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What Makes Good Atmosphere in a Video Game Part 3: Console Placement January 5, 2015

Posted by Maniac in Editorials.
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For this article series, I’m going to continue going against expectations and continue talking about what I think makes for good atmosphere in a video game.  Now, when I say atmosphere I want to make it clear that I’m not going to be talking about the “atmosphere” in a game as created by having high quality graphics or surround sound effects, In my opinion, a game creates “atmosphere” by adding little details here and there. Previously I’ve brought up the fact that fake radio shows and fake advertising have contributed to my immersion in some games, today I’m going to bring up something new.

Nothing can immerse me more than seeing something from our world, in this case, the very console I’m playing the game on, in the game’s environment.  Typically you will see this kind of thing happen in console exclusive games or first-party titles. It is done either as an inside joke to make the player laugh at the irony of seeing the console they’re using to play a game in the very game they’re playing, or if you are less optimistic you can consider it blatant product placement. I happen to think that this adds a bit of charm to the game and further immersed me into the game’s atmosphere, but I’ll let you be the judge of how you feel about it.

So I got to thinking, just how many games are there that feature the game consoles that the player may be using to play the game in the game itself?  Here’s a short list of games I could find where that happened.

Throughout the entire history of the Pokémon franchise, Nintendo has put a lot of product placement into their Pokémon games.  In Pokémon, the trainer you control will typically have a Nintendo console in their bedroom, making it one of the first easter eggs you’ll find in the game.  In the third generation Pokémon games, like Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald, your trainer have a GameCube with a Game Boy Advance as a controller in their bedroom.  Nintendo had been promoting GameCube/Game Boy Advance interconnection at the time, and this was a big for promotion for it, as Pokémon titles had a habit of being the biggest selling games on the handheld platforms.   Several games took advantage of this interconnectivity, including the Pokémon titles for games like Pokémon Box and Pokémon XD/Gale of Darkness.  In the first generation remakes, FireRed and LeafGreen, the trainer has a NES in their bedroom instead, heavily implying that this game was supposed to take place in the past, prior to the third generation titles.  This tradition of putting Nintendo consoles in the Pokémon games continued even to the sixth generation, as the opening scene of Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, shows that your character keeps both a 3DS and a Wii U in their bedroom.  Although the Wii U is currently lagging behind in this console generation, its placement in the game could be the free advertising the Wii U needs to promote sales.

Anyone who played the incredible Xbox 360/PC title Alan Wake might have noticed the Xbox 360 in Hartman’s lodge.  One of the residents at the clinic is a game designer and if you go through his room you’ll find lots of gaming equipment, including the Xbox 360 console on a desk.  Alan Wake was exclusively on the Xbox 360 at its launch and I’m sure the game’s developer didn’t see any harm in having the console on display in the game’s world.   Next to the console is a single game, which at first sight might look like the Alan Wake game box, but is actually labeled Night Springs, a reference to a fictional TV series in the game.  While the game is a fake, the game’s case is the exact shade of green to normal Xbox 360 game cases, clearly signifying that the game is for the Xbox 360.  This isn’t the last time we will see this game and case in Alan WakeNight Springs Xbox 360 game boxes were also a collectible item in one of the downloadable episodes.  I don’t know why Alan would have them strewn all over his mind’s environment, but Barry mentioned in the game that Alan did write at least one episode of Night Springs, so the series has a strong significance in his life.

My favorite title on the original Wii was the cult title No More Heroes.  In it, you play as Travis Touchdown, an Otaku who wins a beam saber in an online auction and tries to become the best assassin in the world.  Players who played the Wii version of the game might have noticed a Nintendo 64 in Travis Touchdown’s living room. You’ll probably notice it is sitting on one of his shelves when navigating the game menus while in his apartment.  This is a perfect addition to the set dressing as I can’t think of any real-world Otaku I’ve met who doesn’t own a Nintendo 64.

I can’t talk about any product placement in Halo Reach without addressing possible spoilers, so anyone who doesn’t want to get that game spoiled should probably skip this paragraph.  Towards the end of the game there is a cinematic where Noble Team is talking to Dr. Catherine Halsey, the creator of the SPARTAN-II program, in her secret lab, located deep below the surface of the planet.  While the scene takes place in a non interactive form, the location of the lab is actually fully modeled and accessible in the game’s environment. Because of that, players can get in and check it out for themselves if they know how to get in.  This is an easter egg, I admit, but if you happen to be able to get into Dr. Catherine Halsey’s lab, you’ll find her entire lab is actually run on an array of Xbox 360s networked together. While this is an awesome easter egg it isn’t an unreasonable or unheard of occurrence to find in the real world. My own country’s military will frequently reappropriate civilian technology for their own purposes to save money. In fact, there is a large array of networked Playstation 3 systems doing military applications as I speak, although if you ask me it should be used to host a kick ass LAN party. I guess Microsoft was able to persuade the Office of Naval Intelligence to go with their hardware instead of Sony’s.

Finally I want to take you on a big blast from the past and talk about one of the earliest 3D console games I can remember playing. The Metal Gear Solid franchise has a long standing history on the Playstation platform and some various easter eggs in the games reflect that.  In the first Metal Gear Solid, you’ll find Otacon has a Playstation 1 in his lab, although if you play the GameCube version, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, this was changed to a GameCube with a WaveBird controller.  In Metal Gear Solid 4, there are a ton of references to the Playstation brand throughout the entire game, the most blatant of which is a codec call between Snake and Otacon during Act 4.  As for actual console placement in that game, you can find a PS3 somewhere on Otacon’s transport plane, and Sunny can occasionally be seen playing on a PSP.

These small details give me a deeper connection to the game I’m playing, and succeed in further immersing me in the game’s environment. By bringing in elements from the real world, these games give the player a sense of reality and makes the atmosphere that much more powerful.

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