Archive for November, 2009

Gaming as a Medium

Posted in Uncategorized on November 17, 2009 by Baggie

Mediums, such as music, are generally classified as what the medium usually consists of.
Rap music is about people living in American Ghettos, Musicals are about romantic or argumentative stuff, there’s a bunch of stereotypes that people use to classify (usually dismiss) mediums.

While often true, a medium, or rather the content within the medium, shouldn’t be classified based solely on what the majority does with it.
This is a big problem with Gaming as a medium, where the general knowledge of gaming by is either MMORPGs or twitch multiplayer games like Counter Strike and DOTA.

While these games have the majority of players, it’s important to distinguish the games themselves for what they are. While many people enjoy twitchy games and MMORPGs, they’re not going to really win any awards for giving a rewarding intense emotional experience (which also creates a sense of longing to have a social life). Sure, they’re fun, but so are generic action movies or comedy books.

Now, games as art is a shaky thing, people having massively different view of what art is, though I’m going to go for a definition of:

“Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions.”
Courtousy of Wikipedia

And as fun as some games are, they can’t be said to appeal to senses or emotions other than the adrenal side of the brain.

Using Bioshock as an example, it had a lot to say about society, the hypothetical questions about ethic-less science, as well as making people think about the foundations and components of humanity, and sacrificing another for your own personal gain. Also it had flying steam punk robots.
Bioshock, to me, is the closest we’ve gotten to gaming being viewed art. Stirring discussion, questioning, and being aesthetically pleasing. However if people saw you playing Bioshock next to a person playing Unreal Tournament 3, there’s no difference whatsoever to the person watching.

So what’s the problem? Well gaming is generally inaccessible to people who don’t play games as a hobby.

Say an art critic asks you who authored this painting, you using only the painting as a reference, you’d have no idea. If I asked an everyday person who made this game engine and what type of game genre it is designed for, it’d be rather the same situation, but that’s only one layer of the whole concept of gaming. Next you have the mechanics of the game, and a malady of other things, all of which is the capacity of a small town.

But what’s worse is that you have to actually do serious training to pick up and play most games from the beginning. I played L4D with my dad once, and while he eventually got the hang of it, I don’t think he got the subtle undertones of society desperately trying to hang together and the reversal of the typical social order, when he spent most of the time struggling to aim at the zombies.

Games however, aren’t and never should be, based on the concept of art. Gaming is about the core of the game, moving, jumping, shooting etc, and while this is only the bread and butter it takes ages to do and if you screw it up boy are you boned. And not all games should be trying to make an enormous statement about the existence of souls or war, people primarily play games to unwind and not to have to think too much, to escape the constant barrage of questions and people known as life.

So the main concentration for a game to be considered art is not that the game is completely inaccessible for people who don’t want to think for a little while, it’s to make it subtle so the complex meanings behind things don’t have to be considered in order to have fun.

So while art in gaming is possible, It’s buried very deep art that takes a lot of time and even training to appreciate the subtleties while you’re trying to survive in a madness of shooting and possibly confusing control schemes. And it sure as hell isn’t going to be recognised by the mass public for a while.

(I don’t actually HATE MMORPGs, but I do NOT see why people play them for fun, they seem more like work to me)

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Random Rants: Why I suddenly hate Infinity Wards.

Posted in Random Rants on November 9, 2009 by Baggie

Infinity wards is the game studio behind the horrendously good game Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

Modern Warfare was a new step for the COD franchise, not being in the endless slug of WWII games. The resulting story was brilliant, engaging, and thought-provoking, as well as downright fun.
However, past the Single Player there was an incredibly deep multiplayer, based on team play with a leveling system that let you slowly improve over time. Personally it was the second best multiplayer I’ve ever seen.

Then there was Modern Warfare 2.
Now, same style of game, same studio. So what exactly is different?

Infinity Wards, in their infinite wisdom, decided to make the PC multiplayer without use of third-party dedicated servers.

For you guys not in the know, dedicated servers are the bread and butter of PC multiplayer. A server is a computer that’s designed to run programs and send data to multiple computers at the same time, which is why they’re sodding awesome.
They allow multiplayer to expand with modifications, custom maps, a bunch of other tweaks depending on the game. It also allows communities to form around servers, meaning you get to play with a group of people who are friendly and fun to play with. Of course there’s still nondescript servers around the place, which means you can have whatever play experience you want, the choices are infinite. There’s also the benefit of being able to quickly ban hackers, mute micspammers, all being controlled by the admin of the server.

Now, I don’t hate the 360, but I think the players are being screwed over by having to pay for an online service that in many ways is sub par. And one of the major problems is that they have a terrible online system, which at best has developer hosted servers, and at worst (And far more likely) one persons 360 acts as the server, and as a result they get a huge advantage.

The effect is that the PC experience, with all its customisation ability, is gone, and replaced by a boring vanilla controlled by the developers which, while mildly acceptable, isn’t going to make anyone happy, especially not the guys I go to a LAN with every month or so. Especially not when they make the player limit 9v9, which is completely stupid from a gameplay perspective, and probably brought on by the fact they’re going to have to front the bill for the servers themselves, and account for peer-to-peer hosting, which they could have avoided if I remember correctly. And the lack of dedicated admins mean that they’re going to have hackers, micspammers, and a bunch of exploiters.

The PC community has made it very clear they don’t want this to happen. There’s even been a petition with nearly 20,000 signatures.
So why, in all sanity, would you want to take a system as good for the player as the PC multiplayer, and turn it into  a console version of the multiplayer? It’s not fair for the people who were looking forward to an improved version of the multiplayer from COD4, and has logically no upsides to the playing experience.

The first Modern Warfare game was one of the most pirated I’ve seen. While you couldn’t go online, people used programs like Hamachi (making a virtual lan and bypassing online CD key checks) to bypass this, and as a result IW lost a lot of money. Unfortunately, there’s always going to be people who pirate games on the PC, and to think you can stop that is just stupid, best to put your best anti-piracy on the software and leave it, not to make the game not worth buying to stop the people not buying it.

So, in an effect to stop pirates, they’ve made the game effectively not worth pirating. Not to mention ignoring the 20,000+ people that would have bought the game if it wasn’t a pile of crap now.

For me, this game, and possibly all COD games to come, are not worth my time anymore. It’s a pity, but if they’ve made it clear that they so desperately don’t want me to buy their games, I won’t.

Maybe Bad Company 2 will be a little more welcoming.

New, Used, Abused: Batman-Arkham Asylum

Posted in New, used, abused with tags , , on November 1, 2009 by Baggie

Batman has been around forever now, firstly in his comic book form where he was frequented by blatant propoganda and “POW”, “SPLAT”, and various other onomatopoeia, to the current day, where he somehow starred in a couple of really good movies (Or the first anyway, second one was pretty much Heath Ledger).

Now, games that are based around recent movie franchises or based around the movies themselves are usually not that terrific. You get some absolute golden stuff like Butcher Bay or Spiderman 2, but mostly they just fail because they often try to coincide with the movie too much rather than actually developing good gameplay or a story that isn’t just the movie retold.

Arkham Asylum is defying the odds, in that it’s actually a good game. Not just a decent game, but a well thought out story with fun gameplay elements, all rather consistent with the typical image of Batman, sort of a cross between classic saturday morning batman, and new movie “I eat gravel instead of cereal” Batman.

The game starts off with Batman driving the Joker back to Arkham Asylum (Basically where the Batman villains get locked up before they break out again, usually more than once, which is pretty impressive because it’s a sodding island with one bridge). You have a slightly slow entrance that establishes several characters, as well as some important plot lines that become more important later.

The story is mainly driven by actions from the Joker, Harley Quinn, and company, but occasionally they try to throw you off the scent, where your detective vision mode comes in handy. Detective vision is technology that lets batman see various elements invisible to the naked eye, such as tobacco traces, fingerprints, and other things in order to track people to their hiding spots. It also lets you see enemies through walls, shows if they have a gun, and can tell you if they’re scared, calm, unconscious, dead. It’s practically a straight upgrade to human eyes, the only problem is that it kind of gets boring not being able to see the impressive environments around you.

The gameplay in Batman is very solid in both its main aspects of fighting and stealth. While it’s normally difficult to pull of a seemless transition between the two, somehow they pull it off rather well. This is aided by the various gadgets batman unlocks through the game, which increase mobility, combat efficiency, and some are just plain fun, like the proxy explosive gel you can put near bodies and will explode automatically when an enemy gets too close.

The hand to hand fighting is really exceptional. In my (slightly limited) experience of fighting games, most of the time you can basically keep attacking the enemies until they fall over. While this is fun for a little while, it does get boring quickly because all the fights in the game feel the same.
Batman shines because it’s always making you adapt how you fight with different enemies, different unlockable weapons and techniques, and has this flowing combat system, which means you get more experience from chain combos, which are pulled off by consistently being in combat with no more than 2 seconds between actions, avoiding all enemy attacks. It also pulls the difficulty curve up at a well crafted pace, meaning you never get too bored or hit a brick wall because you can’t seem to hurt the bastards.
As a personal testament to the quality of the hand to hand fighting, I spent a lot of time after the game was finished in Challenge mode, trying to get better scores on the fighting challenges because it’s just so much fun.

The stealth combat is less impressive, though still rather solid. You basically sneak around a large room with a bunch of enemies walking around with firearms, and have to take them all down, using the gargoyles on the ceiling as escape tools.
Where this shines is the environmental interaction you can pull off, e.g. you can blow up walls to knock out henchmen with the rubble, string them up on gargoyles, pull enemies over railings off ledges, all the while picking off enemies that are distracted by your Bat-toys you can unlock through the game.
The main problem is though the enemies aren’t particularly good at seeing you, even when you’re hanging directly over henchmen, directly breathing down their neck, they don’t seem to notice. It does make it easier, but there could be another way of making the stealth sections doable without the henchmen having a collective IQ of 4.

Because Batman is pretty consistent in his character it takes his enemies to really define him and the story, and Mark Hamill does a terrific Job of portraying the Joker as a Wacky, Insane Genius who is constantly in communication with the entire island, changing between playing with batman and playing with his own henchmen.
This results in some absolute golden lines, which are ever-changing throughout the game as you progress and his plans begin to take fruition. There’s some appearances from classic characters like Bane, Poision Ivy, Killer Croc, and some truly excellent sections as Batman is under the effect of Scarecrow’s fear gas. Every character is rich in detail and well voiced.

There’s also a metagame where batman has to find solutions to clues the Riddler has left around the island, taking pictures of the solution to get extra character info and maps for the Challenge mode. It also relates to a lot of characters that, while not having a pivotal role in the game, are still present in some way, such as the Frozen cell of Dr Freeze, or the Goggles of Catwoman, creating a feeling of an enormous universe you’re only scratching the surface in Arkham.

In short, Batman- Arkham Asylum is a terrific game, and can recommend it to practically anyone, as  I’m convinced that there’s probably no one in the world that doesn’t like Batman.

Note: I was intending to start putting pictures on my blog, but I don’t have any handy and uninstalled the game yesterday. Next time!

Terribly sorry, seem to have dozed off for a bit

Posted in Random Rants on November 1, 2009 by Baggie

Evening one and all,
As you may or may not have noticed I’ve not updated this particular blog in… two months and one day.
I can mostly attribute this to:

-My own laziness
-A medical condition that can best be described in one sentence as “Gremlins in my cellular level”

Luckily I’m over the second so the first won’t be so much of a problem now! I’ll be posting either before the night is out or early tomorrow! Should be back on usual schedule now.

-Baggie