Tag Archives: unreal

The Axes of Difficulty

As always, I am generally writing to and from the position of FPSes.

There are three axes for skill settings, broadly speaking, which can change (non-exclusively) to adjust the difficulty, they are:

  • Behavioral – Enemies gain or lose abilities, display different reaction times, change tactics, and vary in accuracy and prediction. A simple illustration of this is in the original Unreal where the combat capability of the monsters was modified by the difficulty level you selected.
    • Nightmare difficulty deserves a special note here, as it often increases monster attack speed, general aggressiveness, and may include elements such as respawning. Nightmare was created for Doom in a patch, a response to player complaints that Ultra-Violence was too easy. You may want to read my small article on┬áDuke Nukem 3d’s higher difficulties.
  • Economical – Health, armor, and ammo are more scarce, inventory may be limited. This can engender an anti-completionist attitude, or drive the secret hunter all the further.
  • Circumstantial – This one is a bit broader and can include changing level layouts, though less common due to technical and labor reasons, but more often involves Economical changes on top of enemy positioning, quantity, and composition changes. This method was commonly used in FPSes and can be seen extensively in Quake for the wide shifts in level density and battle complexity depending on the difficulty.

These increase the cognitive load on the player, asking him to factor in more at a time for decision making, thus asking the player to use their existing education about the game in a more strenuous form, while mentally juggling changing data points, which takes us back to the simple notion that learning is fun, when focused and applied. Continue reading

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

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

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?