Tag Archives: half-life

The Virginal Experience

We all remember our first time, for anything substantial that happens after early childhood. I see this more and more often in the realm of games. We attribute the benefits of a genre to the first game that we play in that genre, and we attribute the gains of a technology to the first game that we play which uses it, and if it is our first game for either, we were generally unaware of the substantial gains already made in those areas by prior releases.

Typically these things happen in waves with adoption of other technology or hardware, demographic activities, infrastructure rollouts. So games which release in a timely manner around these events are poised to be received by a whole host of new customers who don’t know their genre or the technologies they use. Many of my favorite games saw the benefits of this, and I will be attempting to list a few examples of this below to illustrate my point. I will be focusing on the first person shooter genre, as it is my genre of choice. 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.

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