With the wind violently tussling through your hair, you look upon your obligatory enemy for just a micro-second as an impending cargo container falls from the heavens toward your face. You shuffle like a linebacker during a flea flicker trying to avoid boxes, airplane seat beats, and the occasional bullet from a fearless Syndicate .45 caliber.
Maybe, maybe, if this were on the streets, it would be a video game piece of cake; but, you have dived straight into the freefallin' epic level of Saints Row The Third; you're immediate doom helped, almost befriended, by the unflappable hand of gravity.
Gravity, much like our own world's existence, has been an in-play force since the origin of video games. Without the inevitable pull down of the space creatures in Space Invaders, it would seem like the game would not nearly be such a phenomenon in the feathered haired days of the late 70's and early 80's; or, Donkey Kong, with it slightly sloping platforms and relentless gravity driven barrels being any early winner for most frustrating gaming experience.
World Class Gravity Defier
The weakest of the four fundamental forces (electromagnetism, strong nuclear, weak nuclear, and gravity) its also our most inescapable, well established as the sub mini boss of our physical world. It pulls on you no matter if your name is Ivanka, the anorexic, nicotine addicted model from Belarus; or Brandon, the buxom bitch tittyed boy from Idaho.
Gravity is a constant weight on our everyday lives, embedding itself in our psyches, and one of the first game play mechanics inserted into video games.
As the games progressed, so did our use, control, and inventiveness of gravity.
Who, of a certain age, can forget the developer world's first colossal try at technologically circumventing this force of gravitas, Bionic Commando.
Mashing 'B' on a Super Nintendo Control Pad furiously in an attempt to get as high as possible, only to have the enemy run by you, barely touch your feet and kill you with all of the useless fruits of your labor. The enticing sales pitch of the franchise was 'use this bionic arm to do something we as humans can not do in real life; cheat gravity.' Fling, grapple, and climb to new heights as your mechanical arm, O' bionic one, will heighten your fantasies and destroy your opponents.
The concept of cheating gravity progressed a little further with the unveiling of the race of the future known as Wipeout; in which craft defy physics on phantasmagorical levels. Twirling 360 degrees, leaping drones, inverting; the game danced with our fantasies on how to cheat gravity to the nth degree.
These early gaming ventures viewed gravity as only one thing, a game play mechanic. Initial game developers, maybe caught up with the many tasks (programming, level design, graphics) one was burdened with during the primeval days of bits over bytes could not envision another world where gravity was not a burden.
However, a couple of ex-Microsoft employees named Gabe and Mike could, with the introduction of the godlike and grave gravity gun.
Half Life 2, powered by the newly revamped Havoc engine, was full of life when its hero Gordon Freeman picked up a random fancy smancy weapon-tool known as the “zero point energy field manipulator,” a gravity gun.
Zero Point Energy Field Manipulator, the first gravity gun
Although the weapon at this time still suffered from our view of this downing force in reality, it was mainly used as an anti-gravity tool to move heavy objects to distant areas, the second phase of the use of gravity in video games had begun.
The evolution of the weapon may have reached a pinnacle with the “gravity gun in mascot game” phenomenon of the mid 2000s. Showcased by a Ratchet and Clank trifecta of gravity gun, gravity boots, and gravity bomb.
Enough physics bending fire power to make the flightiest of us tremble in terror.
The tools could bombard bosses with a plethora of junk laying around, another development helped by the ever increasing sophistications of engines such as the one developed in house for the Ratchet and Clank franchises (Insomiac Engine).
The more is more philosophy of games during this era meant that the possible nuances of using gravity were lost to these bouts of blow it up, then blow it up some more one upsmanship.
Thus entered the counter culture, and for every mainstream million dollar effort there must be the tiny independent voice of sophistication; Portal. Portal mirrors the use of gravity like an astronaut fantasizes about anti-gravity before he has ever had a space flight. A toying love affair, never to go wrong, even if it goes wrong. Portal's unique gameplay of kissing the edge of physics with every thought on its lips, helped usher in the third and present use of gravity in video games; the force meets weapon meets theory game play mechanic.
Its as if gravity is in the ether in these games. The haunted lover who feels their ex's presence everywhere.
So, what about the future use of this force?
The evolution of gravity in video games began from very grounded and distinct origins, it was influenced by how our physical bodies and therefore our primordial limbic minds perceived gravitational force; but, it seems with the evolution of the third phase we may have crossed the physical barrier it holds on our existence and moved into the theoretical use of gravitation.
Gravity may have just left the real world force that is indoctrinated into our bodies and minds (so much so that it permeates how we design game play mechanics even though we are not bound by the physics of the earth when designing video games) and into a world where gravitational pull can be thought of objectively.
Gravity in video games is the water in Kool-Aid. Its abundant and inescapable if you want your venture to have any physics and yet, is rarely thought about. (unless of course, for a game play or marketing gimmick)
Standard earth bound gravitation and the physics thereof are the norm for almost all games; including virtually every franchise set on an alien planet. (looking at you Mass Effects, Red Factions, Halos)
Maybe its a sign of how primitive game design is at the moment because gravitational force as a game mechanic is an original idea created with the invention of video games whereas elements such as computer graphics and sound were adopted by video games from other fields? The use of gravity is a much better measuring stick in the progression of video games than these borrowed elements of graphics and sound.
With this understanding that the use of gravity is a solid barometer for the status of game development, could it mean that video games are still in their infancy since the use of gravitational force in these vehicles is barely past its initial stage of development?