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Thought of the Day: “FPS: First Person Spectacle” or “Spectacular Setpieces Suck”

April 22, 2012 Leave a comment

NOT THE FACE!

Modern Warfare was a great game. It took an aging concept, put it in a modern setting, gave it some very memorable characters, an redefined reinvention. Modern Warfare 2 was a decent follow-up, but it seemed to me that the set pieces were more frequent, the situations were more dire, the settings were more hazardous, and most helicopters that flew or tried to rescue someone crashed in a fantastic cacophony of churning metal, flying debris and a giant ball of fire. Modern Warfare 3, frankly, was ridiculous. The set pieces seemed to outnumber the amount of time players actually had control of their character, and this time, every rescuing helicopter crashed, and the passengers always survived unscathed.

I am using the series as an example, but it seems to be that first person shooters (single-player obviously, not multi-player) are more about the fantastic spectacle and less about the challenge. At first it was some form of explosion or crash or ambush. Then it morphed into larger set pieces with collapsing structures and manic car chase sequences. Battlefield 3 took it up several notches by collapsing skyscrapers during a devastating earthquake, and oh-so-shockingly, the protagonist survives the building crashing on him. I can go off on a tangent here and talk about why every first person shooter hero seems to have skin made out of Adamantium, but that is a topic for another post.

Maybe I am using a frame of reference limited to the FPS titles I have been exposed to in the last year, but the pattern is pretty apparent to me: make a massive spectacle, a sequence so insanely improbable and outlandish that one can’t help but marvel at their screen. I think the only time that a set piece actually gave me goosebumps and fit very well into the story arc was *SPOLER ALERT* in Crysis, when the mountain slowly deteriorates in the distance, shaking off skyscrapers-sized boulders and the colossal alien ship encased within rears its extraterrestrial head. /*SPOLER ALERT* Outside of that, every time I lose control of my character because they need to narrowly escape death in one fashion or another, is a nuisance and hindrance more than anything else. But then again, perhaps the worst type of spectacle is the one when you actually do have control of your character during a spectacle sequence, because you don’t know if dodging bullets and dispatching baddies in a meticulous fashion should be your top priority or watching the insanity of the spectacle unfold.

This was supposed to be a “thought of the day” post, so allow me to be succinct: the fact of the matter is that first person shooters are increasingly more about the spectacle, and less about the challenge/story/experience. And with the never-ending race for creating the next best engine, that is not likely to change any time soon.

Thought of the Day: “Delayed Boss Battles” or “Rift Lovers Pay Attention”

January 14, 2011 3 comments

RIFT has rifts; cool idea, seemingly impressive execution: elementals will pour on from dynamically generated rifts and destroy anything they can find in their path.

Here is a thought. What if:

  1. The elite units coming out of these portals got increasingly powerful the longer they went unchecked
  2. The longer you wait to take the elites down (thus allowing them to become more powerful and tougher to take down), the better rewards you get
  3. (optional) If they are separated from the elemental plane for too long, they eventually begin to lose their power (so we don’t get infinitely powerful enemies)

The point being what if the player base was in a competition to see who would let the Rift survive the longest to reap better rewards, instead of bum-rushing the elementals every time there was a rift opening up in an area?

Categories: Rift, Thought of the Day

Thought of the Day: “Is One Month Enough?” or “Another Argument for F2P”

January 10, 2011 2 comments

Two things have happened in the last few years of MMO gaming.

  1. All the (relatively) younger gamers, myself included, have grown up to pursue full-fledged, and thankfully meaningful careers. As such time is in short supply.The average MMO gamer is in the mid-to-late-twenties.
  2. MMOs have evolved with increasingly complex systems. Just look at the list of UI windows and keyboard shortcuts in LOTRO or WoW. With complexity comes a learning curve. With a learning curve comes an investment of time.

So here’s the thought: Is a single month of playtime really enough to get a good hang of what the game may be like? Or is it an anachronistic concept in this day and age?

Categories: F2P, Thought of the Day

Thought of the Day: “Wouldn’t it Have Been Easier” or “Gondria’s Gone”

November 11, 2010 2 comments

Wow Insider reports on Stormrage (US) server’s <Circle of Blame>. The guild found the ultra-rare spectral cat Gondria in Zul’Drak and in an effort to ensure its survivability, protected it against accidental killings and Alliance harassment. What is truly spectacular about this feat is that they did this for seven hours, finally kiting the kitty to Grizzly Hills for the guild hunter to log on and train the unique beast as a pet.

So here’s a thought. Couldn’t you have just trained the bastard on a hunter alt, and released when the other hunter logged on several hours later? Or am I missing something here?!

Categories: Thought of the Day

Thought of the Day: “Infinity Ward Respawned” or “Obvious Pun!”

April 26, 2010 Leave a comment

I am sure I am not the only one who has thought of this pun, but for some odd reason, I haven’t seen any gaming website use it yet.

No one else thinks the now practically defunct Infinity Ward has respawned at Respawned Entertainment? 😛

Thought of the Day: “Gigabytes of War!” or “Kratosbytes!”

March 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Now this is getting a little preposterous. God of War has long enjoyed a rabid fan-following, and is recognized as a heavy-hitter. The third (and final? yeah that’s what we thought about Halo as well!) iteration is hitting stores next month.

And it will come packed on a dual layer Blu-Ray discs.

Because it is a whopping 35 GB of data!

Metal Gear Solid 4 was actually too big for a dual layer Blu-Ray disc (50GB). Whereas the latest advancements in the technology allow dual-layer Blu-Rays to support up to nearly 67GB of data.

So here are some questions:

  1. How far are we from swapping dual-layer Blu-Rays in a single playing session?
  2. How far are we from a time when the gaming industry will step into hardware development roles because their creations will be too large for the existing hardware to handle?
  3. More importantly, if our largest current data capacity discs have an insufficient amount of space for the requirements of contemporary games, are gaming companies sacrificing game elements, cutscenes or even mechanics to accommodate storage capacities?

Discuss!

Categories: Thought of the Day

Thought of the Day: “Uninspiring Inspiration” or “I Kan’t Haz Curbstompz?”

November 18, 2009 3 comments

In Dragon Age: Origins, anyone else feel that inspired by your leadership, the “perks” your companions get are rather underwhelming? Increased points in their primary stat? That’s it?

I thought at least Shale would gain “curbstomp” as an ability! Pigeoncrap!

Thought of the Day: “Origins Conversion” or “It’s a Party in Here”

November 9, 2009 Leave a comment

In Dragon Age Origins:

What if you could pick and choose your party members from characters who’s origin stories you had already played?

“Novelty vs. Nostalgia ” or “Innovation vs. Stagnation”

November 6, 2009 1 comment

Micheal Denny heads Sony’s Worldwide Studios Europe (yes, a Worldwide studio for Europe). Speaking at Develop Liverpool yesterday, he says new intellectual properties (IPs) are necessary for the gaming business to thrive and to counter stagnation. He talked about a ot of other things as well, and you can read the full article here. But we will work with just the statement above.

Novelty

It sounds like a fairly generic, obvious statement. Novelty and innovation go hand-in-hand with memorable experiences and awe-inspiring moments that challenge the very norms that define us as gamers.

But the truth of the matter goes deeper than that.

assassinscreed

There are several new IPs in the last few years that have redefined genres, challenged existing modus operandi, and experimented with pre-existing formulas that both surprised and entertained. Mirror’s Edge and Assassin’s Creed are two examples that capitalized on the parkour phenomenon and introduced it, albiet with varying degrees of success, into the gaming arena. Assassin’s Creed’s repetitiveness aside, no other game allowed you to race parkour-style across rooftops, weaving, dodging, jumping, climbing through densely populated cityscapes with the same satisfying fluidity.

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Another example is Left 4 Dead. It capitalized on America’s necrotic (necro-erotic?) fascination with the undead, and elevated it to breathtaking heights. (Literally. Remember ‘No Mercy’?) At the most basic level, you find weapons, you shoot things, you heal, you get from point A to point B. But the whole experience was moulded in a way that fed our most primal instincts when faced with near-impossible odds, and structured to reward teamwork rather than the ever-present lone-wolf gameplay. In short, it was the first memorable and lasting IP to explore the zombie genre, and it did so with elegance and style.

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Then there are games which mix and match pre-defined and functionally distinct elements of the the gaming macrocosm, and produce something that is simultaneously fresh, yet oddly familiar. Borderlands, a first person role playing shooter game, is a great such example. Although I have some reservations with the game, it has challenged industry norms and brought to life interesting, deviating ways of combining age-old gameplay elements to create a fresh, unique experience.

daochoppa

Innovation even applies to taking the same old concept and applying a fresh twist to it, be it story, gameplay, control or any other aspect that defines the game for what it is. Dragon Age: Origins released three days ago in the U.S. It unlocks for me today (about bloody time). Although I have not played the game yet myself (not that it stops me from shamelessly singing praises about the it), I rest assured because industry veterans, reviewers, bloggers and players are awash with praise. Although BioWare is weaving a tale that the fantasy RPG genre is over-saturated with, Dragon Age: Origins’ “story is rich and engaging, the characters are memorable, and the journey is one that pulls you in, captivates you and compels you to move forward toward the conclusion.” In other words, despite utilizing a familiar setting, the game is designed to surprise fanss of the genre and throw elements into the mix that are both unexpected and against the grain.

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Then there are games that innovate and surprise you in ways you never thought possible. Because prior to these games, the genre to which they belong simply didn’t exist. I am talking about Braid. There were moments where I just stopped, and stared at the screen in awe at how much love and energy and effort they had put into something so elementary and simple. A straight-forward platformer was transformed into a cerebral masterpiece that enthralled, amazed, and made you stop dead in your tracks.

loveandlies

And for any fan of Valve, the cake always was, and always will be, a lie. Can you think of any other game that made you fall in love with an inanimate cube?

There are countless other examples, but the bottom line is that innovation is what drives the industry forward, gives us novel, unexpected, at times mind-bending IPs to play, and justifies Micheal Denny’s statement. Mr. Denny may be striving for the Captain Obvious title, but he certainly drives the point home. However, that is only part of the story.

Nostalgia

On the contrary, nostalgia plays a big factor in attracting an already dedicated fan base to a new iteration of an old IP. Warcraft, Command and Conquer, Metal Gear Solid, Diablo, Splinter Cell, Max Payne, Grand Theft Auto, Halo (and many, many more) are all examples of great games that relied on nostalgia and the success of the inaugural titles to attract additional revenue.

potus

Click to enlarge. Courtesy of Bad Pie Bakery.

World of Warcraft is a global phenomenon. With the entire population of Earth, Vulcan, Tattoine and Caprica (that hurt your head?) acquired as the player base of the ever-popular MMO, Blizzard has created a behemoth that is practically impossible to dethrone. ‘The next WoW’ has been applied to countless MMOs released since, and none have achieved the success (at least in numbers and subscriptions) that WoW enjoys to this very day. I can’t help but wonder if the game would have been this successful if prior Warcraft titles had not existed. Would it be laughed upon? Would it be degraded as a shameless clone (I am looking at you Alganon!)? Would it never take off the ground? Or would everything remain the same? Regardless of the level of success WoW would enjoy in this alternate reality, my patented sixth sense tells me it would be nowhere near the level of success WoW is today, had it not been for the millions of avid followers of the IP.

mwsoapshower

The Call of Duty series is an interesting case study because it applies to both the novelty and the nostalgia sides of the argument. On the one hand, the series has capitalized on a massive base of rabid followers ever since the first Call of Duty hit the market. On the other hand, the series was redefined with Modern Warfare, a title that needs little introduction and speaks volumes about the level of innovation and effort that went into redefining this classic series on a whole new level.

maxpayneyears

The third rendition Max Payne, for the lack of a better word, looks weird. Max is fat, balding, in South America, and a mercenary for hire. It is almost as if someone designed a new game, and someone else stamped it with the Max Payne IP and course-corrected everything accordingly. But as a fan of the original Max Payne and it’s fantastic sequel, I know for a fact I will buy and play this game. I will not care what the reviews say, or what the screenshots look like, or how far removed Max will be from the familiar New-York-world-weary-cop setting. I will play this game with all the enthusiasm and wonder that I played the first two games with. I will remain loyal to this IP regardless of the vicissitudes of passing years or changing studios.

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But the nostalgia factor isn’t limited to rehashing old game IPs in a new light. It also applies to leveraging a tried and true formula, rather than an IP. Consider Knights of the Old Republic. The game took the RPG formula BioWare has essentially and effectively perfected, and combined it with the nostalgic fan base of the Star Wars universe. Yes it was a pre-existing IP, but one that was not leveraged in the RPG gaming industry as such. The result was a product that won grand slam titles, scored high in every category, provided a fresh setting and gameplay, and secured its place as a classic for some time to come.

The most recent of these examples is Torchlight. The graphics looks cartoonish and severely dated. There are only three classes. And it ends too quickly. But it is an incredible experience, offers smooth gameplay and feeds on the far-reaching and widespread Diablo nostalgia that the gaming media has made no effort to hide.

Conclusion

One step forward, two steps back. Two steps forward, one step back.

What started as a ‘Thought of the Day’ post has turned into a 1,500 word piece juxtaposing novelty against nostalgia in contemporary gaming. In the end, I suppose I agree with Mr. Denny, but only in that his statement paints just part of the picture. Nostalgic experiences and revisited IPs are just as important to the genre as novelty and innovation. And in select cases, they can work hand-in-hand to create an unforgettable masterpiece.

Do you guys agree? Which side of the fence are you on? Can you think of some other examples that apply to the two dismetric opposites above?

Thought of the Day: “Snowbored” or “MMONorms”

November 4, 2009 1 comment

Funcom, developers of Age of Conan and the upcoming The Secret World are now crafting a new MMO centered around the world of extreme sports.

Makes me wonder if they will have quests that hold true to the age-old MMO norms…

<DOWN WITH THE COLD>

“Global warming has led to plummeting temperatures in the winters. Several snowboarders, despite being wrapped in warm clothing, are beginning to suffer from hypothermia. One guy even had his nose fall off! We need your help <Bronte>! You need to kill wolves around the <Snowboarder Hills>, and bring back 10 sets of <Warm Wolf Pelts> for the competitors. Hurry! There isn’t much time!

Accepting this quest will start a 10 minute timer.

You will receive: <A generous pat on the back>.

<Accept> :: <Reject>

Categories: Thought of the Day

“Inconsequential Death” or “Maybe I got a Deathwish”

November 3, 2009 Leave a comment

Thought of the day: As I detailed in the second part of The Borderlands Chronicles, the death system is designed to ensure you never have to reload. But what if you wanted to relive a firefight you particulaly enjoyed?