"I Don’t Have My Blaster!"

Here’s the latest episode of House, a particularly interesting one. It’ll be up for the next few weeks on Hulu and then it’ll be taken down:

The video game portrayed in the episode is an interesting take on traditional First Person Shooter games. The environment is typical: a Black Mesa (Half Life) style research facility in the midst of chaos. Rather than an alien invasion, it seems the lab is run by aliens (assuming the hallucination in the last third of the episode is more or less “canon”) who are running experiments involving earth species.

The protagonists are intelligent humanoid animals, possibly made intelligent by experimentation, who are trying to escape a hostile environment. Fortunately there are plenty of weapons and ammunition strewn around, probably dropped by the now-deceased security forces which are supposed to keep things under control if things go Horribly Wrong, but things go More Horribly Wrong Than Anticipated and the only non-hostiles left are the protagonists. Perfect back story for a FPS.

The enemies range from the typical “Goddamned Bats” to various types of dinosaurs and aliens. Presumably, the main way to tell the difference between the good guys (the players and possibly the bird-men soldiers?) is humanoid characteristics and/or speech. Or since the only definitely friendly characters presented were controlled by players, perhaps it’s like Left 4 Dead in that the only living friendly characters are the protagonists.

The game controls are obviously fictional 10-minutes-into-the-future style VR helmets and guns rather than based on any real console. The reason for this is obvious: any real-world portrayal of technology becomes quickly outdated, sometimes in a matter of months. But a fictional system based on the sort of things that are still being developed will seem current in a year or two while not seeming too science-fictiony today (though mapping the player’s expression to an in-game character is pretty darn advanced). Hence House’s preference for real-world-sauce Ragu, but no mention of XBoxes, PS3s, or Wiis.

In any case, it’s obvious that a lot of research and thought was put into the back-story of the game: the fictional world of the animal action heroes, as well as the system, the controls, the props scattered around the office from games they’ve made in the past, and the way the developers speak seems pretty authentic. It’s a little exaggerated for what’s actually out in the real world, but not too much. The graphics for the game are prerendered, but not too beyond what current-gen is capable of. Of course, in ten years the better-than-current-gen graphics will seem terribly retro, but that’s just how video games are.

Also, the sequence transitioning between the real world and the (hallucinated) game world was fantastic. Soda = napalm grenades was a nice touch. We never get to see what the Mega Blaster can do, but I can guess.

The game world is only shown for about five minutes, and the actual environment is relatively small, but the sheer amount of events that take place in it and the sense that there’s a full-length story we don’t quite get to see make it seem a lot larger. The number of unique characters and creature types in the environment is quite large compared to typical faux-games invented for fictional series: three protagonists with unique skills, bats, a giant pterodactyl, two creepy humanoid aliens, possibly-friendly-birdmen soldiers, and a shark. The only disappointment, other than the fact that it isn’t a real game, is that the game is never named throughout the episode. Even “Animal Commandos” or something like that would have been adequate.

The rest of the episode is excellent as usual, of course.

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