Random Thoughts – Randosity!

Game Review: Resident Evil 7 Demo

Posted in video game design, video gaming by commorancy on June 20, 2016

While I realize this is a only demo and may not resemble the real game all that much, what I will say about it is, I’m not terribly fond of it overall. I’m hoping the game is far different from this. Let’s explore.

Story

Your character ends up stuck in a creepy old farmhouse and must figure out a way to get out of it. Along the way you find things that may or may not help your character. Can you actually get your character out of the house alive?

Game Mechanics

Whether or not you can actually get out of the house is not really the question. The question is, are the game mechanics good? First, it is a preliminary game demo. So, in that aspect, it’s a little dumbed down.

On the one hand, it is somewhat better than Resident Evil 5 and 6… meaning, there aren’t zombies running and jumping at your character at every step. On the other hand, there are no zombies at all. In fact, the entire house is devoid of enemies entirely (other than when you answer the phone or find the back door key and try to leave). And then, the enemy is a cut scene that you can’t fight. So, in effect, this is more or less a puzzle questing game… and not a very good one at that.

Second, the only redeeming factor is the video tape. Because watching the video tape is also player interactive, you can do things with the characters on the tape (in the past) that open things up for the player in the future. This is the one and only one cool gimmick about this demo, but it is so underused as a game gimmick that it’s almost hardly not worth mentioning.

Graphics

Plainly and of what you can see of them, the textures, wood, roaches, character models and environments are supremely well done. Unfortunately, you’re hindered by having to roam the house using a flashlight. This means you can only see what you can illuminate with the flashlight. Otherwise, it all ends up dark. It reminds me a little of the way that Bioshock was lit in terms of the dark undersea lighting that gets brighter as you approach walls and items. Not so much the textures, but the lighting concept. In some ways this works, but it gets old and tiring after about an hour of play. I was hoping the fuse box would have actually let me flip the lights on in the house. But no, the only thing the fuse box does is let you drop down the attic stairs. And, that’s just a little weird. In such a decrepit old farm house, why would the owners have installed a drop down electric set of stairs that lead to the attic? Doesn’t really make any sense.

Puzzles

Unfortunately, other than the video tape gimmick mentioned above, the puzzles are mostly weak. Worse, the puzzles are tied to successfully completing events. Meaning, unless you do a very specific thing in the house, you can’t progress to and find the next puzzle piece (i.e., it simply won’t appear). If you cannot figure out what the game wants you to do, you’re stuck. Too many games offer puzzles like this. Some puzzles are glaringly obvious what you need to do. Though in this game, many of the puzzles are so obscure that you can run around for hours and never figure it out. That doesn’t make a game fun, it makes it tedious.

Game Development / Demo / Beta Testing

The game devs have a whole lot of work ahead of them to get this game right. I’m assuming this demo was released to test the waters with gamers. RE4 was a spectacular achievement for the Resident Evil series. But, as much as RE4 was an achievement, RE5 and RE6 were not.

I’m one of those people who firmly believes, “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”. In fact, I’ve been bitten one too many times with this series… both with RE5 and RE6. Shame on me. I won’t be bitten again. This is the reason I’m playing this demo. I was, in fact, hoping that this would have been another Leon game like RE4. After all, it’s been well long enough to finally get another Leon game.

Commentary

While Capcom seems to be on the right track with Resident Evil 7, assuming it can expand on this puzzle questing and video tape idea, I’m still very skeptical. This game has all of the hallmarks of tricking gamers into a decent opening puzzle level only to convert the game into yet another dual player zombie shooter (like RE5 and RE6 turned into) once you exit the house. If Capcom can keep this puzzle questing survival horror idea on-track throughout the entire game (throwing in some zombie apocalypse battles here and there), it might turn out to be a decent game. Unfortunately, it has a little too much of the telltale signs of converting into a completely different game once you leave the house. For this reason, I will wait until the game is fully released into the stores before I plop down $60 for this title. I simply don’t trust Capcom.

Though, I absolutely love the video tape idea of going back in time and opening doors, finding hidden secrets, leaving things behind, etc, for future characters to find and use. This is probably one of the freshest ideas in this game. Unfortunately, it’s way underused in this demo and I’m not certain exactly how much it could be used unless the main character carries around a camcorder and finds tapes along the way.

Game Review: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

Posted in video game design, video gaming by commorancy on November 9, 2015

Warning: This review may contain spoilers. If you want to play this game through, you should stop reading now.

acsWhile Ubisoft got some parts of this game right, they got a lot of the parts very very wrong. And, this game cheats, badly. Let’s explore.

The Good

As with most Assassin’s Creed games, Syndicate is filled with lots of very compelling gameplay in its open world environment. The stories are decent, but short and the assassinations make it feel like Assassin’s Creed I (mostly). They’ve done well to bring back a lot of what made Assassin’s Creed I fun. Unfortunately, there’s also a whole lot of bad go with that fun. And, if you’re sneaky enough, you get the chance to use cover assassinations, air assassinations and haystack assassinations with much more regularity. Unfortunately, this game is about equally outweighed by the bad and the ugly.

The Bad

Controls

As with every single Assassin’s Creed game, the controls get harder and harder to work as the game progresses. And by harder and harder, I mean the designers require much more fine grained control over button presses or else you miss the opportunity to do whatever it is they have you doing. This usually means you miss your opportunity do take down an enemy, you fall off of a building, you can’t escape a fight or whatever.

For example, a person steals something and you have to tackle the thief. Unfortunately, as you happen to be running after the thief, if you also happen to straddle along side a carriage, the carriage will usurp the tackle button and you’ll end up stealing a carriage (all the while letting the thief get away). The really bad part is that you cannot break out of the carriage stealing maneuver and attempt to continue on with the thief chase. Oh no, you have to watch the entire motion capture playback from beginning to end all while your thief you were inches away from tackling runs away.

As another example, there are times where you begin a fight and a ton of enemies surround you. Then, one of them takes a swing and practically knocks you out with one blow. You don’t even get enough time to press the medicine button before you’re dead or desynchronized.

On top of this, the game still does not tell you every side mission requirement in advance. You only find them out after you’ve failed them.

Zipline Gun

And this is not the only incident of these types of bad controls. Once you get the zipline gun, it’s handy to use for quick getaways to the top of a building. That is all except, when the designers prevent you from using it. And they do prevent its use intentionally in some areas. Meaning, you can stand in front of some buildings and the zipline control appears. In others, nothing. This is especially true in areas where you have to complete a mission. So, you’ll be down on the ground and spotted, the first thing to do is find a rooftop to zipline to the top. Unfortunately, you can’t in a lot of mission areas. In some you can, in others you can’t.

Ubisoft, if you’re going to give me the zipline gun, let us use it on any building of any size. Not just those you randomly allow. This is so frustrating.

Calling Attention

When you’re sneaking around as an assassin, the pedestrians around you are constantly saying things like, “I hope he knows he can be seen” and other stupid things. While it doesn’t bring attention from enemies, it’s just nonsensical and stupid. Most people would merely ignore someone doing something like skulking around. Worse, it’s not like we have control over day or night in this game. Clearly, for most of the work of an assassin, it should be done at night under the cover of darkness. Instead, you’re out doing this stuff at noon.

Syndicate

Syndicate? What syndicate? Sure, you have a gang that you can find and call together on the street, but you barely ever get to use them alone let alone on missions. You can rope in a few at a time, but it’s almost worthless. When you enter into any place, they only thing they end up doing is drawing attention to you. As an assassin, that’s the last thing you want. You want stealth kills, not big grandiose street kill events. This is not Street Fighter. Other than that, there is no other syndicate. It’s not like you can switch to and play Greenie, which would have been a cool thing. It’s not like there were other assassins roaming the city that join in on the cause. I was hoping the syndicate would have been a huge group of assassins who all band together to get something done. Nope.

Recognition

On some levels, you don’t get recognized quickly. On others, it’s almost instantaneous. It’s really frustrating that there is not one level of recognition that you get with this game. Instead, it’s random and haphazard based on the level designer’s whim.

The Ugly

Glitchy

While it may not be anywhere near as bad as Unity, it’s still bad enough that you have to start (and restart) missions over to complete them. I’ve had glitches which locked my character up in a move that I had to quit out of the game to stop. I’ve had glitches where Jacob falls off of a rooftop merely by standing there. I’ve had glitches where I stand inches from an enemy and don’t get the assassinate action. I can hang below windows with enemies standing in front of me with no assassinate action. I’ve fallen off of the zipline for no reason.

The controls get worse and worse as the game progresses, to the point that if you want to get anything done, you nearly can’t.

Cinematics you can’t abort

Throughout the game, you’ll find that when you click a button to enter a carriage or zipline to the top of the building, you cannot break out of that action until it’s fully complete. If you were trying to do something else and accidentally launched into one of these cinematics, you have to fully complete the action entirely before you get control back.

Character Levels

The introduction of character levels is just plain stupid. I understand why they are in the game, but the reality is, they make no sense. Fighting a level 9 versus a level 2 is not at all realistic. You don’t have levels in real life. You have people who are more skilled than others, but not levels. These enemies are no more skilled than any other. If I walk into an area, my level should not dictate how hard it is to kill an enemy. I should be able to perform moves on a level 2 or level 9 in the same way and take them down at the same rate. In fact, enemies shouldn’t even have levels.

Bosses & Gang Wars

As you complete a section of the city, it unlocks a gang war segment. So, your gang fights their gang. Except, it’s not really a gang war. Instead, it’s half a gang war. The first segment starts out as a gang war where your gang fights theirs and you get to participate. After that first segment is complete, you must fight 5 to 6 of their gang members alone (including the boss). That’s not exactly a gang war. That’s an unfair fight. Where is my 4 to 5 other gang members to help me out. If it’s a gang war, make it a gang war. If it’s to be a 1 on 1 fight then make it so. Ganging up 5 or 6 against 1 is not a gang war and is in no way fair. I know some gamers like beating these odds, but I find it contrived and stupid. If it’s supposed to be a gang war, make it a fight between gangs.

The only consolation is that the game gives you one shot at taking down the section boss right before the gang war. If you can manage to kill them then, you don’t have to do that segment during the gang war. Still, a gang war should be about gangs.

Desynchronization and Load Times

This is one of the most ugly parts of this game. If you fall off a building and die, you have to wait through an excruciatingly long load time. So long, in fact, you could go make yourself a cup of coffee and be back in time for it to finally load. I mean, this is a PS4 and the game is loaded on the hard drive. Yet, it still takes nearly 2-4 minutes just to reload a level? I’m amazed (not in a good way) at how long it takes to reload. Once the game finally does reload, it drops you off some distance away from where you were. This is also frustrating. Why can’t you drop my character exactly in the location or at least close enough that I don’t have to run a ton just to get back there.

Starrick Boss Level

This level is ultimately the most asinine fail level of the entire game. Once you finally find the shroud (which is the whole point to the present day piece of this game), the game should immediately stop and move to present day. No. Instead, you have to attempt to assassinate Starrick in one of THE most asinine levels I’ve ever played in a game.

Evie and Jacob, the two twins, have to be the two most stupid people on Earth. Otherwise, they would simply realize they could cut and drag that shroud off of him with a good cut of their knives and then stab him. No. Instead, you have to attempt to wear-him-down while wearing the shroud. As if that were possible with the supposed healing shroud. If it were truly as healing as it is shown to be, there would be no way to wear his health down ever. I’m not sure what the writers were thinking here, but this level is about as stupid as it gets.

Worse, there are times where Starrick gets these hammer-on-your-character-without-fighting-back segments. Starrick just punches your character and you just stand there taking it. Really? There’s no reason given for these segments. These just wear down your health without any method of fighting back, breaking out of it or countering it. Now that’s just plain out cheating from a game. There is absolutely no need for this part of the fight. When in real life would this ever happen? Like, never. It makes the ending twice as hard without any real payoff.

Either of the twins could cut and pull the shroud off of him. It’s very simple. Then just assassinate him like anyone else. Why is it that you must melee this guy to death? These are assassins who kill from the shadows or by using other stealth methods. Assassins are not street fighters. That the game turns AC into Street Fighter is just plain stupid. This is NOT WHY I BUY Assassin’s Creed games. If I wanted a fighting game, I’d go buy Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. The game devs have lost it. Whomever thought it would be a great idea to end this Assassin’s Creed game by turning it into a stupid fighting game should leave the game development field and specifically be fired from Ubisoft. That person has no business making gaming choices for this (or any) game franchise.

Overall

I give this game 4.0 stars out of 10. It’s a reasonable effort in places, but it’s in no way innovative and the ending plain out sucks from so many perspectives. The zipline is cool, but it doesn’t really help you as much as it needs to. There’s way too much carriage driving. The boss levels are mostly okay up until Sequence 8 as a Street Fighter ending… especially considering that the ‘present day’ part only needed to confirm where the shroud was located. After locating the shroud, the game should have immediately transitioned to present day. There is absolutely no need to kill Starrick, especially in a Street Fighter way. These people are assassins, not fighters. Sure, they can fight, but this tag-team-switching-melee-brawl-that-only-intends-to-wear-down-health is just insanely stupid, especially considering just how quickly that fight would be over by cutting that shroud off of him. I don’t even know how many times either of the two of them had gotten close enough to yank that thing off of him. Yet, the game insists on throwing punches to bring him down.

Ultimately, it has an insanely stupid ending that is majorly out of character for a game franchise that deserves so much better and which offered so much promise. And, of course, where is the Syndicate in all of this melee stuff? Why is it the gang is not there? Instead, Starrick should have been killed by a standard overhead assassination by both of them simultaneously through instant decapitation. I’d have preferred if Greenie had been in on the action and then have all three of them take Starrick out. Even the most healing shroud in the world couldn’t heal a severed head… and it should have been done in one big maneuver by both or all three of the assassins at once. That would have been an ending befitting of the name Assassin’s Creed.

Recommendation: Rent

The State of Gaming

Posted in botch, business, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on December 11, 2013

I’ve been an ardent gamer since the Atari 2600 broke onto the scene. Before that, I was an avid pinball and arcade attendee. Suffice it to say, I’m a gamer. So, let’s explore what’s changed about gaming.

Early Days

In the earliest stages of gaming, experimentation was commonplace. This is not as much true in early pinball games as the physics were pretty much set, but in video games the bounds are endless. Though, the pinball technologists would definitely surprise me over what they could do with a table and with digital displays. I digress. In the beginning, games like Pong (1972) set the stage as to what could be done. A simple table tennis game seemed a good first step. It was a game everyone already recognized, but now it’s on a screen with no need to carry around real rackets. Now you just moved your finger and the paddle moved. No more physical exertion. What was born was couch entertainment.

However, you couldn’t take the arcade home with you. At least, not for a while yet. We wouldn’t see video games become true couch entertainment until after the Atari 2600 is born five years after Pong’s release to the arcades in 1977.

Arcades

I loved visiting the arcades during the early 70s. The ambience, the music and the machines (oh so many to choose) all beckoned for that quarter. One quarter, the fuel that drove your gaming satisfaction. Of course, at the time, I was too young to have a job, so I was at the mercy of my parents to give me some money. When we visited the mall, my mother would always give us (my brother and I) a couple of bucks and off to the arcade we’d run. For her the cost was a shopping experience without a couple annoying kids constantly making trouble. For us, we got to explore the latest video games in the arcade like Atari’s Pong or US Billiard’s Shark (where you play as the shark eating the swimmer) or some of those old-style pinball games with the wheels for numbers. No digital numbers on these pinball games. Digital displays would come later.

This particular arcade (my first) was always fun and had unique games. It sat right across from a five and dime store. Some of the games even had some quirky behaviors born from carpet static. One of the pinball games would add a free game just by rubbing your feet on the carpet and zapping the coin slot. Unfortunately, living in humid Texas meant you could only do this at certain times of the year. The way-too-humid rest of the time you had to pay. That is, until the arcade owners figured out the trick.

Throughout the 70s and early 80s, I’ve visited many different arcades in malls, strip malls, at bowling alleys, at batting cages, amusement parks, convenience marts, standalone arcades, at mini-golf and at Malibu racing tracks. They all had their own ambiance and games that made each experience unique and left a lasting impression on each visit. I never tire of visiting a new arcade.

One of the arcades I would occasionally visit had a mammoth pinball machine that used what looked like a white cue ball as the pinball. This pinball game was ginormous. Though it was big, it really wasn’t one of the most exciting pinball games. Its uniqueness was in its size, not in its game board mechanics. I always thought that it played like everything was in slow motion. I always preferred the smaller pinball games. This particular arcade had a cave-like quality that made it seem like you were the only one in there.

Video Game Experimentation

During the early years of video games, many different companies experimented with video game ideas. There were even hybrid pinball and video games combined, though none of these really successfully married the two technologies.

The earliest games were flat single color games. The earliest video games also used black and white CRT screens. When color was needed, flat gel color panels were applied to top of the black and white screen. It wouldn’t been until later that color CRTs would be added to video games.

This was a great time to watch as video games progressed from being simple flat shapes on black and white screens to more complex pixel drawn characters in later games like Mortal Kombat.

Arcade Video Games

As we moved into the era of video gaming, games became increasingly more complex graphically and sonically, but the games themselves remained relatively simple. Games like Pong, Space Invaders, Asteroids and Shark moved into games like Donkey Kong, Centipede, Venture, Burgertime, Dig-Dug, Mr. Do and Galaxian. All of these games had a simple level based premise. Do something to ‘win’ the level and move onto the next level. The win-the-level premise really had its roots back to pinball and simply carried over into video games. However with pinball, it was less about winning the level and more about keeping the ball in play as long as possible. With pinball, you were typically given 5 turns or balls to play. Once you used up all 5 turns, the game was over.

With video games, the premise changed from ‘playing as long as possible’ to ‘playing as short as possible’ so that arcades could maximize their profits. You really didn’t want the same kid playing the game on the same quarter for hours on end. This could easily happen with certain pinball games, but with video games that was not a goal. As we moved into video gaming, it became less about skill and more about defeating the ‘enemies’ (whatever they happened to be). Video game creators quickly learned that ‘enemies’ were the motivator for play. At the same time, the enemies got more and more complex, ingenious and harder to beat. In centipede, it happened to be a big segmented centipede squirming its way down the screen towards your ‘gun’. If you managed to destroy all of its parts of the centipede, the level was over.

Many games adopted the ‘Centipede’ approach to levels and began building more and more complex ‘waves’ of enemies, such as Galaga. So, from where did Galaga descend? From Galaxian, of course. And, Galaxian descended from Space Invaders. Space Invaders was an early somewhat higher res game depicting ‘ufo invaders’ at the top of the screen that you had to shoot until you destroyed them all. From this game alone descended a bunch of other games, some direct clones like Galaxian, Galaga and Gorf, some indirect clones like Defender (a side scroller). From Defender came some sonically similar games like Joust. Note, there are plenty of games I could reminisce over games from this time period, but I’ll move on to get to my point.

Game Innovation

As we progressed, game designers continued to push the boundaries with newer and more interesting ideas with higher res and more compelling gameplay like Paperboy, Marble Madness and Pole Position. There were also a number of vector based games like Battlezone, Tempest and Star Wars which also pushed the boundaries using vector graphics which would ultimately die as a technology. At the time, though, vector games were some of the first games to depict objects in 3D space (even though they were just wireframe drawings). The vector technology did offer, at least for me, more compelling gameplay due to the pseudo-3D experience. Unfortunately, the vector drawing method would only become a stop-gap technology to getting us to the 3D shooters of today. Though, the games that utilized vector technology were definitely one-of-a-kind and would also see produced a home arcade cartridge driven version named Vectrex in 1982. I always wanted one of these.

In among all of the flat 2D sprite based games, I applaud Atari for pushing the vector boundaries at that time. Without these innovative arcade games to keep us interested in plopping more quarters into the machines, we wouldn’t have kept playing.

Moving on, innovation continued with games like Gauntlet which took the arcades by storm. The Tron games didn’t do so bad either. Even Journey (the rock band) got in on the gaming action with the mostly horrible Journey arcade game set to Journey music from the Frontiers album. An earlier Atari 2600 console game was also released based on the Escape album. We would even see video game innovation in the form of laserdisc based games such as Don Bluth’s animated Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace titles. I have no idea how many quarters I plopped into these machines. There were even controversial video games based on movies, like Exidy’s Deathrace 2000 (1976) where you ran people over which turned into a grave.

All during this period, game designers were pushing the envelope on game ideas without much thought to the idea of game genres. That would come later. So while there were fighting games like Mortal Kombat and Street fighter and racing games like Manaco GP and Pole Position, these games would become a staple at most arcades. There would also be a few sports titles like Punch-Out! and these would introduce the idea of sports games, but the Maddens and FIFAs of the world would have to wait until consoles improved. Specifically, the later linked racing games where 4-8 players were linked and could race in unison in sit-down driving arcade cabinets. Other than racing, no other arcade games braved linking their cabinets for multiuser play. That wouldn’t happen until the dawn of home networking and later Xbox Live.

Arcade Gaming End

So, while arcade gaming has never really ended specifically, it is greatly diminished as a result of the introduction of the Atari 2600 and later the Nintendo NES and the Sega Genesis. It’s funny, Atari, Nintendo and Sega were all huge builders of arcade games. Yet they all introduced home gaming consoles that would ultimately more-or-less kill the arcade as the place to game. I guess you might say that it was inevitable looking back now, but it is interesting to consider this fact.

Keep in mind that all during the later home console period (mid 90s), home gaming on the PC would become stronger and stronger with games like Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein. Thanks to iD software, Doom would actually usher in the era of first and third person shooters and, thus, bring this genre front and center. It would be a bit later that consoles would steal the PC thunder and introduce games like Halo.

Anyway, as home gaming consoles improved from the Atari 2600 through the to Atari 5200 and then later from the Sega Genesis to the Sega Dreamcast, from the Nintendo NES to the Nintendo Gamecube and to Sony Playstation 1, this ensured that home gaming would continue to prosper and that arcades would lose ground. However, even up until the Sega Dreamcast, we continued to see innovative titles arriving at home from games like Blue Stinger to Yu Suzuki’s Shenmue series. With Shenmue being one of the first open-world free roaming games that allowed you to interact with much of the world including real-time season changes.

The Era of Home Gaming

With the introduction of the Xbox and PS2, the whole course of gaming changed. Once these consoles were introduced, the gaming landscape began to be shaped primarily by Microsoft and Sony. At this point, we began losing a lot of innovative titles. Sure, we might see one every now and then like Rez, but these were an anomaly and not the norm. Still, with the Xbox and PS2, the genres were solidified into basically a handful of names like ‘shooter’ or ‘racing’ or ‘fighting’ or ‘multiplayer’ or you get the picture. With these new branded titles, it was easy for developers to create and drop games into the slots and people would understand exactly what they meant.

Still, while the genres were pretty much set by the Xbox and PS2, there were still a few developers willing to go outside of these and produce something new and different, but rarely.

As we move forward to the introduction of the Xbox 360 and the PS3, we see undefinable genre titles diminish further and the standard genre become defined. Basically, if your game didn’t fall inside a genre, it likely wouldn’t be released. Or, it would be released as a low priced digital download game. The only real exception to this was Valve who seemed to be able to get a games like Portal released onto consoles. Still, Portal could be considered a first person shooter even though that wasn’t the primary objective of the game.

With games like Halo 3 and Gears of War on the Xbox 360 and God of War on the PS3, this era saw primarily genre based titles released. Few developers ventured outside of these tried-and-true genres, but the rule was that they could if the developer chose to and these still might happen occasionally. In fact, by the Xbox 360 and PS3, there were effectively no titles that fell outside of the genre labels.

Era of the Home Console

With the 2013 introduction of the PS4 and the Xbox One, the era of home gaming is likely coming to an end. With what I consider to be an incremental update to these consoles (Moore’s law no longer applies), these hardware updates are only minimal updates to their predecessors. There was a much bigger leap in quality from the Xbox to the Xbox 360 (moving from 480p 4:3 aspect and component video to 16:9 1080p HDMI output). Changing the video standard between the Xbox and Xbox 360 and between the PS2 ad PS3 was a huge leap. Not to mention, the cell multiprocessor system that Sony put into the PS3. At this point, the 2013 consoles are at the point of diminishing returns.

Both the PS4 and the Xbox One are simply mid-priced PCs with standard Intel processors and standard ATI graphics cards. They’re effectively mid-grade PCs running proprietary operating systems. In fact, I’d actually say the Xbox One is likely running a modified form of Windows 8 with greatly reduced features from the Xbox 360. The PS4, however, is running Sony’s own proprietary operating system similar in looks to was on the PS3, but also with greatly reduced features. Though, the Ustream/Twitch live streaming features of the PS4 are a much welcomed improvement.

Yet for the cost factor of the units, the games haven’t dramatically improved. Let’s observe the problems. With the new consoles, the genres are pretty well set in stone. At this point, no developer would be willing to stray outside of the standard defined genres: shooter, fighting, sports, real-time RPG (which is slowly being combined with shooter), turn-based RPG, puzzle, simulation, strategy, party (encapsulates dance and other party games) and creative. While there may be some sub-genres such as ‘horror’ or ‘mystery’ or ‘period’ which can apply to each of the genres, these are the top genres that are used. Sports encapsulates all forms of sports including baseball, football, racing, skiing, skateboarding, etc.

In fact, most games fall into one of the following: shooter, fighting, sports or RPG. The rest of the genres are lesser used.

The End of the Console?

As the PS4 and the Xbox One are now available, it’s becoming more and more clear. It’s expensive to create a game title on these consoles. To create a game that looks like Ryse, you need to outlay a hefty sum of cash to license the Crytek game engine. And that’s just to get the engine you need to drive the hardware. Still, once you’ve spent your wad obtaining a CryEngine license, you still need to hire a slew of programmers, artists and writers to develop a compelling story and then work to make that into some kind of a compelling play.

From concept to completion, you’re likely talking at least 3-5 years depending on the size of your staff. Of course, the more people you throw at the problem, the faster you can get it done. But, speed isn’t your only enemy here. For the example I mentioned earlier, Ryse, this game is absolutely gorgeous. The environments are amazing, the characters and armor are outstanding. So then what’s the problem?

The gameplay in Ryse is absolute trash. They could have taken the game mechanics straight from a 1990s Mortal Kombat game and plopped into to Ryse for all I know. The characters move in unrealistic ways, the game forces pauses at the most inopportune times and the gameplay is just overall bad. So, this issue is firmly the enemy of the PS4 and the Xbox One. A developer spends years and loads of cash creating a title only to produce something that plays like Ryse. In fact, Ryse is a firm example of what NOT to do on a next generation console. It is the low bar by which to make sure your game is above. Sure, it’s pretty, but that’s where Ryse all ends.

Limited Games, Longer Create Cycle

This will be the continual battle of the PS4 and the Xbox One throughout their console lifespan. Consider that the Xbox 360 and the PS3 have both been on the market for at least 8 years now. That’s 8 years of back catalog of games. Now, go look at these titles. Many of these games took less than 2 years to produce. And, of course, some of them show it (i.e., Two Worlds).

With these new console generations, the bar has now been raised again. Specifically for the graphics. To produce the graphics needed to look great at 1080p, this is not just a small amount of work. Not only does it require high res textures, it requires high res models. Producing such models and textures is not a quick process. Where the textures may have been half the size on the Xbox 360, they are now twice the size on the Xbox One. That simply takes longer time to produce.

This means that instead of the 2 year time it took for the Xbox 360, it might take 3-4 years to produce a title on the PS4 and the Xbox One. So, that means in 8 years, we’re likely to have half the number of big name titles we have on the Xbox 360. That also means it will take perhaps twice as long to produce titles for the Xbox One and the PS4. Further, this means there will also be a lot of engine reuse with new graphics dropped under the hood. In fact, I expect a lot of texture reuse across many games.

For the game studios that can afford the time it takes, these will continue. For those that can’t afford the time it takes to produce that level of a title, they will likely fold, stop producing or move to a different market.

The State of Games

Unfortunately, today we are seeing a convergence of genres. No longer do we see the new innovative titles, other than in digital downloads as small diversions. Occasionally a Japanese developer will produce a title geared toward the Asian market that will cross-over to the US market. But, that’s rare. Most titles produced today fall into one of the predetermined genres. It’s just too risky for game studios to gamble on an experiment. Game studios want to know their title is a guaranteed success. The only way that can happen is by making sure they stay within the trappings of the genres.

When games were like Pong or Shark might take a few people a several months up to a year to produce the game, it now takes many years to produce something like Halo 4. It’s too risky and expensive to gamble on experimentation. Game studios, therefore, won’t risk this. This is why we are firmly seeing more and more repetitive, trite and cliche games. Basically, we are effectively seeing games that you’ve already played at least twice already. Game studios believes having that level of familiarity with the subject matter will make it more likely to succeed. If it’s similar to a game you’ve already played, they assume, that familiarity will keep the gamers happy.

Unfortunately, the only thing this does is make the game crappy and annoying. Game studios don’t want to see or know this, but it is most definitely true. If you make your game feel like some other game or a game that you’ve played before, then it is that other game. It’s then not new or innovative and becomes an exercise in futility.

Predictions and Mobile Devices

I expect we will continue to see the smaller game studios close or be bought out. The larger game studios may continue to weather the longer cycle, but not forever. They have to see a return on their investment or they will also stop producing.

Overall, I expect that we will see less and less studios producing games for consoles. I also see this as the likely end of the ‘epic’ game. Game developers will begin go move back into smaller more easily built titles like ‘Farmville’ and move away from the epic titles like ‘Call of Duty’ and ‘Halo’. The only game studios producing such titles will be those that are subsidized by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.

Those game studios not being subsidized to produce such ambitious titles will move away from the consoles and begin developing titles for mobile devices. Since mobile computing is pretty much taking over, there’s really no need to own a living room console. It’s easier to play games on devices you are already carrying. Eventually, game studios will realize that it’s far more lucrative to produce games to play on what’s in your pocket than what’s in your living room. Especially considering how many devices are sitting in people’s pockets untapped.

Just a few compelling titles on iOS or Android, like Angry Birds, and you’re pretty well set. Angry Birds has already paved the way, it’s just a matter of time before studios wake up and realize what they are missing.

Technology Watch: Calling it — Wii U is dead

Posted in botch, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on June 10, 2013

I want Nintendo to prove me wrong. I absolutely adore the Wii U system and its technology. The Gamepad is stellar and it feels absolutely perfect in your hands. It just needs a better battery. The battery life sucks. There’s no doubt about it, the Wii U is an amazing improvement over the Wii. So what’s wrong with it?

Titan Tidal Forces

There are many tidal forces amassing against the Wii U which will ultimately be its demise. In similarity to the amazing Sega Dreamcast and, before that, the Atari Jaguar, the Wii U will likely expire before it even makes a dent in the home gaming market. Some consoles just aren’t meant to be and the Wii U, I’m calling it, will be discontinued within 12 months in lieu of a newly redesigned and renamed ‘innovative’ Nintendo console.  Let’s start with the first tidal force…

What Games?

Nintendo just cannot seem to entice any developer interest in porting games to the Wii U, let alone creating native titles. With such big game franchises as Bioshock Infinite, Grand Theft Auto V, Saints Row 3 and Deadpool (Activision, surprisingly) side-stepping the Wii U, this tells me that at least Rockstar and Activision really don’t have much interest in producing titles for this console. Even such bigger titles like Call of Duty, which did make it to the Wii U, didn’t release on the same day as the PS3 and Xbox versions.  Call of Duty actually released later, as did The Amazing Spider-Man.

Worse, Nintendo doesn’t really seem committed to carrying any of its own franchises to this console in any timely fashion. To date, there is still not even an announcement for a native Zelda for Wii U. Although, we’re not yet past E3, so I’ll wait to see on this one. My guess is that there will be a Zelda, but it will likely fall far shy of what it should or could have been.

Basically, there are literally no upcoming game announcements from third party developers. And there’s especially nothing forthcoming from the big franchises on the Wii U (other than Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed IV, which is likely to be just another mashup and rehash). Yes, there are a number of b-titles and ‘family’ titles, but that’s what Nintendo is always known for.

Sidestepped, but why?

I see titles like Grand Theft Auto V, Saint’s Row 3, Destiny and Deadpool where there is no mention of a Wii U version. For at least GTA5 and Saint’s Row, these developers likely had well enough of a lead time to be able to create a Wii U version. So, what happened? Why would these games not be released for the Wii U?  I think it’s very clear, these developers don’t think they can recoup their investment in the cost needed to produce the game for that console. That doesn’t mean that the games won’t be ported to the Wii U six months after the Xbox, PS3 and PC releases. But then, what’s the incentive to play a 6 month old game? I don’t want to pay $60 for has-beens, I want new games to play.

Hardcore gamers want the latest at the moment when it’s released. Not six months after other consoles already have it. As a hardcore gamer, I don’t want to wait for titles to release. Instead, I’ll go buy the an Xbox or a PS so I can play the game when it’s released, not wait 6-9 months for a poorly ported version of the game.

Competition

With the announcement of both Sony’s PS4 (*yawn*) and the Microsoft’s Xbox One ( :/ ), these two consoles together are likely to eclipse whatever hope the Wii U has of gaining the hardcore gaming element. In fact, it’s likely that Sony’s PS4 is already dead as well, but that’s another story. Also, with the lackluster announcement of the Xbox One, we’ll just have to wait and see.  Needless to say, people only have so much money to spend on hardware and only one of these consoles can really become dominant in the marketplace. For a lot of reasons to be explored later in this article, Nintendo’s Wii U cannot survive with the course it is presently on.

I can’t really call which is the bigger yawn, PS4 or Xbox One, but both have problems. Namely, no compatibility to previous console games which really puts a damper on both of these next gen consoles. Maybe not enough for either of them not to become successes in 5 years, but immediate adoption is a concern. Available launch titles will make or break these new consoles as backwards compatibility is not available. Meaning, without launch titles, there’s literally nothing to play (other than Netflix, which you can pay far less than the price of a console to get.. i.e., Roku). For competition alone, this is a huge tidal force against Nintendo that will ultimately keep the Wii U in third place, if not outright dead.

Let’s not forget the nVidia Shield based on Android that is as yet an unknown quantity. Although, the way it is currently presented with the flip up screen and the requirement to stream games to the unit from a PC is a big downer on the usability of this system as a portable. I don’t believe nVidia’s approach will succeed. If you’re a portable system, then it needs to be truly portable with native games. If you’re a console, then make it a console and split the functionality into two units (a controller and a base unit).  The all-in-one base unit and controller, like the Shield, isn’t likely to be successful or practical.  The attached screen, in fact, is 1) fragile and likely to break with heavy usage and 2) make it hard to play games because the screen shakes (loosening the hinge) when you shake the controller.  For the PS Vita, it works okay. For the Shield that still requires a PC to function, this isn’t a great deal, especially at the $350 price tag.

Nintendo Itself

Nintendo is its own worst enemy. Because it has always pushed and endorsed ‘family friendly’ (all age) games over ‘hardcore’ (17+ aged) games, the Wii U has pushed Nintendo into an extremely uncomfortable position. It must now consider allowing extremely violent, bloody, explicit language games into the Wii U to even hope to gain market share with the hardcore 17-34 aged gamers.  In other words, Nintendo finally has to grow up and make the hard decision. Is it or isn’t it a hardcore gamer system?  Nintendo faces this internal dilemma which leaves the Wii U hanging in the balance.

It’s clear that most already released titles have skirted this entire problem. Yes, even Call of Duty and Zombie U do mostly. Assassin’s Creed III is probably the hardest core game on the system and even that isn’t saying much.

Game developers see this and really don’t want to wrestle with having to ‘dumb down’ a game to Nintendo’s family friendly standards.  If I were a developer, I’d look at the Wii U and also ask, “Why bother?” Unfortunately, this is a catch-22 problem for Nintendo. Meaning, Nintendo can’t get people to buy the system without titles, but Nintendo can’t rope in developers to write software without having an audience for those titles. The developers just won’t spend their time writing native titles for a system when there’s not enough users to justify the expense of the development.

Worse, the developers realize they will also have to provide a ‘dumbed down’ version for the Nintendo platform to placate Nintendo’s incessant ‘family friendly’ attitude. For this reason, Nintendo can’t turn the Wii U into a hardcore system without dropping these unnecessary and silly requirements for hardcore games. Nintendo, as a word of advice, just let the developers write and publish the game as it is. Let the ratings do the work.

Bad Marketing

For most people, the perception is that the Wii U is nothing more than a slightly different version of the Wii. The marketing was all wrong for this console. Most people’s perceptions of this system are completely skewed. They really don’t know what the Wii U is other than just being another Wii. This issue is cemented by naming the system the ‘Wii U’.  It should have had an entirely different name without the word ‘Wii’. Unfortunately, the Wii was mostly a fad and not a true long-lasting gaming system. It picked up steam at first not because it was great, but because people latched onto the group gaming quality. For a time, people liked the ‘invite people over for a party’ quality of the Wii. This group gaming quality was something no other gaming system had up to that point. Then came the Kinect and the Move controllers and competition wiped that advantage out.

The Wii U design has decidedly dropped the idea of group gaming in lieu of the Gamepad which firmly takes gaming back to a single player experience. Yes, the Wii U does support the sensor bar, but few Wii U games use it. Worse, the Wii U doesn’t even ship with the Wiimote or Nunchuk, firmly cementing the single player experience. Only Wii compatible games use the sensor bar for the multiple player experience. Because of the focus back to single player usage, this again says Nintendo is trying to rope in hardcore gamers.

Unfortunately, the marketing plan for the Wii U just isn’t working. The box coloring, the logo, the name and the way it looks seems like a small minimal upgrade to the Wii. Until people actually see a game like Batman Arkham City, the Amazing Spider-Man or Call of Duty actually play on the Wii U, they really don’t understand what the ‘big deal’ is. Worse, they really don’t see a need replace their aging Wii with this console knowing that they rarely play it at this point anyway. So, when the Wii U was released, the average Wii user just didn’t understand the Wii U appeal. The Wii U marketing just didn’t sell this console to either the family audience or to the hardcore gamer correctly.

Bad Controller Button Placement

The final piece of this puzzle may seem insignificant, but it’s actually very significant to the hardcore game player. Because the PS3 and the Xbox map action buttons identically to the controller across games, you always know that when you press A, it’s going to do the same thing on the Xbox or the PS3.  So, you can move seamlessly between either console and play the same game without having so shift your button pressing pattern. In other words, you can play blind because the button location+action is identical between the Xbox and the PS3.  The buttons placement is then as follows:

Y/Triangle = 12 o’clock, B/Circle = 3 o’clock, A/X = 6 o’clock, X/Square = 9 o’clock (Xbox / PS3)

The actions of Y and Triangle are the same between the systems.  The actions of B and Circle are the same and so on. If you play Call of Duty on PS3 or Xbox, you always press the button at the 6 o’clock position to perform the same action.

The Wii U designers decided to place the buttons in opposition to the Xbox & PS3. The button placement for Wii U:

X = 12 o’clock, A = 3 o’clock, B = 6 o’clock, Y = 9 o’clock (Wii U)

This button placement would be fine if A (3 o’clock) on the Wii performed the same action as the B/Circle (3 o’clock position) on the Xbox and PS3. But, it doesn’t. Instead, because the Wii’s controller is labeled ‘A’ (3 o’clock position), it has the same function as the ‘A/X’ (6 o’clock position) button the Xbox and PS3. The ‘B’ button at (6 o’clock) matches the B/Circle (3 o’clock) on the Xbox/PS3. This means that you have to completely reverse your play on the Wii U and retrain yourself to press the correct button. This means you can’t play blind. This is a difficult challenge if you’ve been playing game franchises on the Xbox for 10 years with the Xbox/PS3 button and action placement. This would be like creating a reversed QWERTY keyboard so that P starts on the left and Q ends on the right and handing it to a QWERTY touch typist.  Sure, they could eventually learn to type with keys in this order, but it’s not going to be easy and they’re going to hit P thinking it’s Q and such for quite a while.

For hardcore Xbox gamers, making the switch to the Wii U is a significant controller retraining challenge. When I replayed Assassin’s Creed III, I was forever hitting the button at the 6 o’clock position thinking it was the A button because that’s the position where it is on the Xbox and PS3. Same for the reversed X and Y.  By the end of Assassin’s Creed III, I had more or less adapted to the Wii U’s backwards controller, but I made a whole lot of stupid mistakes along the way just from this button placement issue alone.

Either the games need to support Xbox/PS3 alternative action placement compatibility or the Wii U needs to sell a controller that maps the buttons identically to the Xbox and PS3. I personally vote for a new controller as it doesn’t require game designers to do anything different. This button placement issue alone is a huge hurdle for the Wii U to overcome and one that is a needlessly stupid design when you’re trying to entice Xbox or PS3 gamers to your platform. I don’t want to relearn a new controller design just to play a game. Ergonomics is key in adoption and this is just one big Nintendo ergonomics design fail. For the Wii, that button placement was fine. For the Wii U, the controller needs to identically map to the PS3 and Xbox button/action layout to allow for easy and widespread adoption.

Death of the Wii U

Unfortunately, due to the above factors, Nintendo will struggle to keep this console afloat before it finally throws in the towel to the Xbox One and the PS4. Worse, the Wii U really doesn’t have a niche. It lost its fad group gaming image over a year ago when people stopped buying the Wii for that purpose. Those who did use it for that shoved it into a closet. The Wii U may have been somewhat positioned to become a hardcore system, but due to poor controller button placement, lack of quality developers producing hardcore titles, the Wii U’s silly user interface, Nintendo’s antiquated ‘family friendly’ attitudes and Nintendo itself placing silly requirements on titles to reduce violence and language as part of that antiquated attitude, the Wii U doesn’t really have a market. It just doesn’t appeal to the hardcore gamers. So what’s left? Zelda and Mario and that’s not enough to invest in the Wii U.

Just looking at the titles presently available for the Wii U, at least 85% of which were original launch titles (most of which were ported from other consoles).  In combination with the new fall console hardware releases plus hardcore titles for existing consoles that completely sidestep the Wii U, Wii U just cannot succeed without some kind of major miracle out of Nintendo.

I full well expect to hear an announcement from Nintendo dropping the Wii U, not unlike Sega’s announcement to pull the plug on the Dreamcast so early into its console life.

Bioshock Infinite: Or, why circular time paradoxes suck!

Posted in movies, storytelling, video game, video game design by commorancy on June 3, 2013

Note: If you haven’t yet played Bioshock Infinite yet, this article contains spoilers.  You should stop reading now! You have been warned.

Many people are awed and dumbfounded by the story within Bioshock Infinite. For some odd reason, people think this is a good thing and somehow even like and see it as some sort of thought provoking experience. Well, perhaps it is in some small way thought provoking, but not thought provoking in the right way. Let’s explore why Bioshock Infinite’s type of thought provoking experience is not a good thing and not something to be wanted or liked in storytelling.

Breaking the Rules

There’s something to be said for people who break the rules. Sometimes breaking the rules can lead to good consequences. Most times, it ends up in failure. Story and narrative creation rules have been in existence since the earliest fiction book was written. Yet, these rules have minimally changed throughout the years to keep stories satisfying and fresh. The rules for well written storytelling are already firmly established. Granted, the storyteller can take liberties if the diversion leads you back to something profound within the story. Basically, the idea behind storytelling is to keep the pace and momentum going and to flesh out characters who the reader can feel good about. Plot devices are used to keep the story on track, to know where that story is heading and what the end goal is for the characters. With the ultimate goal being to produce characters whose situations seem real and profound.  The characters are the crux that ground the story even if the rest of the world is fanciful.  Without this grounding, the story falls apart. With that said, every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. All three of these should be clearly defined so that what transpires along the way leads to a satisfying conclusion of the characters lives where the readers have invested their time.

Video Game Storytelling

With video games, the way to tell a story hasn’t substantially changed and not every video game company ‘gets’ it. Every entertainment experience today should become a cohesive character driven story to be successful. Within video games, there are two pieces to the story puzzle. The gameplay and the storytelling. Both are symbiotic relationships. One feeds off of the other. Neither should really become dominant in this mix. If the game falls too much into a storytelling role, it loses the interactivity needed to be a great video game. If the gameplay is all there is and the story only happens at the beginning and end, the story becomes an afterthought. Both have to work together to create the whole and to keep the player engaged in the game and the story. However, should one become more dominant than the other, the gameplay should win. It is a game after all.

Time Travel and Storytelling

Unfortunately, too many novice storytellers decide to use the extremely overused, trite and cliche device known as time travel and time anomalies to create and tell their story. Worse, without clearly reasoned ideas, time travel can easily make a story become an  Ex Deus Machina blunder. As it’s far too easily done wrong, time travel should be avoided in most stories as it really has no place in any quality storytelling experience. And, it’s usually not needed. For example, J.J. Abrams uses this device within the newest Star Trek film reboot. He, unfortunately, uses it to create an alternative universe where the original Star Trek crew don’t actually live. Instead, he creates a rebooted universe of his own choosing and design. His storytelling approach is to toss out the baby with the bathwater and start over on his own terms. Not only does this completely dismiss and insult Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Star Trek, it completely smacks of pretentiousness. J.J. Abrams apparently thinks he’s better than Gene Roddenberry and can somehow improve upon what Roddenberry has created. In fact, there is no need for this in the Star Trek universe. The original Star Trek universe works perfectly fine as it is for setting J.J. Abrams’ story.

In J.J. Abrams’ Trek, the only true Star Trek original crew was the aging Spock who somehow accidentally stumbled through a time hole into J.J. Abrams’ fabricated new time paradoxical Star Trek universe. After you realize this, you’ll understand just how horrible the new Star Trek film really is. The events that took place in J.J. Abrams’ Trek movie don’t exist in the universe that Gene Roddenberry created. This also means that you’ve wasted 2 hours of your life watching a contrived useless film.

Bioshock Infinite is a video game who’s designers decided to use time travel and alternative dimensions (string theory) to explain the story. The only thing the writers successfully accomplish is to produce an incomprehensible mess of a story with characters we ultimately don’t really care about. Some players saw the story as thought provoking. The only thing that Infinite accomplishes, if you begin to think on the story, is unravel its own story and you’re left with questions like, “Did it really even happen?” or “Is he alive or dead?” or “Is the story really over?”. Questions that, if you really want satisfying closure to a story as a writer, you don’t want people asking. These are not the kinds of questions that should be left over at the end of your story. These are the kinds of questions that lead people to critique the story as being trite, cliche and poorly written. You want people to value the story and cherish and like the story. You want them liking and asking questions about the characters, what happened to them after, where the story might go from here. You don’t want to leave your story open to ‘Infinite’ possibilities where the story leads effectively nowhere and there are so many of the same characters that you can’t even wrap your head around it. In storytelling, infinite choice is the same as no choice. Meaning, if there is no way to tell what happened, that’s the same as saying that it didn’t happen. Which then means that playing the game is pointless.

Time Travel and Time Paradoxes

Time travel is a concept that we do not know if it’s possible. It’s all theory and conjecture at this point. It could become a reality in the future, but we’re not there yet. Telling fanciful stories about time travel and multiple universes may seem like something good, but most times isn’t. The single biggest problem with using time travel and string theory in storytelling is the circular time paradox. That is, a situation that would lead the viewer to logically conclude just how the story came to exist if changing a small piece caused the creation (or unraveling) of the situation in the first place. As a concrete example, in the film Terminator 2, Skynet effectively creates itself. That is, a Skynet robot from the future is sent back in time to kill the then kid, John Connor. Yet, it fails and is destroyed. Its robotic brain technology chip is recovered by Cyberdyne Systems. Cyberdyne Systems employees then reverse engineers the chip which, through technology breakthroughs as a result of that chip then causes the creation of the technology that leads to the birth of those exact robots and the Skynet computer. Effectively, the technology creates itself. Because of this circular time paradox, this makes stories like Terminator 2 unwieldy, unsatisfying and poorly written. Technology simply cannot create itself and stories should never be written that even hint at that. Humans should always have a hand in that creation of something or the logic of the whole story falls apart.

Likewise, Bioshock Infinite creates a time paradox where the death of Booker unravels the game’s entire reason to exist. Why would you, as a writer, intentionally negate the reason for your story’s existence? Basically, you’ve just told your readers, this story sucked and it didn’t really happen. Or in the case of a video game, the designers are saying, “Yes, we understand you’ve invested hours and hours playing this video game, but really, the story and game just didn’t happen.”

Bioshock Infinite

Oh, this game seems like it tries to keep itself on track in the beginning, but fails because its writers and the story simply get more and more lost with every new time hole (tear) that Elizabeth creates. The writers eventually can’t keep up with the time paradoxes and begin ignoring them entirely in hopes that the player will too. Unfortunately, I can’t overlook this issue. It’s one of my pet peeves within stories. While I don’t plan on keeping score of exactly how many time paradoxes take place over the course of the game, the one that matters is at the very end of the game.

If Booker and Comstock are one and the same person, and Booker kills himself as a child, Columbia can’t come to exist and neither can Elizabeth. Of course, what happens is that multiple Elizabeths drown Booker in a mock baptism which also negates the entire Comstock Columbia story. Which means, Booker would never come to visit Columbia and Elizabeth would never have been stuck in the tower. Who’s to say Anna/Elizabeth would have even been born? Yet, self-preservation and survival is the strongest human instinct that humans have. Why would Elizabeth knowingly do away with her own existence by killing her own father or even allow that to happen? That’s just not logical or rational from a character self-preservation perspective. Worse, because Irrational’s designers postulate the possibility of ‘Infinite’ realities with infinite Elizabeths, Comstocks, and Bookers, there never could be complete destruction of any one of those characters or of every infinite possible version of that story. Worse, thinking thorough the possibility of infinite stories, how do we even know that the story we played is even the one that matters in the Grand Scheme? Likely there is a universe where Booker doesn’t become Comstock and Elizabeth and Booker have a normal happy family relationship and live happily ever after along with her mother.

Worse, what does any of the Infinite story have to do with Rapture? Yes, we got to see Rapture through one of Elizabeth’s doors, but the only relationship between Bioshock Infinite and the other Bioshock games is strictly in that short visit to Rapture. Nothing in this multiverse story has anything whatever to do with explaining Rapture (other than being just another alternative reality). It doesn’t explain splicers, big daddys, little sisters, big sisters or anything else to do with what transpires on Rapture. In other words, the writers of Infinite fail in two ways:

  • They fail to give us a story from Infinite that ultimately makes any sense in the end
  • They fail to explain the creation of Rapture or of those people who end up on Rapture

They even fail at explaining how Columbia comes to exist. If the multiple Elizabeths are successful at drowning Booker, Comstock can’t come to exist and neither can Columbia. That means that the entire story in Bioshock Infinite doesn’t even happen. Which, unfortunately, leads to a circular time paradox. Such circular time paradoxes should always be avoided when writing time travel and string theory stories. Why? Because they leave the viewer with the question, “What was the point in that?” and provide a less than satisfying ending. It’s also not the question you want your viewers left asking after it’s all over. You want them to be thinking about the story and how they like the characters along the way. If the characters are all completely toss-worthy, as in Infinite, then it’s all pointless. You don’t want the viewer fixated on how the story even came to exist because that then turns the viewers to realize just how bad the story is and how worthless the characters are. Further, as an author, why would you ever intentionally write your entire story and characters out of existence via a time paradox? Is your story really that unimportant to you and your readers?

It’s the same reason you never write a story that ends up with the main character waking up from a dream at the end. Stories that end up as one big dream sequence are completely unsatisfying.  Viewers think, “Why did I waste my time watching that?” It’s definitely the wrong thing to pull from a story. Time travel stories with circular time paradoxes are just as equally unsatisfying for the same reason as waking up from a dream sequence. In fact, these two plot devices are born from the same mold and should never be used unless there is a very good reason to break that rule. This is especially true if primary storyline’s time paradox negates the whole reason to even tell the story because the characters never existed. So far, I’ve not read one recent book, seen a recent movie or played a recent game that had a story that could successfully navigate time travel or multiverses as plot device.

The closest any recent filmmakers have ever come to making time travel actually work without producing circular time paradoxes is Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future series and Alfonso Cuaron’s adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with its Time Turner sequences. Both stories are carefully crafted to avoid circular time paradoxes. In Prisoner of Azkaban, the Time Turner sequence isn’t used as the main story driving device. Instead, it is used in a noble way to save Buckbeak from death, which allowes the film to have a very satisfying closure. Zemeckis’ Back to the Future films do use time travel as the main plot device. However, these films’ stories are also very carefully crafted to avoid time paradoxes and leave each film with very satisfying conclusions. So, you ultimately care about the characters and ignore the silly time travel plot device. I would also include that the original H.G. Wells’ Time Machine movie is probably the most successful at navigating time travel as a device within a story without creating a circular time paradox while still providing engaging likeable characters along the way.

Overused plot devices

Time travel use as a plot device, while extremely popular, is mostly carelessly used. It has been used in such popular franchises as Lost, Stargate, Star Trek (series and movies), Terminator and is now being used in video games like Bioshock Infinite. Writers need to be extremely judicious with their use of this plot device. Time travel should only be used in a way that advances the story forward, but never in a way that becomes the story itself (as in Bioshock Infinite). Unfortunately, Irrational’s writers just don’t understand how to properly use this plot device within the story context and they use it incorrectly. It should never be used in the way it is used in Infinite. Instead, Columbia could have been shown to exist for other reasons than because of infinite realities.

At the end of Bioshock Infinite, it’s quite clear that the time travel piece is poorly conceived. It ends up making the main character appear as if he is having a psychotic episode rather than actively part of multiple dimensions and realities. I full well expected to see Booker wake up in a mental facility (on Rapture) with nurse Elizabeth administering sedatives to him. At least that storyline would have dismissed the time paradoxes as unreal events and showed us that Booker is just a mental patient among many. This is what is needed to ground the story and tie in the Bioshock Rapture story experience to the Bioshock Infinite story experience full-circle. Yes, that ending would have invalidated Columbia as a non-event, but the writers already did a good job of that in Infinite. Yes, I realize I’m advocating explaining off Infinite as a dream sequence (which is generally to be avoided). Because the Infinite writers already negated their own story, that mental hospital ending would at least start to explain how Rapture came to exist in the state it is in when we played the original Bioshock which is still a far better ending than negating your entire story. At this point, the Infinite story is just a jumbled disarray of ideas that didn’t congeal and that basically made the entire Columbia story a complete time wasting experience.  We don’t care about Comstock and now we don’t know what to think about Booker. Anna/Elizabeth ends up simply being a facilitating plot device, but we really don’t feel for her plight at all during or after the story.  At the end, she ends up a pawn (as is everyone else including Booker and Comstock). In fact, because of the time paradox story negation, we really don’t care about any of the characters.

As an FYI to future writers, ending your story with infinite universe possibilities and infinite versions of your story’s main characters is the worst possible ending for a story if you want your characters to be remembered. Because you as an author should value your story’s existence above all else, negating your characters and story with a time paradox simply sucks. If you don’t value your story, why should we?

Game Review: Defiance MMO on Xbox

Posted in video game, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on April 29, 2013

Defiance While I really want to like Trion’s Defiance on the Xbox 360 and in some ways I do like it, it also has some highly annoying design ideas, features, levels and quirks. Before I begin, you need to know that Defiance is an online multiplayer game only and requires a subscription to Xbox Live Gold. Don’t buy this game unless you plan to buy or already have a subscription to Xbox Live (which, of course, requires broadband Internet access). Additionally, this game is completely dependent on Trion’s servers being continually available. If Trion’s servers go down (and they do regularly), you cannot play the game AT ALL. Anyway, grab a cup of coffee and let’s get going.

Disclaimer: Be careful buying used copies of Defiance. If Trion folds or they shut down the Defiance servers, the game disk will become a coaster. The game disk has no standalone content. The Defiance game relies 100% on Trion to operate the servers and stay in business. The business of gaming is fickle. If this game doesn’t last longer than a year in operation or the TV series is cancelled, don’t be surprised if you can’t play the game. If you are reading this review a year (or later) since it has been written, do some research before investing in a used copy of the game. 

What is an MMO?

MMO stands for massive mutiplayer online. Basically, it’s a multiplayer game. It isn’t really a single player campaign game. Basically, what Defiance is to 3D gaming, a MUSH is to text-based gaming. Basically, it’s a large map environment with a load of players from all over all playing the game together.

What’s good about Defiance?

Defiance is not your standard third-person 3D Campaign based shooter or even a standard 3D death match style multiplayer game. Defiance mixes both single player campaign with multiplayer coop seemlessly.  In fact, it’s really the first game I’ve played to do so. Granted, I have not played World of Warcraft, so this game may offer that level of play, also. Basically, you and your friends can join in and all defeat an enemy or boss together… at least, sometimes. Yes, there are missions where coop is not possible. It really is a pretty cool idea. The trouble is, the idea of it is pretty much where the coolness ends.  The way it’s designed could be way better.

What’s bad about Defiance?

It’s highly repetitive.  

As you’re driving around, you see a whole bunch of different missions on the roads.  But, you’ll see the same drive-by road side missions time and time again. These drive-by missions are distinctly different from those that appear on your map as an exclamation point in a diamond. Once you’ve played several of those drive by missions, you don’t really want to do it again… and again.. and again. It’s not cool. Also, it’s the same enemies over and over. So, even though it’s a new mission, it’s the same enemies with all of the same tactics.  Tactics, I might add, which can be highly boring after defeating them several times. It’s okay when you’re doing it for the first time. But, after you’ve played the same enemies and tactics about 5 times or more, it gets old really fast.

Leveling up is very s l o w.

As you level up, you get more and bigger weapons and perks. So, at least you do get stronger weapons as time progresses. But, expect that progression to go very s l o w l y. Don’t expect to get the biggest weapons really quick unless you play the game non-stop. However, even getting to Level 650 doesn’t seem much different than being at level 200 or even level 0 in terms of health or shield. You character still becomes incapacitated just easily. So, effectively all you are really getting out of leveling up is somewhat stronger weapons, maybe.

Boss Levels have no checkpoints

Single player boss levels have no save points during battle. If your character becomes incapacitated, you start the entire boss over from scratch just outside of the room.  In other words, you could lose up to 30 minutes of play time whittling the boss’ health down only for one missile to incapacitate you and you have to completely redo the whole thing again and again and again. This is entirely frustrating and time wasting. Basically, you are forced to play the boss level on the game designer’s terms, not yours. If you decide that you want to use stealth and sniper tactics, you can’t. The only strategy given is the one forced upon you by the designers… which usually entails running away from the enemy in hopes you can strike them with enough to kill them before they incapacitate you. It’s all trial and error and timing. There’s no strategy involved.

No way to change weapon load out quickly

Due to the frustrating menu system, you cannot change your weapon load out while in the middle of any battle, let alone a boss battle. Otherwise, you will be incapacitated. If you don’t load out correctly before going in, expect your character to die early and often.

Scrip and other currency types

Scrip is one type money in this game.  There are vendors that sell cars, weapons, weapon mods, shields and lock boxes.  Unfortunately, there are other forms of currency in this game which include bits, resources, reputation and keys.

  • Scrip is obtained by completing any mission or selling goods at vendors
  • Bits are obtained by buying them with Microsoft points (i.e., real money).
  • Resources are obtained by completing missions or by breaking down objects into resources
  • Keys are obtained by completing arkfalls and other missions
    • Unfortunately, there is a severe limit on how many keys you can hold (my limit is 75)
  • Reputation is obtained by completing multiplayer co-op missions (requires 4 players to participate)

Some items for purchase require a mixture of the above currencies to obtain that item from a vendor. So, some specialized weapons may require 200 reputation plus some Scrip to get that item. Getting that many reputation points requires participating in many 4 player coop missions.

Main Missions

The main missions consist of a story that seems to be leading someplace, but I’ve not yet figured out exactly where. Sure, your character is being ‘groomed’ for something big, but who knows really what. At a point early in the game, you meet a character that looks very similar to a Borg (and sounds like one, actually) named Nim Shondu. Later on, you have to kill him. Believe me, this boss level is nearly impossible to beat unless you come into it with the correct weapons dealing a high amount of damage combined with overcharge.  Even then, expect to spend loads of time with this room. There’s no hiding place in the room, so you can’t get away from his sword and special attacks or his EGO moves. He moves so fast that you can’t block his attacks. So, the best you can do is try to stay away from his attacks just long enough to kill him. Worse, you have to kill him 3 times. Good luck with that unless you are equipped correctly. Worse, you won’t know his tactics until you enter the room.  And, by then it’s too late to go find the right weapon let alone equip it. Even worse than all of this, the game still charges you an extraction fee each time you die and can’t self-revive. Truly, a poorly designed level

So far, this story has been about rag tag missions that seem to just open up more missions and more side missions. I don’t really see where the story is going at this point.  So, let’s hope the writers have a cohesive story arc in mind.

Weapons and Shields, but no Armor

Unlike other military games which allow you to level up and find weapons, armor, shields and clothing modifiers, Defiance only offers shields and weapons, which isn’t really enough for this type of game.  Of the shields you can find, they are all weak. Basically, there are two types of shields you can find:

  1. A shield with a low threshold for damage (1000 points or less) and recovers fast (1-3 seconds)
  2. A shield with a high threshold for damage (1500 points or higher) and recovers very slowly (delay 7-9 seconds)

Some shields are augmented with other traits (like better protection from fire damage, your own weapon damage, biodamage, etc).  I’ve yet to find a shield that has offers a high threshold for damage and recovers quickly. There might be one in the game somewhere, but I’ve yet to see it or find it.  Even still, it only takes about two Dark Matter troops firing their weapons at you to completely wipe out your shield with about 5 shots and another 5 will wipe out your health and incapacitate you. Worse, you cannot augment shields with any mods at all, even though the game lets you mod weapons.

Arkfalls and Side Missions

There are basically three types of side missions. Random encounters, marked side missions and Arkfalls.

Random Encounters

Random encounters are basically roadside missions.  That is, you drive by and see something blocking the road.  It might be Raiders, 99ers, Dark Matter, Scrappers or Hellbugs.  That’s basically the list of enemies in the game.  So, it will be one of these enemies that pops out of a road side mission. In fact, it’s the only type of enemies that will pop out of any of the missions including Arkfalls.

Side Missions

These mission types are marked on your map with an exclamation point in a diamond shape. These give small amounts of scrip (money) and small amounts of experience points.  They usually ask you to locate and obtain something and sometimes drop it off.  It might ask you to plant explosives.  It might ask you to clear out a Hellbug nest or kill all of the Raiders in a camp.

Arkfalls

Other than multiplayer coop maps, these are the truly massively multiplayer exeperiences in this game. When an ‘ark’ falls and hits the ground, ark hunters swoop in and scour it for parts to be sold.  In the game, when an ark falls, it’s just a mechanism to create a huge Hellbug or Scrapper to kill.  Each Arkfall starts off small (destroying crystals in two or three waves) or killing the enemies in an area.  As the smaller arkfall crystals are destroyed, this leads up to the big boss arkfall. You might have to do two or three small arkfalls before the big boss appears. Once the boss appears, all of the online players congregate and use whatever weapons they have to whittle the health down of the boss until it’s destroyed.  At the end of the arkfall, a panel appears showing who did the most damage in an ordered list.

These usually give about 6500XP experience. So, if you want to gain experience and scrip fast, join arkfalls regularly. Also, do the main missions. These gain you a lot of scrip.

Incapacitation

This is one of the sore spots in this game and is poorly designed.  I understand what they were trying to achieve with this part of the game, but it just doesn’t really work. So, you’ve lost all your shield and your health is now drained.  Once this happens, you fall to the ground and become incapacitated. Sometimes you get two options (self-revive or extraction).  Self-revive is as it states, you revive in place and pick up right where you left off.  Extraction means you start over at the extraction point. Self-revive only becomes available after 5 minutes or so of playtime after the last self-revive was used.  So, if you fall quickly after a self-revive, you have to pay scrip to get extracted.

When you’re in the world, extraction is generally cool (other than you lose a percentage of your ‘Scrip’ for being extracted).. except when your closest extraction point happens to be halfway across the map.  I’ll discuss extraction points next. However, when you’re at the boss level in a dungeon, it’s not fine. In fact, it’s damn right annoying and frustrating.  Worse, when you’re on a boss level, the game doesn’t even give you the option of using self-revive. You are forced to defeat the boss in one complete perfectly executed go or you fail and start over. There’s no help, no reviving, no one there to help you revive.  In the case of the Borg, you’re have to completely kill him in one single go with the weapons you have in hand or you start the boss level over again.  Worse, if you abandon the mission, you have to completely replay the entire intro of the level over again to get back to the boss level inside the dungeon. That may involve 20 minutes of lead-up to get into the dungeon again.

But, if you didn’t enter the level equipped with the correct shield or weapon load out, don’t bother trying to do that in combat.  We’ll discuss weapon load outs shortly.

Extraction points

This game ‘binds’ your character to an extraction point that are post-like markers with a purple light (and an ammo dispenser near it). Once you get close to one of these markers, your character will become bound to it. If you extract, your character will end up back at one of these markers.  As you drive by the markers, your character will become bound to them.  Note, however, that these markers only appear on major roads. So, if you drive off-road all of the time or fast travel, you could leave yourself vulnerable to an extraction point that is a very long way away from where you presently are. So, if you’re doing an arkfall and you extract, you’re going to end up a very long way away from that arkfall and will have to spend the time to drive all the way back over there.

This is really one of the sore points of this game.  There should be twice as many extraction points as there are.  In fact, when an arkfall goes up, an extraction point should appear for the duration of the arkfall. So, if you have to extract, you end up somewhere close to the arkfall again. Better, if you’re in an arkfall, it should bind you to the arkfall until it’s done. Just extract me into the arkfall location where I previously was.  Why force me to drive a huge distance just to get back to it? Not very well thought out.

Weapon Load Outs from the Menu

The menu system in this game is also poorly designed. In most games like this, you would have a weapon wheel where you can assign your favorite weapons for easy access during active combat. Not in this game. You have to open a menu (which can take 10-20 seconds to completely draw), then you have to select the slot and dig through a scrolling list of weapons to place into the weapon slot (another 5-10 seconds).  The entire screen is completely covered with the menu so you cannot see any live actoin at all. Yet, everything remains live. There is no pause. So, your character is completely vulnerable while you diddle in the menu.

Bad bad BAD. This is one of the worst combat menu systems I’ve seen in a game like this. If you need access to weapons/grenades and shields easily and quickly, you NEED a selection wheel that pops up right inside the game over the top of the live gameplay. Sure, let us fill this wheel with our own weapons of choice, but after that, we can easily choose the weapon we want to use.  Instead, you have a completely cumbersome menu system that completely obscures live combat and that takes 30 seconds (or longer) to walk through. Even then, you can only get easy access to two weapons at a time.

The game offers alternative weapon load outs by pressing Y in the menu and will cycle through 3 different loadout presets, but even that isn’t fast enough to work. This game desperately needs a weapon wheel preset overlay.

Inventory and Menu

Menu System

The menu includes everything to manage your weapons, weapon features, and everything in your inventory. The menu system is really overloaded. Once you get into the menu, you have the base menu which is what appears when you press the start button.  But, there’s even another menu when you press the left trigger.  That pops up a wheel that contains more submenus to get to things like the Defiance Store, Social, Stats, etc.  Then there are the RB and LB sub menus of the main menu which cycles you through weapon modification, EGO powers, and more stats. Why they needed both the wheel menu and the RB menu system, I don’t know. It’s not intuitive and it’s confusing.

One thing, though, is that even with all of these menus, once you have created the look of your character, you’re stuck.  You can’t easily change that look if you don’t like it.  If it’s in the menu system somewhere, it’s well hidden. Suffice it to say that I’ve not found it.

Inventory

Inventory is severely limited.  When you first start out, you get something like 12 slots which you quickly fill. Note, anything you hold takes an inventory slot (shield, weapon or mod). I don’t understand why there’s even a limit in this game. But, it’s here and it severely limits what you can pick up. I’m forever destroying objects to be able to pick up something that’s fallen from an enemy. It’s highly frustrating and highly annoying to constantly have to destroy things to get new things.

Additionally, there is no lock box, locker or any kind of storage system for extra stuff. You constantly have to carry everything with you. You can’t offload your stuff into something you own (a house or a locker or any kind of personal offline storage). The closest you get is the ‘Claim Items’ in the Defiance Store. But, that only holds stuff that won’t fit into your inventory at the time that some quest tries to give it to you. You can’t place anything into the claims item area. It only takes overflow items so you don’t lose it.

No Armor, Only Shields (and they’re limited at that)

This game has no concept of armor.  Only shields.  Once your shields are drained, your health starts draining and then you become incapacitated. With any combat game, armor and armor rating should be a huge part of this game. Even at level 650, your character incapacitates as easily as a level 1 character. The shields you find just really do nothing.  Worse, you cannot modify shields by augmenting their protection levels. This game completely fails for character protection. There’s nothing you can do to help fortify your character’s health or protection. You’re completely at the mercy of the game to provide this protection which it does not do.

Multiplayer and Chat

Don’t bother to try and text chat in this world. The chat window is complete junk. The chat system in this game is never used by anyone because you simply can’t use it. To bring up the chat, you press the D-Pad to the right which opens a small menu, then you have to select the chat window which takes over the whole screen. Then you have to use the Xbox controller chat pad (if you have it) to enter your text. Otherwise, you’re limited to that horrible move-the-cursor-and-press-letters-thing (which is even worse).

If you do decide to chat in the Xbox version, get the controller chat pad. Even that is not enough to make this system work. Instead, grab a headset and plug that in. Voice chat is the only way to do this game. Even still, there aren’t that many people using that. So, what you end up with is most people doing their own things without discussions (except where clans are involved).

TV Show Defiance Tie-In

After the shows air, the game is supposed to change its play in-world to accommodate the changes to the series. So far, I’ve seen none of this. Granted, we’re only 2 episodes in as of this writing, still I see no changes in the world or in any of the missions. So, I’m still waiting for these changes to show. Personally, it looks like hype to me.

Audio and Graphics

The graphics are reasonably decent in most cases but there are a few brilliant places. Mostly, the graphics are average.  The lighting is adequate, but not spectacular. The surface textures are good, but could be better.  The graphics can be glitchy, especially where other online players are concerned.  Players disappear, jump from place to place or just don’t work correctly when other online players are doing their thing. The graphics are mostly smooth when it comes to your player, but it can be glitchy and jumpy at times even then.

The audio soundtrack works quite well. The audio voiceovers are mostly well done, but there are some bugs.  For example, EGO says ‘Shoot it in its hideous Moths’ (you know, those white things that fly around at night) when it specifically means the word Mouth (which is printed on the screen). Trion has not yet corrected this audio track. When dealing with side missions, EGO’s phrases are so generic they sometimes don’t make sense.  EGO also pops in at very inopportune times to say things. Sometimes, I wish she’d just shut up. Also, there are audio drop outs where EGO is supposed to chime in and doesn’t, but the audio volume lowers for up to 5 minutes until something else brings the volume back up. You also get these audio dropouts when entering and leaving buildings.

Overall

Defiance on the Xbox 360 is fun to a point, but is a bit too clumsy and has too many quirks and problems.  After you’ve played it for about a day, it gets old and repetitive really fast. The terrain is small and there’s really very little to do other than arkfalls which also become repetitive and boring. The menu system is cumbersome and annoying. The inventory system is overblown and convoluted, but doesn’t hold nearly enough. There are no long term storage lockers, so you have to destroy items frequently. The lack of a weapon menu wheel severely hampers the combat playability in Defiance. The lack of checkpoints makes playing the game a chore in places, especially boss levels.

I’m giving this game 4.5 stars out of 10.  It needed a whole lot more careful design treatment with playability testing and didn’t get it.

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Gaming Innovation: The Dark Age of Gaming?

Posted in botch, drought, entertainment, video game, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on January 27, 2013

I’m a relatively hard core gamer.  I’ve played video games for ages and have owned nearly every console ever made.  I say nearly every console, but there are some I’ve chosen not to own.  Specifically, the Vectrex, the Neo Geo and the Atari Jaguar, just to name a few.  Basically, lesser consoles that really didn’t go anywhere.  I digress.

Necessity is the mother of invention

Entertainment is a huge business.  With music, movies, books and theater, it was inevitable that when electronic technology was invented, someone would find a way to use it for entertainment value.  Enter Nolan Bushnell who created the first commercially sold arcade video game.  Albeit, not the first coin operated video game.  Needless to say, after that the race was on.  Magnavox was the first to the home market with their Magnavox Odyssey console without sound and which included a game similar to the later Atari Pong.

These early video games sparked a revolution in home electronic entertainment that leads us up to video games we play today.  From the widescreen hardcore franchises such as Call of Duty, Halo, Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto, Zelda and Need for Speed to the massively online multiplayer systems of World of Warcraft to the small screen games like Farmville and Angry Birds.  We have tons of options for entertaining ourselves with video games.  All of these games are massive leaps ahead of Pong, Space Invaders, Defender and Battle Zone of years long past.

Waxing Nostalgic

I look fondly on these past video games for a lot of reasons.  They were inventive and different.  The developers were always trying to find a new way to bring their idea to that small 4:3 arcade screen.  And ‘wow’ us they did with such inventive titles as Gauntlet, Paperboy, Battle Zone, Marble Madness, Joust, Sinistar, Dig Dug and even Donkey Kong.  Simplistic games, yes, but challenging, unique and different.  These were games that really defied categorization other than being ‘level based’, but just about every game today has levels. These spurred our imagination and let us meld into that video game world for a short time and then move to another one with a completely different concept.  To take our minds off of whatever it was we were doing.  Yes, these were all arcade games, but they were inventive, unique and different.  In fact, during the arcade heyday, it was rare to find games copying each other.

Lack of Inventiveness

Gone are those unique inventive days where you could walk into an arcade and find something new, original and unique to play. Today, it’s all about the almighty buck.  Well, 60 of them actually.  It’s less about producing something inventive and more about producing something developers think kids will buy.  Developers have lost their inventive edge.

Today, games are categorized into genres:

  • First Person Shooter (FPS)
  • Third Person Shooter (TPS)
  • Rail Shooter
  • Sports: Hockey, Football, Basketball, Snowboarding, Skateboarding, Surfing, Hunting/Fishing
  • Online Multiplayer (MMO)
  • Campaign based
  • Button Masher (aka Fighting)
  • Real Time Simulation (RTS)
  • Music
  • 2D side scroller
  • Role Playing
  • Open World (the most rare type of games)
  • Simulation

There are rarely any games today that break or even attempt to break these molds.  Occasionally, something comes along that tries to think different like Naughty Bear, Traxxpad or Rez.  Or, games that try to combine genres like Grand Theft Auto (mission based with free roaming) in a unique way.  But, these games are so few that you might not even see one per year.

Talent Drought?

I’m beginning to wonder what’s going on with developers.  Are they really so adamant that the above genres is all there is?  Have we lost our ability to invent new things?  Are we moving into a new self-inflicted Dark Age?  I’m not talking about not having entertainment, no.  I’m talking about that we as a society have become so jaded, that we won’t accept any new ideas in games? Personally, I want to see more Pongs, Defenders and Marble Madnesses.  Not specifically these games, but the idea that these games represent.  That is, something new, unique and different.

Take Portal and Portal 2, for instance.  These are a completely unique and different take on the first person shooter. This game has also become a commercial success in its own right.  It’s a mostly non-violent game built on a relatively unique story, puzzles and lots of humor.  The game itself involves challenging puzzles.  These games are from Gabe Newell’s Valve.  I’ve always found that Valve’s games tend to involve more unique ideas and less trying to fit molds.  Valve, unfortunately, is mostly the odd-man-out.  The development cycles are extremely long for games from Valve.  It might take 5 years to release the next installment.  But, I’m willing to wait 5 years to get a unique game experience that’s unlike anything else I’ve ever played.

Unfortunately, most game developers today just want to make the next quick buck instead of putting out award winning high quality unique gaming experiences.  This leaves the gaming market fairly high, dry and devoid of unique games.

What’s left are the Batman Arkhams of the world which always inevitably come down to being a button masher after everything is said and done.  Yes, they wrap the Batman games around a seemingly open world, but when it comes down to the final boss, it’s just another glorified fighting game.  I don’t want yet another reason to get carpal tunnel.  I want to have a unique gaming experience.  I want to be challenged not by how fast I mash my thumb against a button, but how I can think strategically.  How I can take down the final enemy on my own terms, not on the video game designer’s terms.

Inventiveness Reignited

Basically, give me open worlds to roam.  Give me tools to use in that world.  Let me level up as I gain experience in the world.  Give me stores where I can buy things.  Let me even buy the stores themselves.  Let me earn money to spend.  But don’t force me into a final boss sequence that requires me to follow a script.  If you’re going to give me an open world, give it to me all the way.  Let me make my own final boss choices.  Let me decide how to deal with the final boss on my own terms.  Give me the tools to deal with him or her as I see fit.  If you provide cages and I choose to lock the boss in a cage and send that cage off to a prison, that’s my ending choice.  If I choose to have a final button masher battle, my choice. If I choose a strategic battle systematically wiping out all of the boss’s advantages, my choice. If I choose to befriend them and go off with them into the sunset, my choice.  Open world means open world and all that goes with that.

Choice is what we have in life.  Taking that away in video games and forcing a contrived outcome during the final moments is just not inventive.  It’s trite.  It’s cliche.  It’s frustrating.  We’ve spent hours getting to that point only to find out that the final battle is basically a complete waste of time.  That the ending is ‘stupid’.

No, simply provide the gaming tools.  That’s all the game needs to do.  Let the gamer choose the final outcome entirely.  Sure, you can tie in some befitting movie ending dialog sequence, that’s fine.  But, how I choose to end my game should be my choice, not some game developer’s choice who was sitting in a room miles away and months ago making that decision.  Let me make my own decisions, my own choices which result in my own outcomes.  I realize that games need to have some form of rules, so there are limits to what can be provided.  But, within those limits, let me choose how to use them all.  Don’t rope me into a small area, don’t take away all of my advantages that I earned, don’t throw 40 men at me and expect me to button mash them all out of existence in a few minutes.  Again, I don’t need aching joints and to inflame the median nerve running down my hand.  Give me strategic options.  Let me utilize the tools I’ve spent hours obtaining through the game to my own full strategic advantage.  Giving me all of those tools and then taking them all away only to force a 40 man fight is worthless, frustrating and not at all inventive.

Even Better Ideas?

Better, give me games that break FPS/TPS molds.  Give me games where the idea is completely unique.  There are many ways to devise video games in 3D worlds that don’t involve the tired FPS mold.  I want new unique games.  Games that involve strategic thinking, unique environments, unique character traits (super powers of my choice).  As an example, how about a superhero role playing game?  Let me choose my character’s traits, history, powers, good vs evil, etc.  Let me choose the outcomes that unfolds.  Let me write my own story and outcomes?

How about a game within a game?  The gamer becomes a gamer within the game and who gets lost in that video game world only to work his/her way back out?  There are lots of cool story ideas.  It’s the stories here that matter, the gaming aspect is just the tool to get it there.

Basically, we need inventive new unique gaming experiences that do not presently exist.  I want to see games that are today as inventive as Pong was back in its day.  Games that inspire gamers to think, rather than blindly mash buttons.  I like thinking and strategy games within an action framework.  Not so much puzzles as in pulling ropes to open doors, but even more unique then that.  Let’s get some new ideas flowing into the gaming world.  It’s definitely time.

Where are all the games?

Unfortunately, there is a major game drought today.  We have many many consoles today: PS3, Xbox, PS Vita, Wii U and even the iPad, yet we’re firmly stuck playing the ‘AA’ titles which are neither inventive nor unique.  In fact, most of them are rehashes of rehashes.  Things that we’ve both played before and will likely play again.  I don’t want to play games I’ve already played.  I want to play new unique games.  Games that I look at and think, “Wow, this is cool.  I’ve never played something like that”.  I don’t want to get to the end only to find out that I’m trapped in the ever-so-familiar button masher.  I want strategic choices to the outcomes.  Games should actually reward players for the most unique ways to end the game.

Even though we have only just ended out 2012 and there were many titles released at the end of 2012, not many of them were truly imaginative titles.  Yes, there were highlights in some games, but most of them are far too often been-there-done-that experiences.

Even though EA, Atari, Capcom and the other big gaming companies are out there working to produce new games, they’re just not providing quality original games.  They’re providing, at best, copies of previously released and rehashed game ideas.  Nearly every one of those big game company games is boring within the first day of play.  It’s too easy to get stuck into a firm set of rules that force the player into silly and frustrating game play.  If the bosses end up being simple button mashers only to provide the same enemies wave after wave, what makes development companies think that this is what gamers really want?  After a while it just becomes mindless, monontonous and boring.  The point to entertainment is to entertain.  There is nothing entertaining about tedium, frustration and boredom.  It’s no wonder I see a lot of gamers posting ‘I’m bored’ on forums even when they own games like Call of Duty.  Yes, they are boring.

I suggest that by bringing back inventiveness, uniqueness and originality in games, a whole lot more people will become interested in games and we will become, once again, entertained.

Resident Evil 6: Complete disappointment

Posted in video game, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on October 6, 2012

As you may or may not know, I also like gaming.  Specifically, RPG and first and third person shooters.  Well, at least some first and third person shooters, anyway.  Whether I like it depends on how it’s done.  In this case Resident Evil 6 is not done well at all.

Resident Evil Franchise

Even though this game series has turned into a fairly hefty cash cow for both Milla Jovovich (and hubby) in the celluloid format, the games have been relatively uninspired for the last several years.  The last really good Resident Evil game was RE4 and that was years ago.  Well, I’m sad to say that Resident Evil 6 is a complete and total disappointment in the gaming department. Capcom just can’t figure this out.  For whatever reasons, the developers over at Capcom Japan just aren’t with the program.

The absolute best game of this franchise is still, bar none, Resident Evil 4.  This game had all the makings of turning the franchise into a smash hit.  Unfortunately, the game developers decided to try something new with whole tag-along partner thing in RE5 which failed miserably, by the way.  That game was an unmitigated disaster.  It had no depth, the story was boring, the fights were stupid and the fact that you had to keep your partner alive in the middle of the fights was asinine.  There was no fun to be had with that game at all.

You’d think Capcom could have figured out that the reason Resident Evil 5 flopped so badly was that it was just so poorly done.  Yet, here we are with Resident Evil 6 bringing in much of the boring and silly storylines from 5 even though Leon is heading this chapter up.  It’s unfortunate, too.  This could have been such a great addition if Capcom had even minimally listened to its fanbase. No, they did their own thing again and assumed this is what we wanted in a game. They could not have been more wrong.

Seriously, Resident Evil 6 doesn’t even have a pause button!?!?  You can’t even pause the effing game.  I mean, seriously?  Why not?  Every other game on the planet has figured out how to pause, why is Resident Evil 6 the exception?  You can’t even step away to go take a pee without some zombies nailing you.  What fun is there in that?

Worse, when you restart the game, it takes you back almost an entire chapter just to begin again.  You can’t even start at the point where you left off.  Seriously, this is one extremely badly designed game.  On top of just these stupid design issues, the gameplay is sluggish, awkward and the collision detection is some of the worst I’ve seen in a game in a very long time.

No awards for this turd

As much as Capcom seems to think this is some award winning thing, it’s a festering piece of feces covered in flies. It has no redeeming value at all.  This game is so bad, it’ll be in the bargain bin in 60 days.  Less, I’d venture. If you really want this game, just wait about 30 days and pick it up on the cheap.  Even then, why waste your time with this dreadful game?  Go pick up Skyrim or Fallout 3 or Portal or some other much better game than this and spend some time with a quality game.  If you really love Resident Evil, pick up Resident Evil 4.  It’s still far far outshines anything Capcom has ever done to date in this series.  RE4 is, in fact, so far ahead of every other RE game that I can’t even fathom that Capcom had a hand in writing it.  In fact, they probably didn’t.

It’s unfortunate that Capcom doesn’t quite get the gaming landscape today. Resident Evil 6 had so much it could have been and the developers just squandered away that opportunity.  This is and will be the last Resident Evil game I buy from Capcom.  No more throwing good money after bad.  Capcom get with the program.  As they say, once bitten, twice shy.  No more Capcom titles in my house.

[UPDATE 2012-10-24: Thanks Riko]

Apparently you can pause the game, but only if you turn off multiplayer (?) features.  Note, however, that I didn’t ‘turn on’ any multiplayer features when I played.  I just played the game with however the campaign started.  If that enables multiplayer features, I didn’t know it.  Worse, I wasn’t playing multiplayer at all, however.  I was playing the game in as though it were a single person campaign. That this game apparently turns on multiplayer features even though you are not using it (and worse, blocking the pause feature) is just stupid game design.  I have to agree with Riko.  This game is one big turd named starting with an s and ending with a t.

Stars: 1/2 out of 5 (Capcom gets the 1/2 star for effort).

Mass Effect 3: Stunning Graphics, Disappointing Story

Posted in video game, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on March 19, 2012

I’ve played all three of the Mass Effect games from start to finish.  I just finished Mass Effect 3 and I’d have to say I’m quite a bit disappointed by the conclusion of this trilogy.  Note, spoilers ahead so stop reading now if you haven’t played this game yet.

Story Inconsistencies Abound

So, Shepard is off saving the Galaxy at the Citadel and about to pull the kill switch on the Crucible and where is the Normandy?  Careening through Mass Effect hyperspace heading some place random.  Ok, so this part makes no sense at all.  Why would the Normandy be galavanting around the Galaxy at the most important time of all…. when the Crucible is being activated?  It makes absolutely no sense.  Not to mention, Shepard is the commander of that vessel.  So, why would it be off running around on its own without Shepard, anyway?  The Normandy should be right there front and center to see the fireworks display, not off running around in Mass Effect Hyperspace.  I shake my head at whomever thought that story line up.  Yes, I realize that Shepard’s team was overrun by a Reaper.  But, Shepard has seen worse odds then that. Why would the Normandy suddenly decide to split?  So now, Joker and Cortez exit the Normandy and the rest of the crew, who mysteriously do not exit the crashed Normandy, end up on some random planet stuck there without any way home.

Disappointing ending

There are two paths at the end for Shepard.  Unfortunately, neither of them are particularly pleasant endings for him.  However, once Shepard chooses one of two paths, the endings are pretty similar in his final outcome.  Humanity, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily spared either way.  The Reapers are gone for the moment, but they could still come back again based on the ‘entity’ who lives in the Citadel.  But now, the Mass Effect relays are destroyed either way when the Crucible is activated.  Without the Mass Effect relays, there is no way to fast travel anywhere in that universe.

Unfortunately, the two paths are way too convenient and similar in outcome.  Why isn’t there a non-action path or other paths?  Seriously, why does Shepard have to choose one of two paths?  He could simply walk away and let the Reapers do their deeds or find another way.   Clearly, he hadn’t gotten that far into it to just walk away, but why isn’t there more than two options?  Further, why is it that Shepard has to die anyway?  Although, we don’t know specifically that he’s dead, it strongly implies as much.  Once the ending cinematic ceases, it cuts to every place other than the Citadel.  So, we really don’t know what became of the Citadel.

Rescuing Shepard?

Getting back to the Normandy issue, this raises another concern.  Shepard’s love interest that is fostered during the game, why doesn’t this person stay and try to rescue Shepard?  In fact, why isn’t that person even there.  Seriously, a love interest that just leaves and goes somewhere else?  The Normandy and its rescue shuttles should have been there as soon as Shepard pulled the trigger and, at the last minute, fished him off of the Citadel platform.  In fact, the shuttle itself could have triggered what was necessary (at least for one of the endings).

Plot holes abound here too.  If Shepard is to be the ‘savior’ of the Galaxy, there would have been prophecies foretold in at least one alien culture.  Specifically, I’d bet on the Asari.  But, no prophecies existed.  In fact, they should have.  In fact, Shepard should have been roped into a meeting with a seer of some kind who would give him ‘bad news’ about his ending, but also given hope that he has a choice.

Elusive Man

Another issue that just pokes at me for inconsistency, the Elusive Man’s sudden appearance on the Citadel + Crucible when Shepard is trying to find the controls to open the Citadel for the Crucible. He has never appeared in person at any part of the game other than in his round control room.  Granted, Shepard and enemies make short work of that room leaving it as a disaster.  But, he should have other bases.  Also, what’s with all the black all over the Elusive Man’s face?  I get the distinct impression that the Elusive Man on the Citadel was not, in fact, the Elusive Man.  I believe it was either a carefully crafted AI Robot or a remote controlled clone of the Elusive Man.

Game Play Changes

With this game, the game is about 50% gameplay and 50% cinematics.  Bioware/EA has also opted to add a ‘cinematic’ play mode which, I personally believe, ruined the whole gaming experience in all modes.  Worse, the whole army readiness thing is a severe joke.  You spend a ton of time trying to find ‘war assets’ and at the end it doesn’t appear to make any difference.  I was at least expecting some kind of tactics simulation like Dune or Halo Wars.  So, you could pick troops and make them go after Reapers to see how effective they would be.  Didn’t happen.  In fact, that whole part of the game was, as far as I can tell, a total waste of time.  This game leaned so much toward cinema, I’d barely call it a shooter and it’s definitely not an RPG.  Yes, Bioware left the leveling up and powers in there, but there was so little to do with them.

The Crucible is the only way?

So this device, thing, gadget, just didn’t really work for me.  I mean, there have to be other means at destroying the Reapers than the Crucible.  Sure, the Crucible is definitely one option that Shepard (and troops) should consider, but there should have been at least two or three other options available like some other super weapons discovered in a remote planet.  In fact, there should have been scientists out there devising a means to kill the Reapers through a virus, bad code or even the Geth.  In fact, depending on which fleets you end up having as allies, the method of Reaper destruction should change based on those fleets.  The tactics and methods of destruction should also be available.  This is supposed to be an RPG, so let’s treat it as one.  Alas, didn’t happen.

Best Part of this Game

Basically, you play it for the eye candy.  The characters look amazing.  The environments and lighting are perfect.  The player movements from motion capture, outstanding.  The voice acting, the backstory of the characters and the sheer character interaction is perfect. The music fits very well and works quite well in the game.  When you do get gunfire gameplay, it’s trivially easy, but it is quite fun.  However, there’s just simply not enough of it.  The questing part of the game, of which there’s far too little if this is supposed to be an RPG, is also fun. Don’t go into this game expecting an outstanding storyline.  That’s not where this game shines.  This game shines in how the gameplay unfolds.  Mostly, the interactions between the crew and Shepard is where this game shines and is the most satisfying parts of this game.

Ending

The ending of this game was a complete disappointment on so many levels.  For me, the ending completely ruined the fun I was having with exploring the Milky Way, the Citadel and various other worlds.  The impending threat is always there, but you can safely ignore it until you get to the end. Leave it to EA to mess this one up. The gameplay is, well, what game play?  You’re sitting there watching a cinematic unfold at the end.  That’s it.  No bosses, no battles, nothing.  Just watching a movie.  I didn’t buy this game to watch a movie.  I realize cinematics are a big part of games today, but that was just too much.  On top of that, the story (based on the above) just makes little sense.

Shepard is either dead, consumed or heavily incapacitated.  The Mass Effect Relays are completely destroyed throughout the galaxy (choosing either path) and the Normandy is inexplicably stranded on some random world somewhere remote. Worse, once the deed is done, all you see is some text that says ‘Shepard is now regarded as a hero’.  Wait, what?  Seriously?  You can’t even show a celebration from the troops, a commendation animation, a memorial service, a world rebuilding animation or even a news clip from the news anchor who was on board the Normandy nearly all of the time?  Clearly, the ending was rushed and the game’s story wasn’t that well thought out.  There are way too many loose ends here to call this a satisfying conclusion to a trilogy.  I hope they are planning for Mass Effect 4 because this ending leaves me saying, “huh?” and desiring a whole lot more fitting conclusion to Shepard’s life and celebration of his life.

Oh, and what’s with the severely bad voice acting of the father and son storytelling clip at the end?  Is that supposed to suggest that the whole thing was made up by some guy just to amuse his son?  Seriously?

Randosity Related Article: Analysis of Mass Effect 3’s Ending

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Video game designers stuck in a rut

Posted in video game, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on March 4, 2009

Video game consoles, such as the PS3, Wii and Xbox 360 (and even PC’s) have gotten more complex and provide impressive 3D capabilities and 5.1 sound.  Yet, video games have not.  There was a time many years ago when video game designers would take chances and create unique and unusual titles.  Games that challenge the mind and challenge the video gamer’s thought processes.  Games used to be fun to play.

In recent years…

Today, most games fall into a very small subset of genres: First/Third Person Shooter, Fighting, RPG, Simulation, Sports or Music (with a few lesser genres appearing occasionally).  While the innovation in the hardware continues to progress, the video game designers are not progressing.  Sure, it takes time to get actors into a studio to record tracks.  Sure, it takes time to build and rig up 3D models.  Sure, it takes time to motion capture realistic action to plug into those 3D models.  Yes, it takes time to program all of those complex algorithms to make it all work as a whole. I understand all of that.  But that’s the process, not the innovation.  These are the tools necessary to get the job done.  They are a means to an end and not the end in itself.

Design considerations

For whatever reason, big video game executives have it in their heads that the tried-and-true model sells a video game.  That may be true to some degree, but you can also wear-out-your-welcome with overused techniques.   In other words, when a game title sucks, the word spreads FAST in the video game community.  That can stop a video game’s sales dead.

When starting a new game project, the producer and creative staff need to decide whether or not they are planning on introducing something new and innovative.  First and third person shooters (FPS/TPS) have already been done and done and done and done again ad nauseam.  That’s not to say that yet another TPS or FPS can’t be successful.  It can.. IF there’s something compelling to the game… and that’s a big IF.

Sure, there are video gamers who will play anything they can get their hands on (known as video game fanatics).  But, as a game developer, you can’t rely on these gamers to carry your title to success.  These gamers do not necessarily make up the majority of the game buying public.  As far as myself, I am an much more discriminating buyer.  I simply won’t buy every title that comes along.  I pick and choose the titles based on the styles of games I know that I like to play.  For example, I do not buy turn-based games of any sort.  I don’t care if it’s based on dice rolls or card draws whether in a fighting, FPS or RPG game.  I won’t buy them because turn-based games get in the way of actual playing.  Turn-based games also tend to be antiquated.  I understand where turn-based play came from (i.e., board games).  But, it has no place in a 3D world based video game.

Again, choosing to add turn-based play into your game is your decision as a developer.  But, by doing so, you automatically exclude gamers who won’t buy turn-based games, like myself.  There are gamers who do enjoy turn-based games, but I don’t know of any gamers who won’t buy real-time play styles and buy only turn-based.  So, you automatically limit those who purchase your game to those who buy turn based.  But, by making your game real-time, you include a much bigger audience.

These are up-front design considerations that, as a developer and producer, you need to understand about gamer buying habits.  These are decisions that can directly affect the success of your video game title.

Previous innovations

In the early days of 3D console games (mid-80s through mid-90s), game developers were willing to try new and unusual things.  Of course, these were the days when 3D was limited to flat untextured surfaces.  We’ve come a long way in the graphics arena.  But, even as far as we’ve come in producing complex and unusual 3D worlds within the games, the play styles have become firmly stagnant.  For example, most First/Third person shooters today rely on a very linear story to get from point A to point B.  Driving the game along is an invisible path.  So, while the complex 3D world is wonderfully constructed, the character can only see the world from a limited vantage point.   The cameras are usually forced to be in one spot (near or behind the character).  The character is forced to traverse the world through a specific path with invisible boundaries.   So, exploration of the world is limited to what the game designer and story allow you to do.

This style of game is very confining.  It forces the gamer to play the game on the programmer’s terms rather than on the gamer’s terms.  Worse, when this play style is combined with checkpoint saves, health meters and other confining aspects, these games can easily become tedious and frustrating.  So, what a game developer may consider to be ‘challenging’, in reality becomes frustration.

A shot of new innovation

The video game development world needs is to open is collective eyes.  Don’t rely on the tried-and-true.  Don’t relay on formulas.  Don’t assume that because a previous game worked that your next game will also work.  What works is what video gamers like.  What doesn’t work is what video gamers don’t like.  The video game community is very vocal, so listen to your audience and learn.  Most of all, try new things… and by that I don’t mean tweaking an existing formula.  I mean, take a risk.  Try something new.  Let gamers explore the world.  Produce worlds that are open and complete.  Let gamers build things.  Let gamers take the game to whole new levels.  Build in construction sets to allow gamers to create things you have never thought of.  Build in ways to save the constructions to web sites and allow gamers to monetize the things they’ve built.

These are innovations that lead to progress.  These are innovations that instill addictiveness into the game.  These are innovations that keep your game alive for years to come.  You only need to look at the popularity of Second Life, World of Warcraft and even the Elder Scrolls series to understand that an unlimited world with construction kits allow gamers to take the game into directions you’ve never even thought of.

Most games play through in only a few weeks (sometimes less than 1 week).  The gamer buys it, plays it through and then trades it in never to touch it again.  This is effectively a movie rental.  So, once the gamers have had their fill, the game is effectively dead.  This style of game does not provide your company with a continued stream of revenue from that title.  Only titles that have open ends, that offer expansion packs, and that allow gamers to construct things on their own are the games that keep a title alive for years rather than a few weeks.

 That may require a slightly bigger cash outlay in the beginning (to support a title that has a longer lifespan), but if done correctly, should also provide much more income for that game company.  This is why titles like Fallout 3, Oblivion: Elder Scrolls IV and World of Warcraft are talked about months (and even years) after the game’s initial release.  But, forgettable games like Fracture, Too Human or even Force Unleashed have no extra play value after the game ends.

Gaming elements incorrectly used

In too many game designs, programming elements are used incorrectly to ‘challenge’ the gamer.  Game challenges should come in the form of story elements, puzzles, clues and riddles.  Game challenge elements should not involve game saving, turn-based play, checkpoints, character deaths, camera movement, controller button sequences, or anything dealing with the real-world physicality of the gaming system.  In other words, challenges should not be tied to something outside of the video game or outside of the story.  So, as a designer.. you should always ask yourself:  Does this challenge progress the game story forward?  If the answer is no, the challenge is a failure.  If yes, then the story becomes better by the challenge.

Button Sequences

For example, requiring the gamer to respond to a sequence of button presses in a very specific real-world time limit is not challenging.  This is frustrating.  This means the gamer needs to trial-and-error this section until they can make it through the timed sequence of buttons.  This is a failed and incorrectly used ‘challenge’ event.  This section does not challenge.  Instead, this sequence requires the gamer to ‘get through’ that section.  Note that ‘getting through’ is not a positive gaming aspect.  Worse, if this game section comes in a FPS game, but only occasionally (only to fight a boss), this is also incorrectly used.  If this play style is used regularly and consistently throughout the game, then the gamer knows that it’s coming.  If it’s used only at certain undisclosed points rarely, then the gamer has to fumble to realize what’s going on when there is no warning.

Death Sequences

Another common, but also incorrectly used gaming element is the character death sequence.  For some reason, recent games have promoted the use of character deaths as part of the challenge element.  So, there are sections of some games where the designers specifically designed the level so the gamer has to ‘die’ his way through the level.  These trial and error sequences, again, are incorrectly used and do not aid in moving the story or the game forward.  These also tend to promote deaths as a way to solve problems.  This is not appropriate.

Games should always promote the positive aspects of life and not promote death as a means to an end.  Worse, games like Too Human take the death sequence to an extreme and make the gamer wait through an excruciatingly long cinematic each time the character dies.  This, again, is an inappropriate use of a gaming element.  The game should be designed for the GAMER and not for the game designer.  Long death sequences such as what’s in Too Human overly emphasizes death.  This is, again, not appropriate.

Health Meters

Health meters are another common gaming element that are incorrectly used, or lack thereof.  Every game that allows the character to ‘die’ needs to have a visible health meter.  Games that use the Unreal engine do not have this.  Instead, when your character takes enough ‘damage’, the screen will become red with a halo.  The problem with this system (and this is also why its incorrectly used) is that the gamer doesn’t know how far from ‘death’ the character is.  This is not a challenge.  This is annoying and frustrating.  This leaves the gamer wondering just how much health they have. 

Game Saves

Again, story elements move the game forward.  Having the gamer stop and reload a game takes the gamer OUT of the game and forces them to restart from some arbitrary point.  Checkpoint games are particularly bad about this.  When checkpoints are the only way to save a game, this means the gamer must waste their real-world time through trial-and-error gaming.  This means, the user must wait through character deaths and then the subsequent reload of the level to restart at the checkpoint.  Again, this is not a challenge… it’s simply a waste of time.   When levels are designed such that the gamer’s character will die at least once to get through the level, the level has failed.  This forces a reload of a previous save.  This element, again, is misued as a challenge element.  Taking the gamer out of the game by forcing a reload ruins the game experience and disrupts the story you, as a developer, worked so hard to make cohesive.

Future of Gaming

Even as game developers are now stuck in the genre rut, they do have the power to break out of it.  They do have the means to produce games with more compelling and addictive content.  Instead of using old formulas that used to work, designers need to look for new ways to innovate,  monetize and bring video gamers into their game worlds and keep them there.  Games shouldn’t be viewed as a short term point A to B entity.  Games need to move to open ended and free exploration worlds.  Worlds that let the gamer play on the gamer’s terms.  Sure, there can be story elements that tie the game together like Fallout 3 and Oblivion.   In fact, I’d expect that.  But, these game threads should start and end inside the game as quests.  You can play them when you want to and you can leave them hanging if you don’t want to complete it.

Game elements like checkpoints, saves and button sequences need to be rethought.   Some of these elements can be successfully used, like checkpoints if implemented thoughtfully.  However, allowing the gamer to save anywhere lets the gamer save and start at their leisure.  But, that manual save process leaves it up to the gamer to remember to save.   For this reason, checkpoints when combined with save-anywhere is the best alternative when gaming.  After all, the game was supposed to be produced for the gamer.

Designers, creators and developers need to challenge the notion of what is a video game.  They need to use the 3D worlds in creative NEW ways.  Let the users explore the worlds on their terms, not on some dictated path and story.   Designers need to take a page from Bethesda’s book on free-roaming RPGs and expand on this.  Closed ended, path based games have limited playability and definitely no replay value.  Monetarily, developers need to understand that open ended construction based games let gamers take ownership of the game and make it their own.  Closed, narrow pathed games do not.

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