Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A sensitive area

There's an article on Eurogamer about the new Splinter Cell, where the too-complicated controls of the previous games in the series have been simplified down to three different button presses (and probably some analogue stick wiggling too).

I'm not convinced about going very context sensitive - I like it when a game character responds in a predictable and timely way to my input (though admittedly many games manage to cock-up on this front without any context controls). Unless all of the possible 'aggressive' options take the same time and have the same effect, how does the game know if I want to tip the table over, over throw a scalding cup of coffee at my attacker? Especially now that physics engines are making everything in game worlds movable, the range of possible aggressive actions in a scene should be huge.

Gears of War is just one recent example of context sensitive controls often causing your character to do exactly the wrong thing (the game thinking you want to take cover instead of run away, or vice versa), and also causing a lack of mobility (you can't jump over an obstacle without taking cover behind it first).

I'd also recommend having a quick look through the comments to that article, and keep an eye out for Jachap's post.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


I think I might mark today down in my calendar - The day I finally beat Crackdown. Those street races went on for far too long. On the one hand, I'm glad I eventually beat them all using all vehicles, since it filled in a 150 gamerpoint gaping hole in my life (yes, I think I am one of "those" people).

On the other hand, I wish I had managed to beat them by using my awesome driving skills, instead of resorting to cheating by killing all of the other competitors (though to be fair I never tried most of the races properly, so I might have been able to do more than just the half dozen legitimately. And it was nice of the game to not mind my underhand methods). But then on a third hand, I found them to be pretty cheap content with painfully cheaty AI, so I don't really mind that I cheated to finish them.

And on my fourth and final hand, I'm a bit sad to have no challenges left in the game. Still, being Goro presents its own challenges in life (such as deciding which hand to wipe my bum with), so I suppose I'll soldier on.

I hope there's more content on the way for Crackdown. Something a bit more meaty, though I totally understand how much time and effort is required to make good single-player sandbox missions. I wonder how well this stuff sold.

In Crackdown's place I've just started Condemned - a game I bought ages ago because it was cheap, but have always been too scared to start playing. It's a reasonably sunny Saturday afternoon now though, so I'm off into shadowy places to hunt down murderers. I always found it slightly ironic that the company that developed this terrifying game also made something chock-full of scares so cliche that they don't even work on a horror-wuss like me, and then called it FEAR.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Three watch updates

More threes I have recently spotted in games.

God of War 2: three secondary weapons to choose between.
Crackdown: three agency vehicles; three gangs to take down.

I think I'll leave it there, I'm already bored of this joke.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I told you four was a more 'next gen' number

So it seems that both Haze and Halo 3 will have four player online co-op. Lovely, I'm very glad that this is catching on.

Playing through the co-op campaign of G.R.A.W was the best thing about that game, and I enjoyed Gears of War more than most people I work with because I played the entire story in co-op (which meant that I could laugh with my friend during any of the annoying loading cut-scenes).

I would love it if companies made the extra push to get their co-op perfect, though. The ideal situation is being able to play through the regular single player campaign in co-op, but only if you still get the full experience. Rainbow Six: Vegas messed up in this regard since co-op stripped out all of the cut-scenes, so if it was your first play through it would make no sense at all (admittedly, its story wouldn't fit co-op all of the way through, since you start off alone, but I've already written about that cock-up I think that is in a squad-based game). Failing that a dedicated co-op story (even if it reuses assets from the single player).

I would dearly love it if all co-op was drop-in / drop-out as well. Again, Gears of War nailed this perfectly, since the second player and AI-controlled Dominic are interchangeable, allowing you to enter a friend's game no matter what's going on. I had heard Crackdown also had this pre-launch, but the actual system it has turns out to be fairly annoying. If you select that yes, you will let the second player join your city, it boots you out to the menu, and then forces you both to re-spawn. It must be for some technical reason, since I can't understand why any designer would chose this over just allowing the second player to spawn themselves in.

Anyway, Free Radical is one of the few companies that I trust to deliver. Though they still haven't gotten back to me about my three year old job application. Bastards.

Monday, May 21, 2007

G.R.A.W. 2 (360)

I've not really got a lot to write about this. I haven't gotten too far in to it, yet I can still confidently say I've seen everything it has to offer.

Have you played G.R.A.W? Then you've played this. As far as I can tell the only differences are a nicer graphics engine and a vastly improved cross com interface. Now you can view the feeds from your support and team full screen, and control them to an extent while in that view. No more relying on the drunk who's flying the little spy drone thing accidentally managing to get it to the spot you wanted it - you can direct it yourself now. You can also give your team commands in this view, which means you can accurately get them to move to and attack things you can't see, which improves the team gameplay no end.

They've also done a much better job of integrating achievemtns this time around, more like Rainbow Six Vegas or Crackdown's systems where you can view your achievemtns in-game. It also shows you how much progress you've made towards certain achievements, which is lovely and something that I wish more games would do. I mean, they must be tracking these stats internally, so why not let me see how many people I've killed?

However, I have three (UH OH) main problems with this game:

It take itself far too seriously. It's all "tangos", "do your job, soldier" and whatnot.

The single player has a lot of cutscenes where you have no control, whereas I'm sure the first one didn't have that many - most of the story was delivered while you were 'in character'. It made the first one feel a lot more immersive - you were this guy, with the news channels reporting the situation getting steadily worse around you. This time around it feels less urgent.

It's an expansion pack being milked at full price. Thankfully I managed to get a cheap copy, but none of my usual co-op friends from the first one did, so for now I'm stuck alone with it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

If at first you don't succeed.

Recently Microsoft added the ability to have your Xbox stay on in a low power mode while it finishes any downloads that you'd queued up from Live. It sounds like a great feature, like the download queues themselves, and it is pretty good. But it needs another feature to compliment it that the Xbox doesn't currently offer: Automatic retries on downloads.

The problem is that if you set up something to download and it fails, one of two things happens. Either the item is dropped from the list uncompleted (which is annoying since your Xbox will think it's finished, and switch itself off), or an error code message comes up on a separate system blade (which as well as dropping the item from your download list will also stop your Xbox from turning itself off until you press 'OK').

With an automatic retry option these annoying situations could be avoided. Is it really that hard to check if the download is 100% finished before it leaves the list? They could even put in settings for maximum retry attempts and time.

Incidentally, this post has nothing to do with why I'm not playing the Halo 3 beta right now, having set it to download before I left for work this morning.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

OMG Bungie are fucking ruining my life!

(Or words to that effect.)

Well, sometimes you just see an exciting bandwagon and want to hop on board, you know what I mean? How very bizarre that people have booked days off work and bought a $50 game they don't want, just so they can stress test a game.

I'm just annoyed that people on my friends list who see me playing Crackdown tonight are going to be thinking that I'm just killing time until the download becomes available.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Crack slightly further down.

The Crackdown downloadable content is pretty good. A bit too heavy on the repetitive tasks (complete all races in all cars, collect all cars, do all this with X setting etc). It's a shame they removed the "play with wandering gangs" option, so now you can only either have the end game 'no gangs' or start the city again from scratch. Why they couldn't have three options I don't know (I doubt that any of the devs read this blog, or that anyone would take the three thing seriously).

The new weapons are fun: the minigun takes a bit too long to spin up, holding it back from being great, but I suppose they might have felt the need to balance it, since new players could start the game with it; the harpoon gun is very nice, let down by the bodies vanishing after you go only a short distance away. The new vehicles feel slightly more pointless than the old ones, though the buggy is surprisingly great fun to drive and do stunts with.

Rocket tag is a fun addition that's made even better if you trying playing it with gang hit squads chasing you, but the other new two player modes feel under-developed.

One thing I've learnt in the past though, is that if your car races have cheaty warpy elastic band AI you shouldn't put radar blips on them since it makes their underhanded ways very obvious to the player.

I think I might be about to fall off the "no longer addicted to Crackdown" wagon.

Monday, May 14, 2007

God of War 2 (PS2)

And there was me thinking I probably wouldn't end up writing any updates about PS2 games, since I couldn't think of any decent ones coming out.

What I love about God of War 2 is the fantastic sense of scale and drama. You've got to admire any team that has managed themselves and their game so well that they can spend a lot of time and effort on relatively throwaway sections of the game, making it all blow your socks off.

The puzzles in it are also very nice for the most part. There are a few that had me stumped due to the solution being a special case that I wasn't aware of, or being obscured by the camera (which is an interesting choice in itself - the camera is an active part of many puzzles, in particular hidden areas are usually accessed by paths that are slightly outside of the standard path through an area, which you could never do in a game with an degree of player controlled camera).

Overall I felt this was struggling more than the first one though.

In the first game felt like I was being dragged along by the story - though I had an overall goal, I was always being directed to a new figure or place that could help - whereas this one largely seems to be propelled by interest in seeing where you go next - the story sits at 'go and visit the sisters of fate, they're just over there, so fight through this next bit' with you travelling the linear path to reach them.

This game is a lot more reliant on quick time events, which to me is a shame since I find them largely shit. While your character does something awesome in the background you have to concentrate on pressing symbols as they pop up. I thought everyone agreed that Dragon's Lair was rubbish, but apparently not.

Finally, it often feels like it's just throwing mythological characters at you just for the sake of using them up. Some of them don't make sense either - in one particular case a (normal, not superhuman) character had managed to get ahead of me, despite him going to another location first, whereas I went directly there. Given the route I had to take to get to that point, I have no idea how he got there.

Overall it's a great game though - one of those where you end each playing session going over what you've just been through in your head. I can't wait to see what they do in the sequel.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The 3rd place.

What is it about the number three that just seems to entrance designers so? Is there some magic trilogy thing going on (actually, it seems quite common in books and movies to have trilogies too - what's that all about?)

So much stuff seems to be set up in threes, once you start looking for it - Just Cause has missions where you have to destroy three targets, or plant three satellite beacons. Most games have three difficulty levels. Rainbow Six Vegas had three people in a team. There are three modern Prince of Persia games. Command and Conquer Three has three factions in it. The Playstation Three. The Xbox Three-sixty (yeah okay, bit tenuous that one).

How many times have other designers put threes into their games? How many times have they caught themselves doing it and changed their design. The answer to all of these questions is most likely not three, thankfully.

To all designers out there who read this update (probably just me, then) I urge you - join with me and make the number three history in games from now on.

Besides, four is way more next-gen, baby.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Words confuse me.

After a couple of recent updates I've decided I'm going to have to add some common games industry words to the custom dictionary for Google toolbar's spellchecker. Not too long ago I remember a discussion on the Chaos Engine about the correct hyphenation for these terms (and if they should be hyphenated at all), and being a bit lazy I thought I could get an update out of it, instead of just looking at that (and besides, I seem to remember no solid answers being arrived at).

Anyway, I'm currently thinking the following:

  • Gameplay, not game-play or game play because they both look funny (hey I'm not saying this is a scientific study).
  • Cut-scene instead of cutscene. Though I'm not too sure about this one, both look kind of right to me.
  • Mini-game. If I'm remembering my English language teacher correctly, this is right because the 'mini' is a prefix.
Is there any kind of industry standard for these? It's one of those things that you sometimes stumble across quite by accident that make you realise just how young the industry is, and how much more we have to do.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Supermodels on my D(s).

In a strange turn of events, I've recently been playing a few new DS games. I say 'strange' because, unlike apparently the entire rest of the world, I've had a very small DS software collection until about two weeks ago.

I only bought one for Advance Wars, you see, and picked up a couple of other interesting-looking titles along with it - Phoenix Wright (the first one), and Trauma Centre, both of which left me a bit cold if I'm being honest. Phoenix Wright because even in the tutorial I found it annoyingly linear, and Trauma Centre demanded too much skill from me in too short an amount of time. And not much else in the DS's library has appealed to me since then (except for Hotel Dusk a few months back).

But in the last month I've bought three new DS games, effectively doubling my collection. I shall list them now, for your reading pleasure.

Theme Park, which is a port of the old game Theme Park (remarkable, I know, but I'm sure that no matter how much intelligence I hope my readership has, someone won't have realised). The interface has been nicely ported, apart from one thing - to select things in some menus you have to draw ticks or circles. Why do people keep doing this? Just because it's a DS game it doesn't mean you have to shoe-horn in some retarded gesture system to make it worthwhile - the two screens and touch screen are fine enhancements to the interface all by themselves. I swear, some day someone will release a game where you select options on the main menu by blowing on the microphone.

Slitherlink came highly recommended by Eurogamer. If, like me, you have a sordid past filled with easy addiction to grid-and-numbers puzzles like soduko, minesweeper, and picross, this will be an entirely new form of electronic heroin. There's not a lot more to be said about it really. The menus are utterly incomprehensible to me, but by experimenting before I'd invested too much time into my save game I managed to work out what most of the buttons do.

Puzzle Quest was a game I'd heard mentioned all over the place on the internet - it seems to be one of those occasional titles that gets picked up on as something of a darling to the hardcore gamer wannabe elite. Except this turned out to be very good, and not something deeply average but arty looking. There's a PC demo kicking around somewhere and after a quick play I knew I'd have to buy it. It's a fairly basic fantasy RPG but instead of a tiresome turn-and-stats based combat system you play a Bejewelled clone against the monsters. Its design genius also extends to you not losing any progress if you lose a fight, and in fact you keep the gold and experience gained during that scrap, so you're still progressing, even when you fail.

So there you have it - a brief round-up of some DS games I've been playing. This isn't just an Xbox fansite after all, see?