Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Where else can you throw Sean Paul in front of a moving train?

Once again the curse of the moronic hardcore gamer inflicts a dull blow on Eurogamer's comments field. Def Jam Icon has been deemed to be shit before anybody posting comments has even had a go at playing it (hey, the demo's out this week, why not wait 3 days and finely tune your super-edgy-cool anti-mainstream 'I hate hip-hop' rant?)

Fighting games are obviously stinkers if they don't fit into one of these rigid categories:

  • It is a 2d sprite based game with billions of characters.
  • It is a Virtua fighter game.
  • It is a Smash Bros game.

Anything else is clearly worthless, developed, marketed to, and bought wholesale by bottom-feeding mouth-breathing chavvy chavsters.

I mean, it's not like the previous two games are excellent fighting games developed by Aki, or that the new one is developed by EA Chicago who make the very good Fight Night. And try and forget that the game attempts to do something interesting with the environment and music (something that could be considered 'innovative' if you actually used the word properly instead of just shorthand for 'I like Nintendo's new Mario game'). No, you just have to know that the game surrounds itself with an over-the-top gangsta rap culture, so it's crap.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Eurogamer writers' mouths keep flapping about PS3

I'm not sure "developers stick to their NDA's" is really that much of a news story. It's also worth staying well clear of the comments in the launch details story - it'd make any right-thinking person cry.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

There's no 'I' in 'team'

But there are three in "Christ, we'll never make a game with that much content in ten months!" Something that I've realised recently (thanks to an interesting thread on The Chaos Engine)...

There's a mind-set in the games industry that handheld development should use very small teams (typically people think that 5 - 10 people is a good number). I think that's a rather strange assumption.

Team sizes should be relative to the project's scope and size - developing Hexic for the Xbox 360 clearly won't take the same number of man-hours as Gears of War (or at least, you would hope it won't) - platform has very little to do with it.

Current hand-helds can easily hold 'big' titles (hell, even the original Gameboy had a excellent Zelda and Pokemon games), but people need to realise that these can't be developed with the same team and time-scale as something like Lumines. Hand-held titles currently retail (in the UK at least) for almost the same amount as last-gen titles, so it's reasonable that customers would expect a similar amount of entertainment. And that's something that I wouldn't just measure in game length, but also the polish and attention to detail that helps make for a satisfying experience.

I'm not saying that all 'big' games are good, or that 'small' games are bad, just that if you're going to try and develop something with the content and polish of New Super Mario Bros, don't go at it with your Bust-a-Move schedule in hand.

Professor Pat Pending

There's an interesting article on Gamasutra about video game patents.

Generally I'm in the 'do away with them' camp for industry patents - things like the Crazy Taxi arrow just help players enjoy that and other games, so forcing other developers to remove them is essentially forcing them to spoil their game (unless they come up with a different solution, of course). Yeah, I know it's a business, but overall it seems to be the game's players who would suffer.

I'm sure my tune would change fast enough if I invented something worth copying, though!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Splinter Cell: Double Agent (360)

When I first got an Xbox, Splinter Cell was one of the games I got with it. Look at the graphics - man, they'd never be able to do that shit on the PS2 (they did, of course). It was a horrible game that made no sense. Seriously, who thought that making a very early level where you're not allowed to touch the street floor (and I do mean'touch', not 'be seen on' - somehow the guards just knew there was someone messing around on their street) without instantly failing was a good idea?

Now I should say, I don't dislike stealth games. I think they can be great, but only if they allow you to monumentally cock up and still carry on. After all, the one thing the genre tries to impress on you is that your character is some kind of ultimate badass. And ultimate badasses can, if everything goes wrong, at least try and shoot their way out. Or run. This is why I've always liked the Hitman games.

Anyway, when Pandora Tomorrow came out, I gave it a miss - I wasn't falling for their lies twice. I did borrow it from a friend, but again found the early levels to be remorseless in their punishment of mistakes.

Chaos Theory got praised for being a bit more easy going, so when it got cheap I bought it. Thoroughly enjoyed the first few levels (I can't actually remember why I stopped playing it now, I seem to rememebr at least finishing a level set on a ship).

So I got a copy of the latest Splinter Cell when that was also cheap. It has some very good stuff in there - you're allowed to cock up to quite a stunning degree in most places (Sam Fisher is now enough of an ultimate badass to fight back) thanks in no small part to the clever trust system making most of the stealthy objectives optional. Interesting levels (so far). A nice range of hi-tech gadgets to mess around with. Lovely presentation. The achievements are sensibly placed to spur you through the single player while also trying to encourage stealthy play.

It's not all great though - the frame rate is horrible in some places; Sam often doesn't respond to your button mashing in the way you'd expect; the 3d map could do with a bit more detail, and being slightly easier to get around; and the most terrible of crimes is that the multiplayer on this next-gen version is nowhere near as good as in Chaos Theory. Where the hell is my co-op campaign Ubi?

Still, enjoying it so far.

Friday, January 19, 2007

A new label - hello "Gamer Morons"!

Eurogamer has just posted their Readers' Top 50 Games of 2006 article, which features one of the stupidest comments I've read in a (relatively short - there is this whole Big Brother racism thing in the news at the moment, after all) while.

On Shadow of the Colossus (placed at a 'I forced myself to like it so that I can pretend I am a sophisticated games player' number 4), one reader had to say: "An exception to the "gameplay over presentation" mantra, Shadow of the Colossus isn't actually that much fun but you can't let that get in the way of a good game."

The comment was so dumb it even provoked a few comments, including the baffling "If you knew anything at all about art, you'd know it didn't have to be "fun", and neither do games."

I'm sorry, but do people really want to play and praise games that they're willing to admit aren't fun? (Incidentally, the initial comment means that particular reader thought a game he didn't find to be 'that much fun' was actually his favourite game of the year - I really hope 2007 picks up for him, because by the sounds of it he found 2006 to be a stinker.)

I find myself drifting (actually, paddling would be a better word) further away from the 'hardcore' gamer crowd's mindset - they just confuse the hell out of me.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Innovation, that's what you need!

Is it balls.

I was reminded about this topic from an article on Magical Wasteland. I recommend you go and check it out, it's an interesting read.

A lot of commentators out there in internet land would have you believe that to make a great game (not necessarily great selling mind you, but we're in it for the art, so it'd be vulgar to bring that up) the first thing you need is a bucketful of innovation. I mean, you can't make a good game if it's the same as some other good game right?

Hang on, what?

Now, before I go further I've got to say I have nothing against innovation in games. It's definitely a good thing in my mind, and helps to keep things fresh when you've been playing games for dozens of years. Though I think the word's a bit vague - I mean, is it innovative to take a successful feature from a game in a different genre and apply it to your own? Is having a fresh art style enough to be innovative? After the first FPS released on the Wii, are the others using innovative controls too, or just copying? But really, why the hell does anyone even care?

I don't really follow with the idea that a game with no innovation cannot be a good game. I loved Ratchet & Clank, it was one of my favourite PS2 games and I would have happily paid to play more of the same (in fact I did, with the sequels). The only sequel I didn't buy was the one where they 'innovated' it into becoming an arena-based thing. And yes, I realise I'm arguing my case using anecdotal evidence, but the whole point of a blog is that it's my opinions, so I'm not too bothered.

Frankly if I saw a game advertised as 'Ratchet & Clank 2 - But with nicer graphics and new levels!" I'd buy it, because I would know exactly what I was getting - a game I will enjoy. And frankly these days I'm just too busy to try playing loads of games that I might not enjoy (I'm still kind of on the fence about FEAR, in case you were being kept awake wondering). Surely this is an understandable viewpoint? Games are expensive, and you don't want to end up with something that got high review scores and great word of mouth, but turns out to be not your cup of tea at all.

Another common problem with 'innovative' games is that by their nature they're a bit experimental, and often as a result a bit rough around the edges - maybe the controls aren't as well designed as they could be. Given the option of playing something totally new but kind of clunky or the sequel that adds nothing but polish and streamlining, I'd wait for v2.0 every time.

But my main problem with the word 'innovation' is the people who spout it as if it's some argument-ending magic phrase that proves definitively and for all time that they have good taste in games and know what is right. Unfortunately the word's so overused in crazy internet forum scraps these days it's essentially been devalued (from something already rather vague) to the point of meaning 'something that I like'.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realise that last one's the real reason I have a deep hatred of the word. Stupid internet kids, ruining it for other people again...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

FEAR (360) - part 2

Why would you not include a subtitles option in your story-based shooter (and also mix the voice audio so low that even when it's twice as loud as the other audio in the options menu, it's still mostly inaudible). They're basically saying that any deaf gamers shouldn't be allowed to follow what's going on. (Though judging by the bits I have managed to pick out, they wouldn't be missing much. Supernatural little girls are definitely in the horror genre big book of cliches these days.) Way to try and keep gaming accessible to a wide audience!

Another gripe is that your bullet time bar depletes too quickly, and takes too long to charge up. So what if making me be able to use it more would make the game easier? Put in more enemies to balance it out - then the slo-mo bullet-trail-porno gunfights would be even more over the top! I thought the Matrix games had proved that everyone wants to be Neo, not that crap woman who keeps crashing during the driving bits.

So far I've played through the warehouse and pipe-factory levels, and am halfway through an office (though it's mostly the maintenance bits of an office, so thankfully they can stick to the same texture set and prop objects that they've been using for the last three hours).

Yeah, I think I might be getting bored of this now. Maybe be time to go back to Splinter Cell....

Finally, someone 'gets' episodic content.

They've announced the next few Sam & Max games. See, this is episodic gaming - a new episode gets released every month. Something that takes a year of development is a good old-fashioned expansion pack, only with a tendy new name. It'd be interesting to see some sales figures, see if all that critical acclaim has paid off.

That said, I'd still buy Half-Life Episode 2 if my laptop had a hope in hell of running it.

FEAR (360)

Started playing this the other day - so far I can't work out if I like it or not.

Initial signs were 'no' since it uses a weird system when you're looking around. At first I thought it had a fisheye field of view, but then I worked out that the player model exists in the world (a good thing generally, since you can look down and see your feet) - when you look around your guy moves his head and they move your viewing position to match his eyes. It's really annoying.

Other cockups with their visible player model are that you can see through your shoulders sometimes, and watching your feet shows they don't vary the run cycle animation speed with the player's movement, so holding the analogue stick a tiny bit moves you forward at a very low speed, while your fella moves his legs as if he's running. Mental.

Still, the gun fighting is pretty exciting, and the AI seems to put up a fight.

And you've got to love a game that has both a shotgun that can actually cut someone in half, and a nailgun that can pin people to walls by the head.

There will be more on this later, no doubt.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Rainbow 6: Vegas (360)

Some thoughts about a more recent game now. Possibly my favourite shooter of 2006.

  • I bought a squad based game set in Vegas. For the first level I'm by myself in some boring Mexican town. I already shot the crap out of Mexaco in Ghost Recon Advance Warfighter.
  • Voice control in single player is cool, or at least it would be if it worked consistantly. Shame the video feeds and teammate chat don't come through your earpiece too - it would be so much more atmospheric.
  • Casino levels are awesome. Sewer level was cack. (I liked the bits of levels that were "behind the scenes" of Vegas though. The back alley just before the sewer level, for example, where you can still see the glitz just one street over from you.)
  • Multiplayer levels feel quite badly designed. Would have been better entirely custom built instead of cobbled together out of pieces of single player levels. Graphically they look 'a bit Counter-Strike' (and not the Source version either).
  • Cover controls are nice, but shame it doesn't have the SWAT turn for doorways. Gears of War had some nice cover to cover moves.
  • Some of the terrorist comments are very funny "He was my best friend you bastard!". I keep expecting to come across one talking about how he's going to get married when this is all over.
  • Inverse rappelling and shooting people through windows feels extremely cool.
  • Enemies seem to be overly dense when it comes to kills with silencers. If two guys are stood next to each other and you shoot one through a window with a silencer, his friend won't start shooting at the window where the shot obviously came from.
  • Hate the multiplayer experience system. Co-op terrorist hunt on normal difficulty always gets you 300 points. Even if you do one of the hard levels and your friend dies leaving you to clear the whole thing yourself, 300 points.
  • Because it's a bit realistic, it doesn't try and balance the shotguns at all - they're as stupidly dangerous as you'd expect, instead of the usual game "shotgun only damages 3m in front of you" thing. (This is a plus point, in case you couldn't tell.)

Call of Duty 2 (360)

Okay I know it's a bit late, but "old but still maybe useful" content is better than none at all, right? Well, moving on...

CoD2 is quite good. I'm not into the whole World War thing, so I found the story quite boring (ha, take that, history!) but as a shooter it works nicely. It has

  • Some very cool set-pieces
  • Some incredibly identikit Egyptian and European village missions
  • Infinite Nazi generators that imply there are hundreds of facists hiding in a single house at the start of a level
  • And tteam mate AI which wobbles between very cool and deeply annoying (I suspect a lot of the cool stuff is scripted).

Apparently it's almost identical to the PC version, which doesn't surprise me - it has a feel of 'developed for keyboard and mouse' twitch controls that recent console shooters seem to be trying to move away from.

But on the whole you feel like it's a proper war, and I suppose that's the idea. Christ, just don't get it for the incredibly difficult achievements.

First post!

Ha ha, see what I did there? It's a joke about idiots who post tat in the comments fields of games websites. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Hello, I work in the games industry. It's not entirely unrelated that I play what I would describe as "a lot of" games, and that I have opinions about them. Because they are mine, I think that those opinions are worth writing down. In time maybe someone will even read them, and possibly even agree with me.

A few ground rules are probably a good idea at this point:

  • I won't be writing about any of my employer's games, or (hopefully) anything else that will get my botty spanked at work. I'll also mention right now that anything I write here is very much my own opinion (or at least someone else's that I thought was good enough to steal), and certainly not the opinion of my employer. If you quote me and try to imply I'm some sort of company spokesman you'll not only be very wrong, but you'll also hurt my feelings, because you clearly haven't read and understood these very important words.
  • I will be writing about games that I'm currently playing, and probably also ones that I have played in the past. I won't just be saying nice things about them, but I will always say more than just "this is shit".
  • I'll also be talking about some development stuff that interests me. Lots of that sort of thing can end up either very boring, or just whinging - so I'll try and keep it a bit shorter.
  • Since there's no way I could fill an entire blog of just those things, I'll probably throw in some guff about general games industry news that I find interesting or just funny.
  • I will be using too many commas and brackets and trying to refine some kind of writing style.

Right, that's enough for now. Don't worry - I'll be talking about games soon, I promise!