Then last night my poor aim made it latch onto a light stand in an underground excavation site and, before I realized it, I had pulled it off a ledge. It bounced on the ground below and sat on its side. Nothing special happened: this is just a tiny detail, not part of a puzzle. The game simply understands that the light stand can attract a magnet and even be moved by the force of the grapple.
Yet, it does mean that someone somewhere said "You know, she should be able to pull metal things that aren't part of a puzzle." After years of playing Quake and all the derivative 3D worlds it spawned with environments that might as well be made of immovable, indestructible rock -- rocks that sometimes look like fragile plants or thin panes of glass -- I'm glad we're finally getting to the point where I can't assume that background props are static and lifeless. It means I can't take for granted what's important and what's not. Now, if the simulation of collisions and magnetism and (one can hope) destructibility and deformation could lead to new ways to play games, that'd be even better.
All that from a missed grapple. It's true: you can blog about anything, if you put your mind to it.
This game effect brought to you by the magic of object oriented programming.
Physics are becoming far more powerful and noticable than ever before. This, I think, is due to vastly over-powered CPUs and offloading all that nasty graphics stuff to a dedicated card. Preforming complex physics calculations n real-time no longer cripples most gaming systems.
The reason it is not universal yet is beacuse there is no easy way to implement it universally. Every physical action still needs to be scripted at some point. Some level designer had to actually say, this is a light-stand. It has this magnetic property. Hit it with a grappling hook and you can break it. This much force is needed, and it happens like this. That is still a lot of design to go into the details,and often unused parts of levels.
But it'll get better, and make for more dynamic and emergent play in the end.
It is also an issue in stage design as well as a general laziness.
I will point to one of the FPS James Bond games with a name I cannot recall. It had the Q-line, or Q-hook, or whatever. Basically, it was a grappling line.
In deathmatch, it could connect to *any* surface on the map. You could hang from the side of a wall, from a ceiling, the underside of a walkway, whatever.
In story mode, it only worked on hot spots. This was annoying. But also, it was a bit understandable from a designer point of view. If it behaves as in Deathmatch, then you could likely skip some of the annoyances that the stage threw at you. Worse, rather than grapple to the window that starts a stage, you might want to grapple to the window a couple of rooms down that is closer to the end of the stage. (And complain if the window doesn't then open.)
Then of course there is Red Faction. Red Faction had much more freeform terrain destruction in its first game, but dropped it and went for more scripted destruction in the second. Freeform destruction still sometimes appeared, but it was only in small arbitrary locations, sometimes without any logical reason. (You might could destroy one wall in a building, or pointlessly destroy a ceiling.) It wasn't what players wanted, but it is what they got. (Mind, Red Faction 2 had other bad design decisions going against it, as well.)