I have returned once again to the blogosphere after a short lived run earlier this year. I have an abundance of time on my hands and can ramble to whomever decides to be my audience. Looking forward to once again become part of the great Destructoid community.
Metal Gear Solid 4, Gears Of War 2, Mass Effect, Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4; all of these titles have been praised for their cinematic experiences. We have reached a time where the graphical fidelity is there to allow us to experience convincing game worlds, further pulling us in to characters, story and interaction. Yet all of the above mentioned games are at their cinematic best when the player isnít in control and becomes a spectator to the action. So is the game itself cinematic or is it simply the cinematics themselves that provide the experience ?
What even qualifies as a cinematic experience? Is it the action in the scene, is it the camera position or the characters interactions? Itís mostly a mashing together of all three but there is one thing that ties them together. Each of the examples are all very directed and planned, they each play their own part in the overall picture but it is together when they produce the best results. Take the Bourne films, great action, interesting characters but appalling editing and camera work (for the action scenes at least). Good films but let down overall by 1 piece of the puzzle. Compare that to something like Casino Royale and the difference is clear. For it to work perfect each part must play into the other and that can be done successfully when you have a whole team communicating and discussing. They may be different pieces but they are all part of the same puzzle. So hopefully you can see where the problem is when it comes to games.
Developers can give you the scene, the character and the camera angle but they canít make the player play the role. Take Halo 3 and the section after killing the Prophet of Truth which is the escape from the Flood. The scene is set for you fight your way through the enemy waves to the other side in a very Rambo like style, shooting and meleeing your way through your enemy or you could just jump you way through using the walls and barriers. Iím sure the second option isnít quite how the team at Bungie would have envisioned you playing it, but in this interactive medium the player decides. So what is the best way to push players into a cinematic experience? Well the answer is in the question, you have to push them. The sniper mission in Call of Duty 4, a shining example of how it can be done. An A.I. Partner leads you through the level whilst enemies appear at possible intersections to help push you in certain directions. What your left with is an intense action sequence that wouldnít feel out of place in a Hollywood blockbuster. The only problem? Itís so scripted that like a film once youíve seen it once youíve seen all there is to see.
So how can game play be merged with cinema? A current trend is the quick time event or QTE, which is essentially a directed cinema that involves players pressing the right buttons at the right time to initiate the next part of the scene. This applies to games like God of War but also to something like Mass Effect. The conversation wheel gives you choices in each scene but is basically just a QTE with more than one outcome. You hit an even bigger problem when you have an open world to deal with. Assassins Creed and GTA IV are great examples for this. In Assassins you can kill your target with stealth, sneaking your way like an assassin would or you can jump in and chase the target round a city in an endless loop as the A.I falls apart. GTA IV, I could go on a epic rampage through Liberty City fighting off cop cars and helicopters or I could just sit on the other side of a door with a shotgun .
I think you get the point, when the player element and choice is added into a game then itís ability to deliver cinematic content is greatly reduced. So what is the answer, well I am afraid there is really own one answer: become the actor in the scene. To be cinematic will require a certain amount of role-playing, no different to how an actor would be directed by script and choreography. As far as games go there is only a certain amount that the developer can give you. They will set the scene, give you the characters personality and motivation but it's up to you to live the experience.
One of the new avenues for games in recent times has been a focus on user created content. Whilst mod tools have been around for many years they have been limited to a small PC audience. Now though, the idea of the end user creating their own game content has hit the forefront of many games and marketing campaigns. From something advanced like Little Big Planet to the ever so simple tool of Mii creation. Involving the user in their own games and then sharing that with other people has become another check box that game developers need to consider in their projects. It is all about building a community that essentially makes the game live and breath without the developers needing to pump out their own content to occupy people.
Another area of community focus is the interaction of players and developers, this has led to the creation of community managers and developer specific forums. However, is a push for games to have a community the very thing that is killing the prospect for community?
Take Little Big Planet; play, create, share are the foundations of this game. Media Molecule provided a fair amount of levels on disk but the intention has always been for people to feed off of each other. In theory this is a good idea, you have people who just want to play but you also have those who yearn to create. A well balanced system should be the result of such a set up but it has turned out to be something quite different. The community produced levels are rife with inappropriate content, copyrighted material and scenarios designed to obtain specific in game trophies. The great levels out there, and they do exist, simply get lost on the latter pages with little to no playtime and then fade into insignificance. A community has been created but it is one of exploit, immaturity and irresponsibility. A game that should have been a sign post for where community gaming can go has instead been dragged down by the very community it attempted to inspire.
In fact, the majority of the time a community thrives is when there is a lack of community focus in the first place. Step back to around the year 2000 and there were endless seas of fan sites for games, each of them harbouring their own communities, built out of nothing more than peoples desire to discuss the game at hand. Yes they were the hardcore but at least people went there with a purpose and very rarely strayed from it. That landscape is a very different one today, very few fan sites exist that hold any substantial community. Gaming discussion is mostly centred around a few forums and popular gaming outlets which should bring that community sense to a grander scale but has in turn only bred fanboy behaviour, immaturity and a lack of respect.
A recent example of this would be an incident that occurred over at the Criterion Games forums. The developer was attacked by the community for moving to a paid DLC format for their upcoming Burnout Paradise expansions. Groups of people also decided to post illicit and inappropriate images onto the forums as a sad protest. This resulted in a statement from Alex Ward the studios creative director saying:
ĎOK. It seems there are several members of the ďcommunityĒ who seem to enjoy messing things up for others rather than just enjoying the game.
Enough is enough. Weíre done with coming to our forum and seeing a small minority of ďmembersĒ coming to post offensive and abusive posts.
And many of you seem to be participants of this behaviour.
(Yes we do read all of your other forums, and see how you enjoy causing trouble.)
So hereís the deal - either this stuff stops TODAY or WE WILL STOP ALL INTERACTION going forward.
This means everything - no podcast, no forum, no blog, nothing.
It really is up to you guys. But we donít need this.í
So, a developer which opened itís arms to the community and encouraged a two way dialogue became subject to attack and general stupidity from itís Ďfansí. In a industry that is very closed and on a very strict time table in terms of releasing information Criterion stepped up and involved the community by giving any information that was available. So yet again an attempt to foster community has resulted in immaturity and irresponsibility.
So even though these are isolated incidences it does have a pessimistic outlook for any future focus on community, itís an ironic situation and something that I donít think should be met with the excuse ĎItís the internet, deal with ití. The internet has become as serious as the physical world and it is perhaps time that the inhabitants changed with that. The tools are there, lets use them correctly and actually benefit the experience we are meant to support or we could just make the umpteenth penis joke, itís your call.
The games industry has in recent years been praised for it's cinematic presentation, dollar earning potential but above all it's ability to bring top class entertainment interactively. If you take a look at the past year and consider what players have actually experienced then it is quite astounding. For me personally I have killed mob bosses, lost a princess, sunk a city, become a world class defense attorney and died in my fair share of world wars; all in the space of 12 months. Where else can someone do that in a couple of hours after work? Film and books offer escapism but you are always a passive observer to the action that plays out in front of you. You never get to pull that trigger, make that tackle, run that guy off the road or jump for that last available ledge to save you from peril. Video games are the only bastion available to people who wish to experience something that would be unlikely to happen to them in the real world. Yet has the medium reached a boundary in which to deliver interactive entertainment?
I'm not talking about graphics, photorealism isn't anywhere near but will be attained at some point in the future and the current standard is more than enough to produce convincing worlds. Sound is achievable depending on how much money you want to spend on a surround sound system and display technology will always improve. So that leaves us with two barriers which we need to overcome; input device and game play. Nintendo has given us a remote in which to accurately recreate the most simple of gestures but lacks any advanced level of recognition. The rest of the field are content to leave us with something familiar, comfortable and a working solution for what is currently on offer. So where should we be looking for controls to take us in the future? A holodeck like experience is something I doubt will exist until the latter part of this century and whilst the ultimate goal, it is still just a pipe dream at best. I shall instead focus on the next 10 to 15 years worth of what will probably be a game experience very similar to the current one. i.e. couch, big T.V and controller.
Touch is my main bet for the next control revolution, haptic feedback to simulate push, weight and even temperature would be something to look for. I imagine this all to be contained in a controller that consists of two parts, one for each hand. Imagine playing a new Gears of War; pull a trigger to lift a shield and cover your face, feel it push its weight back against you, the bottom of your hand gets cold as you hold it's metal structure and in your other hand you feel the controller pull away as your fire off some rounds from your pistol. These are physical sensations that can all be felt without having to point a remote at a screen or wave you hands about in random motions. We already have simple applications of such ideas being used today. You pull a trigger to fire a gun, you can use a stick to change gears and you press buttons to interact with keypads. Simple yet often overlooked things that add to the immersion, in fact they are often overlooked because they mimic it so well. It will be these small physical interactions that take the realism presented on the screen to realism in your hands.
Next is game play, where can that go? Well first stop is a truly open world, say my overall objective is to kill a target. Mr X lives in a busy area of town and in a very expensive apartment, he runs a multinational crime organization and is a very hard man to reach. GTA follows something similar but it can only be tackled in one way, you work your way through various associates, related groups and family members until you reach a main guy. Now this plays into the theme of the games themselves and thus wouldn't be a strange approach to take given the situation. However what if I could go and gather enough wealth and buy an apartment in the same block, kill the guy in his sleep. Take a job as a caterer and take my chances at his daughters wedding. I could become friends with a bus driver whom drives along the same route Mr X takes everyday, we go out one night and get totally wasted which then causes our friend to be incompetent at the wheel resulting in him t-boning Mr X in his car the following morning . I may also decide to reach a peak of physical fitness, grab some guns and take my chances walking straight in through the front door. How about starting my own crime syndicate and become rivals which results in a city wide gang war as I get my henchmen to do my dirty work. The possibilities are endless, I could even decide i don't care about retribution and simply work my 9-5 down the local supermarket have a family and let Mr X die of old age. Now some of those ideas are more enticing than the others but you can't argue that being given such freedom would be to the detriment of the game playing experience. Now all of those ideas would increase game development time exponentially and be both impractical and near impossible when you consider technological limitations, man power and quite simply financial backing. You can however safely say that if something was to come along that could offer such freedom then it would be the pinnacle of interactive entertainment as we know it.
Currently the industry is trying to emulate film with it's big games. Deep worlds that have established characters, places and rules of the world they exist within. We are limited by story, context and whilst this is a compelling side of games it is linear by nature. The interactivity is limited only by the path that is set out before you. I'm not suggesting the abolishment of these sort of games, they themselves are still evolving and will reach a point of excellence themselves and maybe that is something I shall focus on in another post. However if you think of recent games that have tried to emphasize an open world; Fallout 3, Fable 2, Assassins Creed, Mass Effect and GTA IV you realize they truly lack that open ended nature. If you could apply but a few of the ideas mentioned above then imagine how deep, interesting and real your experience could be. Combined with a control scheme that engages you in these activities and you begin to reach a level of realism that visual presentation cannot not substitute.
I look forward to seeing where developers take their next steps in bringing the medium to the height that it can achieve. I shall enjoy the ride we take to get there and I can't begin to image the ideas that people of greater creativity than I will be able to come up with, I hope you all enjoy it to.
The hive mind can be a brilliant thing, answers can be obtained quickly and problems solved in minutes. People can rally for one cause or another and groups can be formed to support or oppose the smallest decision. When the hive is in agreement and overwhelming correct then nearly anything can be achieved, within context of course. The problem arises when the hive isn't right and it rolls on through making the wrong judgement because people are to afraid to speak out. You then get a roll on effect of people whom choose to be different purely for difference sake. Fighting with ridiculous logic and without purpose other than to play devils advocate, even when the general consensus is actually right. Take Too Human for example, full of promise, hype, anticipation and also fundamental failings. The game universally panned by regular people and critics too yet there were those people who claim it to be an amazing game. I'm not putting the game down to a level of Yaris but it is a very poor game that garnered a large amount of the aforementioned 'be different' crowd. So lets look at the wider effect on the games community from this phenomenon.
Recently I have found myself to be picking up games that you could call 'safe'. The big guns, AAA titles are all I am really willing to put my money down on. I know the content, the package is guaranteed and 9 times out of 10 I will be a happy customer, I wasn't always this way though. Games like Killer 7, Ico and Rez sit happily in my game collection, each bought at full price on launch but the thing they all have in common? I've spent no more than a couple of hours with each of them and why? Because they simply aren't very good games. They are competent, I'm not saying they are trash, they just aren't up to standard with what else is out there now or at their time of release. Now I know each of those games has quite a substantial following or at least there is enough people to have a strong admiration for them to warrant their existence. My query is are people just supporting these games because they want to be different?
All of those games and many like them use either 'stylistic' visuals or radically different slants on gameplay and control. Yet all of them are broken in many ways that people seem to forgive purely on the grounds of them being 'different'. Ico takes games worst mechanic, escort missions and turns it into a whole game. Killer 7 just has the worst controls to ever grace a game of any type and Rez just screams of over simplification and repetition. These are all basic things that all larger games will get shot down for in an instance. These games bring out the people who hail it for some life changing message that other people 'just don't understand'. These are the same people who argue games like Gears of War and Resistance to be 'generic'. Whilst those two games each play it safe they both add so much to a their genres that they are far from generic. In fact the only recent example of where a game took a niche concept in both gameplay and artistic style then actually made it work was Braid. It works on all levels and actually manages to substantiate it's overarching message with a solid experience that will bring most people to the conclusion intended. Something like No More Heroes on the other hand, well it's Killer 7 part 2 in everything but name. I got to rank 6 in that game and just stopped, your fighting controls, the world and the gameplay all the way through. Yet it oozes with so much other stuff that sets it apart but isn't enough to save it from mediocrity.
So my point is this? There are so many games that try to stand out with things that in the gaming world just fall flat on their face. Yet plenty of people will support the broken mechanics to their death. I'm not suggesting we should not have such games, a sterile range of titles that stick to known quantities is hardly an exciting prospect. I just don't understand the constant praise some of these games get. It can be done correctly and when it is then the overall package is nearly flawless, which is probably a testament to how ambitious the titles themselves are in the first place.
So I throw it out to you guys? Do you find yourself playing it safe with your game purchases or will you buy that niche title just because the hive mind of the gaming community says it is amazing? Do you buy titles simply based on the fact they are different or just your personal craving for difference that draws you to such titles.
In the past 2-3 years the games industry has passed over the proverbial cusp that had prevented it from reaching mainstream appeal. Look only as far back as the launch of the Xbox 360 and games would be simply shot down as a hobby of anti-socialites and geeks. The medium as a whole was the equivalent of a dark ally that an onlooker wouldn't dare stroll down alone. Fast forward to today and it's hard to escape the uprising of fascination with the worlds most promising entertainment form. Everything from advertising, announcements as well as the products themselves have become mainstream events and spectacles.
This is the beginning steps of gaming becoming part of the larger world both in financial relevance and the life of the average Joe. Games are being mentioned in the same breath as top tier films and books, being compared to art and various literature. It is set to take it's place as a prominent form of entertainment. There are however a few things that are holding it back, small hurdles that need to be overcome. I shall now suggest three changes that the Games Industry as a whole should make to cement it's social acceptance and cultural relevance.
1 Ė Definitive media outlets
World news has the BBC, CNN and the New York Times. Film has Empire and IMDB, Music has Rolling Stone and NME. All of these are well established and respected sources for people outside of the subject they hold personal interest in. The games industry has Kotaku? Gamespot? Eurogamer? There isn't one site or even a few out there who I would personally dare send an outsider to the gaming world into, not even Destructoid fits the bill. I'm not saying these sites are bad, far from it . Each of those sites above, as well as others serve the 'inner' games industry perfectly. There is an abundant amount of rumour, speculation, news and community in each of these websites. They were born from the very communities that surround them and thus feed their needs and desires better than anywhere else. The media space that Games occupy today is a world of 24/7 information and connectivity where the audience are chomping at the bit for any sort of new information. However as we take this next step into mainstream acceptance we must gather our forces so to speak, and present this incoming wave of people with a form factor they find familiar and comfortable in. More traditional sources are starting to emerge to a wider audience, Edge Magazine and GarmaSutra are key examples of a more friendly, integrity based outlet for people to visit not just for people in the industry but those out of it. It is with sources like these that a more widely respected credibility and itegrity can be given to the games industry and those who report on it.
2 Ė Development of inner personalities
You see the photos of the latest film premier or music award show and they are full of stars and professionals from that industry. Game events? Full of uninterested, unrelated and more often than not ignorant 'celebrities'. Give me Cliff Blezinski, Peter Molyneux, Hideo Kojima and others who are spear heading their product but also lets see the artists, programmers, sound guys and everyone else who made the project possible. Games don't need to piggyback on the whim of pop culture 'celebrities' from the latest reality show nor some C-list celebrity whose only line is 'Oh yeah, I totally played Pacman back in the day'. These products are made by groups of ridiculously talented people who shouldn't be undermined by a select group of people who are only related to the subject matter because they walked past a video game at one point.
Respect and congratulations should be given to the people who worked their 70 odd hour weeks for the past 2 years. Let the industry grow it's own celebrity characters from the rich pool of people that exist within it's walls and let the world see that it isn't a just bunch of pasty, spotty guys unfamiliar with the concept of hygiene.
3 Ė Maturity amongst the community
My third and final point is probably the most pivotal of all. There is no point in bringing in these new people to the community if they are only to met with racism, sexism and generally appalling behaviour. Unfortunately with interaction and communication a strictly internet based affair the games community has fallen into a place where bad language and discrimination are common place. A situation which is often ridiculously rationalised by people as 'It's the internet, deal with it'. Well the truth is that no, we don't have to 'deal' with it and for a hobby in which the participants average in the late 20's you would expect something more. The outsider population that will be venturing in is very unlikely to be accepting of these 'standards' either. It is a reflection that represents the internet landscape as whole, it's a place where people have the opportunity to build global communities with a shared interest but more often than not it degenerates into childish name calling. This is the main facet of the games industry that needs to change, production and development is full of professional people but it is the audience itself that lowers the standard. If we the community can become more inviting as well as more respectful to the people here already then the overall gaming atmosphere will improve greatly.
I am by no means suggesting a quick fix for any of these problems and they will more than likely not happen for a long time or at all. However there are people out there who have the ability to make these changes, be it for financial or creative incentives. Any of these changes will only result in a positive outcome for everybody involved. So it is with these three simple steps that I think will lift the perception, importance and relevance of gaming in the future.
Where do you think the industry stands? What would you suggest if you could make some changes?
On a side not my fellow D-toiders, I shall now be blogging on a friends site www.hideandgeek.com. I will basically be mirroring my posts from there on this blog here but a couple of days later. The site mainly deals with feature writings, news commentary and impressions with the occasional review thrown in for good measure. So if you wouldn't mind sending some love over to hideandgeek.com with simple things such as story comments then that will be greatly appreciated.
As we sit in the seventh generation of consoles we have nearly come to the end of the road as far as perfecting the way certain things should be done. Take the platforming genre; the once wave upon wave of platform titles has whittled it's way down to a handful; Mario, Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter, Tomb Raider are all thats left of the genre. Each has perfected it's own style, game play from either gradual improvement during sequels or by borrowing elements from each other. The reason for this is that the platforming genre has got it down to a tee on how to create a good platforming game. You want the best automatic camera then take Mario 64, you want to make the setting futuristic then look at Ratchet and Clank. Well established codes of conduct that equal success within the platforming world. So why is it then that this trend does not continue throughout the rest of the games industry? In both hardware and software there have been various precedents set that just seem to fall to wayside for something else that just doesn't work as well.
This whole topic came about after my recent playtime with both Metal Gear Solid 4 and Dark Sector. Now both of these games include a cover system and both try to implement it in two different ways. Dark Sector's system borrows heavily from Gears of War, in fact you could say it is a blatant rip off. So why then after Gears of War perfected the cover system for 3rd person shooters do the team at Digital Extremes decide to unnecessarily change it. For those unaware, in Dark Sector once in cover you are able to move around in context sensitive ways just like Gears by using the 'A' button, except for the fact that if you want to vault over an object the button becomes 'B' instead of 'A' which is used for every other action from that position. It's an unnecessary addition that just ends up confusing the player who already knows how that part should play.
Now Metal Gear Solid 4 is a different kettle of fish, not such a heavy action orientated game and one that uses cover in a slightly different way. The thing is that in MGS 4 they have also tried to use a similar system to Gears of War but in a much slower environment. This however just doesn't work, a lot cover use in Metal Gear revolves around being in cover to move around undetected and then break out a specific moments and move to the next secluded area. This is where a context sensitive face button just doesn't work. So what you end up with in MGS 4 is a cover system that is broken and not fit for purpose, no truer is this seen than in the multiplayer. There does however currently exist a cover system for a game that is slow paced, more tactical and that is called Rainbow Six Vegas. Pop in and pop out all dealt with a squeeze that is much more applicable to slow games, the standard was set, take advantage and use it.
Another example is one that is quite prevalent in the thoughts of Wii and PlayStation 3 owners and that is how to do online properly. Forget your thoughts on whether you should have to pay for the service or not and just focus on the service itself. Microsoft has gotonline implementation on consoles completely sewn up. There is no questioning that Xbox Live is the standard for what online gaming on consoles should be like. So why when both the Wii and PlayStation 3 launch a year later do neither system have a competent online structure. I could write a full article on the differences between the three services but I am sure that you all know these already. Thus I am just going to list the differences which I feel are blindingly obvious.
- Ability to send and receive messages whilst in game
- Having to install demos after downloading
- Agreeing to online terms and conditions before commencing play
- Unified friends list
Now I know some of you will point out the fact that some of these will be addressed on the PS3 in an upcoming firmware. However this argument is null and void for the reason I stated earlier that the PS3 launched after the Xbox and Microsoft's cards had been on the table for a year already. You could even argue that there plans had been known for 5 years. I personally cannot understand why Sony did not just take a good thing, put there own twist on it and run with it. Would it be ripping of Microsoft? Yes, probably but the system works and is clearly the superior product.
To keep this article a reasonable length I shall dispense with the hardware comparisons as I am sure you can begin to understand where I would be heading. Now you may argue that if everyone was to simply follow everyone else then there would be no innovation and the genres would become stale and boring. As mentioned at the top of this post there exists a genre that has taken game ideas that are successful and run with them but with their own differentiating factor. This far into the games industry's life we should not have to put up with substandard game mechanics and neither should developers/publishers be willing to put them in. It is extremely frustrating as gamer to use one type of system that works flawlessly but then in another game be forced to use something that is clearly not up to scratch. It's not hard to do and I can't see developers being unaware of these sort of things happening, all you would need is a play test from a well versed gamer. Lets promote Intelligent evolution of standards that can only make games better and deliver a clear, precise and most importantly an enjoyable experience.