Monthly Archives: March 2013

Battlefield 4 is Ugly

I really don’t get why people think this looks so nice, at any given moment 20% of the screen is hidden by an over the top post-processing effect. The world surfaces have low resolution textures that turn things into a blurry Nintendo 64 mess whenever the character gets close and the surfaces themselves are of low complexity. Yeah the cloth physics are present, but in a very standard way. The water seems to have trouble with its reflections at the edges, and uses general noise to give the impression of texture where it doesn’t match. Frankly, I see better water in most every other game, and have since Morrowind.

Every scene appears to be lit with a single point light (the sun) casting a single shadowmap, the shadowmap is still a markedly lower resolution texture than the environment it is casting upon, it has frequent errors of positioning, and the world as a whole is minlit so anything that isn’t in the sunlight itself looks drab and flat. Characters within shadow appear to have ambient occlusion, but it is confused as to where they are in the scene, so they randomly have auras of ink blots rather than subtle shading. The “destruction” appears to be the same, pre-segmented and only for set pieces. It looks like yet another world of heightmaps, a nice skybox, and imported meshes with triggers applied to them. It doesn’t feel unified, and it doesn’t look unified.

Is this next gen? It looks like a previous one. It looks like a more scripted S.T.A.L.K.E.R., or a more outdoor Metro 2033. The Metro: Last Light trailer, the actual user footage of Crysis 3 on PC, and everything we’ve seen from Unreal Engine 4 looks better than this. The worlds seem much more composed, the lighting more robust. Honestly, I would overlook most of the issues I brought up above, if people wouldn’t stop singing the praises of something that is already behind as being advanced. It isn’t a step forward, it is a lateral shuffle. Visuals are supposed to be the shallow side of games, can’t we at least do better on that?

Hail to the King, Long Live the Duke

Duke Nukem Forever (DNF) was a long awaited game by many including myself. It was also a major disappointment to everyone who played it, with the highest praise I ever saw being a comment about the executable itself being stable. It has been slagged, slandered, and slapped in numerous languages, and much of it is deserved, however I would like to illustrate that not only are these complaints not wholly correct, but that their rear-view prognostications, “If only they had” scenarios, were also doomed. Their own suggestions in many cases would have resulted in an equally bad game.

Duke Nukem is raucous, crass, ludicrous, sexist (but not misogynistic), over the top, simplistic, juvenile, and unreserved. He is not deep or complex, and if he were we wouldn’t enjoy him nearly as much. Duke’s depth comes from our steering of him, we act out within his skin (and muscles). In Duke Nukem 3D (Duke3D) he is a cartoony figure in a comparatively realistic world, he has fame for his world-saving antics, but he is the exception and his behavior is tolerated in the immediately appreciable wake of his results: the world persisting. More specifically, he doesn’t talk all of the time, and though possibly an artifact of the technology of 1995 and 1996, it meant you didn’t get tired of him. Continue reading

Diablo III is Better on PS4

Destructoid reports that the PlayStation 4 version of Diablo 3 will not have the Real Money Auction House, or DRM in general. It will be fully playable while offline. The Real Money Auction House was at least at one point used as the justification of the always online requirement, a requirement enforced by remotely executed game logic, turning your experience into one of playing OnLive but with your machine having to do the rendering. With that gone, PlayStation 4 users can experience the game as PC users had hoped to, in a responsive form.

Let us not forget that the Real Money Auction House does not bring necessarily new functionality to users, item trading for cash has been around much longer than Diablo 3, rather this loops Blizzard in on the activity. It is a feature that is primarily for an additional monetization loop, one that does not add any content to the game. Remember that PC users were restrained in both device and experience for the sake of this monetization scheme, and PS4 users will be receiving the game without such restraints. PC sales were insufficient for Blizzard, but PS4 sales are. Continue reading

The Power Fantasy

A game is often reduced in stature for failing to meet fairly arbitrary social guidelines as set forth by the media. This stature reduction comes in the form of pithy comments, my favorite of which is “male power fantasy” or of similar blends. It is an interestingly sexist perspective, but it is also one which misunderstands games themselves.

We engage in games generically as an experience, or as a mechanic. Mechanic oriented games, one could call them “pure” games, are typically puzzles such as Tetris. They often border on the toy territory, but being constrained by a rule set, they retain their game status. Then there are experience oriented games, something the “average gamer” thinks of, be this Doom, FarmVille, Microsoft Flight Sim, Diablo, Uncharted, or Plants vs Zombies – these games all provide a specific experience. More specifically they provide an out of reach fiction, a fantasy. These fantasies can thus be divided by an emphasis on what is happening, and an emphasis on what you are doing – immersion and input respectively. I don’t fantasize about doing things I can already do readily, I fantasize about things I am not in a position to do, whether it is a matter of logistics or reality. I have never experienced being trapped in a deeply haunted castle (Amnesia), shooting my way through Hell (Doom), managing a farm with great ease (FarmVille), or acted as the only human in a world of goblins while seeking to uncover my identity (Awakening: The Goblin Kingdom). Nor have I piloted a Cessna across a state, or operated a street cleaner. These are all immersions and points of input not readily (or ever) available to me.

Black Ops 2 multiplayer recognizing a significant presence in the game and rewarding the player visually.

Black Ops 2 multiplayer recognizing a significant presence in the game and rewarding the player visually.

All of these are fantasies, and on the matter of input wherein you are the protagonist, they are power fantasies. Much of the pursuit of life is for a sense of purpose. Goals, philosophies, religious beliefs, any form of identity is generally wrapped in a teleological function and games are no different. We enjoy them for this delivery of a goal, this brief experience of a purpose that we are not getting in our lives. Where literature and film let us experience the lives of supposedly greater people, video games let us be those people within that world. Is there a more important person in the Doom universe than the lone marine? Who makes a bigger difference than the hero in Diablo? Yes not all games make you the most important, I suspect that the Zone in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. would go on just fine without me but it isn’t the same again once I begin taking action.

The player's decisions can have a profound emotional impact, not just physical.

The player’s decisions can have a profound emotional impact, not just physical.

Yes, these power fantasies often are in the form of a gun, or a blade. Why? Well it is a clear dichotomy, it is an obvious understanding. Not only that, it is easier to program. It is a far more daunting task to quantify a debate than it is to see if the gun was lined up with the monster when the player clicked their mouse. But if someone were to quantify debate, you can bet the games made with it would be ones where our speech makes a difference, where it is heard – even if we lose, it is still heard. That is the power fantasy of games. It is the presence of substantiation for the player, and that is one of the pillars of games being thus far the highest art form humanity has created yet.

Stay a While and Listen…

I have sat on this domain for far too long without doing anything of substance with it, so here begins an attempt to actually utilize it productively. Yes, it is a video game blog, and it will be an “opinionated” one. I will dive into nitty gritty moments of mechanics and immersion for specific titles, where a genre is heading or has been, where the industry seems to be heading, the state of gaming journalism, how the medium is being used as “art”, and even just things that I think are cool.

You may find rough around the edges, and in the middle, reviews. More likely you will find editorials, musings, and perhaps some fiction. I am most decidedly a PC gamer and will follow such. My favorite game is Quake, the original, and though I may not always post on it as news is slow in this day and age for it, it will be a foundation to many things I say.

The banner is a drawing biff_debris once did for my birthday, I find it to be most excellent.