Monthly Archives: April 2013

Am Gun, Will Travel

It can be argued that the experience of a first person shooter is actually the act of being a sentient roaming gun. Though some 2nd Amendment debates would hold this is the case in reality, it could be more reasonably articulated that it is in many ways the case in games. On a technical level, often the player is just a bounding box with a weapon visible, perhaps some hands, and in multiplayer they are displayed as a character to other bounding boxes with a weapon visible. Metaphysically speaking, now that sounds fancy, the primary input with the game world in an FPS is simply shooting (particularly in the Quake franchise which centers its logic systems around damage or proximity) so obviously the gun at hand is a primary source of expression.

This however is greatly impacted by the inventory and spawning system of the game. In the Quake and Unreal franchises you spawn with a certain supply of weapons, and you find others in the environment. The weapons are expressions of discovery, what you have found, they represent exploration and knowledge. These weapons are also usually fairly distinct, sure they can be broken down by simply hitscan or projectiles, but no one is going to argue that Quake Live’s (and thus Quake 3’s) Plasma Gun and Rocket Launcher are particularly similar weapons. The weapons are intentionally as distinct as their location in a level and are designed to occupy a large range of design space within the scope of the mechanics. Continue reading

Indie Devs Seeking Asylum

From time to time I encounter complaints about the setting of video games, particularly horror ones. There is a general lamentation of them taking place in abandoned/old/dilapidated¬†hospitals/prisons/asylums/houses. Getting burnt out on a setting is very understandable, being uninterested in one is also well within reason, but periodically I see the claim that the use of such things has to do with our society’s perception of the unwell/criminal/mentally ill/aristocratic past, et cetera and so on. Often it is suggested that these games are an indication of who we are as a society (ignoring the culture and geographical location of the development team).

I posit a different perspective: money. Horror games work best when simple, which means few mitigating elements, and when exploiting basic fears. Being alone meets both of those requirements from a design and tech standpoint. Horror games are very commonly developed by smaller independent teams, such as Amnesia, or Eyes, which was developed by Paulina Pabis. When there are fewer hands and a smaller budget, reusable or versatile content goes a very long way. A single set of textures, a couple of meshes, some sounds, and a good lighting effect go a very long way toward the goal of the game design.

Another aspect is baggage, and this is where the contemporary cultural anthropoludologists (its fun to make up words) come close to being correct. Few people know anything about these places with any real expertise. They have limited expectations and this frees up the designer considerably in what they can do with the space. Look at the level design of Call of Duty or Half-Life, then look at the level design of Quake or Portal. The former take place in settings we have particular expectations of, the latter in ones with fewer trappings. The result is designer expression. If you want a particular user experience in a Quake map, you make it. If you want that in a Call of Duty or Half-Life map, well, you’re going to need to find some reason for it to happen with this space which the users are going to be familiar with. Quickly you result in convoluted, bordering deus ex machina, configurations, or boring levels. These are results that demolish the mood being built by a horror game.

With fewer (not lowered) expectations, a minimal entry fee for believable content, these settings are a great angle for independent developers, in the same way that “retro” graphics are. There is more economy than¬†√©galitaire about the setting of these games.

ROTT Paper Shotgun

Rise of the Triad is being re-made by Interceptor Entertainment using the Unreal Engine. That directly isn’t the point of this post however, but I will include a courtesy embed of their excellent eighteen minute multiplayer trailer:

The point of this post is to comment on the Rock Paper Shotgun newspost about it. I won’t link to it because it is terrible, but also because they open their posts up with long winded attempts at humor to justify a clickthrough for a single video embed or screenshot. What gets me about it in particular though is the commentary. The focus on calling it old school, as if this is an amazing thing. Yes it is old school, it is a remake of a now 18 year old (by Full Version dates) game, of course it is. It is “blindingly, blitzingly, brutally fast” or, you know, normal amounts of fast. The movement speed matches the sub-genre.

Marveling at the capacity of speed in a game aside, the rest of the post is filled with fluff that seems like it could only be steeped in ignorance as to the game and the genre. Comments on the level variety assume that it is a case of silly over the top logic as to why it isn’t one setting. Games typically draw their multiplayer content from a vertical slice of the single player, it saves resources, and it ties the two components together. You see a castle, a military complex, and an underground lava base in the trailer, because the world of ROTT involves a castle being used for advanced paramilitary functions and also involves a lair centered around lava. It is all part of the game world, it isn’t strictly variety for some senseless appeal to “old school” styles.

(Also, first person shooters, be they “old school” or not, do this. As I said earlier, it saves resources and it draws connections – Quake’s deathmatch maps make for an almost pure microcosm of the single player.)

What is with the “DUDESHOOT MANKILL” comment? Have they not heard of a first person shooter before? You shoot, and you shoot things with the intent of killing them. Often the enemies are other humans, typically male, the protagonist is often male (though ROTT has two female characters to play as), and in multiplayer it is common for players to all depict the protagonists, thus you have in most scenarios men attempting to shoot other men in a game. Is RPS unfamiliar with the genre? Or multiplayer?

I think what gets me is the post is rife with padding for what is simply “Here, look at this” content, and it manages to use “old school” and link to an interview, without ever clearly delineating that they know it is a remake, or are particularly familiar with first person shooters. Don’t even get me started on the people who compare its speed to Quake 3 or Unreal Tournament. I enjoy those games, but they are thick molasses next to the early and mid-90’s shooters.

The Myth of the Thinking Man’s Shooter

Not to say that thinking is a myth in a shooter, but rather that it is a myth that there is a special class of shooter which requires thinking as substantially distinct separation from other shooters.

I’ve been told many times that Half-Life, Half-Life 2, Bioshock, Battlefield, or any number of other games are “the thinking man’s shooters”, whether by fans or developers through implied statements, or direct marketing campaigns.

However this implies, as does the Half-Life advertisement above, that other shooters are comparatively simple. It does this by reducing the terms allowed to describe other games without reducing the terminology available to them. It does this by observing one game with a low resolution, and another with a higher resolution. Continue reading

The Devil is in the Delay

On March 28th, Joystiq posted a brief news article where they discussed Diablo 3 with Jay Wilson, the Game Director for its development as well as much of the time post release. The main piece of information is his statement that both the real money and gold auction houses “really hurt” the game. A statement many people would agree with, and many people had echoed through the past leading up to the release, and afterwards.

It isn’t news that the auction houses hurt the game, but it is news that a historically vocal defender of the game would concede such a major point against it within a year of its release. This combined with Wyatt Cheng’s admission that co-op is not the dominant mode, leaves Diablo 3 with only the pillar of piracy fears to stand upon for its troublesome implementations and mechanics.

The heavens did not tremble upon Diablo’s return, the gamers did, and their points are being slowly conceded by the developers, once it is out of their hands.