For my critical play, I explored a handful of unguided environments collected by the platform Places and created by user @ktch0 (Finland). Amazingly, they were able to render some of these 3D paintings on a web browser. However, my Mac computer ends up working really hard and making loud noises just to keep running the environment. All in all, the immersive experience these paintings give makes it worth it.
With unguided environments, the first objective that comes to mind is to figure out what the objective is. The controls were quite familiar to me so I was able to navigate the space relatively quickly. What made the environment more immersive is the fact that you aren’t able to see your own body – you are just a floating orb. Once I was able to move forward, the exploration of the world was the only thing I could think of doing. I soon came to appreciate the aesthetics and fantastic details of the environment. I realized how incredibly difficult it is to simulate nature e.g. make tree/grass movements realistic.
Looking at objects from afar really makes the scene look like a painting. However, once you get as close as you can to the objects, you realize that they are more geometric and methodical than you thought. For example, I looked directly down on the grass to see a cube with pointy edges making almost the same programmed motion to simulate real grass. Looking on the creator’s development blog and Twitter, I realized that creating these objects is a very intricate process.
Exploring the lands, I ran into interesting mechanics. The first time I discovered water in the painting, I questioned, “Can I go in it? Will I drown?”. I took the risk anyways and realized that I was essentially swimming on top of water. At first, I thought I was gliding on the water until I heard these splashing water sounds and realized that I wasn’t moving smoothly across the water. I was a little sad that I couldn’t go underwater and it took forever to swim across the lake (later learned that the creator is adding capabilities). However, in my mind, I convinced myself that maybe it was another ploy to make this painting more realistic.
At first, I thought that this game must be for everyone because of the easy controls and inclusive environments. For the most part, it is, however, some people may have more patience than others being in an unguided environment. Minecraft can be an unguided environment however, I believe younger folk find it appealing because of the interactions and objectives that you can have. All of this to say that I think adult users may find more appreciation in not having an objective and the aesthetics.
These paintings really immerse players into beautiful worlds where exploration and aesthetic appreciation are the only objectives. I think given what I know about the game, I wouldn’t change anything but would love to see underwater exploration in the future. It’s also sad that the most recent paintings are only capable with Windows and Linux, not the browser. Would appreciate browser capability for my Mac users :’)