The year is 2001. Still recovering from the financial blunder that was the Saturn, Sega is desperately trying to sell a console that no one wants…
Overshadowed by the Playstation 2 and the dawn of Microsoft’s XBOX, the Dreamcast is falling by the wayside as the generation of gamers look past Sega and towards what seem to be fresh and fertile grounds.
In a last-ditch effort to stay relevant, Sega divided its core development team into several small teams, each working on modest and unrelated projects. This was Sega at the height of their style. Jet Set Radio, Shenmue, Rez, Crazy Taxy, and others were released within a year of each other. Each of those games tried something new that was ahead of its time and pushed the boundaries of video games in one way or another.
One game from the bunch that stood out to me was Rez.
I will always remember this specific moment in a trailer of Rez that was so striking for me. An abstract wireframe object with white platforms rotating in a nebulous purple void with the text “Gentlemen, open your senses” written on top. It was a very striking image then, and still resonates with me now.
Best way to describe Rez, is that it’s a Third Person shooter with heavy emphasis on music, rhythm, and art. When I first saw images from Rez in gaming magazines, I didn’t know what I was looking at. It looked so sleek, so foreign, so futuristic. It was in its abstract presentation and heavy reliance on aesthetic that made my first experience with that game so profound. It was then that I realized that games can be more than just entertainment. Games can be more than silly cartoon platformers or fighting games or puzzle games. Games have the potential of standing, teetering on the edge of creativity and technology. They can convey deep meaning without the need of dialogue, text or cutscenes. If you clear your mind and open your senses you can absorb a deeper level of understanding and enjoyment from what at first seems to be two dimensional.
Rez challenged me, as a young gamer, to look past the box. To seek games that broke the typical mold. To seek new things and to keep an open mind.
Rez is a fascinating game that I appreciate on many levels. The game itself is a testament to creativity and a full understanding of the medium. Rez marries different facets of the game in what was at the time revolutionary. The music and rhythm would react to what you were doing. And in the same way, the rythm and the music would dictate what you would need to do. And that’s the core of the game. It doesn’t try to be a challenging shooter, or a precise rhythm game. It strides confidently in its free-form approach to gameplay without the need to over-complicate itself in other mechanics. Without the reliance on challenge* the player can focus on the experience of flying through a hyper-surreal cyberspace as the music and art engulfs the screen.
Video games do not exist in a void. The economic climate, societal priorities and philosophy of the developer (among other things) contribute to what make every game unique. And so speculating on what took place behind closed doors can shed light on the true nature of the game. The very fact that Rez exists makes me appreciate not only artistic creativity, but business creativity. There must have been a very sober conversation in a conference room in Shinagawa addressing the fiscal issues Sega was experiencing. It is in moments of desperation where creativity is the only solution. The division of Sega’s game development team was a bold strategy that unfortunately didn’t pay off in the way Sega would have hoped. But on the other hand, it gave us a handful of games that stand the test of time. Games that are classics in every definition of the word.
It’s a cozy feeling to see Rez back and the internet buzzing about it again. Its big break into VR seems as if this was how the game was always meant to be played. Rez was ahead of its time, and looks like we’re finally catching up to it.
* There is the “Traveling” game mode that removes the danger of death and removes any and all penalties.