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Gameplay First - The Dungeon Siege 2 Example

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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.
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DS2 is honestly one of the best games I've ever played. It is a shining example of my "game stories suck" philosophy.

"Gamers" (and I use the term with much derision) no longer care about quality gameplay. Unfortunately these idiots are now the hardcore thanks to an influx of the common man into gaming. I do find it obscene that these same gamers will turn around and plug in Counter Strike, a game which still looks dated after application of Teh Magical Source Engine LOL.

So I don't know. I think DS2 fits my game design philosophy, and I think it was vastly underappreciated by the gaming "hardcore".

The gaming hardcore doesn't know what it wants -- it doesn't want cheating but Steam's VAC2 is altogether too much for it (in the words of one steampowered.com user: "HITLER NAZI SHIT"). It wants more complicated games but Morrowind is teh sukc because of the stat crunching required to swing a sword.

I just call it bullshit, and know that those pinheads won't like my games anyway. The true worst part is that these idiots drive PC gaming because they're the morons that post on forums going "OMG MORE SHOOTIGN". Observe: Deus Ex 2.

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For the record, Dungeon Siege 2 is putting a far heavier emphasis on story (it seems like this one is designed with an "epic RPG" mindset).

Though for those of you who are afraid this may hurt the game... Don't be. Chris Taylor is a guy that really belives in the "show don't tell" philosophy (it's a common Creative Writing mantra, too), so I doubt the game will be bogged down with story. From what I'm seeing in the demo, and from what I saw in the beta, this is the same game that fans of the original loved, with a whole lot of new and improved things to appeal to a far wider audience as well.

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How does DS2 fix the movie-like(aka 'watch' this) gamyplay of DS1? DS1 was mildly entertaining until I noticed after 15 minutes I had already experienced all there was to it. Adding a larger variety would help a little(having fireball 1-10000 isn't exactly interesting), but the gameplay mechanics and interface themselves seemed to greatly prevent the possibility of an interesting challenge. I'm not big on 'MMO Strategy' where the main idea is to mecahncally repeat the same actions over and over (making sure not to do action _ too much lest you get attacked more than wanted).

Original post by mittens
[...]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.[...]
Personally, I play ancient games like Half-Life Mods (yes, including Counter-Strike) and NES and SNES games.
Also, I say that graphics technology is not important, rather than wanting "a visually sub-par game". Graphics are definitely important reguardless of what technology they use, but they don't have to be excellent. I'm quite fond of Super Mario Brothers, The Adventures of Lolo, Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, and many other great games with decent graphics for the technology that they use and great gameplay to go along with it.

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DS2 is almost a completely different beast than the first one; I'll try to explain it in the morning. For now, I go to sleep.

Keep this alive while I slumber, or else.

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