Vital. Absolutely essential, inextricably linked with quality. A game without good explosions is like a book without words; like a shoe without gold spray paint; like a blunt pencil...
Join me for a brief stumble through my "Museum of Computer Gaming Explosions"; marvel at my crude, MS Paint based recreations of these crucial components of our gaming heritage. There will be laughs; there will be tears; and there will be debris. For insurance purposes, tongues in cheeks and hard hats on heads are compulsory.
i) The Lisa Simpson
Sound effect- "BKOW!"
As featured in- Lylat Wars; cel shaded platformers
An elegant solution to an age-old dilemma: how best to depict **** blowing up when fancy effects and physics simulations are at a premium? The Lisa Simpson combines simple geometry with family friendly accessibility. Think of it as a "gateway pyrotechnic" for educating children in explosions while still entertaining them. Part of the "Conflagrations for Kiddies" program.
ii) The Expanding Fire Dome
As seen in Starfox; FFVII; Sonic Adventure
A stalwart of the Playstation generation, although generally forgotten nowadays. The Expanding Fire Dome would engulf a fallen boss and then expand, with surprisingly regular speed, before fading quietly away into the aether.
It's main failing was an aesthetic one: specifically, it didn't look like an explosion.
iii) The Hollywood
As seen in Crysis; Crackdown; Die Hard films
Long before gamers were blowing stuff up with their fingers, movie goers were blowing things up...with their eyes. Shakespeare once wrote of the Hollywood, decrying it as "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". Recent metrical studies have suggested that the "idiot" Shakespeare was writing about was Michael Bay.
The Hollywood is fiery, orange and undeniably expensive looking. Although previously prohibitively costly in terms of processing power and therefore awkward to implement, advances in proprietary physics and particle effects mean that now every man, woman and child can bring this flaming monstrosity into their living rooms.
It has curious pretensions to being "realistic", but is in fact as realistic as a bucket full of unicorn's eyelashes.
iv) The Firecracker
As seen in Half Life 2; Bioshock; Gears of War; Rainbow Six Vegas 2
Much more likely to be what an explosion would look like in real life, and therefore much less of a crowd pleaser than the Hollywood. Often accompanied in games by such realistic sound effects as:
-high pitched squealing noises; muffled underwater like noises; temporary deafness leaving only the character's breathing audible.
Historically associated with ragdoll effects and men soon to be ragdolls standing imprudently close to red barrels with fire symbols painted on them.
v) The Praxis
As seen in Freespace 2; Star Wars Episode IV; Star Trek IV
Praxis; Alderaan; capital ships in space combat sims; what have these three things in common? It's Big Space Based equatorial shockwaves. When something big explodes in space it sends out a circular, pulsating, white/light blue shockwave: now that's just science, people.
Unfortunately, scientists are not unanimously in agreement on the subject. The more respectable ones say that such a shockwave cannot exist in space as there is no transmitting medium. The less reputable ones say "Aaaw. That looks well cool! BOOM! FUCK YEAH!" This angers the reputable ones further- "Prithee, fellow empiricist: how could it go BOOM? There's no air in space, so no transmitting medium, thus no sound". By this point the less reputable scientists have gone to play with Bunsen burners and talk to girls.
Suffice to say, the debate continues.
vi) The Many Mickles Make a Muckle
Sound- "bang...boom bang...pop......pow-kapow...rumble rumble...BOOOOM!!!"
As seen in Sci-fi; Goldeneye (film)
"Every little helps" said the ant, pissing into the sea at high tide. The Many Mickles Make a Muckle (or MMMaM, for brevity's sake) expounds the theory that one can't have a big explosion without lots of little explosions first. Think of them as starters, entrees, if you will. When blowing up an Evil Villain's base it will explode bit by bit, warming up for a spectacular, climactic Hollywood. It's in the rule book, somewhere.
vii) The Bird Dropping
As seen in Supreme Commander
A quote from Chris Taylor:
"Of course what we were really trying to do with the explosions in Supreme Commander was make them as underwhelming as possible. Basically I told my team "try and make them look like flashing Christmas tree lights." Disappointment, that was our inspiration, the keyword. That's why you can take any explosion in the game, reorientate the camera for a side on view, and see that it's basically just a weedy little 2-D lighting effect, like a bird poo shooting out pieces of smouldering wreckage."
viii) The Mud Fountain
Sound- subsonic "THOOM!"
As seen in Halo; Saving Private Ryan
The main objective here is to get as much mud and dirt up in the air at any one moment as is possible. This provides useful cover and is much cheaper than hiring a landscape gardener. Unlike a landscape gardener, though, it has a high probability of blowing your limbs off.
ix) The Floater
Sound- "...um...blom? Was that alright? I'll try again..."
As seen in Halo 2
Non committal, underwhelming, profoundly disappointing. Floaters are so called because they look like orange cardboard cut-outs, wobbling feebly in your vision before floating off to disappoint someone else. Debate exists over their technical classification: some say explosions, others say particularly fiery hiccups.
Pessimistic scientists have hypothesised that this is the way the world ends- not with a bang but a floater.
x) The Goldeneye
As seen in Goldeneye (game)
Famous for displaying startling contempt for the laws of clipping, these fascinating specimens can kill a man through a wall without damaging the wall in the slightest. In spite of the best efforts of military scientists, real life examples remain elusive.
A secondary effect is for the explosion to consume any explosives thrown into it, growing to an infinite size and leaving behind it a choking black smog. This somehow reduces frame rates to negative digits, and is postulated to be the root cause of the grey gunk which builds up around the base of an N64 analogue control stick.
xi) The Ageia
Sound- "BLAKOW! BLAMMO!" followed by the cacophony of three thousand pieces of debris plunging earthwards
As seen in- Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighters 1&2 on the PC; and...erm...UT3 apparently, and City of Villains according to the website. So there you go.
Rigorous scientific tests concluded that blowing stuff the **** up was 30% more fun if there was an increased chance of the player being killed by flying masonry: so the Ageia PhysX card was born.
Sadly for the Ageia it transpired that tearing up cloth and looking at running water in a computer game was as exciting as tearing up cloth and looking at running water in real life is.
COMING SOON: a special exhibit, featuring explosions which expand and then contract again straight away with a big "BOOM-FWISSHHCK" noise, as seen in space or underwater! Bring the kids!