Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Water's Edge- World Boundaries in Ocean Settings- Lee Morris

Large bodies of water have been around in video games since... well, probably something on the
Atari in the form of a big blue square, and right the way through the 8­-bit and 16­-bit eras there was
many a level set over an ocean. It was easy to keep players enclosed within these settings back in
the 2D days as the level boundaries were usually just the edges of the screen. Players were unable
to wander off into uncharted territory.

When 3D games arrived on the scene, a new problem faced developers; if their game featured an
ocean setting and a character or vehicle capable of traversing it, they had to figure out ways to
deny access to the wider ocean somehow. Developers could no longer just hide the horizon beyond
the edges of the screen so they had to come up with inventive ways to physically prevent players
from going any further out to sea.

Controls like those found in Ecco The Dolphin usually make players give up fairly quickly.

These restrictions have come in many forms over the years. I thought the most interesting thing to
do would be to simply compile a list of them along with some of the games they're featured in.

Thought I may as well start with the sort of mundane ones build up to the daft ones. There are
some ridiculous things out there in the water folks. Be warned, be safe, and above all else keep out
the sea.

1. Invisible Walls.

Diddy Kong Racing, Banjo Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, Super Mario

Pretty much the bog standard way to keep players enclosed. Just a literal invisible wall that
prevents players from passing through. Some of them just stop you firmly but gently. Some you
crash into like a cat or kid running into patio doors on You've Been Framed. If you set off from the
beach in a hovercraft in Diddy Kong Racing in search of new lands you will find nothing but a
wall with zero opacity halting your efforts and a headache for poor old Timber.

2. Buoys.

Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, Diddy Kong Racing, Watchdogs.

It's actually more of a buoys and invisible wall combo as buoys on their own can't keep anyone out
for shit really, can they?

3. Appear at Other Side of Map.

Pilotwings 64, Final Fantasy series.

In some games if you go off one side of the map you magically appear at the other side. I quite like
this as it can sometimes make for a handy short­cut. It makes sense in the Final Fantasy games as
the map is supposed to represent a full planet. It doesn't make sense in Pilotwings unless the levels
were explained away as being small planetoids like the ones from the Mario Galaxy games for
some reason. Shigsy could maybe bare that in mind for a Pilotwings Galaxy game or something.

4. Endless Ocean.

GTA: San Andreas, Morrowind, Just Cause 2.

In a similar manner to the endless staircase in Peach's Castle, wandering out to sea in these games
just goes on forever. The sea just infinitely loops back on itself, without the mind­scarring music
from Mario 64 though.

5. Disappear/Return Washed up Back on Shore.

Majora's Mask.

If you swim too far out from the Great Bay you sort of vanish as the screen fades to a murky
colour and you end up washed up on the shore. They did a similar thing in The Ocarina of Time
with the sand storms in Gerudo Desert. You often get 'lost' in Zelda games and are transported
back to where you're meant to be. I think this really adds to the atmosphere of the series.

And if you look far into the distance, you can see a really unpopular dungeon.

6. Count Out.

Waverace 64.

If you stray to the other side of the buoys and consequently out of the track boundaries in
Waverace, you get a 10 second count out in a not too dissimilar fashion to the WWE. If you run
out of time you have to 'retire' and restart (though you don't have to retire in WWE, unless it's part
of an angle).

7. Automatic Turn Around.

Windwaker, Saints Row series.

When Link sails too far out in Windwaker, the sentient boat (called the King of Red Lions) that
you cruise around on says “We shouldn't travel any further” and turns around with no further
discussion on the matter: "My rudder, my rules”. In the Saints Row games, you are automatically
turned around mid­flight or mid­swim with a message saying “Don't leave! The Saints need you in
Stilwater” (or Steelport in the first two games). They could have done something a bit more
interesting in Saints Row IV considering that the game is set inside a virtual simulation, but
perhaps they didn't want to rip off Assassin's Creed...

8. The 'Animus'.

Assassin's Creed series.

In Black Flag and Rogue in particular here since they are set at sea. If you go too far out a static
wall thing appears and you are told “Desynchronization imminent” and have to turn around. The
idea being that since your character Desmond is hooked up to a Matrix-­like thing called the
Animus and can only relive his ancestor's experiences, he can only go as far out as his ancestor's
travelled as the machine cannot recollect anything beyond what they saw. Clever stuff.

9. Sharks.

Banjo Kazooie, Jak and Daxter, Scarface: The World is Yours,

Now we're getting serious. Probably the best way to keep people out the water in real life also,
several games feature our old Jaws inspired pals, sharks. The one in Banjo Kazooie starts tucking
into your feet even if you just fancy a paddle. Genuinely terrifying in the realistic open world games mentioned as well.

Genuinely terrifying.
10. Tentacle.


Jet­ski racer 'Splashdown' for the Xbox and PS2 has an absolutely fantastic way to get players back
to the coast; a massive octopus tentacle appears and hurls you back towards the track. It's well
worth looking for on YouTube. You get flung so far. This should be in all games featuring sea I
think. Even in realistic flight simulators that pilots use. Made me laugh anyway.

11. Leeches.

Half Life 2.

If you disappear off the beach in Half Life 2, you get pestered by a swarm of peckish leeches
which get incrementally hungrier the further out you go and consequently leech you to pieces.

12. The 'Brine'.

Dragon's Dogma.

In Dragon's Dogma, a peculiar red blood mist called the 'Brine' swirls around the player in the sea
and eventually causes them to pass out and appear back on shore. Any excuse to keep players land-
bound eh? 'Brine', what do they take us for?

13. Lakitu.

Mario Kart series.

If you fancy leaving shore on Koopa Troopa Beach, Lakitu puts a stop to that and fishes you out.
He's lumped in here with the sea urchins and monsters but he's actually more of a health and safety
enthusiast here really. He's just looking out for you.

14. Sea Monsters/Urban Legend.

Gothic II, Ragnorok.

I've never played these games to be honest but I watched a video online of the sea monster
appearing in Gothic II. Almost seems like an urban myth like the Loch Ness Monster or something
as half the YouTube commenters don't seem to believe it's real or actually in the game. Some think
the footage is faked. Perhaps it is fear­mongering keeping players out the ocean and nothing more?

15. Gunned down.

Farcry, Return Fire, Crysis.

Someone must really want the characters to stay on these islands. Soon as you try to leave the
island in the original Farcry you are gunned down by a helicopter. In Return Fire, you are gunned
down by a freshly surfaced submarine, and in Crysis, things really take the biscuit; if you manage
to swim past the shark mentioned earlier, ships in the distance send cruise missiles to blow you
up... and if you somehow manage to avoid these...

16. Kill­switch.


...your suit has a kill­switch in it which is triggered if you go too far out so you die anyway. Might
as well stay on the island and do all the things, then.

Right so there we go then. Think I'll cancel that charity swim across the Channel.

These were all the real examples in games I could find anyway. Not as many as I anticipated
actually, seems there is plenty of room for more creativity here, designers have barely scratched
the surface! With that in mind, I've come up with a list of extra examples that developers could
pinch for future titles if they wanted to.

1. Seahorses

2. Surfers.

3. Tidal Wave.

4. Hat gets blown off and player turns back to get it.

5. Environmental waste/poison

6. Trunks fall off.

7. Mermaids.

8. Ducks.

9. Console turns off.

10. Telly blows up.

11. Character swallowed by whale.

12. Cruise ship gets in way and refuses to budge

13. Neptune God of sea appears and prods back to shore with trident

14. Character remembers that they left the oven on.

15. Emigration patrol appears and asks for papers.

16. A fine is charged to your Xbox Live, Steam or PSN accounts for crossing into illegal sea.

17. DL Sea. 'Pay £6 for more Ocean' appears on screen and these in-­app purchases go on indefinitely until player is skint and has to turn back.

18. Visible Wall. Just a no­nonsense brick wall around the sea. Maybe with adverts on it like at a football match.

19. Death threats sent to your mobile or paired Android device. “Turn bak or u drown m8”.

20. The ending of the Truman Show/crash into TV set walls.

So there we go, some top ideas there. Fax me and we'll talk.

Hope this list of creative decisions has been interesting. If you find any more examples don't

hesitate to submit them. Thanks for reading.

Liked this article? Why not read more by Lee Morris and his love of Pre-Rendered backgrounds:

Or why not read about finding the right media to tell a story:

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