Thursday, March 25, 2010

And just to prove my point...

I'm really happy I let all that anger out of my system in the previous post. I genuinely feel better now. I also thought that, since I went on about how PC gaming is innovative, I'd link up some nice games which exemplify what I was talking about.

So first up, here's probably one of the most successful indie titles right now - Spelunky. It's a platformer which has you traversing underground caverns in search of gold and damsels in distress. The thing is, you only have one life and death means restarting everything from scratch. But the levels are always random so you never really feel like you play the same room twice. Even after several playthroughs you will still not have discovered every surprise the game has in store for you. Get it here!

Second is another platformer called VVVVVV. It's insanely difficult but actually pretty forgiving, with helpful checkpoints before each insane challenge. It has an oldschool look which is light on detail but heavy with atmosphere. It's very easy to learn but even within its simple set of rules there is a large number of difficult challenges to overcome. Grab the demo here!

And then we have a game which is as charming as it is short. Specter Spelunker Shrinks is another platformer which enables your character to grow to gargantuan proportions or shrink to microscopic size, enabling you to pass different obstacles by either leaping over them when you're huge, or finding a path through them when you're tiny. You have control over this function and have to figure out how to progress. Sometimes you won't even see your next challenge unless you inflate yourself to a big enough size to be able to perceive it. Play it here!

So yeah, this is just a taste of the small gems we have at our fingertips. It's not about reinventing the wheel as much as it is about experimenting with different ways of control, different functionality. They give new experiences by trying new presentations and ideas.This attitude and possibility is what brought us Valve's Portal.

...Maybe I'll do this too from time to time: I'll find and provide links to great small PC games which are just a little bit different. Sounds like a plan!

Heavy Rain Madness

Almost everywhere I look people are praising Heavy Rain, the new 'experience' from Quantic Dream. The problem is most people praising it are the people who made it - namely David Cage, the game's creator, who keeps talking about taking risks and making less conventional games.

Newsflash, David Cage: the PC has been and still is at the forefront of innovative gameplay. And you know what? A game doesn't have to be a boring, tedious tromp through banal and gimmicky storylines for it to be a strong emotional experience. The adventure games of old had a huge emotional impact, and they still managed to deliver interesting stories and have a gaming experience that was fulfilling. Other games today achieve great emotional connection with players by being desgined right.

Granted, I haven't played Heavy Rain, but I have played Fahrenheit, its spiritual predecessor. Sure, the graphics have improved and they've better disguised the QTE-controlled cut scenes but it's still the same crap: you follow several characters doing barely related key-pressing mini-games to advance the story. Only, if you get something wrong, the game doesn't end! It CONTINUES, AND BRANCHES IN A DIFFERENT STORYLINE! Wow, Quantic Dream... You designed more than one storyline and made them connect! This REALLY hasn't been done before... AT ALL.

But seriously, I've been asking myself why all this bothers me at all. Surely there's room in the games industry for these types of games. Well, after thinking it over, I have narrowed down why this angers me so much: Firstly, it's the presumptuousness of the developers. Every time David Cage goes on some damn interview and toots his own horn, an angel dies somewhere. This game is not original, has a poor story (from what I've seen), and takes credit for things which have been done before, and better. So the praising of this game is so misplaced it physically pains me.

Secondly, and in relation to the first point, is the media's apparent love or appreciation for the game. This frightens as well as angers me: the notion that people - fans and designers alike - seem to feel this is a good way for games to go. People, listen... having to press a sequence of keys to get the movie going is not interactivity. It does not make me better connect or relate to the character. I'm also a culprit, because I appreciate it too. Or, at least, I appreciate the attempt: the thought, the desire, to create a new kind of game. But what they're going for, how they're doing it, is not original or effective. To praise them for it merely because they had good intentions is counter-productive. Let them go back to the drawing board and make a better attempt!

I'm also angered by the current trend of having branching storylines. This is a great thing in RPGs when done right, giving you a range of possibilities to mold your own character. But in many other games this isn't the case. The problem is that so many gamers seem to think that being a gamer is all about choosing your own story. They don't see that this just holds games back. In a game like Heavy Rain, the multiple storylines just cover the fact that the story is poor to being with. You don't mold a character here. It's all under the pretense of having your own 'experience'. But even if you had a million possibilities, they'd still be limited.

On the other hand, a story with a single narrative that has control over characters and events will have a larger emotional impact but will also be less limited. Why? Because it will have a meaning that goes beyond simple replayablity. Its replay value will be the same you get in watching The Usual Suspects or Memento twice or more in order to really get the story, to have your own interpretation of it. So I'm angry because David Cage and people who think like him are endangering the future of gaming as a deeper medium, ensnaring it in the realm of escapist entertainment. These games can be great fun, to be sure, but they should not dominate the way we think of games.

And one last point in this seemingly endless rant:
I'm not against the choice-driven stories. Even in games where this is less appropriate and in my opinion even ruins the story, there are people who enjoy it and it's not like the game is unplayable because of it. The only problem I have is with this becoming too large a trend, and people ignoring other possibilities because of it.

But, as I said in the beginning of this post, the PC is always at the front of innovation. Sure, consoles have their accessories, their motion-control or whatnot, but when it comes to actually making the inner-workings of games works differently - this is the PCs strength. It doesn’t have to be marketable to be able to reach players worldwide. So keep your so-called innovation for the console, David Cage, we're quite happy on the PC, thank you.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Next up...!

I'm already working on my next video review which will be about Bioshock 2.
I've seen some other video reviews and damn that's some professional looking stuff. So I'm going to try and learn from them a bit in terms of presentation and pacing. Still, there's a limit to what I can do with an unregistered version of Fraps and Windows Movie Maker for an editor. :)

My first review!

Well, here it is, the first video review for this blog. It's a review of Battlefield Bad Company 2. This is nowhere near as professional as other videos I've found on the web but, as I said, this is really a hobby for me right now so I'm just enjoying making these reviews. Having said that, I'm sure someone could benefit from the information I provide and at least be entertained by my awful playing and wimpy voice!

For those anxious to hear the video, here's the gist of it:

-Bad Company 2 is mostly a multiplayer game. There is a decent single player mode but it is not too original. It is entertaining, however, and well presented.

-The multiplayer aspect of BC2 should be familiar to Battlefield veterans. It has a good pace and feels very choreographed and organized thanks to the rewarding squad system.

-The game has hefty system requirements that should be heeded. BC2 is not hardware friendly and, although it has scale-able graphics settings, running the game on a minimum spec PC could result in long load times and choppy gameplay.

-If your PC is up to it than this game is definitely worth it, it's loads of fun.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Damn you, Steam! I love you too much!

I just purchased Aliens Vs. Predator in a Steam weekend deal. 33% off!

I used to buy my games in stores. Where I live, the prices get expensive. So I would get only the games I seriously wanted. These days I only go to the games store for hardware or look at the retail prices and make fun of them. Steam. The games are cheaper, I get them faster, and almost every week there's a lucrative offer.

That's a blessing but also a problem for me. I've become a compulsive game shopper. Every time there's a deal it takes a whole lot out of me not to buy anything. Package deals, huge discounts... how can I resist this?

But I'm not complaining I guess. I'd rather buy the games I want for cheaper than have to give them up because of overcharging retailers. I suppose what I'll have to do is develop some self control.

At least this means I'll be reviewing more games. Expect an AvP review in a few weeks!

DRM strikes again

I think Digital Rights Management isn't the real term DRM stands for. It's probably more like Diabolic Rage Manufacturer or something like that. Seriously, first Ubisoft and now this?

And the truth is, no matter how annoying a certain DRM measure would be I would accept it if it would stop piracy. If Ubisoft's system actually prevented all piracy, and we'd see a new era in games where there are zero cases of illegally downloaded software... I'd jump up and down in happiness. But the truth is it doesn't stop Piracy. All it does is anger more and more people, paying customers, until they become software pirates themselves.

I'm feeling very oppressed right now. What can we do but complain? There's really not much we can do as average gamers and even gaming journalism, for all its hatred of DRM, hasn't influenced much change in the policy. The good news is that people are starting to see this does more harm than good. As you can see here, this is a step in the right direction. If these games are simply denied shelf space, so that even the uninformed are unable to buy them, it might finally hit these companies where it hurts, and we'd see a change.

Again, I'm not completely against DRM. Steam is a kind of DRM, but it works well and provides a good service. I'm sure there are other ways to do this. Maybe they're not 100% effective but they keep your customers happy, and when a customer is happy with a service he is happy to pay for it. If they treat anyone as a potential supporter rather than a potential thief, we might get somewhere.

It's... it's alive!

I decided to make this blog more as a personal project than anything else. I frequent barely a handful of gaming sites but they're all pretty good, so my first thought wasn't "what the Internet needs is ANOTHER one!". The way I figured it is I pretty much review games in my head all the time anyway, so I might as well put it online for the small chance it might help someone. Also, I like this trend of video reviews which is becoming more popular, especially for games. This way I can show some gameplay as well as express my opinion on various aspects of it.

Since this is not much more than a hobby right now and I'm not exactly funded by anyone, the only games reviewed will be those I own, which I bought and paid for. I do not download games illegally and I am vehemently against it. Additionally, I will only review a game after I've had time to play through it sufficiantly.
So my reviews may be few and far between...

Still, in between those delightful reviews I plan to use my blog to comment, speculate and reflect on the goings-on in the gaming world. I'll do my best to make sure this site is filled with interesting tidbits and insightful reviews... we'll see how it goes.