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Gameplay First - The Dungeon Siege 2 Example

2005 is a great year for gamers as a whole, with the release of the highly-touted Xbox 360 headlining the news (and, consequently, the temporally inferior PS3) for the brutes of the gaming crowd and new graphics card technology and big-name game titles for the intellectually elite [Ha.] PC gamers. Far and wide the most important event of 2005 is the release of Gas Powered Games' Dungeon Siege 2, the sequel to the relatively under-appreciated original game of the same name, one of my top titles of all time. It is only through my striking ability of clarity, along with my tendency to avoid any type of "fanboyism" that I can say that the under-appreciation of the original game was quite well-deserved. The game was able to present the user with an absolutely gorgeously organized array of colored pixels for its time but, alas, the game was more of a visual spectacle than a well-designed gameplay-centric phenomenon.

Yeah, it was basically a mildly interactive screensaver. And I say this with love.

Not content to be just another roof housing cheap imitation game developers, Gas Powered Games instantly set to work on making the sequel to their beloved Dungeon Siege franchise (while plotting the mind-blowingly sexy Supreme Commander, of course). I've personally been following the development of Dungeon Siege 2 since the moment it was announced, taking in each newly released screenshot and interview with a bit of my inner-fanboy emerging with every new screenshot pixel or interview letter.

However many years later, and Gas Powered Games makes the announcement I've been waiting for: it went gold. And take a look at those screenshots (Or the ones from my DS2 gallery)... Wait, what has Gas Powered Games doing doing all these years? What the hell? This game isn't new. What the hell. They didn't change anything. What the hell!

What you've been absorbing is the best example of a game being released where the development company has all the resources of every other game development company around and uses them to... make a better game? That's right. Almost three-four years in development under the guiding powers of the infamous Chris Taylor (of Total Annihilation fame), Gas Powered Games now prepares to release the sequel to their Dungeon Siege franchise for the video gaming consumption of rabid gamers everywhere. And in these three years in development, the graphics engine was hardly touched at all. Sure the textures are crisper and some shader effects were thrown in, but the graphics engine for Dungeon Siege 2 is essentially the same one we all saw in the first game. This is one of the best instances I've ever seen where a developer has actually decided to divert their focus from the much criticized "graphics over gameplay" path that a lot of developers take, and instead focus almost all of their time trying to make their game world seem more alive through details while simultaneously spending time to make the actual gameplay perfect. Three years in development, and we get what Chris Taylor says "is the closest to perfection I've ever come on any game I've done!" Bold words from a game designer said to revolutionize the real-time strategy genre with Total Annihilation.

And here's where the point comes in: gamers are already up-in-arms about Dungeon Siege 2. And not about the developer's immense focus on detail and gameplay, but rather about the developer's lack of time spent upgrading the graphics engine. Comments I've seen from average gamers across a number of sites chastise Gas Powered Games (though, not directly of course, that would require backbone and thought) for releasing a game in 2005 that looks "so bad," yet go on to complain about the original game being a "screensaver." The nerve of Gas Powered Games! What were they thinking when they were following the ideal that so many critical editorials and articles express their fears that games are becoming so technologically advanced that the gameplay begins to suffer. What on Earth were they thinking in actually spending time trying to perfect their new game's gameplay instead of focusing on visuals?

And there's the beauty of this industry folks: graphics make the game. Despite whatever article on any game development, game review, or game-related website or periodical may say, at the end of the day, a game simply cannot be released these days unless it's using a shader model higher than any graphics card can support, unless it is taking advantage of HDR lighting, lens flares, per-pixel lighting, physically accurate shadows, mega-detailed textures, and super-shiny rough wooden surfaces (because that's totally realistic, dude). Nobody wants to play a visually par game anymore; hell, take a look at Battlefield 2. A ridiculously popular game, yet, it's released months before it should have been so buyers can function as beta testers, and with requirements that alienate anybody without the latest and greatest graphics cards. The video game industry is an industry well-versed in gamer hypocrisy, and the developers acknowledge it when they release games like Battlefield 2, Half-Life 2 (it's not a good game, I'm sorry), and DOOM 3.

If gamers really do mean it when they say that they would rather have a visually sub-par game with excellent gameplay, then let's all put our money where our mouth is. Buy games like Dungeon Siege 2. Reward the developers for releasing a great game and focusing on what really matters to gamers everywhere: the gameplay. I will be buying Dungeon Siege 2 as soon as I possibly can, and not only to support the developer's focus on gameplay, but because I think their laser-like focus and precision during the development of Dungeon Siege 2 has resulted in one of the best action/RPGs in gaming history being released on August 16th, 2005.

mittens

mittens

 

Quick Screenshot Post

Here are some quick screenshots from my experiments over the last couple days; I'd post more, but I'm off to class, and figured an update was in the cards. Also, the colors are fairly washed out since my screenshot program has a habit of highly compressing JPGs, this will change for future shots.





I'll try to get some better shots of the water tonight too, as I'm putting together a small map (using some of the engine's demo resources, since my "art" is an abomination).

mittens

mittens

 

Codename: Eulogy

What follows is a very rough, very basic flow of thoughts about my new game, currently "codenamed" Eulogy as they occurred to me about a week after I had first thought of the idea. The game will be based on the technology in the Torque Shader Engine, and is currently being worked on by me (and me alone).

Basic Game Description
Eulogy (not the game's name; simply the song I was listening to when I thought of the idea) is designed with three things in mind: action, mood, and customization. My basic goal for the project is to have the game play like a classic first-person shooter, where aim is king, not some background roll of a die in the background determining when a player hits and when a player misses his opponent. There will not be any of the manipulation of physics like in Quake or Unreal; no double-jumps, no strafe jumping, etc., this game's mood is dark, and very deliberate, I want the physics of the main player to have its roots in realism--though an arcade-realism for movement. The player will move fairly fast, but have a stamina bar to control the amount a player can "run," which will greatly speed up movement.

While I want the controls to be fluid, the aiming to be fairly tight (though not "this is your cursor, you hit exactly where it's pointing"), and the movement to be fairly speedy, this does not mean I want the game itself to be a mindless bullet-fest. I want combat to be hectic, but still cerebral and thoughtfully-paced, so the player won't be able to aim 100% accurately while running and jumping through a crowd of enemies (which there will be a number of; there will also be a number of ways for the player to thin and demolish this crowd); the aiming will have some kind of inaccuracy system, a bit of statistical inaccuracy thrown in depending on the level of the character as well as the player's proficiency with whatever weapon type he/she is using at the time, but this inaccuracy amount will be minimal, I don't want to the game to be number-based in this respect (the level/proficiency will almost entirely impact damage, as well as what weapons and "techniques" the player can use; more on this later), but I will have level make a very slight impact. The accuracy will also be based on player movement/stability, but mostly on the player's ability to control whatever recoil the gun he is using has.

The game is primarily being billed as an Action/RPG. The pacing of the game, as I have described, will be quick and hectic as well as cerebral and thoughtful. I want the player to feel on edge at all times, but be able to find a "safe spot" at some points in which he can tool around with his current equipment layout (more on this later), as well as tweaking his weapons, and organizing his inventory. The character itself will be level-based, with a few basic stats influencing weapon experience, player speed, strength, "toughness," technical prowess, medicinal knowledge, and whatever else (I will try to keep the number of basic stats limited to about five or six categories, maybe less). Each of these will have a number of skills/feats/talents associated with them--weapon experience, for instance, would have subcategories based on types of weapons, whereas medicinal knowledge would have subcategories related to types of "healing" available (painkillers, natural antidotes, etc.).

The weapons themselves will be of a number of designs (the total number of which depends, really, on the number of talents artists I can get my hands on) each with their own unique usage. As the player advances through the game and increases his level, the weapons will start to have more "extra stats, do more damage, as well as the designs themselves starting to "look cooler" through various "mods" being attached to the basic design. I'm going to attempt to make sure that every model in the game has room for in-game component modification. For instance one of the basic rifles in the beginning of the game may still appear in the game later in time, though it will have so many modifications (some strictly for aesthetic appeal, other having actual practical purposes) that it will be an almost completely different weapon. In terms of design, all the weapons in the game will be based on a kind of Diablo/Diablo 2-ish naming scheme; the basic form for item naming will be: of - Mod Slots.

There will be no magic, but perhaps there will be some kind of "energy" system which controls special attacks (just to increase the amount of depth in the combat system).

The mood of the game is dark (not necessarily in lighting, but in atmosphere), hyper-violent, and lonely. The player, for the most part, will be companionless throughout the entire game. The areas, which for the prototype will solely consist of the Settlement, will require a relatively flexible and advanced lighting system which I plan to implement in the game's engine before I do much work on the features of the game itself, which I hope will give me time to find people to work on some content for the game, which will give me a decent library of art to work with when the technical aspects of the engine are complete (overall development schedule for the prototype game will follow these gameplay details).

Settlement (and Basic Story) Details
The Settlement that the player starts off in is basically the "hub" for the early beginning of the game. It is a "city," the name of which taken from the large Settlements formed in the early 22nd century before the Heavenly Reckoning occurred in the 25th century, killing off more than 90% of the world's population in the three weeks following the aftermath of the Reckoning. The humans that did survive the event moved underground, and slowly developed the very necessities of their new civilization with all of the technology and knowledge that the assorted humans had managed to bring down with them. In the player's settlement (the game takes place roughly one-hundred years after the underground settlement, referred to as "The Settlement," had had its first "Unification Feast" after the necessary buildings had been constructed for the new population to begin life anew in), there are roughly 1,500 people living, every citizen being from a range of backgrounds which had originally founded The Settlement over a century ago.

The Settlement itself is anything but a content sub-civilization, but the people all understand the situation they are in (but are certainly willing to do anything to stay alive, no matter what the costs). The buildings are all, essentially, thrown together with whatever the people could find, and have a very rough, very primitive look to most of them. There are a number of buildings, however, which are far more structurally advanced, which had been constructed after the initial necessary dwellings from the supplies that people had brought down with them initially (and from "salvaging runs" into the city they fled from originally).

The player's character's story is dynamic, depending on the choices that the player chooses during player creation. Whether the player starts out as "somebody" (a marine, doctor, etc.) or whether the player has some basic stats and builds up his rank from the actions he performs in the early game is something I have anything but decided at this point.

That's it for now. If you're an artist (either concept, texture, 3D modeler, or level designer), I really, really need your help. Please leave a comment, private message me (there is a PM button in the upper-right corner), or e-mail me (be sure to change the AT/DOT to @ and ., I h8 spam).

mittens

mittens

 

Bug Hunting For Great Justice!

I didn't work as much as I had hoped to on porting the "starter.fps" demo from the original Torque Engine to the shader engine. Primarily because of sleep, calc 3 homework, the Auto Assault beta, and the premier of season 2 of Battlestar Galactica... Though I did get a few hours of work in, and here's what I've accomplished (then what I've figured out).

First I was able to get the orc textures to display; the problem was simply that one of the game's scripting files relied on a folder that wasn't there. Here's what the orc looked like after I changed this:



I had to re-enable shader materials to get the orc's material shaders to work correctly, which I disabled for reasons that I'll cover in a moment, but it was certainly worth it when I saw them in action:



Something about the model still strikes me as being a bit "off," but I'll tweak that a lot more when I get the rest of the demo working correctly. After I had accomplished this "feat" (remember: any victory, despite size, is a big victory when programming), I went back to focusing on fixing the "see-through" interior buildings. The only objects with this problem, which is basically that the buildings have taken a liking to using the skybox textures, are DIF interior files; which are, basically, a Torque equivalent to Quake MAP files... These are the files that Torque uses for its interior maps/components which are managed through a BSP scene management tree (just like the Quake games). I posted a picture of this yesterday, but here's a link to it for a quick recap. Anyway, I disabled the following lines in materials.cs (the demoMaterial function can be found below the commented-out lines):

demoMaterial("MtlPilrFront","interiors");
demoMaterial("MtlPilrBottom","interiors");
demoMaterial("Mtl","interiors");
demoMaterial("F","interiors");
demoMaterial("Wall_filler1_01","interiors");
demoMaterial("Floor_tile01","interiors");
demoMaterial("FlrFiller3_01","interiors");
demoMaterial("WalMtlbase1_01","interiors");
demoMaterial("FlrFiller3_01","interiors");
demoMaterial("Filler_tile1_01","interiors");
demoMaterial("oak1","interiors");
demoMaterial("oak2","interiors");
demoMaterial("oak2_end","interiors");
demoMaterial("thatch","interiors");
demoMaterial("Floor_slate01","interiors");
demoMaterial("WalNoGroove","interiors");
demoMaterial("Wall_block01","interiors");
demoMaterial("stonewall","interiors");
demoMaterial("Wall_panel01","interiors");
demoMaterial("MtlPilrTop","interiors");
demoMaterial("cottage_detail","interiors/hovels");

function demoMaterial(%name,%dir)
{
%com = "datablock Material(Demo_"@%name@") {"@
"baseTex[0] = \"~/data/"@%dir@"/"@%name@"\";"@
"pixelSpecular[0] = false;"@
"specular[0] = \"1.0 1.0 1.0 0.1\";"@
"specularPower[0] = 32.0;"@
"};";
echo(%com);
eval(%com);
addMaterialMapping(%name, "material: Demo_"@%name);
}



Once I disabled these lines, I got the interior/DIF objects to look like this:



This image shows that the actual DIF skin is now in-game, but it is fighting with the previous "see-through" skin as before. Also, when I disable the lines above, the shaders on the orc cease to show up, which leads me to believe that the problem with the DIFs is related to materials. In short, the focus on my bug-hunt for this damn thing is getting narrowed down, and I'd expect that I'll figure out what's going on tomorrow. Then I can port over my GUI changes to this, and play around with the shaders.

Also, I'm looking for some help with some art assets for my game (very dark, very moody, kind of a mix of fallout/diablo/quake kind of thing) if anyone is feeling bored. Specifically, I need a bunch of buildings/textures for the prototype level I'm planning for the prototype work I'll be doing on the game. So if you're interested, just comment below. Off to bed.

mittens

mittens

 

Of Mice and Mittens

I've been spending the last few days with the the Torque Game Engine, and I must say, this is some of the most fun I've had programming in a very long time. Here's a quick run-through of the things I've been playing with over the last few days. Of note, though, is that I haven't stayed up this late in a while, so I may not be quite as witty (read: less than zero), verbose (no treatise on immersion :(), nor creative as I may [or may not] usually be.

The first thing I did with Torque was, naturally, play around with its terrain editor and particle editor. After about an hour of playing around with the editor, which has a built-in texture blender that can blend up to six 256x256 resolution textures (this 256x256 is a limit which made me angry) and having a lot of fun trying to figure out the particle editor without having so much as a clue as to what the various parameters did, I came up with this image:



The particle editor in Torque was surprisingly capable and powerful, though maybe not quite as powerful as the Max Payne 1/2 particle editors, nor as some of the particle engines I've cooked up over the years, but this will certainly do. And it will certainly do better as I update it. One really nice thing is that the editor already has support for a relatively large number of animated textures for the particle sprites (if I remember what I read correctly, it can support up to 5^6 animated textures for particles).

After playing with the particles and terrain, I set up an empty project in VS.NET 2k3 for all the various script files for the project I was working on at the time. It's a fairly large image (height-wise), so I don't want to post it here, but it's there if you want to take a peek at it.

Throughout yesterday and today, I was working with the GUI system to create a slightly more aesthetically-pleasing look for the game's option screen, and though I haven't started work on fine-tuning the rest of the GUIs yet, they do operate off certain parameters/images that I altered while playing with the look of the options window. I still have yet to finish my tweaking of this window, since I had gotten sidetracked, but eventually I'll be adding transparency to every GUI window as well. Here are a couple shots of the options window (left being the original look, middle being a rough draft, the third/final image being the near-current state of the options GUI):



What I got sidetracked with was the build of the Torque Shader Engine (I am now officially near-broke with just enough money to cover the first month's rent of my house for school this fall) that I decided to buy, going against my previous claim that I wanted to upgrade the engine with an entirely unique shader system of my very own (instead I'll just be working on a dynamic lighting and shadow system of my own). This decision came from the fact that I got an actual game idea in my head that I plan to flesh out and create a prototype level for all in the next six months. The screenshot below is the first build of the engine where I finally (only after about an hour of work) got the FPS demo from the first screen in this post working with the TSE:



If I didn't have class tomorrow, I would almost certainly be able to stay up all night just playing with the engine. I'm having an absolute blast with this. Another update tomorrow night.

mittens

mittens

 

Immersion in Modern Games

The video games we play have advanced seemingly exponentially in terms of their technological complexity, and therefore the complexity necessary to create such advanced pieces of software. Why then hasn't the immersion of these games, on average, advanced alongside of everything else? When I pick up a new game to play, I feel just as much outside of the game I'm playing as I did to games I played years ago; this fact disturbs me greatly. Why should I feel as little involvement and immersion with these newer games as I do games like Super Mario Bros. (the original for NES)? After all, these games have voice actors, a unique musical soundtrack, incredibly life-like 3D graphics, extensive plots conceived by professional authors, etc. These games we play have infinitely more complex technology than the games I played on NES yet, I very rarely feel truly roped into a game world by a game. Shouldn't every single game I pick up be a completely new experience that I can be totally immersed in from start to finish?

War of the Worlds
The answer to the previous question is yes, but first let me take a quick detour to talk about my trip to the movies yesterday. I finally went and saw War of the Worlds yesterday (along with Batman Begins, which was fantastic, but not applicable to this discussion), and the first hour and a half of the movie had me absolutely riveted throughout the entirety of it (the last fifteen-twenty minutes were an abomination to an otherwise perfect film, but I digress). I had absolutely no conception of time through this period, as I was simply captivated by what was happening on-screen. Three particular scenes stick out in my memory as being absolutely flawless in their execution: first there is the scene where the first alien tripod rises out of the ground as Tom Cruise and a number of other people crowd around this very odd hole in the ground that was created by a lightning storm where lightning had struck an individual spot twenty-some times in a row. Chaos ensues afterwards, and the camera focuses solely on Tom Cruise as he tries to run for his life away from this mechanical giant while the people around him are vaporized right in front of his face; no music is played during this (if I remember correctly), the sound the audience hears is composed entirely of sound-effects from what is happening around Tom Cruise. It's a truly frightening and suspenseful experience as the viewer feels immersed right into Tom Cruise's situation during the run for his life.

Another scene that struck out was when Tom Cruise and his children are resting, asleep, in the basement in a house somewhere. The camera pans to a basement window where we see a brush/weed-like thing being beaten against the window by strong winds. The noise is enough to wake Tom Cruise up out of his sleep, and then a number of thunderous sounds occur that wake his two children up. The three of them huddle together in fear and confusion (which is the feeling most people in the audience will share) as the noises get louder and louder and the flash of lightning illuminates the dark basement; the bass of the thunder shakes the speakers in the theater, making the audience feel even more a part of what is occurring on-screen. Then the lightning that appeared to be illuminating the basement before is joined by a different illuminating color - a shade of green. The colors start alternating frequently: green, purple, green, purple; alternating faster and faster, while the thunderous sounds become more and more intense. The fear of apprehension in the audience grows, signaling a kind of "Oh, shit, we need to get away, or safe, or anything" response. Soon after, the audience is shoved into a pitch-black room, with no sound or music. And that's essentially the end of the scene.

The final scene is far shorter, though still very effective. The camera is following one of Tom Cruise's children, a small, sick-looking blonde-haired and blue-eyed girl, as she tries to find a spot in an abandoned woods to go to the bathroom. The camera follows her from a kind of behind-the-shoulder point of view, with no music playing and only the sounds of the little girl walking against dead leaves filling the theater. Slowly music starts playing (very softly and silently introduced, and getting very slightly louder, as if its creeping up on the girl) and the girl stops to look at a little river that she is near enough to jump into if she wishes. She just stares at it for the moment, the music in the background still playing and getting louder and more intense, and then, on-screen, something appears to be floating down the river. The music is still fairly soft as the object in the river starts to come into view and turn, and then it rises to a very loud crescendo as the object turns a bit more, and the little girl (as well as the audience) can see very clearly that the object was a dead body floating down the river. Then a grouping of three-four more bodies come into view, followed by a large number of them, all dead and floating down the river. The camera turns and focuses on the little girl, just as Tom Cruise suddenly comes up and grabs her and shuts her eyes quickly.

Using Film Devices in Games
The previous three scenes from War of the Worlds were some of the most intense I've seen in any movie in a while, and they worked via a combination of visual and audio cues that worked with each other to produce a very strong, very emotional, and very immersive scene in the movie. Every video game should be very capable of producing, and sustaining, similar feelings, especially given that games have an added ability that movies do not: the player is actually experiencing the game first-hand with his own decisions and consciousness controlling the in-game character. Using a series of subtle audio and visual cues, it is extremely possible to put the player into situations where the player's senses are just going haywire due to a pure overload of situational details, and this should be a desirable thing for games that are based on making players experience the details of a game. I'd say this idea of player immersion is something that is most easily done in first- and third-person games.

To do this, the first thing the game designer needs to do is get inside the player's head by getting inside his own head. Generally if a designer makes a game that puts him into situations that freak, stress, or just generally creep him out, these same situations will work for a majority of the gamers playing his game. With DOOM 3, for example, id Software created a game that had the goal of keeping the player on-edge throughout the entirety of the game, and it seemed to work very, very well throughout the first fourth of the game or so, but after a while, the designers kept using the same tricks over and over, and it just become redundant. Though for those first few levels, I personally had a really hard time playing the game because I was just so stressed-out that I didn't think it was healthy for my heart to keep pounding so intensely for such a long period of time. The game simply made me uneasy; which it managed to do through some very simplistic video and audio cues. The visual cues employed were of two primary varieties: constant and instant cues (I'm making these up as I go, and entirely from memory). A "constant cue" is something that happens consistently as you look at a scene; something like a broken light hanging down from the ceiling that is flickering on and off constantly, providing a feeling of nervousness in the player. An "instant cue" is something that happens only once and in a confined instant that is meant to take the player off-guard for a moment; this is something like a monster throwing a severed head into the room and running away, or a ceiling tile falling to the ground with a loud "CRASH!" or something of this sort.

As far as the audio goes, I'm personally of the idea that if you want something to be emotionally impacting, there should be some sort of music playing that can alter in volume or intensity depending on the severity of the situation (such as the scene I described from War of the Worlds with the girl at the river). Though if you're going for a scary effect, I believe there should be no music at all; to create a truly creepy effect, the only things a player should be hearing are purely ambient environmental sounds, such as the flickering of a light bulb, the whirling of a fan, the whirr of a computer, etc., (with a few instant cues thrown in, as long as they don't get used so often they become predictable) along with the sounds of, say, the player's own beating heart, and the sounds of their body walking or their clothes rubbing up against each other as they collide during walking. Once you have this initial audio environment created, throw in some other sound effects occasionally. Throw in a rustling leaf, the sounds of a monster claw against metal moving around the player's location (though it must remain obvious that the monster is not actually in the player's space in the room, or else it will affect gameplay; the sound needs to used in a way that is purely environmental), the sound of a TV getting turned on and a reporter's voice echoing through the hallway, or, one of my favorites, a demonically-edited bit of dialog getting spoken continuously in a very hushed, echo'ing tone, the sound itself played in varying volume and position in the room. Remember: some of the most intense and scariest emotions are a result of never actually knowing the source of a video or audio cue; the player's sense of fear/stress is gone once the player learns or confronts the actual source of the stress.

Another way to immerse the player in gameplay is to throw the player in a situation where he is given no weapons, no immediate idea of a way to escape, or make him feel helpless. One of the very few things I loved Half-Life 2 for was the opening scene of the game. First the player is greeted with the face of the very mysterious and unknown G-Man, explaining very little, and thrusting the player into City 17. Next thing the player knows, he is thrust onto a train, and he enters a train with a very eerie and Big Brother-like overseer talking on a giant monitor, while these odd-sounding "guards" poke-and-prod people in a very violent manner. The very few sounds played during this introductory and confusing scene are incredibly scary, simply since the player is confused and "in the dark" about his entire situation at this point. Soon afterwards, the player must evade these guards while he is completely unarmed, so a rooftop chase sequence ensues where the guards are almost always directly on the player's trail. It is this moment, and this moment alone, where I felt truly immersed in Half-Life 2's richly detailed world. It is also this moment that was the peak of my enjoyment for the game, since no other aspect of the game managed to stress me out as much as this one did.

Conclusion
So why don't games ever truly immerse players in their gameplay anymore? Well, I don't honestly know. The technology is certainly there, and movies manage to immerse me into their story entirely even though I'm never actually in control of any aspect of the plot or occurrences in the movie. Some games really cannot take advantage of the immersion that I'm talking about throughout this article (the feeling of fear, confusion, helplessness, stress, etc.), but there are still a number of games that can and should be able to do this. Here's hoping that if games start to mimic Half-Life 2, they make sure to mimic the only part of the game, in my opinion, that truly excelled.

mittens

mittens

 

The Pool of Gaming Familiarity

In the last decade, video games have become more and more like movies than their old-age makers could ever have even thought of. We have games like Halo 2 which are so big, expensive, and popular that it can generate more money in a single day than any blockbuster movie could ever hope to bring in on its opening day. One thing that is becoming really hard to do with modern games, though, is making a really "good" game; and, by good, I mean fun to play and experience. The actual source of this challenge is certainly debatable, whether it's because developers are really out of fresh ideas, or that publishers don't want to take any risks with new games for fear of not heavily profiting from it, but one thing that is for sure: games have the technology to be far, far better than some of the crap that's actually being released these days.

These days, a lot of games are all about two, maybe three, things: Franchises: These are games that, while maybe innovative in the first place, become so common-place in their own name brand, that a number of other games feel the need to copy aspects of the game in its own drive "to be popular." Every developer feels the need to always make a sequel when one of their big games has success, which is something I really don't blame them for, but just because this new game may be a sequel does not mean that it has to be the first game's identical twin plus graphics engine upgrade. For the love of God, guys, let's show some originality. The best sequels, in my eyes, are the ones that flop (or have extreme success, but if I said this first, you wouldn't read the next sentence). A flop of a sequel means that the developers tried very different things, and these things failed miserably; similarly for successful sequels, though they fared far better.

Examples of what I mean here are Civilization 3 (flop), DOOM 3 (success in my eyes, mostly a flop in others), Grand Theft Auto 3 (huge success), Half-Life 2 (success in most eyes, flop in mine), Warcraft 3 (success); these are all game sequels that made a big impact, either positively or negatively, in that they either GREATLY expanded or alienated part of their fan base, because the sequel was such a changed game. DOOM 3 was a far more cerebral and lengthy experience than its counterparts, while Half-Life 2 was a far more varied/gimmicky/abstract game than I think the original Half-Life was. A graphical upgrade is, in my mind, always a necessity for a sequel, but it's not very important to the overall success of a sequel, just a must to keep things "fresh." A game like Warcraft 3 kept a lot of the things that made the original game popular, but with the unit count cut in half, Warcraft 3 put a lot more emphasis on micro-management of units, rather than letting players just mass a large amount of units like in Warcraft 2 and Starcraft. I think the upcoming Dungeon Siege 2 will be one of the most successful sequels in PC gaming history; the original game may have a very big name, but it has a fairly small fan base. Though, despite this, the amount of work and effort that the guys at Gas Powered Games are putting into Dungeon Siege 2's new focus on gameplay has really paid off, and I think a lot of PC gamers will see this when the DS2 press and reviews start rolling in. The amount of fun I had with the Dungeon Siege 2 beta was incredibly surprising; DS2 is almost a completely different beast than the original game was, and the beta was some of the most fun I've had in RPG/Action gaming in a long time. Not many games make me do a double-take and yell "Holy shit, that was AWESOME!" at the top of my lungs.

A counter-example to my point here is Halo 2. The game may have had a graphical upgrade, and may be one of the highest grossing games of all time (I'm not sure if this is just for one day, or for all-time), but it's a horrible excuse for a sequel. Halo 2 is essentially the same game that the original was, except it had Havok physics, better graphics, and Live! support. "Oh, Trent, but it had a completely different player, letting people experience the game through an entirely new perspective!" Yeah, sure, but this "new perspective" only changed the fact that you could now use camouflage, but dammit, those aliens sure can't use a flashlight.
Movie Tie-Ins: Please... just... stop. I'm so tired of seeing games based on movies, which seem to always be either a Metal Gear Solid, DOOM, or Grand Theft Auto 3 clone. Movie tie-ins are cool occasionally, especially when it's a big-name movie that just screams the need for a video game version. In my time as a gamer, and I've been actively gaming for eighteen years (since I was two; yes, two) and only twice have I ever played a decent movie-based game: Goldeneye and The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. Movie-based games are very obviously made solely for the extra income generated from the movie's success, and I know there's nothing I can say that will stop their production, but I just wish that since these games are being made, that they can actually have some genuine thought put into them (as well as into the question: "Should this game really even be made?"), as it seems like every one of these games is simply a port of whatever game is popular at the time. Currently the big thing is to make movie-based games almost exactly like Grand Theft Auto 3. I personally can't wait to play as a decked-out Tom Cruise and blast the shit out of tripods in War of the Worlds because, after all, that's exactly like what happened in the movies.

I might actually give the game a chance if all the game consisted of was my playing as Tom Cruise and simply trying to avoid the Tripods for a few hours.
The Third Type: These are the games that make me happy to be a gamer, and even happier to realize that I will one day be working in a game development company of my very own. These are the games that simply cannot be classified under a type. This is the type of game that comes from a fresh, creative mind that has the goal of revolutionizing the genre in ways that had previous not been thought of before. These are games like Will Wright's Spore and The Sims, Chris Taylor's Supreme Commander and Total Annihilation, Sid Meier's Civilization, Brian Reynold's Rise of Nations and upcoming Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends (two games in the same genre, though neither similar in the slightest other than the franchise name), and so very few more.
If only there were more than a handful of titles released every year that were truly raising the bar in quality then, maybe, publishers wouldn't be so heavily rewarded for releasing a hardly-update sequel in a popular franchise. Remember, it's not only the fact that a lot of developers don't embrace their own creativity, it's also a matter of the fact that the cash that gamers throw out for various games is what keeps the industry going. Support the developers who try something new and succeed. It's what will keep the industry from breeding in its own familiarity.

mittens

mittens

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