An Analysis of the Role of Ceramics in Video Games

Le Sat 02 January 2016

I admit it. I am a gamer. You may have already guessed that if you had read any of my articles on video games I have made or made assets for (Steely Taws Marble Run Game, and RC Desk Pilot). One of the things I have observed with interest during the time that I have been playing computer games is the number of games where you can break pottery and generally obtain some benefit from doing so.

Here is a short video to illustrate the point.

Breaking pottery in video games is certainly not a new thing, and even the old text adventures still had the ability to smash pottery and find good stuff. For example:

>Examine room

You find yourself in what must once have been a grandly decorated room.  There is a large four posted bed here, its pillars borer-ridden, and faded velvet curtains hanging in dusty tatters. A large dusty pottery vessel stands beside the foot of the bed. You also see a mirror against the wall that appears strangely clean amongst the ruined finery.  A shabby wardrobe stands to the North and a dusty window is set within the West wall and casts a golden ray of sunlight on a large iron ring set in the middle of the floor.  The door to the East leads back out to the corridor.
>Smash pottery

I'm sorry I don't know what smash is.
>Kick pottery

I'm sorry I don't know what kick is.
>Bite pottery

I'm sorry I don't know what you want to do with the pottery.
>look you stupid computer break the bloody pottery

I'm sorry I don't know what you want to do with the pottery.
>hit pottery

The pottery shatters with a satisfying tinkle, scattering shards across the floor.  There is a pile of gold coins here.

Jump forward a decade or two and there are plenty of examples where pottery can be destroyed in a number of exciting ways. A good example is Spyro the Dragon where the pottery jars are scattered around all of the game levels. Presumable these urns and jars have been left there by some other culture in Spyro's universe who don't appear in the game, have more jewels than they know what to do with, and don't mind some small purple vandal coming along and smashing them all. Spyro gets jewels from smashing the pots.

Spyro the Vandal

Advancing a little more, and the Playstation 2 had plenty of examples of games where smashing pottery would bestow some benefit on the smasher. In Jak3, smashing pottery gains the player a variety of good stuff including, health restoration, ammo, dark eco, various orbs and unlocking secrets. The player can take a personal approach and simply bash the pottery, but they can also use the ride-on lizard to head-butt and jump on the pottery, or use a variety of guns to shoot them to bits.

Again, nobody seems to get outraged that Jak has wondered by and destroyed the large pots standing outside their house. You will see from the screen captures below that the pots are quite large earthenware vessels. Any potter will tell you that making a pot of that size is a very difficult task, requiring expert knowledge of the materials and techniques to avoid the pots collapsing during building or cracking when drying. To have someone come along and smash a vessel of this sort would tend to have the owner get a trifle miffed and the potter who made it reach for their sharpest carving tool with dark intentions towards the player's character.

Jak using lizard to smash ceramics


Jak shooting large ceramic storage pots

A question that occurs to me as I write this is, seeing as there was so much money and good health to be gained from breaking pottery, why don't the non-player characters get in on the act? How very different some video games would be had the level bosses smashed all the pots, jars, barrels etc on their level and taken all the benefits themselves before the player's character got the chance. This would give the bosses something to do while waiting for the player's character to turn up – otherwise they'd just be standing around getting bored.

In Okami, a large number of what appear to be heavily grogged earthenware vessels are scattered throughout the levels. The sound of the pots smashing indicates that they are low fired rather than fully vitrified. All of them yield something when smashed, be it money, bags of animal food, fruit, dumplings, and stones. Not only can pottery be smashed by head butting, and using your Divine Weapons, but your Astral Brush can also be used to destroy ceramic objects.

Okami gathers some animal feed from pots


Okami smashes a large heavy pot

Okami is not the only god with a penchant for destroying ceramics, Kratos in God of War II gains red glowy stuff for destroying pottery. I can understand the potters in Kratos' universe being less likely to complain about someone with Kratos' temperament (bullying behaviour) breaking their wares.

Kratos Strikes Large Pottery Vessel

In Primal there are ceramics around, but they can be hard to find. Normally they don't yield anything other than a satisfying ”smash” when Jen or Scree kick them.

Jen kicks a pottery vase

FinalFantasy XII has vessels that contain treasure of one sort or another, but when opened they just disappear without a trace leaving their treasure behind. I'm not sure if this is a fancy disposal technique that the player characters have or the programmers and game designers did not consider it worth awarding the inquisitive player a little extra destructive thrill.

Final Fantasy XII - How disappointing, the jar just disappears

In Prince of Persia – The Forgotten Sands, fine high fired porcelain is common throughout the game and quite amazingly have survived the major destruction that has befallen the palace as a result of the invasion. These can be kicked, jumped on, shoulder barged, and slashed with the Prince's sword. Enemies can also be thrown against them to smash them. Whatever the method, these usual yield health (red glowy things) or magical energy (blue glowy things). I had not noticed any awards or medals for the amount of pottery smashed along the way – although I did try to be very thorough.

The Prince Slashes a Collection of Priceless Jars

Overlord II features a lot of pottery which can be broken for money, health, magical energy, and in some cases more minions. You can take a personal approach and smash the pottery yourself or direct your minions to do the work and collect up the spoils. They tended to consume any alcohol they find themselves.

The Overlord Uses the personal touch to smash a pot


The Overlord uses his minions to smash pottery

Kung fu Panda allows you to break pottery in a variety of martial arts styles including the tummy thump and flying butt-slam. All yield glowing yellow things. So much for the quiet restraint of a Kung Fu adept.

Kungfu Panda Strikes A Ceramic Vessel

The only game that I know of where smashing pottery was a bad thing was in “Big Mutha Truckers”, where one of the missions required you to drive some fragile pottery from one city to another within a set time and without bouncing it around too much. If it broke, you failed that mission. Sod that!

Ghostbusters also has plenty of destruction that can include pottery. I tended to go for the careful touch and didn't break too much so I'm unsure what awards are possible for extreme breakages in the museum with its feature display of early Gozorian art.

Other Games Featuring Pottery

Out of curiosity I did a quick Google search on Ceramics in Video Games and came up with some unexpected cases of games where pottery and ceramics are the inspiration. One called Apotheon is a side scroller which uses the designs found on the sides of ancient Greek ceramics as its design style. While there don't appear to be many pots and vases being broken in the brief game promotional video the fact that the characters are derived from pottery illustrations and are hitting each-other counts as breaking pottery in my books.

Apotheon the porcelain paintings strike back

The other pottery related game I found was “Let's Create! Pottery” by iDream. In this the player can turn virtual pottery on a virtual wheel and then decorate it. There is even an option to have the finished item 3D Printed. So, I wonder, does “Let's Create! Pottery” allow you to then smash your own virtual pottery and gain some benefit? Does the 3D printed pottery also smash and reveal health, money, jewels etc. seeing as it has come from a virtual world and been made real? The promotional video was not clear on this point. It was also not clear on whether the process of using the virtual pottery wheel made a virtual mess similar to that created when using a real pottery wheel, nor whether the user would develop a really good potter's nod that all professional potters seem to get after years of watching things go around and around on potter's wheels.

A Virtual Potter's wheel without the mess

Value Analysis

Analysis of Pottery Smashing in Video Games

The measure of Value includes three factors; Health, Wealth, and Other Stuff. The Ease of Effort is a measure of the density of pottery in the video game “landscape”, how easy it is to find, and the chance that it contains anything. The utmost care was used to develop these two measures to ensure the results presented here were as robust as possible and could stand up to scientific scrutiny.

When I produced this plot, I immediately noticed something. There is an entire sector that is not populated. Out of the games I played with there were none that feature a challenging treasure hunt, where a piece of pottery is placed somewhere awkward to get to but holds something of great value. Some games provide this with non-pottery items – for instance some of the Weapons Trunks in the Borderlands Series are definitely worth the effort to figure out how to get to them – but they are not smashable nor pottery.

A fair number of the games analysed fell into the category of “It's OK to Miss a Few” where the value of the items within the ceramic item were not all that valuable but there were an awful lot of them that were easy to get to. This meant that it is worth giving them a bash if you happen to be going by but not worth the effort to seek out every one of them in an area.

Of all of the games analysed, Okami was the one where smashing every bit of pottery encountered was worthwhile. You would accumulate all sorts of benefits, and if your health was low, the benefits gained would be biased towards health restoration.

Only Primal had pottery that was rare to encounter and tended not to contain anything of benefit. Admittedly, it also has barrels which were somewhat more common but they too seldom contained anything of value.

What does this all tell us?

The message I get from all of these games is that smashing all pottery you find in your explorations is good for your wallet, good for your magic (if you have any), and good for you. So if you have a new game, the first thing to do when you encounter some pottery is to see what goodies it will release when you smash it using whatever techniques you have available.

Having worked in ceramics, I have broken my fair share of pottery and I have never felt my health improve or my wealth increase from having done that. This makes me wonder what I am doing wrong. I have analysed the technique used to break items of pottery in the games by the player character and although I think I have managed to reproduce their moves, I have had no success in getting any goodies as a result of smashing the dinner plates. Likewise breaking cups and plates when washing or drying the dishes has not produced a big wad of cash. Damn! If you know what I'm doing wrong or have had some success at gaining benefits from smashing your own crockery, I'd be keen to hear. My contact details are on the “About Me” page.

Par Hamish Trolove, Catégorie : Essays

Tags : Playstation / Games / Graphics / Essay / Ceramics /