Genre Hybrids?

May 5, 2010

Recently I came across a game review for Test Drive Unlimited 2 on gamespot.com.  Test Drive Unlimited 2 is a racing game in which players drive high end sports cars through the back roads and streets of a Mediterranean island and Hawaii.  The more races players win, the more cars they unlock.  The graphics are breathtaking to say the least.  Also, the new game features a passing of time feature so that racing in the day, night, or during sundown / sunup changes the way the landscape looks.  Another new aspect of the game that I found related to class is the attempt to emphasize online interaction between players (see video clip on link page above, start clip time at 1:45).

Besides making everything look amazing, the creators added a new feature in which each player customizes an avatar.  Players can meet other players online through their avatars by meeting in clubs or car dealerships.  This reminded me of the game Second Life which is nothing short of a full virtual world.  In Test Drive Unlimited 2, players are now encouraged to meet via avatar, and can do simple interactions such as wave or say “hello”.

This kind of online interaction surprised me.  I’ve heard of interacting through avatars, but not in a video game whose genre is racing.  I guess that leads to the question is a first person shooter on the same level as a virtual world with avatars?  After all, each player has their own body and not every body looks alike.  Also, you interact with teammates by calling out programmed commands, via Ventrilo, or through in-game chat for consoles.  Sure, covering a teammate’s back isn’t the same as waving to them and having an (avatar) face-to-face conversation, but the idea of friendship is there.

This being said, I think the answer to the question presented above is no, although avatar gaming and shooters share similar concepts.   The difference is that avatars have a customizable appearance and because interaction is the focus of the game, their appearance is very important.  Conversely, since a shooter game’s focus is on fighting, appearance only matters to determine what side a player is on. For instance, the importance of a gamer’s appearance in Call of Duty: World at War is to tell if he is German or American.  The looks don’t really matter past this.

This is what makes Test Drive Unlimited 2 such a unique game:  it combines the racing genre with avatar centered interaction between players.  I think it is interesting that two types of games that have always been thought of as separate, are not being integrated together to compliment each other and improve the game as a whole.

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