All About subyman
How can games be improved? How can the videogame industry give the players what they want? Let's explore these ideas and try to understand what will wow us... the gamers!
Over the last few years I have amassed a huge library of videogames. In my childhood, getting a videogame was a huge deal. I would play the same game for many months before being given another by my parents. Back then, cartridges cost upwards of 90 dollars, so a little bit had to go a long way. My first system was a NES with two games: Mario and Final Fantasy. Those lasted me well over a year. I beat the entirety of each game and played through again, multiple times.
What happened to this? Today, I seem to have gamer ADHD. I'll play a few hours and then never touch a game again, but constantly seek a new experience. It's as if I take in what the game is all about and just don't care after the quick novelty of playing a new game wears off. I almost have to force myself to beat a game, usually out of guilt for paying out money without getting a justified value.
I'm beginning to think I enjoy the spirit and community of gaming more than the actual games. Kind of like a "car guy" that buys all the car magazines, goes to auto shows, and is a part of the local car club but he drives a Camry. I love games, I always have, but maybe I enjoy the buzz and hype that surrounds the industry more so than the actual end product it produces.
This is not to say I do not play games. I get my fair share of 10-20 hours in a week. This amount of time does not justify my huge stash of games though, some I've hardly played or, even more embarrassing, my huge list of steam games, some I've never downloaded.
Is this a sign of absent minded consumerism on my part? Like a shopaholic buying fifty purses a year even though there are one hundred with tags stacked in the closet? Perhaps I am chasing that magical moment I had when I was younger, playing Mario on the NES. I've come to realize I can never have that again. Just like drugs, the next hit is not as great as the last and never will be. Instead of chasing that high, I should be enjoying what is right in front of me.
Seeing this problem, I decided to get LA Noire and the Witcher 2. Two adult oriented games that are high quality and will give me no logical excuse to want other games. I decided to beat these before getting anymore games. Then Gamestop runs a special, buy two pre-owned games and get one free... Now, I'm back to being a raving ADHD gamer. In the end, its not the worst vice to have
E3 was pretty great this year. The media attention was higher than ever with Spike TV showing most of Day 0 with Sony, MS, and EA's press conferences. Nintendo announced the system we have been hearing rumors about. Sony finally filled us in on the details of their very powerful new handheld. Of course the best part were all the great games. There were also some bad stuff, but more on that in a bit.
The games were the highlight of the event this year with some games looking amazing and some new comers that I didn't expect to draw my attention at all. One that blew me away was Bioshock Infinite, which looked incredible. From the fast paced action to the wonderfully detailed world, the game seems to be an incredible feat. I'm still curious to see how they tuned the controls to make all that chaos playable, but Ken Levine said all the stage demo action was totally controlled by the player and those were not cutscenes. Definitely one to watch!
The long awaited sequel to Oblivion was shown in all its glory at E3 this year. Skyrim, despite its wierd name, looks to be an incredible success. Although the graphics are not mindblowing (like Obivion's were at the time), the gameplay, environment, the questing, and the huge 300 hours of content make this a must have for anyone that likes RPGs.
Tomb Raider was surprisingly interesting as well. I've turned my mind off to Tomb Raider since about the second game as they all seemed to be more of the same. Though we haven't seen any hard gameplay, the mood and setting look great and it seems to be a high budget title. Tomb Raider Reboot? I'm with ya.
Another game that finally removed the viel on gameplay was Dead Island. We all remember that ridiculously cool trailer they released a few months back, but finding out what the game actually entailed was not clear. I was pleasantly surprised that this was not just some hack and slash zombie massacre game like Dead Rising. It seems to combine RPG elements, technical FPS action, and a mature story into a clean package. This one is definitely on my list.
The racing game to get will be Forza 4. Although no major changes were announced, the game is getting bigger and better. More tracks, more cars, and Top Gear stuffs. I don't like the Kinect junk though...
Mentionables: BF3, Dragon's Dogma, Halo Anniversity, Arkham City, Dark Souls
Let's go ahead and get it out of the way, the Wii-U. I love how Nintendo is going for a higher powered system, but I'm not so sure it is as powerful as they are claiming. I've heard rumors of the Wii-U using a cell phone CPU, but I've also seen the official "Power-based" chip statement from Nintendo. The new controller seems okay, but Nintendo didn't seem extremely confident when showing it off and the entire idea seems like it hasn't been fleshed out. The controller doesn't even have a name yet and the "games" they showed were not games at all, but teaser tech demos (they were very explicit about this.) Nintendo has also taken the stance that this will not be a media device, so they are really limiting their audience and uses of the "powerful" box. I'm excited, but apprehensive about the Wii-U right now.
I came into E3 pumped to see Mass Effect 3, but the video they showed was rail shooting (him on the turret while shooting a big alien) and a lot of kinetic stuff. I've also heard that they are giving more stat and ability options, so that's a good thing. I am a little unsure how it will turn out, but I am still excited to hear more.
Rage is the latest game from id, and they have been hyping it for years. I tend to enjoy id games because of their simplistic, no-frills-but-shooting philosophy. However, Rage hit me as somewhat soft and boring. The guns lacked impact, the colors were bland and boring, and it didn't really set a new bar graphically like Doom 3 did. I'm hoping id is not just an artifact of a by-gone era, but seeing how well Duke has aged... I wouldn't be surprised.
I've been apprehensive of Star Wars the Old Republic since the beginning, but watching the gameplay at E3 makes me even more so. The story elements look nice, but the game simply looks bland. The controls, UI, and gameplay seem to be pulled right out of the Wow, Rift, Aion, Warhammer, etc, etc workbench. It does not speak of a new generation of MMO gaming, just a highly polished evolutionary step for those that are craving more current content. It doesn't seem to be for me, but I think it will be a success.
A spoiled suprised was Halo 4. Everyone was looking for it since it was leaked a day before, but the trailer was really good at hiding the game for at least several moments. The thing that makes this game questionable is the "4" in the title but the announcement of a new trilogy. Are we going to get 4, 5, and 6 or are they going to start in a different direction? We will have to wait and see.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3's stage demo showed a game that is starting to show its age. The stunning graphics and gorgeous scripted events that blew us away in the original Modern Warfare are now common throughout all FPS games. I do not know if CoD can keep its special flare unless they do something extravagent. While EA's BF3 is doing new things with destructible environments, large scale battles, and more realistic gameplay mechanics, CoD seems to be sticking to the same-old-same-old with this iteration. Step it up CoD, or you will find yourself irrelevent.
Mentionables: LOTR: War of the North, Far Cry 3, NFS: The Run
Let's start with this joke of the show, Fable: Journey. Not only does the name "Journey" sound more like the title of a romance novel, it also played like complete garbage. I simply couldn't believe what I was watching during his presentation. Everyone seemed to be in awe at how horrible it looked. It really goes to show how irrelevent Peter Molyneaux and the Fable series is these days. In his pursuit of "immersion" he has actually killed exploration and advancement, the very things that kindle immersion. I would not be surprised if the entire game was canned after the backlash to his stage demo.
Kinetic took up the majority of Microsoft's E3 conference. Kinetic is neat technology, but I simply do not see it catching on as a major device for the majority of 360 owners. It seems to be more of a large scale beta test and product recognition exercise for MS to pack the tech into future computer and console products (such as the next 360 and the next windows iteration.) It is too tacked on to be a major player on the 360, but so much time is devoted to pushing the name and tech on us. Show us games MS, not UFC and ESPN.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier was a sad showing next to Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty. The game's bland art direction and low-rent graphics made for an uninspired showing. The game play looked to be very deliberate and without passion. The gunsmith feature begins to show how far this game has gone, and that it is unlikely to come back into the greatness it used to have.
The DS and Wii were practically thrown to the side other than a few titles during E3. Nintendo has moved on without them, even though the Wii-U is most likely over a year away. Nothing interesting is coming out for the Wii except Zelda and the DS is all but forgotten.
EA's Origin and Activision's CoD Elite are continuing to monetize the gaming world. Elite seems like a huge rip-off and only gives their competition a new bullet point for the back of their box "FREE FULL ACCESS MULTIPLAYER" will read the back of BF3 and GR. Origin is totally not needed, we already have numerous digital download options. No one wants another download manager or gaming community program running in the background. Leave it alone EA.
Althogether, E3 was a great show this week and GS's coverage, although spotty at times during the live streams, was pretty great. I am still surprised at how BIG the gaming industry has gotten, and E3 always reminds me how far gaming has gone in the past 20 years. I look forward to next year!
What are your top, questionable, and bad picks this year?
I wrote a piece over a year ago which brought to attention the extremely slow progress MMOs have made over the past ten years. In fact, that original article is what brought my writing to the attention of Jody and, in turn, gave me the soapbox emblem. This is a subject that I am rather passionate about because the first game that really took me to another world and immersed me into a rich, carefree culture was the original Everquest. I've played countless MMOs both before and after this experience but none have captivated me in the same way (especially afterward.)
The first good 3D MMO (Guild war going on here.)
The causes of the current stagnation are numerous, but I believe I have whittled them down to a handful of main concerns which, if addressed, could begin a renaissance of sorts in the MMO world. The following are only a few of these concerns. More will be written in another part later in the year.
Throwing loot at players has been an easy way of sustaining prolonged connection to a game. The player gets the feeling of progress while also having the desire to push on to find even more riches in the deeper sections of the dungeon. This, however, is a very artificial form of accomplishment, and the history of loot hording will not be something the player looks back on and relishes. Does the player get excited because they just defeated the greatest threat in the city by slaying the massive dragon and freeing the people from fear, or is the player mostly excited about the +3 Sword of Raging Inferno that dropped from the "mob" which the player has been salivating over for months on forums? If the later is the prime reason for slaying the dragon, then I believe the game is not a rich RPG experience but an infinitely deep database designed to slowly doll out ever more powerful items like cocaine on the streets. Just like drugs, the rewards have to be continually more colorful with more flames, more damage, and loonier designs to keep the increasingly desensitized player lulled into cutting the monthly check.
There needs to be a connection with the character and the world in which the user plays. There needs to be a purpose for killing, questing, and helping (or hurting) the other players and non-player characters (NPCs) in the game. Without a connection to the players and actors in the game, there is not purpose or emotional attachment to, say, freeing the slaves from the slaver's ship, skinning hides for the local leather shop, or bringing a message to a long lost lover.
Did William Wallace fight against the king to obtain theCrown of Beguile and Backstabbing? No, he fought passionately for his country, his land, and his people. There was emotion there, a sense of purpose that drove the conflict not a loot table.
He did it all for the purples?
To facilitate the connection between the player and the character in which they assume, a stockpile of previous actions needs to be recorded in the character's profile to be used to shape the future interactions with NPCs and other players. Did the player kill a merchant in the next city over and then run to their current city? After a few days, word would have gotten around and merchants may not do business with the player until the debt is sufficiently paid to society (or coin pays the merchants off.)
I'm not talking about canned general responses to exact criteria. I'm talking about a behavioral simulation system which runs in the background using your past deeds as the input. The point is, you shape the world and how it interacts with you due to your past actions. This is only one step in the right direction.
I briefly touched on this at the end of my last piece. Creation as it is now is hand generated. Developers toil over creating the landscape to be "just-so", design entire cities with a blueprint in mind, and try to create a world which seems possible but new, and exciting. This is the main portion of the cost and design of a game. The bad part is, this is exactly the portion of the game which ends up making the game feel dated and boring for a veteran player. This content is static, never changing from the time the developer penned the area during the early stages of the game. Some games have addressed this by overhauling the entire game (Cataclysm.) This is only a band aid fix because one to two years from now they will be exactly in the same spot as before. Boring, static landscape.
Instead of investing heavily into hundreds of people working on every detail, have them work on an underlying physics engine which can produce varied, unique, and rich landscapes using variables which can be changed depending on the situation. This generated landscape can then be brushed up and important features added (such as starter cities, monuments, and other cultural items.)
The Earth we see today was created (well… hopefully I don't open a can of worms here) by physical systems. The Grand Canyon by erosion, mountain ranges by plate activity, caves through water channels, and many more weren't created by some artist sitting in a chair for hours. Using an adequately complex simulator could bring about landscape features never dreamed of.
Simply look at the most basic system which Minecraft uses. Only having a handful of blocks and a very simple algorithm, Minecraft makes completely new worlds in seconds which hide all sorts of fantastic secrets. Just think of the possibilities if a few million dollars are sunk into a natural physics simulation.
The best part about having an underlying physics simulation which created some portion of the content is not only the natural feel of the land but the fact that the simulation can easily continue when the game goes live. There would be weather models which could simulate something as simple as a summer rain fall to complex blizzards, hurricanes, and tornados which do actual destruction to the land and player buildings. Earthquakes could happen, seasons change, meteors hit, and the list goes on. All this could happen and the developers may not even know it. It would be simulated with the rules set by the developers, but without their direct interaction.
Supercomputers model all sorts of extremely complex systems.
Perhaps the player takes a year off of the game. Instead of coming back to the exact same thing in which they left, the player is greeted by massive changes. The forest was harvested and a city built, the old capital burnt down from conflict, and the player's house long looted with homesteaders shacked up there.
Great side effect? Every server would be entirely different after some amount of time.
A dynamic world is what we live in, why not play there too?
Before This Gets Too Long
I'm going to have to cut this short, but I have a lot more to say (for another editorial.) One of the problems with MMOs is the fact they do nothing to affect me, as a person. They prey on my wish for more power and ever higher rewards, but fail to deliver real long-term accomplishment. Practically every MMO has a linear path to rewards which everyone follows, even step-by-step guides are sold. Level up to max level (usually a straight shot), get this set of gear, get these skill ups, and then wait for more gear. Strip a max character down in most MMOs to only their underwear and they are all identical.
These brave souls fighting the mighty Arthas are all the same underneath the shiny gear.
A simulated reality will help differentiate the good players from the players who purchase or view guides to progress in a game. It will give purpose and change to the world which will in turn make it seem more real and immersive. Cities can burn down, houses can be attacked, and players can lose their empire through natural events. This brings a sense of risk and a feeling of the unknown into play which is sorely lacking in today's games.
We need simulated realities based on physical laws so we can manipulate them in game for our purposes, just like in real life. We need simulated behavioral laws for the NPCs so, again, we can manipulate them for all sorts of wild purposes. This dynamic, changing world is the next frontier not only for MMOs but for videogames in general.
I'll end on what I wrote in my previous piece:
The MMO arena is stagnant. We wait for expansion packs that keep us busy for a few months or a hyped up game that might leave us 100 dollars poorer only to have wasted our time. We need a game changer. We need something so radically different that it brings us directly into the next generation of MMOs. I am waiting and see nothing on the horizon that will do that.
More to come in Part 3.
What irks you about the current generation of MMOs?
What is the number one thing you believe needs to be addressed?
What is actually good that should stay with the genre as it progresses to the next generation?
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