At its core art is just another form of communication. With a goal of communicating abstract ideas and emotions rather then plain truth and straight facts. So one big challenge in art, especially in early spoken art forms, is making heavy punches in smallest possible space. Great ideas and deep emotions in a sentence one breath can make. One easy way of doing this is evoking characters or passages from famous works.
Let's say you are in ancient Greece and you are telling a story of immensely powerful man. Instead of spending half an hour painting the picture of him you would say;
"Remember Hercules? Well, he was stronger then him."
And entire audience would gasp in wonder.
"Wow! THAT strong?!."
There is simply no other way of creating such a complete image of a man with so little words.
More complicated version of this is T.S. Eliot's song "Waste land"*. In the part Naugthy Dog choose for Uncharted 3, Eliot is evoking parts of the Bible that are talking about rich promised land and then deliberately misquoting them in absolute negative. You see, he is trying to say that this is not your ordinary wasteland. It is so deserted that, not only life abandoned it but God and demons as well. Never to return. Ever.
Yes. THAT empty.
To paint such strong image of desolation he would need more space for more text affecting rhythm and composition. But this way. In very small space with very few words he brings quite a punch. Creating strong atmosphere and bringing reader into ancient world filled with gods, demons and sacred convents.
Simple as that.
Now, I am not talking we need more poetry in our games or that Naughty Dog used Eliot's poem in Uncharted 3 properly. I am just wondering can we do this with other game elements? To use something from older, famous titles, in brand new games to paint the better picture. Like game mechanics, characters, design elements or even parts of level design.
Now, you could say that in a way we are already doing this.
Two obvious examples are train rides and headless kamikaze.
Train rides, taken from Half Life, are not there only because everybody is doing it. Even thou, they are overused. Half life is famous story of single man on road to the big adventure. Alone, trapped and forced to a journey. Against alien terror and conspired powers greater and more powerful then him. Imitating that specific intro game designers are simply trying to tap into emotions gamers bring from well known game.
With a goal we defined at a beginning. To immerse them into the world as quickly as possible. Maybe your instincts are telling you this easily breaks suspension of disbelief. Just remember that emotions and atmosphere do matter. If done well gamers see this sort of repetition as a foreshadowing. Like evoking memories from previous life or a sixth sense.
Other example is headless kamikaze.
Main mascot of Serious Sam titles, headless kamikaze are enemies to be feared. They come in large numbers. Headless and yet screaming. With bombs attached to their raised hands. Very soon players develop true fear at sight and sound of them. No matter what kind of skyscraper-size-boss pops up, even on the last level, against final megaboss, with fate of the world on the stake, scariest thing in the game is still herd of those screaming bastards. Like small spider like critters they are piratically standard now evoking immediate terror wherever they appear.
There are more examples, of course, like angry birds mechanic in rayman origins, foggy small town from silent hill in everything, colossus from shadow of colossus or sound effects from Super Mario World. I believe we stole idea from comedy movies making sort of a laugh at other famous or classic films. Relatively easy trick to pull off.
So you could say this is not just a theory. Or that is my humble opinion.
Still, in the end, for me bigger question then CAN we do it is; Are we there yet as gamers? Do we respect games to remember, cherish and recognize such things. I started to wonder after YouTube video I saw recently. In it a kid making video walkthrough of Half Life 2 is showing this annoying bug that Valve keep refusing to fix. You see...
There is this guy with the briefcase that keeps disappearing in dead end hallways and cant be caught or killed even with cheats and the sniper and...
* from line 19 to 30