August 30, 2010 § Leave a comment
August 23, 2010 § Leave a comment
- See also, ‘Hardcore Game’
- (n) A game requiring a large time investment to complete once, usually made up of a detailed world which will be played by either a single or a group of players.
- (n) A game played primarily by ‘Classical Gamers’ (See also: Hardcore Gamers)
- See also, ‘Casual Game’
- (n) A more basic game requiring less time to complete once. Will usually feature more simplistic graphics and mechanics leading to it being player by a far wider group of people.
- (n) A game played primarily by ‘Pop Gamers’ (See also: Casual Gamers)
August 17, 2010 § Leave a comment
We Alien fans are a patient lot. It’s been eleven long years since our last truly great game. Twenty-four years since our last good film. Sure, Duke Nukem leads the pack in cautionary tales from Development Hell; Sonic’s death has been drawn out more excruciatingly than any other; Star Wars has been milked to the point of emaciation, but Aliens has punished its fans more than any other franchise in history.
It isn’t the waiting. You get used to the waiting. It’s the hope. Despite the countless – countless – abhorrences that the license has birthed, we have never lost faith that one day someone might come. Someone who knows why James Cameron’s career is on the wrong side of its peak, why Rebellion Developments still exists, what it is that keeps Giger’s creature lurching onwards, beaten down again and again, but still clawing its way towards the back of the unsuspecting entertainment industry.
1999. The Alien film franchise is on its merry way down the shitter and you’ve jumped ship already. You find yourself creeping down a pitch-black steel corridor. You’re armed to the teeth, but you can’t shoot what you can’t see. Flares burst into the corner of your vision on a button press, blinding you and creating a tiny island of harsh purple light in which you can cower. You only have so many, and you still can’t see more than three feet ahead of you. No good against terrible, spindly shadows that flit around ahead of you at a speed you’ve never seen in a game. A small radar gives off high-pitched ‘blips’ beside you.
Blip. Blip. Blip.
You see a single dot moving across the little readout. Numbers scroll at speed next to it. You don’t know what they mean. But they’re getting smaller.
You saw the film. You guess what’s coming. Suddenly, your flare fizzes out, leaving you in darkness.
You fumble in the dark and find the image intensifier. One flick and suddenly the screen lights up in an eerie green shade. You wait for the blip and try to still your shaking hands.
Silence, save for a soft buzz. Night-vision comes at a cost. You glance down to check your ammo. Less than full. Suddenly, a blood-curdling noise blares through your headphones, rattling around inside your skull. A mixture of hiss, screech and bestial growl, you only hear it once before a black shape skitters into sight, ricocheting off the walls as it screams along the floor towards you. Years of playing Doom have conditioned you to backpedal as fast as humanly possible, spraying pulse-rifle rounds down the corridor. The muzzle flash whites out your vision and the weapon drones even louder than the creature as you rain lead everywhere. You can just about hear a wet impact as one of your bullets hits home.
You cease fire. Vision returns. There is smoke rising from the floor, where a small black claw lies, dripping acid blood. The creature is nowhere to be seen. Dropping your image intensifier, you watch the motion tracker for a retreating dot.
Looks like you scared it off. Wait, was that a decimal point?
There is just time for you to drop a flare before a loud snap announces your failure. What remains of your skull hangs from the jaws of your first alien encounter as it clings to the ceiling above you. Game: Over. Pants: Browned.
I mean it when I say Aliens versus Predator didn’t redefine horror games. It fucking defined them. Scores of inadequate pretenders from the last decade crouch, shivering, in the dark shadow it casts over them. Cheap shocks fire off between them, complemented by overbearing musical scores and safe-haven cutscenes. Meanwhile, AvP takes place in oppressive silence as you try to hide from opponents that are infinitely faster, stronger and more numerous than you are. You will come across long corridors of absolute darkness, which pressure you to light your path either with wild gunfire, blinding flares or the night-vision which cripples your ability to sense danger. Maybe you’ll sprint along it spraying your flamethrower everywhere like a real USMC marine? Enjoy standing in the dark – back against a wall – when the opposite door fails to open and a horde closes around you until your ammo runs dry.
Back in the days FEAR meant something other than slow-motion gun battles in office buildings and little girls with psychic powers.
We’ve waited a long time for another Aliens game. The frustrating thing is, there’s loads of them. They get released all the time. Mobile phones see the largest catalogue, while the PSP follows up with tie-ins to the beyond-horrible AvP movies (I’d describe them as looking fan-made, but that does the fans a disservice). The most recent – and disappointing – was the 2010 ‘successor’ to AvP 1999. My inverted commas are dripping warm sarcasm all over the floor, so let me qualify my point whilst the gimp mops it up for me. The main reason Aliens were such a terrifying prospect back in the day was not because they’re so well-designed. It wasn’t high-res textures of chitinous exoskeletons or procedurally-animated tail whip physics. It was their blistering movement speed. The films were terrifying because we couldn’t see what was after the crew of the Nostromo and our imagination filled in the blanks. While that doesn’t work in a first-person perspective, you can’t see something that leaps from floor to ceiling and runs circles around you faster than you can turn your head. In 2010, the Aliens move like old people fuck. I had no trouble picking each one out with my motion tracker and flashlight – and disassembling them with my pistol. Not to mention how boring the Alien campaign becomes once you realise the only reliable way to kill something is by getting behind it and pressing the ‘kill’ button. In 1999 we could dismember an entire roomful of marines in seconds, or be embarrassed by a single civilian with a pistol, depending on whether we were fast enough with our claws and walljumps. It was simple: a game of hide-and-seek. Marines were tested by their nerves and caution. Aliens were tested by their cunning and speed. A brilliant layout for incredibly tense gameplay, where victory goes to whoever is least afraid. No game since then has understood this. Not AvP 2, not AvP 2010, not even the glorious AvP: Extinction (which, for the record, had real potential). But there is a painful twist in this tail as it buries itself in my chest cavity. Its name is Gearbox.
I don’t trust them. They stole my heart in Opposing Force, only to crush it underfoot with the piss-poor PC port of Borderlands. They announced and canned a promising Aliens RPG. Now they have fallen silent, with only a few screenshots of their latest project – Aliens: Colonial Marines – floating around the internet.
They are spectacular.
We’ve been promised a character-driven storyline, marines with personality. A story set immediately following Aliens. A mission to recover Ellen Ripley and the squad that followed her into hell. Four-player local co-op where Aliens are fast, merciless and burst suddenly from the world geometry to drag you under. Sitting in a darkened room with your friends, watching the ammo counters on your sentries tick down to zero as the screams of pissed-off aliens echo from the other side of a sealed bulkhead. Acid blood that cripples players who touch it and burns through steel doors. AI that will outflank, outsmart and terrify us. Meanwhile, with news of an Alien prequel in the works, directed by the Ridley Scott, there is plenty to keep us on edge. We will wait for a return to former greatness, no matter how long it takes. If Colonial Marines ever does come out, it will have warped and decayed to the point where its genius is no longer recognisable. Alien 5 will be a Hollywood action flick with no depth and unlikeable characters, which milks the franchise for cheap thrills and commits unforgivable acts of fanservice, just as Predators did to its own series. There will never again be anything of worth that sports the Alien license, be it game, film or terrible cross between the two.
Sometimes I wish I could get out of this chicken-shit outfit, but I know that it’s worth sticking around, just in case. Because if anyone ever does make a game that does this incredible franchise justice, it will be the best-game-ever.
August 16, 2010 § 2 Comments
August 9, 2010 § Leave a comment
There are a lot of design features you’ll end up cursing in a standard run through a game. We’d love to be able to claim that with development duties in our hands many games would end up being far better, but the truth is that the vast majority of these design ideas are there (or absent) for very good reasons.
Take as an example your inability to run and shoot simultaneously in Resident Evil 4. Sure, it’s infinitely annoying not to be able to back away from the hordes of infected villages scampering towards you, but the upshot is that the game ends up being far more tactical as a result. You can’t just jog into an area and expect to be able to get out unscathed, instead you have to think a little more, planning your escape route when the time comes for you to inevitably have to reload at the worst possible moment.
Likewise whilst it’s nice to have the option to play the entirety of a game co-operatively, the sheer cost involved from a development perspective, as well as the design headaches, involved with having two players running around the game world far outweigh the benefits of an option many wouldn’t even touch.
Some design choices though, defy any explanation. They exist as part of a tradition, included ‘just because’, and completely fail to justify their presence. Take as an example:
Having to sign player 2 into a profile:
I understand of course that this is a lovely feature intended to allow you to collect achievements whilst playing with a friend – at least that’s the idea. Out of interest though, how many of you actually keep your Xbox Live profile on a portable memory stick? In addition to that, how many of you will then keep this profile on your person should you come into a position to play some multiplayer? If you answered yes to both question then congratulations; it’s your obscure habit that’s been eating into the rest of our playtime for years now.
That way a game will give you the name of your profile? I hate that. Just ask me to quickly enter in my name when I want to play split-screen Halo, and stop me wasting scarce conversation by reminding people who I am when I kill them. Then of course if I want to collect achievements with friends give me the option to sign in to a profile. Until that point comes though, assume I’m not bothered and don’t make me waste my time creating profiles on friends’ systems just so I can use my real name.
Quitting to the main menu when you die
There are some features of JRPGs that I love. There are others I hate, but others love and thus warrant inclusion. The way many games will kick you out to the main menu when you die however, is both an annoying and immersion killing feature that has no place in modern games.
Perhaps the practise is designed to be a noble attempt to force you to give up. “Look,” the game’s saying, “You kinda suck at this. Why not go outside, get some fresh air, and then come back later?”
I don’t want to of course. I want to jump right back into the game and beat that challenge that had me stumped the first time round. In addition, I don’t want to have to rely on my saves as checkpoints, it means I spend more time worry about the next save point than actually enjoying the game, and can also result in entire half hours of game time lost when it could’ve been saved with a little automatic checkpointing.
The practise also wastes the player’s time. Just load up where I was five minutes ago because I could really do without first loading your company logos, the game’s introduction, the main menu, my list of saves, and finally the level. It’s lengthy, it’s boring, and above all it makes me seriously think about walking away from the console, and that’s never a good thing.
Choosing whether to pick up mission critical items
A feature which seems in my experience to be exclusive to Capcom games is politely asking the player whether he wants to pick up that item necessary to finishing a level with. The issue here is not so much one of wasted time, but of the paranoid doubts it causes to enter my mind.
I may be alone in this, but whenever a game asks me if I want to pull a level I’ve just come across rather than just doing it for me, I immediately think I have some sort of a choice. Obviously this lever has to be here for a reason, but if the game’s asking me whether I want to pull it or not than maybe there’s a reason I shouldn’t be pulling it. Maybe the lever’s booby trapped, maybe it’s going to open a secret passageway filled with puppets intent on turning Dante’s body into mincemeat…and maybe I’ll be kicked out to the main menu as a result.
I think I’ll go search around a little bit more before I commit to a decision…
Agreeing not to turn off the console during saving
Us gamers are an impatient lot. We get that games have to load and everything, but whilst that’s going on we’re probably going to leave the room and do one of the other hundred of important things in our lives.
We might leave the room and make a sandwich for example, or possibly just a cup of tea. We might unload the dishwasher, or do some other menial task we’ve been putting off because let’s face it, if it takes so little time then why bother? We might take a moment to punch a goat in the face, or maybe write a blog post about how much we hate waiting for games to load.
When we re-enter the room after a lengthy initial load we expect at the very least for the main menu to be sitting there with the ‘Continue?’ option happily flashing away. If you’re Rockstar then you’ll take this even further, and actually chuck us directly into the game, ready to unleash chaos upon the world.
So please, developers, the next time you’re examining your game’s interface, never make the entire booting up process come to a halt as the game waits for a button press confirming the fact that we understand not to turn off the console when the game’s saving.
Letting everyone edit game settings in multiplayer
“Ok fellas, thanks very much for coming, and let’s get into some Halo split-screen. Ok game mode? Alright we’ll start with some Slayer…no…stop it…will whoever’s pressing up please stop? Ok, Slayer it is. No, stop messing around with character customisation player three, let’s worry about that later. Who’s editing respawn times? What’s the point? Let’s just get into a game and change anything we need to later. Someone’s pressing the up button again, kindly desist. Everyone ready? It’s game time.
No! Alright, who quit us out to the main menu?”
Please, just give all the control to player one, because nine times out of ten that’ll be the person in control, and you know what? If we need someone else to pick out options we can use this amazing feature called ‘passing the controller.’
The point of this article is not to say that these minor niggles are the bane of gaming’s existence, or even that they waste much time at all. The fact remains that they’re still annoying though aren’t they?
So what game features really hack you off? Can you work out the reason for their inclusion, and even then do you think this reasoning justifies them?
August 2, 2010 § Leave a comment
Digging through Nintendo’s first quarter profit report released last Friday reveals few software surprises. Super Mario Galaxy 2 was, surprise surprise, Nindendo’s biggest new release on the Wii, and its DS contemporary was Pokemon Heartgold/Soulsilver. So far, so Nintendo; extremely well crafted games from established franchises leaving much of the third-party competition in the dust.
More surprising was the revelation that from January to June 2010 Nintendo made its first loss – of $288.4 million to be exact – since the release of the Wii in November 2006. There were a couple of reasons for this according to the earnings report; first, a drop in DS hardware sales of 7.7 million units, and second, a drop in the value of the Yen against both the Euro and the Dollar, two currencies in use by a large majority of Nintendo’s market.
At first sight this loss could simply be put down to seasonal change. After all, the first quarter of the year is traditionally the quietest in the world of video gaming, devoid of any major holidays to provide excuses for millions to shell out for that console they’ve had their eye on all year. Considering this, it’s not hard to imagine this as the cause of Nintendo’s setback, especially considering their stereotypically younger audience, who are much more reliant on Christmas to get their game on.
Whilst certainly it may be the case that the changing seasons are partly to blame for this drop in sales, it doesn’t explain why Nintendo have suffered more than the other two console manufacturers. Indeed, Sony returned to profit this year thanks in part to strong sales from its gaming division. Their success thus begs the question – what has Nintendo done wrong?
Perhaps the answer lies with software. Sony’s platform saw numerous exclusive releases over this period from both established brands such as God of War, as well as all new franchises like Heavy Rain. Likewise from Nintendo, there’s been no break in the flow of big titles such as the aforementioned Pokemon Gold/Silver remake, and Super Mario Galaxy 2, one of the best received games Metacritic has ever seen.
As anyone who’s been watching the video games industry for long enough will know, this is a business tied inexorably to the console cycle. A console’s meteoric rise to sales prominence in its first month on sale will almost always be mirrored when its successor is released, sending it into a sales spiral few care much about. Sony’s products seem strangely immune to this law of nature, but due to the enormous focus Sony places on supporting its past products, their success is the exception rather than the rule.
It could be then that Nintendo’s revenue fall is because of something out of there control, a natural progression that only the best marketing teams in the world have any hope of solving. The impending release of the 3DS may thus be to blame, scaring away potential customers eager to wait a year to purchase a new handheld (or indeed the soon-to-be outdated DS) rather than pay full price now.
This may be true for the DS, but the Wii should in theory be immune. The end of the undisputed king of motion controls’ life is nowhere near, at least not in the minds of Nintendo’s executives.
Third-party publishers have long been blamed for failing to set the Wii’s software sales charts on fire. When they initially tried to appeal to the mass market consumers who were responsible for the Wii’s unprecedented success they were criticised for producing shallow titles, with little in the way of innovation or, well, fun. When they then turned to the hardcore for help, and put out games like House of the Dead: Overkill, Little King’s Story and Dead Space: Extraction, they were praised by critics and yet still ignored by consumers, in favour of two consoles that already service the enthusiast gamers much better.
Big-budget Wii games then, are few and far between, especially from third-party publishers, and especially in the quietest quarter in the year, but whether this is the fault of publishers is another matter entirely.
There is just one party left who has a direct impact on the sales successes or failures of the video game industry, and by some Sherlock-esque deductive reasoning, through the elimination of all impossible explanations, what we’re left with, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.
Nintendo are in an utterly impossible situation as I see it. No publisher, not even the manufacturer of two of the biggest consoles of all time, can produce enough titles to sustain demand in a piece of hardware indefinitely. The task is then left to third-party publishers who can either a) make games to appeal to established gamers, who can already get these games on the PS3 and Xbox or b) make games for an audience it’s incredibly difficult to consistently market games to, an audience who only seem to get behind products with the brand recognition of the Mario factory behind them.
As utterly insane as it sounds, Nintendo has gotten too good at marketing games, and as such have left little room in the market for the very people they need to sustain their console with releases all year round.
But enough about me, who do you think is to blame for Nintendo’s loss of momentum? Is this a short-term blip, or is it something much more serious? How do you believe publishers can find success on these elusive consoles?