Child of Eden: Look at me.July 13, 2011
The opening cinematic sequence of a game is not typically where you look for innovation or emotional connection; normally, it’s just something pretty to look at while the game establishes a backstory. In this way, Child of Eden begins like any other game. We are introduced to Lumi, apparently the first human born outside the confines of earth, whose memories are to be preserved on the internet for all time to come so that she can be the first digital human or some such futuristic nonsense. Of course, the internet is a vile and hostile place, so almost immediately after she wakes up and notices the neon psychedelia of the inside of the internet, her surroundings and her extremeties begin to digitally decay. She panics, and it is up to YOU, the player, to SAVE LUMI!
Okay, so none of that really makes a whole lot of sense and even as it’s playing out, it feels like a fairly convoluted (not to mention slightly cheesy) way to offer motivation to the player. And then, just as Lumi — here a video of an actual teenage girl (Rachael Rhodes, the face of the Child of Eden creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi-produced “band” Genki Rockets), rather than a 3D-modeled approximation of one — is about to disappear, she looks helplessly into the camera, at the player.
At this point, all of the backstory becomes meaningless, save for two words: Save Lumi.
Until that moment, the entirety of that opening cinematic sequence seems very distant from the player. There is no relating to Lumi, who exists in a space completely apart from our own, who seems to possess a sort of consciousness that we could never begin to understand. There is no relating to the space she occupies, a metaphorical, fantastical approximation of the internet that approaches the sheer ludicrous whimsy of the hacking scenes in Hackers (and yes, I know I’m dating myself here, but I can live with that). And yet, with one quick glance we are drawn into the world of the game, and suddenly it means something beyond a simple “this is the story” introduction.
The key, I think, is the video. If Lumi were rendered with, say, the Unreal engine, this moment wouldn’t have half the power that it ultimately does; imagine the approximations of human beings that occupy The Polar Express trying to replicate such a moment. The eyes wouldn’t be right, not quite. The facial expression would be just unnatural enough, even at the height of current technology, to separate us from the game.
By using video, the game tells us “hey, that’s a real person in there, and she’s looking at you.”
Full motion video gets a bad rap in the context of gaming; blame the legacy of the Sega CD, a machine that had the ability to display it without the power to handle it. Full motion video can take the game out of the player’s hands or offer a distracting backdrop to gameplay visuals too primitive to make any sense in its context. Child of Eden is a game whose playable visuals actually make sense amongst the video images, by imagining a narrative that puts the video in an abstract, “video-gamey” world.
Lumi appears throughout Child of Eden, often as a backdrop to a boss battle, a sort of reminder of the reason you’re grinding away through a given setpiece. While the reminder is nice, however, it’s not necessary — one look is all it takes.
(though it doesn’t hurt that Child of Eden would be a ridiculously spiffy game even without Lumi at the center of it.)