Sim), but I have heard many EvE Online players readily admit that their game is extremely boring much of the time.

    I regularly use my laptop or books or whatever is laying around my living room to distract me during a long drive or wait in an openworld game. I find it rather funny that I often find myself waiting in, say, Saints Row 2, for better weather or daylight before attempting certain tasks just as I would in real life (but that's a whole other topic in itself)

  2. Very interesting topic. I find myself sometimes traveling in games and simply waiting for thing to happen and thinking: "Wow, this is actual lifetime I'm totally wasting right now". Because none of that travels is technically necessary. The last time I had this in Mass Effect. That Mako... *grr*

    However, in the end I think I'm on Scott's side here. The way I see it is that Jorge treats traveling mainly as a means to do other things whereas Jorge sees it more as a means to itself.

    I'm kinda surprised that no-one mentioned Shadow of the Colossus (not even the original article). It's even in your very own banner. I think this was one of the first games where there was a tremendous amount of traveling involved that fully intentionally was a means to itself. Because there was nothing other to do than to travel while you were doing it. You didn't have to fight monsters while you were doing it, there was no challenge associated with it. All you had to do is to simply traverse the epic landscape. It wasn't necessary from the gameplay's point of view but it was contributing to create the experience of large scale that made the game so memorable.

  3. That was a fascinating conversation to listen in on, I'm glad the stuff I put together served as a launching point. For my part I agree with both points made in the podcast.

    For me, it's not so much a concern of telling a game designer to do one thing or the other but rather to simply be aware of how a system is going to play out. A blanket philosophy on how travel should work would not hold up for a game where, like MS Flight or Shadow of the Colossus, those dull moments are a part of the experience.

    So I guess like that final section of the podcast, boredom isn't really a problem so long as it's part of a greater whole.

  4. @Branch-me-do

    The travel sim game is an interesting beast; I don't have any first hand experience, but I've heard people talk about them and they are some of the most dedicated players I've ever listened to.

    It's funny you bring up "multi-tasking" gaming: I often listen to podcasts when playing RPGs or other games that don't require 100% concentration.


    Wow, Shadow of the Colossus was hiding in plain sight! That is a great example of travel used as a way to push the player towards reflection. Those long, barren stretches really made me think: about tactics, the story, the graphical detail...and sometimes what I was going to have for dinner later ;-)


    Thanks again for the article: it was a good read on a unique topic.

    The idea of "meaningful boredom" is definitely a hard concept to nail down. It seems like one of those things that comes from the gut.