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Ra.One, the game-changer

Shah Rukh Khan, thank you. Hollywood has made scores of movies on gamers and games but for mainstream Bollywood we did not exist. That was until Ra.One brought our world to the big screen. For this alone, we gamers will remain grateful to King Khan.

In the film, gaming is not a mere prop that allows Shah Rukh to do the superhero thing: it is integral to the story.

The making of the game that gives the film its name is shown realistically on screen. Shah Rukh, playing game developer Shekhar Subramanium, and his assistant are shown hooked-up with a machine through various wires so that their body movements can be recorded.

Having been involved with game making, I know that is how real games are developed. For example, if a character in a game moves like a dog, the movement of a real dog has to be studied this way to render the character graphically.

The realism unfortunately stops with the process. Belying credulity, the game in the film is developed within days by a team of two. In the top gaming studios in the US and Europe, large teams take months, if not years, to make a game.

One of the most critical steps is making a game artificially intelligent. A game’s artificial intelligence determines how realistic the interactions between the characters are. In a racing game, if I suddenly veer into the wrong lane, whether the cars coming from the opposite direction will avoid me or stupidly smash into me depends on how developed the game’s artificial intelligence is.

Ra.One has artificial intelligence in abundance. So much so that the game comes to life in the film.

The way Ra.One is played till then, standing in front of a flat screen, is also exactly how we play a game on Xbox Kinect or Playstation Move.

Shah Rukh’s son in the film, Prateek, uses the screen name Lucifer. Real gamers too have interesting screen names. For example, a well-known German gamer goes by the handle skhero.

G.One’s suit seems a simpler, friendlier version of the nanosuit in the Crysis series. Whereas the nanosuit conferred powers on the wearer, such as the ability to become invisible, leap a long way and get an energy boost, the uniqueness of the G.One suit was not clear to me. In the film, the suit did not matter as much as the person wearing it. On the Ra.One website though, the intricacies of the suit are explained well.

G.One takes on Ra.One over three levels. Most current action games are spread over at least 20 levels. However, there are instances of one-to-one fight games with only a handful of levels, such as Mortal Kombat and Takken.

Unlike in a real game, G.One can settle his thing with Ra.One using weapons only in the final, or the bossfight, level. The locations though keep changing from level to level like in real games.

G.One’s H.A.R.T. (Hertz Advanced Resonance Transmitter, a glowing circle on his chest) seems to be inspired by Ironman’s artificial heart, which is actually an electromagnet that was fixed to his suit after a shrapnel pierced his body. While Ironman could not take off his suit without weakening himself, G.One could do so at will. However, he or Ra.One could not be destroyed without H.A.R.T.

The graphics in Ra.One, the game in the film, is very good, almost on a par with modern action games. Children who have watched the film might even be scared to play the Ra.One game, lest the characters walk straight out of the screen.

They need not be, since good triumphs over evil in the end, true to the superhero tradition. In the dark and violent world of modern first-person shooters, there is no such certainty.

(Santanu Basu has represented India in World Cyber Games)

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