March 31, 2006

Game shots

Cry­tek’s new engine looks amaz­ing. And what bet­ter vehi­cle for it than yet anoth­er first-per­son shoot­er. I hope it’s a bet­ter game than Far Cry, which had every­one rat­ing it 9.5/10 pure­ly because of the jun­gle and water graphics.

Sin Episodes proves that you can take a great engine and make some­thing mediocre look­ing out of it. I remem­ber play­ing the demo a long time ago and feel­ing mild­ly humoured by the graph­i­cal style. This time they’ve tak­en Source, changed the char­ac­ter mod­els and mod­i­fied the weapon­ry. For all intents and pur­pos­es, this game oth­er­wise looks like Half Life 2, giv­en a goofy makeover and big­ger breasts. And mur­locs.

The Rev­o­lu­tion specs were appar­ent­ly leaked yes­ter­day or some­such, and now there’s peo­ple tak­ing sides on whether it’ll be worth get­ting. It’s the only con­sole I’d con­sid­er pick­ing up out of this gen­er­a­tion because Nin­ten­do will endeav­our to make unique expe­ri­ences, and his­to­ry is doomed to repeat itself with PS2 and XBOX, espe­cial­ly the for­mer. The aim of those two is to out­stage each oth­er in mar­ket­ing, not mak­ing inno­v­a­tive games. The only thing that real­ly changed this round was the abil­i­ty to ren­der more poly­gons and pix­el shad­ing; your abil­i­ty to make enjoy­able, dif­fer­ent games is not increased by ren­der­ing or CPU pow­er. We reached the nec­es­sary mem­o­ry and stor­age cap with the last gen­er­a­tion. All you’ve done is pro­vide devel­op­ers with the abil­i­ty to make more geek porn, wast­ing years of devel­op­ment on mak­ing ren­der­ing engines.

Gen­tle­men, it’s time for anoth­er video game crash.

I am in no way say­ing that I don’t like games look­ing good, but we’ve got an unhealthy focus on screen­shots, and thanks to broad­band, game trail­ers. Some­where we have to remem­ber that you can’t play screen­shots. The core game log­ic that runs most titles these days would be lucky to be ten per­cent of the code­base, and prob­a­bly even less than that of the total devel­op­ment time. There are more artists mak­ing high-res tex­tures and UV map­ping than pro­gram­mers writ­ing core game logic.

I loved Half Life 2, but reduce the core game idea down to basic prin­ci­ples and you end up with:

Inte­grat­ed physics make Half Life 2 stand out, sim­ply because it plays such a part in the game. Con­sid­er the role of the grav­i­ty gun though; what was the first thing you did with it? You shot some­thing with it, essen­tial­ly mak­ing it a anoth­er gun, albeit with toi­lets as ammo. (Con­sid­er how lit­tle gran­u­lar­i­ty the grav­i­ty gun gave you in inter­act­ing with objects. I know this aspect can be improved — move­ment of the gun inde­pen­dant of the play­er’s view­port would have enabled using objects as shields a lot more — but even­tu­al­ly, your inter­ac­tion is still lim­it­ed by your input device.) So you’ve got this great thing that fires ran­dom objects. But does it change any­thing at all, game mechan­ic wise? No.

Read­ers pay­ing atten­tion may be shout­ing, “but it’s the sto­ry­line, the atmos­phere, the char­ac­ter inter­ac­tion that made the game”.

The sto­ry­line deserves to be applaud­ed. It’s great. Very movie-qual­i­ty. Hold on, we’re not play­ing a movie. When did you make any char­ac­ter-defin­ing choice what­so­ev­er in the game? I’m not talk­ing “oh, I’ll walk in through the east gate instead of the north” kin­da choic­es. When did you decide you’d had enough of Alyx, leave her to the smil­ing Com­bine sol­diers, and join Dr Breen for tea and crum­pets and world domination?

Video games have sel­dom stepped out­side lin­ear­i­ty. The very idea of true emer­gent game­play could quite under­stand­ably scare a game devel­op­er to death. It means either a nigh-infi­nite amount of stor­age and art resources or a way to gen­er­ate con­tent on the fly, which could mean a loos­er grip — or even let­ting go — of the the­mat­ic reins. And pre­dictably there’s some oppo­si­tion amongst play­ers who don’t like to have oppres­sive­ly huge choic­es. Tycho from Pen­ny Arcade makes a point about his light case of RPG OCD in the recent game Obliv­ion, and it’s true — God, I’ve stood around in World of War­craft try­ing to decide what to drop. I still haven’t made my mind up as to what leather­work­ing branch to take yet.

I’ve become so accus­tomed to not mak­ing deci­sions in games that when it comes to one, I’m kind of lost. When I’ve cho­sen a path in RPGs it’s because I’ve thrown cau­tion to the wind and gone with what sounds good. The inabil­i­ty to decide is caused by curios­i­ty and the regrets of con­se­quence — what’s going to hap­pen on the path I don’t choose? Will it be some­thing cool­er? Will I miss out on something?

But if you give the play­er enough choic­es, you lib­er­ate them from regret and they start look­ing for­ward instead of back. Their path becomes unique and full of promise. The chal­lenges they face will always have a cor­re­spond­ing ‘moti­va­tion to over­come’ because the play­er has formed their own goal. Choic­es become fun: now you’re doing what you enjoy instead of expe­ri­enc­ing script­ed events.

Back on top­ic. This start­ed as a mono­logue about Rev­o­lu­tion and the lack of inno­va­tion in big-brand gam­ing and some­how turned into a plea for a free-reign game.

I’m all for the new con­troller and the focus on new ways to inter­act with games. At first I thought “God, how will I play Street Fight­er on that?”. And then I realised that if I want­ed to play Street Fight­er, I’ve already got a PC, a Dream­cast, a Sat­urn, a Megadrive, and a stack of emu­la­tors. What use is anoth­er iden­ti­cal Street Fight­er game? Same goes for first per­son shoot­ers; I’ve played through 50 of them. Not many of them were unique enough to war­rant a day’s play.

When the Nin­ten­do DS trail­ers came out, there was a demo of a Kir­by plat­former that blew me away. Kir­by stood on a hang­ing log bridge, and the play­er pulled the mid­dle log down­ward using the sty­lus, and let go. Kir­by went sail­ing up into the air. I rewound the video. Wow. It’s like Kir­by is a phys­i­cal object that he’s inter­act­ing with. That’s some­thing I’ve nev­er felt before.

posted by Andrew

3 thoughts on “Game shots

  1. Jaguar says:

    Com­ment #2 — do these go some­where? Am I com­ment­ing to anoth­er site?

  2. Jaguar says:

    E gad, I have post­ed direct­ly to the site this time. I was expect­ing the same ‘administrative approval required’ mes­sage as before LOL

    Well – yes, I have read this one and agree with most points. I find that game engines these days can do just about any­thing (which is pret­ty scary!).

    I won­der if God con­tem­plat­ed how much extra resources would be chewed up by giv­ing us free will.

    If you take away Player1’s resources they are lim­it­ed to the imme­di­ate envi­ron­ment. They are left scroung­ing for crap­py box­es to make steps etc. 

    Now if Player1 has a phys_canon they might be able to move the walls around if max_force is greater than 20000. Hence equat­ing direct­ly addi­tion­al resources required to account for what’s on the oth­er side of the wall.

    The same can be said for inter­ac­tion with oth­er chars. If you shoot Joe, he should remem­ber that you shot him – the game should remem­ber that he has lost 20 health and is pissed at you. 

    When you ask him for a med pack in six hours when you are on the final part of the game he should tell you where to go until you give him grog.

    Oh that’s right it’s Andy’s blog – I’ll leave my blog­ging for when you actu­al­ly con­tact me via email or phone.

  3. Andrew says:

    Lol. I like the med kit idea. I’ve always won­dered why there has­n’t been a secret Hos­pi­tal lev­el in an FPS where you find all the peo­ple you’ve shot in full-body casts and traction.

    Deus Ex sup­port­ed a very basic con­se­quen­tial choice path, but more so than any oth­er game at the time. The char­ac­ters would check vari­ables set by ear­li­er play­er actions, and give dif­fer­ent reac­tions, for instance get­ting dressed down by your boss Man­der­ley after explor­ing the wom­en’s toi­lets. It did­n’t change the game path at all and was obvi­ous­ly script­ed but gave the impres­sion of char­ac­ters who weren’t obliv­i­ous to every­thing except being shot at.

    In that frame­work Joe could act exact­ly as you describe, and it’s not hard tech­ni­cal work, just a symp­tom of game design­ers with too rigid a vision of the game world. Half Life 2’s much vaunt­ed char­ac­ter inter­ac­tion is basi­cal­ly just a movie you can walk around in. Unload a rock­et into Alyx’s head and she just con­tin­ues bab­bling. We should be able to get her annoyed, but it would mean deal­ing with the consequences.

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