Tag Archive: PC games

So yeah, let’s talk about this.

Gaming, what the hell happened to you? I thought that as technology would get better games would get better. I mean, on some level they have. Games today are pretty amazing and only the most mindlessly nostalgic and retro of players would ever argue that we should just give up all the graphical, narrative, and gameplay innovations that have been invented in the past 30 years and go back to the 8-bit era. But what has gotten worse is our ability to access and play games on our own time. It used to be that you could only watch your favorite TV shows when the networks wanted you to. Now I can stream instantly all of my favorite shows from a variety of different websites. It used to be you could only listen to the music you liked in your home. Now I can take my entire library with me whenever I want. But with games, it used to be I could sit down and play any single player game whenever I wanted, now I can only do it when a completely different computer I have no control over feels like it.

Let me address the most common argument in favor of this. Pirates have been kicking developer ass ever since the dawn of PC games. Remember Looking Glass Studios? They made the awesome  Thief games. Well you’re not going to find them today, LGS closed down because too many people played their fantastic games without paying for them. Today investments for a standard AAA game can be in the tens of millions. That’s the sort of money that no one is willing to part with unless they have anything but 120% certainty that  isn’t going up into a cloud of smoke. As far as DRM’s go, having to have a constant Internet access is less intrusive and less “let’s punish the people who bought this as well” than other DRM’s have been in the past. The problem with demanding constant Internet access to play a single player game is simple: we are putting more and more of our entertainment technology into the same basket. And if something ever happens to that basket, which this basket is known to do, then we lose everything.

 There is a kind of longevity to a game that is lost under this system. For some games it’s true that once we finish them we almost never pick them back up again, but once in a while there comes that one rare game that you do want to play over and over again just because you enjoy it so much. There’s a popular saying that holds true which goes; “Every time Deus Ex is mentioned on a forum, someone will reinstall it.” Right now I can go back and install the original Diablo and nostalgia bomb on the good old days of whacking skeletons in a gothic  labyrinth, and nothing beyond Windows compatibility issues can stop me. But honestly how much do you want to bet I will be able to do the same in 15 years time with Diablo III? Unless Blizzard is foresighted and nice enough to disable this feature in the future, once they decide they can no longer support the costs of running the servers for a game hardly anyone plays anymore, that’s all she wrote folks. Your future self’s sudden pang of nostalgia for Diablo III will just be met by a sad slap to the face as Blizzard says “Sorry, not enough people are playing the multiplayer mode so you can’t play your single player mode.”

Finally I want to talk to developers here, because ultimately running a constant Internet connection for a single player game is bad for you too. I mean first of all it’s bad for consumers and anyone with half a brain enough to remember Econ 101 should know that if something is bad for the consumers it’s bad for the company. But as I hinted at in the previous paragraph, this kind of DRM is kind of cost prohibitive. Yes I understand that Diablo III has a multiplayer mode anyway, so having those servers was going to happen no matter what. But a big contributor game’s failure to deliver the instant it went live was that everyone, even the people who had no interest in the multiplayer had to join in on the server flood which ruined the game for everyone. A server flood so bad that not only is it fucking things up for Diablo III players but also for people playing other Blizzard games. You see not only has Blizzard put all of their games in the internet basket, but they are also all in the Battle.net basket.

But let’s say for a second you aren’t Blizzard, but you’re another company who is doing this for a game that has no multiplayer mode at all like Assassin’s Creed 2 just to throw a random title out there. This is a completely unnecessary cost for your company that does nothing but harm the people who actually paid for your game. Assassin’s Creed 2’s DRM prevented only a week of online piracy, but after that you made piracy the more attractive option because now the pirated version of the game doesn’t require permanent online access, so it’s less of a pain in the butt for the player. And again you have the issue of losing longevity. The instant you decide that the servers aren’t worth it, all the people who bought your game can never play it again, but the people who pirated it, they can play it forever.

I wasn’t there for Diablo III’s spectacular failure at launch, I was not one of the millions who pre-ordered it and sat patiently for 12 years waiting for the moment Blizzard would tell them “Too many people are using Battle.net so you have to wait even longer.” It’s been two days and I still haven’t bought it, and I don’t know if I want to buy it. Our purchasing power as consumers is the only effective tool we have to send messages to companies, and frankly I really don’t want this to be the future of games. There’s no point in even waiting for it to go down in price, Starcraft II came out two years ago and it’s still going at its full retail price. But I do know that unless Blizzard changes it’s policy on this issue, every time I see that box for Diablo III I’m just going to think “Sorry son, it just ain’t worth it.”


Where I Draw The Line

I want to start this blog off with a quote. I’m not going to cite it just yet because I’m going to do this thing where I blow your mind at the end. So here it is.

“We talk so much about how video games are art. But at the same time the violent video discussion comes up and get people up in arms saying violent video games don’t affect me, they aren’t a big deal. If video games are art they have to affect us. The truth of the matter is violent video games, whether subconscious or not, affect us in some way. I wanted this game to affect you in the way it really made you think about the violence you are inflicting in the world and you’re thinking about the characters going through that.”

This quote sums up why I’m where doing what I’m doing. I write this blog because I believe that video games, being the first visual and interactive story telling medium, have the capacity to affect us just as strongly if not stronger than a novel or a film. Let me give you an example of what I mean. This is from the Deus Ex: Human Revolution DLC expansion The Missing Link. By the way, Human Revolution inspite of its very known and talked about flaws, was still hands down my favorite game of 2011 for this upcoming reason. Seriously, go play The Missing Link; it had all the best parts of Human Revolution with none of the bad stuff.  It’s a standalone too, so you don’t even need to buy the full game (but you should also do that too). This will involve spoilers so if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want spoilers, well, too bad. I need to do this to make my point so I can blow your mind.

In The Missing Link Adam Jensen gets caught in his little stow away attempt from the main game and is brought to a black site detention facility where you discover that the facility exists to run human genetic and augmentation experiments. All of the “prisoners” are innocent people detained on vacation simply because they had the right or wrong genetic markers. You eventually manage to find a scientist there willing to blow the whistle on the whole thing to the U.N. but then the bad guy running the facility finds out and tries to the scrap the whole project by killing everyone with cyanide gas. The mysterious hacker who has been helping you throughout The Missing Link tells you that there’s no way to shut the gas off, you can only reroute it to either the cell blocks or the lower section where the whistle blower is.

And so we come to our choice. There is no clear good or evil option, no morality bar, no reward beyond advancing the game. All you have is a button, a video a screen of people choking, and ticking clock. Do you save the whistle blower or the prisoners, all of whom are innocent people? I saved the game, put it down and thought about what I was going to do for nearly thirty minutes. When I came back I made my decision, and in doing so I learned a little about myself. I learned that even though I like to think that I’m pragmatic and pride myself on how I can “make choices free of emotions” (this is something I’ve said) I realized that when it comes down to the line, 1,000 human lives is worth more to me than a single, albeit far more important person, even if they’re all fictional, and I think this has made me a better person in realizing this.

If this sounds familiar it’s because you watched Extra Credits (good for you), and more specifically you watched their episode “Enriching Lives”. Like the guys there I believe that games can enrich our existence just as much as any other form of art can. But unlike the example they used, The Missing Link actually did embed its choice in the mechanics of the game, like a good game should. I believe that the stage of video games perception as immature entertainment for children is coming to a close, possibly within the next ten years. So let’s go back to that quote because it’s very telling of the direction the industry is starting to take.

It’s from Walk Williams; he’s the lead writer on the upcoming 2K shooter Spec Ops: The Line. If you remember the Spec Ops games then Jesus Christ you have good memory for crappy titles. The Spec Ops franchise was a series of budget military shooters for the Playstation that shriveled up and died along with that console ten years ago. They were the games you bought when Rainbow Six was sold out. Now it’s being reinvented into something I doubt anyone thought was possible with a pedigree like that. Spec Ops: The Line is a game about three soldiers being sent into the city of Dubai after global warming (I think) created the mother of all sandstorms and it kicked the shit out of this shining example of human opulence. From its screenshots you’d think it’s another hopelessly brown and gritty game about shooting terrorists in a middle-eastern city, a concept we’ve only seen a hundred billion times already.

But Walk Williams and the rest of the guys at Yager Development want to do something more with this game. They want to take that kind of moment I described having with The Missing Link and embed it into the entire experience of the game. From what I understand you’re not even fighting terrorists, most of your enemies are former US marines under the command of the main character’s mentor who’s going bat shit crazy, attacking US troops on sight and burning civilians alive with white phosphorus. How many games have the balls to make you shoot at American solders? Spec Ops: The Line wants you to be affected by its violence, and create the same kind of disgust and horror in its audience that books like Heart of Darkness and films like Apocalypse Now! were able to do. The way will do so is right there in its title, the theme of The Line. This is a game that’s going to make you draw a line in the sand on where you stand regarding decency and human life, and then do everything in its power to make you cross that line, and in the process, help you learn who you really are. This is a game that’s not going to be fun, but it will be engaging.

Games receive a lot of flak for being violent, and for understandable reasons. After all even if it’s completely fictional, there is still something messed up about saying how you enjoy decapitating hundreds of people an hour for fun and then say it doesn’t affect you at all. That sounds like the kind of thing a sociopath, not a functional member of society should say. So what I’ve always wanted was a game that wanted its violence not to be fun, but engaging, the same way playing Silent Hill isn’t really fun (it’s scary as hell and  the controls are awful) but it’s engaging. So now we come to the part where I blow your mind. 2012 is going to see a lot of important games: Mass Effect 3, Guild Wars 2, I Am Alive and hopefully The Last Guardian. But if Spec Ops: The Line succeeds on its promise, then a brown, third-person, cover-based, modern military shooter, might be the most important game to come out this year. And if it fails, then at least I know it will have failed through ambition, something this industry needs more of. I hope to get my hands on this once its nebulous release date is set, and see where I draw the line.

I’m going to start this blog with two sentences that are completely, utterly, true. The first is that I hate MMO’s. I hate their grinding repetitive game play and I hate how they treat their players like human milking machines. I have never played a single MMO that I’ve found interesting or engaging, from small free-to-play Korean titles to the giants of the genre like Everquest and World of Warcraft. Now here is the other 100% true statement: I’m really excited for Guild Wars 2.

Yes I am aware that Guild Wars 2 is an MMO, but I’m also aware that those two sentences are not in conflict with one another. I hate MMO’s because every single one of them all makes the same assumptions about how MMOs are supposed to be made. Even way back in ’07 Yahtzee admitted that he felt that World of Warcraft is as good as MMO’s are ever going to get. But ArenaNet is here to challenge everything we’ve held as sacred to making MMO’s work, and in the process, are doing everything right.

Doing it Right #1: No Grinding

Grinding has been such an integral part of the MMO formula, ever since I spent the entirety of my first level in Everquest killing butterflies for XP. This is because of the way the level/XP curve in these games are constructed; in that they’re constructed to resemble an addiction cycle to heroin. When MMO’s start the amount of experience required to level up vs the experience awarded is a linear line, and for the first five or so levels you can breeze through them. But once you get beyond level 10 or so it starts to become unfeasible to gather enough experience from quests and you have to go out and farm experience by killing every hostile thing you see. My brother, whose tolerance for this bullshit far exceeds my own, told me that by the time he had hit level 70 in WoW that the experience requirements for each level were doubling, creating a wonderful little exponential growth curve that ensured that he would spend more time to level up each time.

Many people say that it’s impossible to remove grind from MMO’s because of the way you have to structure the leveling curves. Here’s the thing, who says you have to structure them this way at all? ArenaNet is replacing this exponential curve figure with linear growth. Simply put the ratio of experience required to go to each level remains the same, meaning it requires the same amount of time to go from level 1 to 2, as it does to go from 79 to 80. The previous game tried to eliminate grind by having a level cap of 20, but they still had the exponential curve, meaning that at higher levels it was harder to balance the experience required to level against the experience gained by questing, and like every game before them, they came out lacking. Now that the ratio to level remains consistent, ArenaNet knows precisely how much content per level they need to get the players to level up without them having to go out and farm experience on their own.

Doing it Right #2: Character Design

I want you to imagine for a second that you are a girl playing Horde in WoW for the first time. If you are a sexist you might find that thought impossible, but yes, girls do play WoW. In fact MMO’s tend to have more female players per capita than any other genre of games. If you actually are a girl then you may have come across this problem.

So you’re playing Horde and you’re looking at the race selection. They all look really cool but the one that catches your attention are the Trolls. Look at them; they don’t look like any kind of troll you’ve ever seen in any fantasy setting ever. They’re lanky and hunched over, have awesome Mohawks, large hawk like noses and massive, jutting tusks. They have a voodoo vibe and Rastafarian accents. Delighted you pick Troll and click the female gender, and suddenly all of that is gone. Now you’re looking at a normal looking blue skinned girl with bad teeth. This doesn’t look like a member of the same race as the male, and worse, it holds none of the unique features that actually make Warcraft trolls stand out from the legion of Tolkien inspired derivatives that flood the market. No, that right is held exclusively for males; enjoy being some nerd’s masturbation fantasy.

While reading ArenaNet’s developer blogs I saw that they were almost about to fall into that exact same trap when designing female members for the race of monstrous felines called the charr. The original designs felt more like cute monster anime girls then a plausible example of sexual dimorphism. Instead they went back to the base charr design and simply scaled back the more monstrous features and made them look more like lions. They also made the wise decision to not include swollen mammaries. Good job on you.

But Guild Wars 2’s excellent character design extends beyond not insulting us with implausibly sexual exaggeration, it also looks at every one of those Tolkien inspired races and leaves them in Middle-Earth where they belong. Player races include not just the charr, but the diminutive asura and the floral slyvari. Now both of these races are inspired by stock fantasy clichés, the small but smart and sarcastic guy and the magical nature guy. But they key word there is inspired, not derived. There’s something unique here that we haven’t seen before in a fantasy MMO. Everyone knows what a dwarf is like, but how do you play a member of a species whose oldest member is 25 years old?

Doing it Right #3: Archetypes? Who needs them?

When you hear any designer discuss MMO game play at some point the trinity of Tank/DPS/Heal gets mentioned, and every time it is the developers gush and praise over it like it’s the ultimate unchanging pinnacle of MMO deisgn. Every WoW  class fights into one if not two of those roles perfectly and BioWare have basically made it a point that their classes will be married to one of those concepts, with range DPS being added into the mix. Except here’s the thing; we don’t need those three archetypes at all to make an MMO and ArenaNet seems to be the only developer who understands that.

Instead they are building their own trinity of archetypes, called damage, control and support. But the way this really breaks everything we’ve held sacred is the fact that every class can do all three of those, on the fly. An Elementalist (or mage) can either focus on spells that do lots of damage to a single target, or switch to spells that do wide range AoEs that work in tandem with other players, who can cast buffing spell and AoE shields. Then there’s the fact that there is no dedicated healer and good thing. Instead each class can recover hit points on their own. So you never have to sit and wait around your LFG screen until a healer decides to join your group.

“But OsirisLord,” you whine “I like playing healing classes.” No, what you like playing is support. Frankly, healing is always the least interesting part of what is overall a support role. That’s because if you’re healing it means you’re losing, so you take a reactive role instead of a proactive role. Being a support player in Guild Wars 2 means you focus exclusively on proactive support, whether it’s the buffing and shielding spells of Elementalists, or placing down turrets and traps as a Mechanic.

Doing it Right #4: Questing

Whenever an MMO starts a talking about quests I can’t help but feel like they’re being a little condescending. Going over to a field barely five hundred away and killing enough boars to bring back ten servings of barbeque rips they seem to be carrying is not a quest, it’s a job. And you’re not playing a hero; you’re playing as a freelance muscle for hire with terrible job security. You know what a quest is? When Frodo had to trek across the breadth of Middle-Earth to destroy an artifact of power in very heart of the domain of true evil, now that was a quest.  ArenaNet is promising they’re going to completely change the way quests are done in Guild Wars 2, a promise that for me is both the best news I’ve heard in ages, yet is also one I fear they can’t keep.

In their MMO Manifesto video game designer Ree Soesbee complains about the static persistent nature of MMOs, how everyone is doing what you’re doing and how the boss you just killed respawns ten minutes later. It’s all well and good but I don’t see how you cannot do that and still have content for tens of thousands of players to enjoy, especially if you’re planning on having single-player story content as well. Let’s face it ArenaNet you’ve talked about having story-line driven dungeons that can be explored again after completion, doesn’t that mean you’re going to have bosses that respawn? Or at the very least players can go back and kill the same boss over and over again in an instance based dungeon? Or does that not count because it takes place in a dungeon and not the larger game world?

Actually I want to talk about the way the larger game world will work. Like I said, in the MMO Manifesto video there was talk that quests will be generated procedurally from a living dynamic world, instead of being doled out in a persistent world that never changes. This is a very ambitious goal and if it succeeds will no doubt be the biggest game change Guild Wars 2 brings to the genre. But it’s also playing with fire; playing with chaos theory actually. They say that one player makes an action that sends repercussion out across the entire world, or at least the entire zone. That sounds cool, but with tens of thousands to potentially millions of players each sending out those kinds of repercussion waves, well, it sounds like it’s going to end up creating a huge mess. Suppose a player logs out in a friendly village they rescued only to log back in and discover the very spot they’re standing in is now infested with rampaging monsters way above their level. Like I said this is something that we will have to wait and see if it works.

I hope it does, because I hate MMOs and I want to love this game. I love the lore, I love the look of it, I love the way ArenaNet is actually innovating and not just remaking World of Warcraft and added one new feature on top of it (like what Rift and The Old Republic did). It sounds like they’re rearing up for a closed public beta test in April sometime so let’s see. If I get in and I don’t have to sign an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) I will let you guys know what I think. Until then sorry for the unexplained hiatus, I will get back to regularly updated posts now.

Mysognistic Gamers: Tera

I stumbled across a very chilling thought last week, one relating to a massive problem with people who tend to play games; i.e male nerds. The problem is that a lot, not all and this is definitely a decreasing number, but quite a bit of nerds are straight up misogynists. We see it all the time in the industry, were female characters are almost always depicted as objects of sexual desire. And when some comes along to challenge this insulting tradition all the artists and marketing people can do is shrug their shoulders and offer the pathetic excuse of “Well, because sex sells.” And what does that say about us as an audience that all they need to do to convince us of a $60 sale is that the cover art shows a pair of ridiculous female breasts? That men are so lead by our dicks that we let the lizard parts of our brains make our purchasing decisions? We’re better then that. And then there is the increasing number of female players who have to not only put up with a marketing mentally that acts like they don’t exist, but a number of male players who still think this is a “No Girls Allowed” club. Tits or GTFO is not an appropriate response to a potential player.

And that’s the worst part. Not enough guys are fighting back against this senseless pandering. They want to keep the industry “No Girls Allowed” and want games to pander to their sexuality. The reason I’m bringing this up is because while doing some random Google Image Searching for examples of ridiculous female portrayals I discovered this very telling reaction. This picture is made by a forum poster for the upcoming MMO Tera, and the way male members of Castanic race dress.

How dare I look at the naked chest of my own gender in a video game.

Yeah that’s a lot of skin. Except that’s usually how female characters dress in these kinds of games, but there Tera goes reversing gender roles and ensuring that retarded fashion is an equal gender endeavor, and the OP of this thread who posted this image was none too happy about it. He basically said that all these guys are dressing gay and that no one is going to play a male Castanic, cause it’s not like there are equally perverted women out there who would like to look at some nice six packs. Now to give the Tera community credit it seemed like no one else in that threat shared the OP’s opinion, and that it seemed like the design idea for the Castanics is to make both genders sexually appealing. But to take credit away from the Tera community, no one mentioned that female Castanics wear even more ridiculous clothing, and unlike the males, there are zero female models that wear clothes that completely cover their bodies.

This metal thong is doing wonders to my sphincter. And by wonders I mean shredding it to bits.

Here you go, a female Castanic in “heavy armor”. All of those guys up there were wearing light armor or just normal clothes. When they actually gear up for battle there are around three or so armor sets that completely cover them up. For females, there are none, and all of them revolve around this metal thong paradigm you see above. In fact, that’s the least revealing plate armor for females. This is sexist, and worst, it’s stupid. No one would willingly go into battle like this. It defeats the purpose of armor. Armor is supposed to protect your vitals, all of which are located in your torso. But her torso is utterly exposed, in fact the most protected part of her are her legs, the part of your body that’s least likely to get hit in a fight. Unless you’ve developed some kind of martial art were you only block with your legs, no one would dress like this in their right mind. Oh and notice how she has stilettos built into her sabatons. You’re not going to see that feature for males.

This is the most heavily clothed female Castanic.

Sorry, I wish that image had a higher resolution. But I’m completely serious, that is the most fully clothed you can get with a Castanic. It’s all downhill from there because the higher you go up in armor class, paradoxically the more skin you can see. No seriously, check it out here. Naturally this is the complete inverse of how the males work, and like I said, there are three armor sets that completely cover the males. Those same identically sets somehow transform into naked torsos, metal thongs, and stilettos when put on women. I am putting my serious face on here people. And by the way, when your best attempt at fully clothing a woman is a dress that reveals her back and is cut low enough that I can see her thong you’ve got problems.

I’ve long been a person who has subscribed to the very rare school of thought that the advancement in gaming graphics was largely unnecessary. It felt like this whole stride towards more realistic graphics was born out of constant developer one-up-manship. Developer A starts to implement atmospheric lighting so Developer B improves it and adds bump mapping. And to catch up with this constant stride gaming technology has had to become more and more expensive, driving the price up both not only for consoles but  the cost of development cycles as well. Games ten years ago could have been made on a fraction of an average AAA game’s budget today, and most of that is because modern games have to employ more artists and invest in more expensive render farms. Then there’s the game play impact. Modern games can take up well over ten gigabytes of space and most of that space is for graphics. Fans of the Elder Scrolls series have constantly sat by and watched as the depth and sophistication of the games were lost to fit in more space for the new shiny graphics, all of which would become hideously obsolete in two years anyway. Even the size of the games have decreased. Oblivion had a smaller map then Morrowind, which in turn had a smaller map then Daggerfall. Sometimes it feels like this advancing graphics is not only adding nothing to the games, but are taking away from them; space for game play is sacrificed for space for graphics. Until this came along.

I can't tell if those masks are cool, or creepy.

 From Dust is a god game NOT from Peter Molyneux. In it players are tasked with helping a wandering group of non-denominational island people reclaim their lost culture. You do so by reshaping the landscape around you, creating islands out of water and diverting the paths of rivers and volcanoes. What makes From Dust special is that you can only control the land, by picking up undulating orbs of dirt, water, or lava and using it rescultp the land. You can also gain the power to jelly-fy  water so you can protect your islanders from the random tsunamis that are to this game what Creepers are to Minecraft.

What a nice civilization you have there. It would be a shame if I were to wreck it.

So what does any of this have to do with graphics? Well, simply put I don’t think that with the processing and graphical powers modern PCs and consoles developed to keep up with the rapidly exploding graphic technologies, From Dust would have been possible. From Dust is not a game that uses its visual technologies to enhance the experience like in Crysis, it needs those technologies for even its most basic mechanics to function. At the heart of the game beats a highly advanced real time terrain deformation system that allows the game to radically reshape the geography in real time. Remember when people lost their shit over how you could suddenly create a volcano in Magic Carpet was back in ’94? Well now we have volcanoes that start as little fire spewing mounds that will transform into megalithic mountains that will ran lava and ash all over the place. Rivers naturally carve their way across the landscape, sticking to the contours of the geography. And then you have all the little AI controlled villagers running around. Even without the pretty graphics there is a lot of processor heavy stuff going on here, and I don’t think a game like this could have been possible even five years ago. Graphics are the game here and the game is the graphics. The two are occupying the same code and the same software and you can’t separate them, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Even kids wear them. Yeah, those masks are creepy.

From Dust is available on the Xbox Live Arcade and is coming to the PC August 17th and to PSN…er…soon.