All About metagnome
Poorly articulated rantings of someone who should know better
A year(ish) ago I made my first ever public New Year's resolution, to play more games (specifically anything scoring 8.5 or higher on GameSpot). Twelve of the best months in gaming for a long time later, and I'm not surprised to report I have fallen woefully short. I started off strong, but it all started to go downhill when Pokemon Diamond got a high enough score to mean I had to play it. I just really couldn't bring myself to play a Pokemon game. Partially because it's Pokemon and, you know, Pokemon, but mostly because I don't ever want to be able to talk with any level of expertise about Pokemon, a man's got to have some standards after all. Pokemon Diamond, of course, was not one of the games of the year so I might be able to let it slide. Not really, let's have a quick run through the GOTY nominees to see how many good games I missed out on this year.
Bioshock - I played the demo when it came out on Xbox Live, but that's it. My excuse? Absolutely none whatsoever. I wanted to play it, had the opportunity and time to play it, but just never played it. Chalk up another game for me to play when it gets a price drop.
Call of Duty 4 - Played through the single player on PC, yet to get into the multiplayer. Very good game, but I felt that the relentless forward motion normally required in Call of Duty games didn't sit so well in a modern setting. Nevertheless the Chernobyl and AC-130 missions are two of the best individual levels I have played for a long time.
Crysis - I have purchased, installed and started playing Crysis. I also spent nigh on $3000 buying a new PC to play it on, including SLI 8800GTs. Just to let you know, that's not enough, you still have to mess around with the settings an awful lot to get the framerate at an acceptable number. Besides that, I haven't played enough of it to form a serious opinion of the game, except to say that the first hour or so is pretty underwhelming.
Forza 2 - Haven't been near it, not interested. I really don't do racing games.
God of War 2 - I've given my thoughts on God of War 2 previously, but here's a summary: Bigger and more impressive than the first, with some truly epic boss fights. The story and atmosphere of the sequel, however, is a long way short of the original. Probably one of the best games to come out on the PS2.
Halo 3 - I've played through the single player campaign in co-op about one and a half times. To be honest, I lost track of the Halo story about halfway through Halo 2, so I have nothing to say about it as a concluding chapter. I also think that changing the primary enemy from elites to brutes changed the dynamic of the game for the worse. Because the brutes do not have recharging shields the player is no longer required to play in a run-and-gun style, which turns Halo 3 into a much more standard shooter in which you sit behind cover taking pot shots at enemies until they die. Multiplayer-wise, Bungie continue to set the mark for online community features with the replay features, improved stat-tracking and so forth. Regardless of whether or not you like Halo's multiplayer, the quality of the features surrounding it is unmatched.
Rock Band - Wouldn't know, it's not out in Australia yet, and in fact it still doesn't even have a solid release date here.
Super Mario Galaxy - I've played a fair amount of Galaxy and I have to say that it hasn't impressed me a whole lot. Rather than repeat someone else's words, check out the Zero Punctuation review of the game. It's worth noting that this was definitely the best Wii game to come out in 2007, but that's really a feat on the order of winning a fist fight against Stephen Hawking.
The Orange Box - From a GOTY perspective, we have to ignore Half-Life 2 and Episode 1, which just leaves Episode 2, Team Fortress 2 and Portal. For my money, Portal is close to being a GOTY contender by itself. Add in Team Fortress 2, which I haven't played but has caused sleepless nights among quite a few people at my work, and you need a very good reason to not make The Orange Box Game of The Year.
World In Conflict - I have bought this game, but not yet played it, so that's probably all I can say about that.
So of the nine nominees, I've played 3 enough that I feel fully qualified to talk about them, and another 3 a bit. Maybe I'll do better next year. It's probably best not to bother with a resolution though, try and keep the amount of self-inflicted failures for the year to a minium.
On an entirely unrelated note, I spent a few days over the Christmas break coding and putting up a blog at http://stripeshop.metagnome.net mostly as a coding project because that's the kind of totally not-nerdy-at-all thing I do when I'm on holiday. Anyway, it's going to be serving as a place for my musings on more esoteric and technical game design stuff, including board games, card games, any games I can get my hands on really and whatever I get up to with the XNA toolkit. GameSpot is staying as my usual outlet for rants and comments on computer gamery and other random stuff, but if you don't get enough metagnome with my sporadic GameSpot updates, feel free to check out the Stripe Shop.
Let me start by saying I have never before had so much trouble leaving certain four letter words out of a piece of writing. So, a little while ago I wrote a post explaining my slight irritation at Activision for holding off on announcing the Steam version of Call of Duty 4 after the retail release, meaning I paid close to double the price for the game (Australia->US exchange rate being close to 1:1 these days). Today Activision fixed the problem. By changing the Steam price of CoD4 from $US49 to $US88, for Australia only (and possibly NZ).
Imagine if Kratos (if you don't know Kratos shame on you, but replace with the world's angriest man on PCP after a three day bender listening to Rage Against the Machine on repeat) went a whole night without sleep after a day in the sun, so he was tired an badly sunburnt. Now imagine some annoying tool crept up behind him and slapped the burnt skin on the top of his head with an open palm. And then laughed. That's about how angry I am about this. No excuses about exchange rates can help, no shipping costs, no luxury taxes, nothing. The simple fact is that Activision get twice as much money from people in Australia, simply because they live in Australia.
And in anticipation of the comments, yes I know you live in the US and you don't care, or you sympathise but I should just deal with it, stop and think about this. I can buy Call of Duty 4 for ten bucks less than you can buy Call of Duty 4 AND the Orange Box. Now, Activision are the first publisher to indulge in this abhorrent price-gouging, although THQ did simply pull their products from Steam in Australia, but it's surely only a matter of time before other publishers realise they can get twice the profit for no extra work out of regions that are still paying prices that represented a reasonable exchange rate back in 1990.
I tell you, depending on which way the election goes this weekend, I might just pack up and leave the country, it would probably save me the cost of the airfare.
I was going to title this post Shortal, but decided against it, a wise decision I have ruined by mentioning the fact. Ahem. Portal is short. In fact, it's so short that short is a misleading term. Most people who read that would assume that it's 6-8 hours' worth of gameplay. In point of fact, Portal would rate more as a long movie, at give or take 3 and a half hours to play it through start to finish for the first time.
Turns out for me, the length of Portal is one of its shining lights. Not because I don't have the time any more to play long games (a common complaint), but rather because I think that a game needs to know how long it can play for. I've lost count of the number of quite good games I've got about three quarters of the way through and simply got bored and stopped playing for the same reason. Games are repetitive. They have to be, after all if you weren't doing the same thing over and over again then there would be no gameplay mechanics. What a game needs to do is realise exactly how long the repetitive actions it uses are entertaining for and then make the game about ten minutes shorter.
Even if this was an exact science, you are of course stymied by the fact that everybody has a different boredom threshold. Mine is clearly quite low, unless everybody else doesn't bother finishing games and developers are wasting their budgets on final cutscenes. Off the top of my head, the following games I rate as great have been criticised for being too short: Max Payne 2, Gears of War, Portal, Fable. I finished each of those games and at the end wished they were a little bit longer. But only a little bit, and not so much that I would have preferred to get that sinking feeling you get when you press the button to go to the third storey in the Library in Halo. A game that is too long can easily ruin your perception of it, because memories of the good parts will be overshadowed by the frustration and boredom of unnecessarily extended levels, jumping puzzles and thrice-damned escort missions.
Think of any game you've played that you've spent more than, say, 20 hours on. Chances are there was at least one section that seemed to go on for a little too long, or there was some grinding in the middle to get the appropriate level or item or whatever. Stop and think about that for a second. You were spending time doing something that you pay money voluntarily for, that you do for fun, and you were bored. Your chosen form of entertainment bored you. You can be bored for free (staring at a wall, talking to some old person on a bus), or even get paid to be bored (work), why pay for it?
Back to Portal. Over the course of the game, the creators go through every fun puzzle they can come up with involving the portal gun, and then they stop. There's not seven or eight moving platform over lava puzzles, there's one. Now obviously, there are a lot more factors that make Portal a gem of a game, but if it lasted another three hours, I think you'd see a lot of reviews saying "original idea, but feels overplayed by the end." Now, Portal has the advantage of being a part of a package that is frankly ridiculously good value, and barring a fairly large shift in the way AAA titles are priced and marketed, I don't think 3 hour games are going to become the norm. Nevertheless, it's worth thinking about whether a game you thought was too short was in fact exactly the right length.
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