Saturday, March 31, 2007

Lies, PS3, and statistics.

I'm in two minds about this update. On the one hand, oh dear god no, not another blog post about the bloody PS3. On the other hand, what on earth is going on with developers these days?

Everybody seems to have gone mad, dismounting their usual aloof high-horses to join in with the general internet mudslinging that invariably happens around new console launches.

I'm sure that there are a number of people whose livelihoods depend on a certain console or other doing well, but for the majority it'll just be a case of business as usual - only on a different platform.

I particularly dislike the cynicism around the European PS3 launch - after Chart Track (who I very much hope wouldn't fudge the numbers, since that's pretty much their only line of business, so being discredited would be quite a blow) announced that the PS3 had sold a very healthy number of machines, lot of tinfoil hats have been put on. Apparently having a lot of machines in stock so that people can actually walk in to a shop and buy a console if they want to is a bad thing - it's better for them to still be as rare as rocking horse shit 5 months after launch.

Oh well, hopefully it'll all calm down again soon enough.

(I've actually held on to this update for a few days now, since after I wrote it I found out that Magical Wasteland had just updated with one very similar. But then I thought 'screw it, I need the content' and posted it anyway.)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Fahrenheit (Xbox)

I'd heard Very Good Things about this, so I borrowed a copy off a colleague, since it's on the 360 backwards compatibility list. And now I wish I'd never bothered, since it firmly sits in the camp of "games that everyone else seems to love but I can't get on with at all, but people will probably only think I'm saying I don't like it to be edgy and cool about games".

First, the good: It's got nice animation, and generally looks nice enough, in a slightly cartoony style. And the story seemed like it might be good.

Then, the bad. A much bigger list, as almost everything about the game's mechanics annoyed me, to the point that I gave up when I hit my first 'game over' about an hour in.

The worst thing by far was the dodgy camera-relative controls that didn't update when the camera moved, and updated immediately when the camera cut - exactly the opposite of the way camera relative controls should work.

It has quick-time event games where you have to press the analogue sticks in certain directions. The graphic for this looks exactly like the coloured indicators of a "Simon" game. Since they'd deliberately chosen that look, I'd foolishly concluded that the game must work like "Simon" - it would show me a sequence, then I would copy it. No, you have to do the sequence at the same time. The HUD element is just pointlessly misleading.

Another 'action' element it features is timed events - sometimes in locations that the player character knows, but the player doesn't. It's my first time in "my" flat, so I have no idea where the bathroom is, where my character usually puts his keys, or what the furniture layout is like - but the game wants me to search for my misplaced apartment keys without any clues as to where they might be.

The game features a sanity bar that seems to work slightly like health - if it empties completely then it's game over, I'm told. Except that totally arbitrary interactions cause the meter to drop, so you have to guess which things are important to the game, and steer clear of everything else, since looking at something as innocent as a photo in your apartment causes him to drop closer to madness. If the picture's that depressing why the bloody hell does he have it next to his computer in his bedroom?

My final gripe is that both of the police characters have different skill sets. Usually not a bad thing, except this game's idea of skill sets is things like "the man can flush toilets, while the woman can inspect holes". So you have to search each location twice, in case there's some odd interaction that only one or the other can complete.

Still, I'm sure if it doesn't infuriate you at every step, it could be quite good. It's certainly the first time I've ever felt myself thinking "I wish I could just read this game as a book and not have to put up with the tiresome game part of it".

(Incidentally, I've been on holiday for a few days, which is why there's been a lack of posts. I wonder what exciting games-related news I've missed...)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gun (360)

Another one that should probably go in the "if you haven't played it by now, you probably have no interest in it" bin. Except I hadn't played it until the other day.

The lazy synopsis is "GTA in the wild west" - ie it's got a free-roaming world, a series of story missions, and a bunch of side activities that you can do for fun and profit. Except in the west, which is nice, since I think there should be more western themed games - it's a cool setting, and people nonchalantly killing each other with revolvers over a minor slight is much cooler than shooting aliens with space machine guns.

The controls are a bit weirdly mapped in places, which means that general shooty-game functions like reloading or crouching aren't anywhere near where you would expect. They seem to have done this so that controls needed in both on-foot and riding schemes don't move between modes - which is a very good idea - but I can't help but think there could have been a more natural mapping.

The horses are very nice, which is pretty important since you use and see them a lot. You have more direct control over your steed than in Shadow of the Colossus, and it still animates smoothly and moves pretty much how you would expect of a horse. So a definite thumbs up to the horse team.

The graphics are okay - it's pretty in places, but definitely "last gen" pretty - you can tell it's an early port. The time-cycle is a bit odd too, and almost feels added as an afterthought. The game has no real concept of time, it's just that some levels are set at night, some at dawn or dusk, and most are midday - which is incredibly jarring when you accept a mission and suddenly time skips about. If they could have got it to cycle constantly it could well have given the game some spectacular views.

As well as the nicely told story missions, you get a helping of side activities too, of the "go here within a time-limit", or "kill these people" type. They have little story-lines running through each activity, which is nice since it gives you a real feel of progression, and the levels unlock as you go through the story, so you can't just hammer through them all in one go.

I also really like that it gives you a quick brief of the mission, and then asks if you want to take it, so if it turns out the next one sounds boring, you can put it off. Your character gains skills from completing these, but it's very gradual so I never noticed any increases in ability. It would have been better to have more discrete advances, as in Crackdown, to give you a better sense of the character advancing.

I'll take a brief moment here to soap-box a bit: Texas hold 'em mini-games are probably the laziest content you can put in a game. Seriously, unless you're actually making a card or casino game, just don't bother. For a start there are better poker engines than yours, so people who want to play poker will most likely play those (and probably be winning actual money from it, too). And what of those poor players who find themselves crawling through boring hand after boring hand, playing characters who make incredibly suspect decisions and don't seem to have any memory, unsure as to why they need to play cards in order to complete the guns-n-horses action game they bought? They will hate you, that's what.

Similar to (but even moreso than) Crackdown, though, this is a game that could do with end-game content. I can understand certain side-missions, like the pony express, having an 'end', but surely the deputy will always have some trouble makers to pacify? Once you complete the missions there is literally nothing to do except ride around and shoot the occasional bandits who attack you.

Anyway, you can almost certainly get it dirt cheap now, so if you like open-world games it's well worth it. I hope they're making a sequel.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Odds and ends

I've been a bit of busy game-playing beaver recently, so I have a few things to write about a few games - but not really enough to make a whole update out of each. So here we go with a bit of a selection box...

I finally slogged through to the finish of Call of Duty 3. I say "slogged" since by the end of this I was just bored. It didn't help that the second-to-last mission felt like a much bigger climax than the finale (which has too many places where you can stand and take a breather, and is almost Scooby Doo corridor in its "you chase the Germans this way, then they chase you back that way" location reuse), or that so many of the levels look and feel identical. I can't remember if I've mentioned it before, but I'm firmly in the "make it small & sweet" camp of game length - overall I'd say I enjoyed King Kong more than CoD3 simply because each section finished before I started to tire of it.

Actually, I could even say that I enjoyed King Kong more than Half-Life 2 in this respect, but if I published that I think I might get lynched by angry people.

Anyway, I think I'm done with this series in its current form - I never expected to get into a couple of 2nd world war shooters, but unless they come up with something a bit special for the next one I'll give it a miss. I'm not entirely sure what that "something special" would be - maybe flying sections instead of the tank bits, I'm not convinced.

I'm also done with Crackdown, at least until the downloadable content turns up. And hopefully while I'm playing that I'll stumble across the 16 hidden orbs that I have left to find - whoever decided that 500 hidden items across the city was a nice number needs to be hit around their ADHD head (or possibly already has been).

I think Crackdown would also benefit from some cheap end-game content. Fair enough, you can switch the gangs back on, but it's unfocused and you need to form your own fun. It would be easy to make randomly generating encounters to move the player around and give them definite goals.

And finally for this update, I started (and have pretty much stopped) playing Fight Night 3 in the last week. On the one hand, it's good fun, and the controls and graphics both help it feel incredibly visceral. On the other hand, it's insanely repetitive - fights can usually be won with the same tactic, and the career mode consists of just train - fight - train - fight. It would have been nice to have a say in sponsorship deals, pre and post-match interviews to psych-out your opponent, or even just to be able to customise your ring entry routine a little.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

More guff from the BBC

The holy grail for game makers is to use ray-tracing to depict scenes far more realistically
I wish they'd stop putting rubbish like this in their news stories about games. Still, I bet by the time you read this they'll have changed the caption for the ray-traced Spider Mastermind so it doesn't say it's from Quake.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A solution to the problem of games piracy

Immediate press release to all game publishers: The 'as old as the industry' problem of games priacy has been solved by the no-nonsense, clear-headed thinking of Craig, from Hampshire.

He writes:

I dont condone donwloading pirate game as they are too expensive to buy.
At the moment an average cost of a PC game is £29.99 and £39.99 for a Xbox 360 game.
If you took the PC price and multiplied it by an average amount of people that buy the game (say 3 million) thats a total of £89 million pounds.
Out of that £89m you have to take out overheads, maufacturing costs and other things but i would still stay they made a profit of £50-60m I know that the companies have to make a profit to be able to make better and more interesting games but why should it be at the cost of the public.
If they lowered the price of buying a game to say £10-15 then surely in the long run more people will buy it and in doing so profits would increase.
So, there you have it - quarter the prices of games, and you will sell over four times the amount (that would be 12 million per title, given our current average).

While we're at it, we should probably let the rest of the business world know that making a profit from consumers isn't really on. Hopefully sometime soon Craig will let us know where the money for our wages is allowed to come from.

(If you're bored, I recommend reading more of the comments published with that article. You don't want to miss gems like "The internet is so vast hackers can literally go underground if they so wished!")

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

You know what Xbox Live is really missing?

Datel does.

The clever folks in their research and development department have spent hours analysing the millions of Xbox Live players, observing their habits, and listening to their voice communications. They then ran this mountain of data through a very complicated computing machine (probably one so advance that they had to ask Dave Perry to help show them how to even plug it in).

This calculating behemoth then spat out the specifications for this monstrous hunk of cheap plastic.

I introduce to you, the Datel Trash Talk, a device specifically created to more easily facilitate your being the most annoying player on Xbox Live at any given moment. My reaction to stumbling across that product page was pretty much an "the end of Planet of the Apes" type moment.

Why not slip in a soundbite from your favourite film or TV show, to activate during the game?
If you have to even ask that question, you'll never really understand the pain you have caused, you phenomenal cretins. God damn you all to hell.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Games I wish someone would do a new version of ... Syndicate

Number 2 in the series that regular readers are already calling GIWSWDANVO.

It would be lovely if someone took a look at doing a 'homage' to Bullfrog's two Syndicate games (moreso the first than the second, but then the fun of nuclear handgrenades and destructible scenery shouldn't be overlooked).

It seems to me that these days you could do the series spectacular justice. Large detailed blocks of cities, groups of agents from rival companies, destructible buildings and scenery, high-tech weaponry. Think of Mercenaries, but with more focus and with four player characters. And co-op. Yes please.

Friday, March 09, 2007

"It's like GTA, only with more stuff in it."

This follows on a bit from a previous update.

Now, as you might have read on the extensive bio to the right there, I'm a designer, so I'm looking at this purely from a design perspective - maybe things are very different in other disciplines - and I've interviewed a fair number of people (enough that I've forgotten how many it is, but let's say that two dozen would be a conservative guess).

Candidates who've been through 'game' degrees (design, programming, whatever) almost always have the weakest grasp of what modern games are doing, and what is reasonable.

The most memorable example was a wildly ambitious project that would need mountains of assets, that due to its branching structure most players would never see, and wrapped tightly around a single licensed IP. This particular candidate had achieved good results in their course, and actually received special reward for their design, despite it being suicide for any studio that decided to create it. Why are video game design courses, at the very least not educating people about the pitfalls and realities of professional development?

The answer is that they (the lecturers) don't realise that's what we (the developers) want people (the potential employees) to know.

Many development studios are trying to remedy this situation now by working more closely with the universities that offer these courses. Blitz Games now even hold annual open days to allow students to see what working in 'the trenches' is like.

So hopefully the situation will get better, not worse. And we did give that guy a job - he was talented enough, and we figured he'd soon learn the errors of his ways. Time will tell.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Two Dave Perry posts in a row!

Over on, the famed celebrity developer is asked how he thinks consoles should be in the future...

"One thing I wanted to do was to have consoles scaleable based on what you can afford. You start with great, you don't start with sh*t - then if I want to spend $1000 on my Xbox, I should be able to do that, to add more memory, make it run faster, do whatever I want to customise my machine."
This is amazing stuff - just to think that at some point far in the distant mists of time, companies will create the kind of upgradable personal computing machine that Dave has dared to imagine here. I'm not quite the visionary he is though, so I can only wonder at what such a device might look like.

I hope he says something incredibly mockable tomorrow so that I can continue to build my combo score.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

This will not end well.

Dave "Not the Games Animal one" Perry has apparently created the largest game development studio in the world, with a whopping 20,000 professional, enthusiastic, and talented staff. Or maybe he's just collected e-mail addresses on the internet, but I think that's much less likely than the first option.

Using the tried-and-tested "infinite monkeys" theory Perry plans to create a jaw-dropping, World of Warcraft-beating masterpiece. And certainly not just "WoW, but with like, planes and cars, and dinosaurs, and ninjas, and pirates, and it'll be awesome".

The 1998 PC game Half Life spawned an entire industry when fans created a modified (mod) version of the title, called Counter Strike.
I now realise that my games history is incredibly shaky, since I was aways under the impression that CounterStrike had essentially been created by two talented and driven people, whereas apparently it was the result of some kind of horrific forums-and-media circus.
A professional team of artists, programmers, designers, and audio staff will build the MMO but the creative impetus will come from the users.
Sucks to be the paid designers in that little group. What the hell do you know about finely tuned weapon balance, you schmuck? WoW_is_gay_309 has just posted a poll on the forums and 573 people agree with him that "the M16A2 rifle is, like, way underpowered, in real life it does more damage", so get it sorted to his satisfaction - or you're not going home this weekend.
"accepting that the combined intelligence of all these people is far beyond your own."
I almost agreed with this, then I remembered he was talking about MMO players. Still, even with all my negativity, it's good to see that they are entirely confident in what they're doing, safe in the knowledge that out of their expected 100,000 developers they will definitely get a lot of good ideas. I mean, it's not even as if they've got a back-up plan, in the (obviously extremely unlikely) chance that all of the submissions they get are utter fanboy toss of the highest order.
But he also said there was a back-up plan in place, if the contributions from gamers prove disappointing." If they deliver zero, we can still ship a title," he said.
Oh. Never mind.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Richard Joseph dies aged 53

Bit of sad news - this guy wrote some fantastic music. I think The Chaos Engine has probably one of my favourite game soundtracks ever, and his work with Sensible was just great.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Live Free or Work Hard

I recently read an article on about getting into the games industry. The main point seemed to be that you have to be clever, and you also have to work very hard, and consequently you won't have time to play any games.

Is that really such a good idea? If you go to a design job interview an can't talk about the good and bad points of recent games, and all of your cool new ideas have already been done half a year ago, you're not going to come across at your best.

I'm always amazed (in a bad way) by how many people in games development don't play games regularly. I've often come across the opinion that playing games is for QA and designers - but surely it's an advantage for artists and programmers to look at what the rest of the industry is up to as well? How can you hope to make a competitive product if you don't know what you're competing against?

As a bit of a footnote, I also take exception to the last line of the article: "But if it’s truly what you love, putting in the hours will be easy." Which sounds dangerously close to the 'you should accept crunch and overtime as an integral part of games development' myth that's so very damaging to the industry, and that a lot of developers are trying hard to stamp out.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Clunk, click, vroom, smash.

Not content with causing all of the world's murders and wars, it seems that games are now the cause of bad driving.

I can believe this "indisputable link" based on the evidence presented in the article, though - I mean, Road Rash on the Megadrive is pretty realistic by today's standards, you know? I can't help but think the 'Games Animal' Dave Perry would have been a better source to quote, though. If anybody knows about slightly mental people playing games, it'll be him.

edit: Ok, it seems the BBC have "got with the times" and updated the article. When I wrote this update, it was a Megadrive controller in that picture, not a CUNTNUC one. I didn't just pull that Road Rash thing out of nowhere, honest!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Zoë Balls, more like.

Just when I was wondering what to post about today, someone bails me out by doing something terribly mockable. Thanks, Kuju - oh, sorry Zoë Mode.

Seriously, what the hell?

Her personality represents the kind of consumers we're targeting, and to some extent the type of people that work at the studio
So you've done this because her personality is your target audience? Oh, hang on...

Everything about Zoë Mode as a personality is the real true essence of what the studio is.
You've done it because the dev studio staff have the same interests as a young girl?

We're saying we're about making games for people like this
Now you're back to "she's the target audience"? Which is it (probably better to step away from the "we like the same things as young girls do" line, it sounds rather creepy)? I hope this takes off, I would like to see more game studios and production companies named after an imaginary target audience member.

Tomorrow's update - Epic Games renamed as "Butch McMuscles".