26 July, 2007

What I'm Playing (and Manhunt ramble)

Most of my gaming now feels very casual. For the most part, I play WoW. WoW is more socializing than game. Don't get me wrong, I'm on WoWWiki or Allakhazam looking stuff up all the time. We're doing ramparts soon, so I need fire resist. It's mostly just a pain, but makes me feel like I'm earning credit with people by putting in extra effort. It's probably worth mentioning that our guild is all people who know each other in real life, so I'm putting in more effort to please them than I probably would otherwise. I probably shouldn't though. They mostly don't notice or care. I bust my ass doing research, collecting mats, and questing just to get berated because I forgot to remind someone to get milk on the way home from boardgame night.

Outside of WoW, I'm mostly just playing fluff. Cheap old games that are fun to blow through on easy. BloodRayne 2, King Kong, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, Armed & Dangerous. I consider games like this (when turned down to easy difficulty) the purest form of escape. They're like running around in the parking lot making whooshing noises to pretend that you're Superman.

There is one other game I'm playing. Because of the controversy surrounding its successor (and because Mike enjoyed it), I picked up a headset and a copy of Manhunt. So far I'm not impressed. It's a stealth game where the major mechanic seems to be find a shadow, make a noise, when the bad guy gets tired of staring into the shadow and turns around, kill him. Repeat until... yawn. Whoops. I was going to say repeat until bored but became too bored to finish the sentence. The gory canned animations really aren't that big a deal to me. Pan's Labyrinth had way worse face stabbing, and exploding a guy's head with a baseball bat seems more comical than horrific to me. Maybe if the graphics weren't so dated it'd be scarier.

Also the "director" talking into your headset, egging you on and reveling in your kills, was supposed to be a big part of the experience. I bought a headset, just for this game. I've been largely disappointed. From the first time the director said "kill this #%*#", I knew that he had a preset number of audio barks for whenever I got into the kill position. And his post-kill wanking is totally random. Sometimes he praises you lavishly for a crappy kill and remains completely silent when you pull of a level three kill. The only post kill bark I enjoyed was after I killed a guy with the nailgun and he said something like "Nice shooting, pardner."

These are preliminary opinions, of course. I haven't finished the game yet. But so far, the game's pretty dull and the gore is no big deal. Some gamers who have seen and even played Manhunt 2 say it's about the same or even tamer than the original. The original only lets you unlock certain things if you do extra nasty kills while the sequel gives you a nicer ending if you try to be less violent. If that's the case, it sounds like the ESRB rated Manhunt 2 wrong. Likely it's caving to pressure groups and / or taking retribution for the Hot Coffee scandal.

Meh. If it was a better game, I'd care more.

17 July, 2007

Wow! E3! Why don't I care!?

Last year's E3 was a big deal. The Wii was announced. Sony looked like tools. MS was showing they were ready to take advantage of Sony's toolfoolery.

This year's E3 was an even bigger deal because there were actual games.

So why don't I care?

Part of it's simply a lack of new announcements. Microsoft even went out of their way to only promo games coming this fall.

Part of it's just me being jaded. I have played first person shooters regularly since DooM. I don't care how good it looks. I don't care if I can knife a dinosaur or punch through the roof of a shanty or slide down a bannister. Been there. Done that. Done better (in Hulk: Ultimate Destruction). Plus that's all fine and good for a demo, but I'm jaded enough I don't buy almost anything until the reviews are in and there's a good post release buzz going.

Part of it's me falling out of gaming. I'm not a gamer anymore. I play WoW. That's not gaming. That's a chat room with collectibles. I dinged 60 and got my epic mount on Saturday, July 7th. Nobody cares.

I'm playing Manhunt, when I'm not too bored. It's gory, but it's all canned animations, so it can't really surprise. And it's stealth, so it's dull.

I'm trying (desperately) to finish PoP 2, which I started six months ago and got completely bored with. Combat has a fair amount of options, but counterattacking makes 80% of them not worth exploring. Sometimes the hardest part of the game is seeing where you're supposed to go next. Plus the memory of the horrble chase section and bug that make me put the game down in the first place is still leaving a bitter taste in my brain.

Heh. I'm not just jaded. I'm bitter.

I dropped Company of Heroes. I'm telling myself it's because my PC can't handle it, but the truth is the first mechanized map requires way too much micromanagement. Plus the game punishes excellence. I kicked ass on one of the early maps, using very few troops. Then the next map I have to defend against a massive assault on a map I haven't even taken all of with way too few guys. It was bullshit and not fun.

Just Cause is another upgrade postponement. It ran like crap, but from what I could play, the experience was pretty uneven.

But enough of the old stuff. Let's talk about the new stuff.

Mass Effect. Considering I got bored of fetch quests and quit KOTOR after a couple hours, I'm not sold.

Bioshock. Yeah. That'll be good. I'm a sucker for that type of game. I even liked dicking with the guards in Invisible War.

Crysis. At least a new PC away, and Far Cry sucked. I had to manually edit the game's script files (NPCs do full damage to each other and mutants do much less damage) to make that game worth playing, and it still wasn't what I'd call good.

Blacksite. The original Area 51 was good, if a little generic. It's really hard to tell if this will be better or worse as they're trying to do some perhaps overly ambitious work with squad AI.

Stranglehold. Everyone compares this to Max Payne, which sucked. Half the time you'd dive through a door and be instantly dead from a guy hiding behind the door with a shotgun. Hopefully Stranglehold is less random.

Wii Fit and the balance board. You know, this time last year I was crazy excited about the Wii. Everything from MS and Sony looked like the same shit, only shinier. The Wii could actually let games feel more interactive, almost like you could touch them. To quote William Shatner, "it hasn't happened yet". I'll write a whole article about this later. Maybe after I finally break down and buy a stupid Wii.

Little Big Planet. There's a huge amount of excitement around this game. I see a lot of fail. My impressions of physics based platforming (from N and Gish) is that it takes the really tight mechanics of the games I loved, and trades them for "realism" I didn't want. And letting the community make the levels and gadgets is just another way of saying there's no game there.

So maybe this is just a cry for help, but I'm bored senseless with E3.

02 July, 2007


Ars Technica recently ran an article about innovation that posed the question, "Must every single good game innovate in some way lest it be 'just another'?"

Obviously the question is biased and asking for a no response, which the users supplied. But the language of the question was vague enough that I wanted to spend a little time discussing what constitutes innovation. (I'm getting to the point that every time I want to write more than a paragraph in response to an article I see, I want to write a blog post.)

The article talks about Robotron's descendants. My first question is, what makes a game a descendant (or clone, if you want to be pejorative). Most people would say that a game where you fly around in a space ship isn't the same as one where you run around on the ground. Aerial combat and first person shooters are separate genres, after all. But if that's true, why is Super Stardust HD considered a Robotron clone?

I believe it comes down to what you, as the player, do. In an aerial combat game you drop chaff. You bomb targets. You dogfight. In an FPS you take cover. You throw grenades. You try to control the high ground, best weapons; health packs. While you can see the similarities, these are very different activities. They feel different.

But the distinction is finer than that. One commenter said that Blizzard doesn't innovate. I don't think anyone who's played StarCraft would say that controlling the Zerg doesn't feel quite like anything else in an RTS. But it's still an RTS because you gather resources, build units, and fight with those units at a tactical level. You drag and click and select your unit building structure. The activities are the same, whereas piloting (pulling back to bank up, matching speed with a target; using rudders for fine adjustments) isn't very similar to the simplified running around of most FPSes. (We'll postpone the discussion of super simplified helicopter games indefinately because the ones I've played I didn't enjoy.)

Hence Robotron is "the same" as Super Stardust HD. You use one stick to move around and one stick to shoot. And your avatar, be it robot or space ship, is really just a little gun that you can drive.

Back to the original question, must a game give you something different to do to be innovative? I don't know. But, as a gamer, I'm not sure that innovation is really the point. I don't want new mechanics so much as I want new experiences. There's a difference. A new experience may come from a simple layer of chrome.

Dark Forces and Duke Nukem 3D are largely the same game. You shoot bad guys (pig cops, stormtroopers, big difference). But most people who talk about them do so fondly, and for different reasons. Duke usually gets called out for its lewdness, violence, and humor, while Dark Forces is noted for letting you feel like a part of Star Wars and for it's climactic end sequence. They're the same game, in terms of what you do, though.

So, question answered (to my satisfaction) and a toe dipped into the rhetorical pirana pool of what defines genres and pulled out intact. A good day's blog. :)