Technologically flat game design

In this extract from my thesis I explore a really exciting aspect of Skies of Arcadia’s ship design, tied in with the historical outlook of the game’s narrative. If I get to revisit this topic again one day, I’d really like to do a properly intensive object analysis of a couple of ships, as I think I missed that opportunity here.


Belleza’s ship is metallic, as she is Valuan, but pink and curvy, because she’s a bit flirty.

Every ship seen in the game has a unique design, organised around the logic of the six moons and six civilisations. This logic determines the mechanism by which the ship is conceived as being able to fly, as well as its overall appearance.

Technology is here presented not as temporal advancement, but geographic determinism. Electric power, propellers and steel are not technologies that are accessed later on in the game, nor is the Valuan civilisation presented as more advanced than others. All technology is relative under the meta-structure of the Arcadia game-world, and in fact the most powerful technologies are the individual Gigas of each moon, rather than the cultural products of one civilisation over
another.

This technological levelling is not a common theme in video games. In my second term paper I showed that the materiality of weapons in the Final Fantasy series of games presents a progressive path of advancement from crude materials, to valuable materials, to amaterial weapons created through cosmic means. This progression of material value can also be applied to technological advancement; metal alloys and magically imbued materials require more technical skill than primitive metals, and the cosmic processes by which ultimate weapons are created in the game are the apex of technological achievement.

This parallels the advancement of players’ technical anity as they learn how to game the battle system in order to achieve progress.
Another game that very clearly presents technology as a product of temporal advancement is Sid Meier`s Civilisation series. In these games, the player controls the development of a civilisation by managing the resources of a city-state, military strategising, and directing technological research. Technology in these games is presented as a tree leading from primitive technologies such as `the wheel’ and `meditation’ all the way to refridgeration, space travel and `future tech’.

Narratives of technological progress are so prevalent in video games that it is tempting to read them as essential to the medium, not least because the commercial success of software producers depends so closely on the favour of hardware manufacturers. It is surprising that a game such as Skies of Arcadia, designed to show off the 3D graphics rendering abilities of the Dreamcast, would diverge from the majority of games in its presentation of technological diversity.

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2 thoughts on “Technologically flat game design

  1. That is a fascinating observation, and one that I hadn’t gotten far enough to appreciate before being derailed in my first playthrough. Hopefully I can remember to make another go of it next time I have access to my Dreamcast! I don’t think I can even recall any other games offhand with a technological progression that isn’t based on progressive supercedence/obsolescence or relative superiority (although, knowing me, I’ll be racking my brain for a couple days now that you’ve pointed it out…)

  2. One thing that enamored me to SOA was the fact that so-called “primitive” societies were just as viable as more industrial societies… it didn’t feel as if the game (and by extension the creators) were placing one society over another – which resonated with me being an african american and understanding the dangers of prejudice 1st hand.

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