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Beyond the Pixels

by Nicholas Bray - July 12, 2013, 8:20 am PDT
Total comments: 5

Just what is over there behind the curtain?

As I was growing up, something about video games intrigued me. It was the wonder and mystery about what lay outside of the game's playable area. Just looking at a well-crafted background or a tantalizing view just out of reach was enough to get my mind racing.

I have now compiled some of the more concrete examples that I have been able to hold onto over the years. Sometimes it could simply be a path that disappeared over a hill; the unknown created a way for me to create more complex worlds. Sometimes it allowed me to imagine the games even in a different gameplay context.

So here are five examples of areas or background art that set my mind alight with speculation and wonder. There were more, and not always from the most revered titles, but these seem to be the most memorable.

Sonic the Hedgehog

This was and still is one of my favorite games, the lush visuals and fun levels kept me coming back again and again. The part of this game that I used to find mysterious and intriguing was the background of Green Hill Zone: for some reason I found myself imagining what the world looked like across that water. It's rather silly thinking about it now, as you would likely expect it to look pretty much the same as the levels that are in the game. But, for whatever reason I really like that background image, and who knows, maybe it does hold some secrets.

Pokémon Red and Blue

The one area that stands out the most in the first Pokémon games was just outside of Pallet Town. That fence line showed a bunch of grass that was just out of reach. I used to wonder what lay outside of my view. Could it lead to some secret areas? What about some other towns?  Stronger Pokémon?

The original Pokémon games also let me create a strange 3D version in my head at one point. I wanted to be in the world of the game and the anime more than what was currently available to be played. A concept I imagined to achieve this was to make the game first person, although I still imagined the game with the 8-bit style. A fan-game has actually done this exact idea recently, but I have not been able to try it out; it looks pretty cool though.


This next one I did not find out about until years after the game released, but I still think it is cool. In the Dam level of Goldeneye if you look over the water with a sniper rifle you can see this unused island, making you wonder what it was for, or what it had on it.

It was originally going to be a part of the level, but was dropped. It is actually possible to go over there if you hack the game. The island features a different styled guard tower and a drone gun.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Aside from the prospect of the Triforce being hidden away in the game somewhere, one of the areas from the game I always wanted to see more of was inside Hyrule Castle. The few glimpses through the windows let me wonder, how big was it inside? What did the King look like? I really wanted to climb through one of those windows and see what’s in there.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

This is easily the biggest tease and the one I imagine many will relate to: seeing the old Hyrule under the ocean. That background/vista was so fantastic that it made you want to go down and explore the old world, it was a massive tease, and the one that I wish was fully fleshed out the most of all. Being a big Ocarina fan, just imagining what the old areas looked like now had me thinking for ages. Why did you do that to us Nintendo?

And there we have it, five of my top backgrounds and areas that inspire creative thoughts. Let us know if you have your own similar reactions in the talkback!



Pixelated PixiesJuly 12, 2013

What a good idea for a feature.

As a kid I also fell in love with the idea of there being a whole world just beyond the game. It spoke to the quality of certain games that I would sometimes fantasize about what else might populate their world's were the lens of the game to be given a broader scope.

The Wind Waker example in particular is a good one.

Ian SaneJuly 12, 2013

That Wind Waker tease really stung because I found the ocean to be the worst part of the game.  So the bit with Hyrule castle was like the Wind Waker I really wanted and they were just giving me a little taste.  I think Wind Waker's graphics are hurt by the big blue ocean of nothing and they probably went with that graphics style to accomodate the ocean (making it look realistic would have been beyond the Cube's capabilities).  The cel-shaded look looks much better on land with trees and fields and rocks but the way they set up the game the player constantly sees a texture of solid blue.

One background that worked a lot for me as a kid was the cityscape in F-Zero on the SNES.  Obviously as a racing game you never went to the city, it was just background to make the game world seem more real.  But it was cool to imagine what the city was like.  I don't want to actually go there though as I feel that whatever the devs would come up with would be a letdown compared to my own imagination.  It's like how the monster isn't scary once you see it.

In Mortal Kombat II you can see another bridge in the background of the Pit stage and there are two dudes fighting on it and one of the them is on fire!  Naturally as kids we assumed that the fire guy was a secret character but the whole thing is just a background.

Though I notice that backgrounds that I can't go to bother me in 3D games.  In a 2D game I expect to move on a limited plane and not be able to roam around but in 3D it feels arbitrary to give me a lot of freedom but still keep things out of reach.  I will always try to get there and get disappointed when I get stuck behind a two foot fence.

mustbeburtJuly 12, 2013

This one might seem silly, but I played the heck out of Mario Kart 64.  I tried for hours to get over the fence on the Moo Moo farm track.  I wanted to drive around in there and see what was over those hills!  I also loved the fact that you could drive right up to Peach's castle on another track.  That was such a cool find.

TurdFurgyJuly 12, 2013

Oh, yeah. The underwater world for sure.
I also had that same feeling for -Skyward Sword Spoiler- Past Hyrule in Skyward Sword -End Spoiler-.

Mop it upJuly 12, 2013

I'm also going to have to agree with the Wind Waker example, that place under there looked great and I wanted to explore it.

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