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Learning to Fly - A Novel Gamer preview of PilotWings Resort 3DS.
Awoken by a mysterious message on his computer screen, an invitation leads Geo to a waterside warehouse where he must ask himself: does the Matrix have him? Or is the truth about the other side of the screen far more incredible?
This weeks' Novel Gamer review is based on reactions to a pre-release launch experience of PilotWings and is a preview, rather than a review based on a full assessment of the game. ...Wake up Geo That was what the monitor screen said. It's appearance, unbidden, on my display had woken me from my light slumber as I lay on my couch with my DS on my chest. The battery had obviously died some time before. I was so tired when I had been playing I actually had no idea what I had been doing or what progress I may have lost. At least I thought the text on the screen had appeared. I could picture it, but now the screen was blank. I half remembered that actually that was the beginning of a movie, so maybe it hadn't happened at all? I stumbled into the kitchen, drew a glass of water, tipped some cereal into a bowl and sat down. The milk looked okay and I'd only bought it a couple of days before, but I still unscrewed the cap and gave the contents a sniff, automatically. Some habits you just get used to. That day -- more than any other day -- I was strangely aware of my senses. The floor, between the kitchen table and the fridge had a slightly tacky patch. Not actually sticky, but maybe a place where a spill had once happened and been cleaned up, leaving only the faintest of adhesive traces. One end of the room seemed slightly darker, as though perhaps the bulb on that side of the fitting was on its way out. Condensation had formed on the tap spout where the cold water had escaped its confines for the alternative comforts of my glass. There could be any number of reasons for my heightened feelings on that day. But, the reason I prefer to cling to is because that was the day I was about to have my eyes opened to a new world. I've always been a gamer. From my earliest memories I recall slipping into an alternative world of adventure and intrigue on the other side of the screen. For me games have always enabled me to lose myself in an alternative reality. Much more than film with its fixed view on the action and its set narrative. The only other route I have ever found as effective for escaping from this world is books. It's not for everyone, but for the confident reader the barrier of the ink on the page melts away and the words and ideas are transported directly into the brain; to fire the imagination and to create a witness eye view on events that are unique to the reader. The problem with games has been the thing it shares with film: the screen. In spite of its ability to display incredible vistas, gravity-defying moves, heart-breaking empathy and deep intrigue, it is the screen that reminds us we are trapped. Trapped in a world of mundanity, tethered to practicality and shackled to domestic limitation. The screen gives us window into a world that is more alive and that accepts fewer excuses for what "cannot be done" within the bounds of physical reality. That day was the day a man came who took the barrier away and enabled me to soar in the skies, as I used to in my childhood dreams. ***** If I could not be sure that I had seen the cryptic movie pastiche on my monitor I was in little doubt as to the reality of the card that had been pushed through my door. It was clearly meant to serve as a business- or calling-card; however, it's dimensions were more reminiscent of a playing card. That certainly grabbed my attention. It featured a simple "?" mark. I turned the card over, half anticipating something from the world of literary cliché: the ace of spades maybe, or the Tarot figure of Death grinning up at me. Instead, the reverse of the card featured a simple typed message: a local address and a time. Looking at my watch I saw that I had just enough time to get ready and get to this meeting. There could be no question of my not following this invitation. Not only was the "?" mark on the card reminiscent of the prize boxes in Super Mario, but I couldn't help but think that if I had slept any longer I would not have been able to make this appointment; I thought back to those ghostly words on my screen. I walked down to the docks. The address I had been given was for a waterfront warehouse, next to a small cafe. I decided I had no time for a tea break and headed inside. I was too excited about the wonder of this invitation to delay. In the centre of the room stood a tall, imposing man in a long, black, leather coat. Beside him on a table was what appeared to be a Nintendo DS. "Welcome, Geo" the man intoned. "I am glad to meet you. I believe that you are a man with a problem. A problem I hope to solve." I nodded my head, "you're talking about the games." "I'm talking about the reality you create for yourself, Geo. You who have always loved the excitement of exploring other worlds and doing things that no person could hope to experience in reality but who always feels like you are kept on the outside. Are you ready to go deeper into the game?" I frowned, trying to understand. "You're talking about increased immersion?" He replied, quickly, "I'm talking about reality, Geo. What is real? If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then 'real' is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain. If you can convince your brain that an image you are seeing is in three dimensions -- 'appears' solid -- then who is to say it is not real?" He held up his hand dramatically and I could see that he was holding a pair of old-style 3D glasses, with coloured lenses. "You have a choice," he announced, "look through the blue lens and you will see the world as it has always been, flat and dull ... ummm..." he faltered, "and looking a bit blue..." I raised my eyes to the ceiling. The dramatic mood had been broken. He continued unabated, "look through the red lens and you'll see, well, exactly the same thing." I think he sensed he was losing me, as he went on, hurriedly, "but if you look through both -- here's the thing -- it also changes nothing! What I am about to show you doesn't require glasses." He threw them over his shoulder and they landed in a puddle of water leaked from somewhere high in the ceiling. He opened up the machine on the table. "This," he declared, "is the Nintendo 3DS and it will show you a world of which you have only dreamed." He stuck out a hand towards me, palm up, "the card, please." I reached into my pocket and recovered the calling-card that had been pushed through my door. As I placed the card down on the table, "?" mark facing up, he handed me the 3DS and I focused on the image of the card on the screen. It wasn't like looking through a camera lens. It was like seeing the table in front of me with fresh eyes. A 3D viewport onto the world as it is. Then the 3DS showed me the world as it could be: the card unfurled, revealing a deep recess in the table. A dragon head on a long neck extended out and toward me. I was reeling, "but this is incredible!" I called out. "Patience, Geo," he said, raising a hand "I agree this is impressive, but the dragon is only to demonstrate that the world is not necessarily as you see it. Let me show you what you are really here to see; what you really came to do..." ***** I felt myself soaring high above the ground, floating over the sea and onward, ever toward my target. The clouds parted and I saw the world laid out before me. It was like the world, only at the same time not like it. It wasn't drab, grey and mundane -- this was a world inhabited by living colour as though the sea was trying to be as blue as it could be and the grass exerting itself to be the greenest grass the world had ever seen. The world was so ... if I had to settle for a word, I'd have to go with 'real'. Not the kind of real I expected. It was not our world reproduced on the screen. If anything it was the reverse. It was as though the world of the games had been made solid and brought into our reality. Before, these places had always seemed like colourful sketches in some framed picture I could never enter. Now they lived and breathed in three dimensions and it was like seeing a cartoon hero come to life. The flying itself was breathtaking. The ease with which I could soar through floating rings seemed to come naturally to my fingers and I glided over the beautiful island paradise and landed the aircraft gently on the waves exactly as I had been taught. The dream changed and I found myself hanging in the sky, held aloft by a jetpack. It was a fun variation on the controls required by the plane and I propelled myself forward, through balloons onward towards the goal. The dream changed once more -- now I was whooshing over the mountaintop, suspended from a hang-glider. The world was so deep and so intense and I wanted to explore every part of it, but I felt myself being pulled away. I blinked and found myself back in the room with the stranger. "How was it?" he asked me. "I feel," I struggled to find the words, "I feel like I've held a world in my hands, a world that I can enter whenever I choose and fly over, under, through and across. I want to explore every inch of that world from my vantage point in the sky. It felt real. It was almost too deep. Sometimes I felt like the gulf of depth was too massive and I wanted it to feel a bit flatter... incredible." I rubbed at my eyelids, "why do my eyes hurt?" The figure looked at me poignantly, "because you've never used them before." I made to pick up the Nintendo 3DS again. I desperately wanted to fly some more. He stopped me. "That is all you can see for now. It is time for you to return home." I was incredulous, "but I've just seen the most incredible things! I've seen the world of games as it could be and I'm not sure if I can return to the other side of the screen! I want to spend more time here and see more and fly more..." He nodded, kindly, "the world you seek is coming soon, Geo. It is only a few short weeks away and you will be able to return to the real side of the screen again. For now, you must spread the word that others may be enlightened." ***** My alarm clock beeped loudly and I awoke. I could hear the rain lashing against the glass. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and, in doing so, I remembered the adventure with the Nintendo 3DS. I remembered getting my pilot wings and soaring high above the ground. I looked out of the window and could see blue sky breaking between the grey clouds. I had had the most incredible adventure, journeyed to a colourful world and flown... and then had it taken away before I was ready; before I had had a chance to see it all. The memory felt like the aftertaste of a sweet dessert in my mouth. In my heart I knew I was desperate to fly again. It had all felt so real to me. It couldn't have been a dream, could it?
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: