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  • Rock in His Pocket: Reading Shadow of the Colossus

    - Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

  • The Frame
    As in Resident Evil 4 and the scene outside Minas Tirith in The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, when the player rides the horse, the camera lists off to the side. More descriptively, it points straight ahead as it frames Wander in a low corner. In Shadow of the Colossus, this is the camera shot for approximately half the gameplay time.

    Slowly, game designers are learning the value of subjective yet functional camerawork. With the character off to the left, you can see the horse and the boy, but your eye focuses on the horizon and what you're riding toward. The alternative would be to stare at the horse's rump for the half dozen hours you're riding around, and that's probably what would have happened had the development team used a more traditional tracking camera.

    On a similar note, pressing the map button causes the camera to swing up and rapidly zoom out until the player's location fades into a pinpoint on the (cartographic) world map. This shot serves a couple of purposes. It contextualizes the menu screen by tying it into the game world as an abstraction. It also helps to illustrate exactly where the player is in the world. The viewer's eye, following Wander, is drawn to the correct point on the map and from there can scout out the surrounding territory. Pressing the map button becomes similar to climbing to the highest point possible. It thematically ties into the game's stance on relational navigation, and it's stylistically incorporated as another subjective viewpoint among many.

     Ueda is so concerned with camerawork that he gives the player control over three camera buttons, each with its own subjective view and function. Having these controls allows the player to minimalize the confusion that occurs during the colossus battles. Unfortunately, the three-camera solution feels a bit cumbersome, and in the heat of battle -- when the player is staring up at the beasts, running around them, dangling from them, and shaken around like a handkerchief -- none of the cameras does much good anyway. The player is often just waiting for the camera to right itself.

    Still, the effects are valuable. There are light blooms, dust clouds, and a camera blur during quick motions. You can hear wind and echoes where wind and echoes belong.

    Saving the game is important in Shadow of the Colossus, and the way it's implemented makes thematic sense. In Dead Rising, you save by sleeping or going to the toilet. Here, you save by praying at an altar, taking a natural pause that is part of the narrative. It all serves to enhance the integrity of the game.


    Suspended Disbelief
    For all the game does right, there are two big areas that diminish that integrity: the interface and the colossus battles. Not only do they break the immersion and irritate the player, but they also interfere with the game's themes.

    The interface issues are weird. They are just as clearly a last-minute change as they are a concession to the fear that a traditional audience would fail to "get" the game, quickly giving up simply because they might be confused as to what to do.

    Some of the problems, like the heads-up display, are just cosmetic. When there are only two weapons, both of which are obvious in the character's hands, is it really necessary to provide large, cartoonish sword, bow, and fist icons? If there are prominent visual and aural cues when Wander is exhausted and about to lose his grip, do we really need a separate grip meter, which, to study, requires taking your eyes off the action for what might be a vital split-second?

    That said, the icons and meters do little harm. Their major hindrance is that they clutter the screen and remove the player from the immersive experience.


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