Friday, July 8, 2011

Gaming Trends That Failed, Pt. 1

This is the first in a trilogy of posts, with each author voicing his opinions and discussing gaming mechanics or trends that failed horribly. While the other two authors will reminisce about failures of the past, I will embellish upon the trends of the present that may just become failures of the future.

Remember the old days of FPS gaming? A gun's accuracy percentage was just how accurate the gun was and the only zoom or sighting of any kind was from sniper rifles? Those days have been long gone, and with it, a new breed of FPS has emerged: Generic FPSs. You know a trend has overstayed its welcome when it's refreshing to see an FPS these days that DOESN'T use that particular trend. I acknowledge that there are FPSs that use ironsighting and are still amazing games (BioShock), but that doesn't change the fact that trends like ironsighting rarely serve a purpose at all, except to be all gritty and realistic by jamming the stock of a gun up your nose. Ironsights in games are either the only way to shoot accurately or rarely useful. In addition, ironsights in EVERY GAME EVER do not help to make a game good nowadays, it only makes it a CoD clone*.
*Not that most FPSs aren't CoD clones in the first place.

First-Person Shooters are named that for a reason. That's why it's annoying as hell when a game is mainly an FPS but the camera zooms out of the character's view to show that he's crying behind an explosive barrel for thirty seconds while shooting what is usually an AI with brain damage. It's not that cover-based shooting can't be done in first person (Killzone) in addition to being done really well, but if your game is focusing on immersion, the LAST thing you want to do is strip that immersion from the player. Take the new Deus Ex for example. Now, I love Deus Ex. I'm preordering the Augmented Edition of Human Revolution for my birthday. But it makes me sad to see a cover-based shooting mechanic in the game, especially when the atmosphere is top-notch and looks to be one of the most immersive games in years. It's that time, when third-person CBS is practically shoehorned into a game that makes me wonder if this trend will eventually ruin games that thrive on being a first-person experience but are simply incapable of being so because the view zooms out to an external view every thirty seconds during an action sequence.

Take the Medal of Honor series as of six years ago. It was a first-person shooter set during World War II in which you played a single member of a larger squad, undergoing countless firefights, deaths of friends, and the German Reich to come out victorious and alive. Now take the first three Call of Duty games. Those were first-person shooters set during World War II in which you played a single member of a larger squad, undergoing countless firefights, deaths of friends, and the German Reich to come out victorious and alive. Now take countless other games that are more than just "inspired" by CoD and copy that exact same statement. Call of Duty 4 brought that same motif to a modern-day fictional war against the Russians. This also inspired countless numbers of games that actively copy CoD to varying degrees of success. Cue Medal of Honor's sudden resurgence, and guess what? It's the same thing as CoD, only set in a real-life modern-day war scenario against the Taliban as opposed to a fictional war against the Russians. It also had vehicles. This is pretty much a vicious cycle that is doomed to repeat itself, oversaturating the FPS genre with countless military shooters that all bear resemblance to Call of Duty or Halo in some form. Rarely does an FPS bear a new and innovated story and bring something new to the table in terms of gameplay. AND DON'T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON THE COLOR PALETTES (or lack thereof).

Has the beginning of the end begun for the First-Person Shooter genre? It has already begun, as long as every other game in the genre rips off Call of Duty or Halo in some form. It has if every game uses the same tired mechanics and never innovates. It CERTAINLY HAS if every developer company for every FPS never bothered to hire an artist who at least knows that colors other than grey and brown even exist. A perfect example of Det Som Engang Var (What Once Was, in case you don't listen to Burzum) is Unreal Tournament 2004. This game cared not for being gritty and realistic. It had a brightly-colored palette, no ironsights, and no cover system. On top of it all, it was unabashedly proud of itself for not conforming to the trends of the time. The next games, by that developer, however, began to go down the same path as many a series before it, beginning to also take part in the orgy of bland color palettes and third-person cover-based shooting systems. If a game was released that did not conform to the trends of the time and focused on being a fun game, that would potentially be a wake-up call for the industry to start making games fun again. After all, being fun is of the utmost importance for any from of media, right?


Halo Reach: A Flawed Legacy

Halo is a series that I have always loved for it's art style and streamlined gameplay, but with the latest addition to the franchise, I feel it falling short.

Halo has always stood out for because of the dramatic contrasts it presented to the player. You gun down thousands of aliens, but on a mysteriously beautiful island, or in pristine yet ancient system of corridors and hallways that snake through the canyons of a great chasm, or high on the outer walkway surrounding vast city that lay covered in a think veil of fog thousands of feet below. The environments were also very mysterious and foreboding: there is almost always some massive structure that obscures the horizon ahead of you and completely dominates the scene. There was also always something just out of reach, some area or island that has a story or secret that you aren't told and can't find out.

Some of these things may seem rather insignificant, but they add a sense of vastness to the game that few games manage to accomplish. Vastness makes the player feel insignificant in the world they are in, which makes for a more immersive experience and just makes the game feel bigger.

In Reach, you could go just about everywhere, and while some of the locales were definitely interesting, you knew what everything did. Now this may seem ridiculous, but there were subtle things in the other games that made you want to know more. There are doors in unexpected places that you can't open, switches that seemingly have no function, passageways that lead to nowhere, things that make you want to see whats behind them or know what they do, but you can't. They were always placed in such unusual places that you felt that you found something special, but they did nothing. They were just...there. They were a part of the world, a seemingly useless addition the the environment that just makes the places feel all the more real and natural.

The issue with Reach is that it's more like Modern Warfare with a year 2500 facelift and more colors. You know what a house is for, if there's a locked door, it's probably a closet or bedroom. If you're in a city area and there's a locked door, it's probably an office or an apartment complex. You didn't feel the need to see what was behind these doors because they're supposed to be there. These are familiar environments with a shiny new coat of paint. Naturally, this had to happen seeing as the game details a covenant invasion on Earth, but I just can't help but to miss these elements. Everything is just too normal and functional.

I also found the Multiplayer hard to stomach. It was a totally different style of play from the previous Halo games, and while I really feel terrible because I'd rather just have Halo 2 with better graphics, I think it would have been better if they would have just slowed down with the amount of added features. It was just too much, too fast. One of my biggest issues was the Ranking System and how it was executed.

One of the best ways to rank up was by playing Challenges, and they were usually something like "Kill 150 enemies in Matchmaking". They weren't usually too hard to achieve, they just required time. I found myself having fun just playing the game as it was meant to be played for the first few rounds and found it quickly becoming a chore. I just wanted to hit that damn goal. Reluctantly I would put in the extra four or five rounds after I had grown tired of the game and accomplish the goal, and eventually this stacked up and eventually I just didn't want to touch the game at all because I knew that when I would go to shut it off that I would only be 33 kills away from unlocking this weeks challenge or something to that extent. This had a really negative effect on my experience, because I simply wouldn't feel satisfied with that last round because I had forfeited all the effort I had just put into the game those past couple hours.

The game is good, a top notch shooter, but it just isn't Halo. Hell, even the Halo theme is absent in this game. Too many elements are missing and it just doesn't have the same tone or feel anymore.

I hope that 343 realizes what makes Halo, Halo.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ranking Systems: Are they becoming the main focus of games?

It seems to be the new trend, having a number ranking system in shooters and other games that usually don't have a rank up system. While it's a great way to reward players by consistently playing and performing well, I feel like the short term instant gratification comes hand in hand with an unfortunate side effect. Are we playing the game because it's fun, or are we playing it just to hit that next level?

I remember dumping endless hours into Halo PC. It had no ranking system or unlocks, it was just fun. The gratification came from winning and outscoring the opponents, and often to absurd degrees. The thing about it was that the reward never changed. You won or you lost, and it was usually fun either way (assuming you didn't choke, horribly). With newer shooters, you play the main game, but it's as if there's a completely different game on top of that, and while the depth of some of these rank up and reward systems is definitely something to be praised, I feel like it detracts from what should be center stage.

So this brings me to my question: will future shooters feel complete without a ranking system? Will we be able to simply play because it is fun or will the game lack the gratification of other shooters?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Bad Teacher is a Bad Movie

Since there's some downtime, I figured I'd do a movie review for once.

The following sentence spoils the entire movie... beware if you want to read on...

Cameron Diaz is the bad guy of this movie.

That's all you need to know.

Anyways, to be a bit more detailed, Diaz plays a junior high teacher that doesn't give a damn about her students and mooches off of her well-to-do fiancee.  After the wedding is called off, she's forced to go back and teach to pay her way.  Of course, she still freeloads, and tries to hook up with the substitute teacher (played by Timberlake), who's the quite, sensitive type, but also belongs to a very well off family.

Her main opposition, and Timberlake's main love interest throughout the movie, is a beloved teacher that actually works to make the students better, played by Lucy Punch (Hot Fuzz).  This is actually one of my biggest gripes of the movie.  The person who actually tries to do good in the world, is labeled the "bad guy" and loses her job because of the manipulative main character.

I don't see how I'm supposed to like a movie, where the only voice of reason, and moral guardian is shut down and thrown away.  The fact that Diaz's character cheats to get the best grades by stealing the standarized test scores, and blackmailes to cover it up, is something I cannot believe they had the main character do with no reprocussions.

That's right, she commits felonies and gets off scot free.  She's even REWARDED with a paycheck bonus in the film.  What the hell?  Her character is the same manipulative pain in the ass throughout the whole film.  There is almost zero character development for her.  Compared to her counterpart, who starts off as a friendly, good-natured person towards the lead, but eventually starts to try her damnest to get Diaz's character fired.  And rightfully so.

And on the topic of character's, I can't stand Timberlake's character.  He's as interesting as a lump of clay, which is funny, because that's what he is.  He's easily swayed by some of the characters, but seems only genuine around Squirrel (Punch), but otherwise he's as wishy-washy as they come.  This isn't Timberlake's fault, but the way his character was written was just... ugh.

The most insulting part is the motivation for all of the lead's actions... Breast Implants.  She does all of this crap... for breast implants.

I would never willingly watch this movie again.  If it was the complementary in-flight movie... I'd sleep through it, or find some little kick to kick me in the shins for the hour and forty minute runtime.