I kinda feel a little self conscious writing this because it seems a bit self-referential, but whatever. I knew the question would come out wrong on Podtoid, so allow me to clarify. The question I asked boiled down to:
When or how will there be a videogame equivalent of The Godfather?
I wasn't trying to make a point about meaningful story. What I was trying to say is that developers aren't really gearing games towards adults. They're making them for kids or teens. You can see a world of difference between the audiences that go to see films like Power Rangers and Hotel Rwanda. Compare Halo to Half Life 2 however, and there's no immediate difference between the intended audiences of each game. Adults can still enjoy games made or marketed for/at kids, that’s one of the many strengths of the medium. The problem is that the divide between a kiddie experience and a real iconic mature game is almost negligible. I’m sorry to make the comparison; I really am, because I don’t think games should be “like films”. I’m trying to highlight a possible problem that might have gone unnoticed. We all talk about story and meaning and immersion in games, but I think real mature intellect is something that is mostly overlooked.
Beyond Good & Evil, my personal Best Game Evar is a gaming masterpiece in terms of cinematic quality, but there is no doubting that the story is childishly simple. Mass Effect has an excellent complexity in its characters, scripting such varied emotions such as self doubt, assertiveness, apathy, excitement, discomfort, playfulness, hopelessness, distaste and unease, but it all goes to waste on the senseless and clichéd ending. Even Bioshock had a forgettable, almost cowardly ending, like the developers wimped out of making a powerful or memorable point because it would alienate everyone but the 3 non-teens for whom the game was marketed at.
I could have chosen any number of varied films for comparison, but my example was The Godfather. At the risk of sounding like a pretentious bastard, here’s why. This is the opening scene of The Godfather Part II:
This scene shows the funeral procession for the murdered father of Vito Andolini, the boy who would grow up to become The Godfather; Vito Corleone. What should be a solemn and peaceful scene is interrupted but a gunshot. The eldest son (the brother of Vito) is murdered there and then to prevent him from taking revenge. The petrified mother, who has already lost two of the most important people in her life, begs the Don of the local town to not murder her youngest son. He kills her.
Years later and after much character development, Vito returns to this place to get his revenge, to get the revenge that the audience wants him to have. But after all this time, Don Ciccio is an old man - senile, barely capable of hearing, let alone responding to the bewildering queries of foreign men. He barely remembers the man who is going to kill him. It almost feels like cheating.
This is the kind of maturity I would like to see, not just in video game story writing, but in overall design. I want to see a game that doesn’t play like a baby toy, a game that isn’t designed with a teen demographic in mind - in other words, a game that could make me feel all smart because a teenager wouldn’t get it.
But then again, I am only 20. And a pretentious git. Maybe I should go to bed.
Last time I said that Shit be unreal. Right now, Shit be dipping its toe in the waters of real, wearing gold plated armbands of respect and wearing jewel encrusted goggles of some other hip-hop term I’m not down with. Simply, this one is better than the last one, but not as good as the next one.
Computer and Video Games is up next. From issue #198, May ’98, they write:
“Apparently, Sony wants to make the Playstation 2 more than a mere games machine and reports suggest that the PS2 team are working with Microsoft’s Web TV developers to add Internet brosing capabilities to the console.”
What’s more, I hear that it can play NES cartridges and circumvent the issue of accelerating to light speed. It can even read future formats, foreseeing the technology that is yet to come and assimilating it into the console’s library, such as the interstellar spaceman format known only as “Bluu Rai”.
Actually, that last one is bollocks. But to its credit, the article does back up its rumour with evidence, going on to mention something about the then-unannounced Emtion engine and Ken Kutaragi’s intentions for the console, so the article isn’t just speculative drivel. Unfortunately, it’s all for bollocks when you look to the left and see a mock up of the GBC, apparently capable of playing Banjo Kazooie.
I don’t like games magazines at all. The price is a major off-put, they are slow - often weeks late with the big news and they are no better written than most online publications. The additional numerous mistakes and typos are like the few specs of rodent droppings on an already out of date, undercooked, over expensive gourmet meal. With magazines, you’re paying for all the ancillary dressing like the feel of the paper or the interesting presentation, even though the substance is significantly less... substantial.
On the other, more comedic hand, presumably a hand that wears pink nail varnish and a sock puppet, this all actually gives them value. It becomes a like a glass-bottomed boat, looking back into the past when people said stupid things to sell subscriptions. The Internet has a notoriously short memory, something that developers and publishers and even retailers use to the best of the ability, but you can’t forget print. It’s always there; a track record of all the ridiculous bollocks that we once believed. Hence the reason why I’m starting this shit with Left 4 Dead.
Games TM is a nice mag. They did a Top 100 Video Games Special that I bought because it had an article about Beyond Good and Evil and no other reason, but then again, that’s the same reason I signed up to Desturctoid. Near the end, there is a “Games of the Future” section with an article about Left 4 Dead. But critically lacking information, the writers had to embellish a little. It reads like this:
“Essentially, Left 4 Dead is an MMO Horror game. All four protagonists are controlled by humans, of course, but the zombies can also be controlled by real people.”
As many of us know, Left 4 Dead was built on the foundations of Counter Strike: Source. So an MMO from this was a slight stretch of the imagination to say the least, and the game we have today is exclusively a co-op experience that holds only a rudimentary correlation with MMO gaming. A simple but stark portrayal of how print can fuck you over when you tell lies, sure, but shit be nowhere near reals yet. Boy, shit ain’t even simulated.
Arena Wars is fun, attractive and simple, yet infinitely replayable. Put simply, it’s what Unreal Tournament would be like if it was an RTS. The true depth, however, is something you experience by playing it. It isn’t a Triple A title, but it is budget software at its best - sort of like if XBLA was on a computer, if you could imagine that.
The way with the typical RTS is to use pretty explosions and the unspoken promise of tank rushes to lure in the average gamer, then him them with a steep learning curve that they will feel compelled to master despite the fact that it will take many years. From here, you just keep them coming back for expansion packs and sequels until it’s the only game they ever play. Sometimes, this journey is fun for the player, but there is a small renegade group of RTS games who do things differently, giving the player a small and manageable handful of elements to work with, like throwing a few random household objects at the feet of a small, perplexed child and observing their next move. This can be fun also.
By removing substantial amounts from the classic model, it serves the dual purpose of A) making the development cycle shorter, easier and more realistic, and B) making the game easier and more fun to play (and also, cheaper). These games are a refreshing break from the boredom of your average FPS, yet they still manage to escape the tyranny of more demanding RTSs and find a nice, warm middle ground. Arena Wars fits this category by removing resource collection, base building and storyline and replacing it with FPS elements like Capture the Flag and Bombing Run.
I’ll keep this simple. Here are some things you might like about Arena Wars.
- There is no tech tree, there are no upgrades or promotions, there is no horrible campaign or accompanying voice acting.
- There is only one team, 6 units types and a handful of game modes. But there are still millions of possibilities.
- The AI adapts to your tactics. You will see them attempt to understand your intentions the more you play.
- The soundtrack is great. Well, I think so. If you disagree with me, you can add your own songs to the in game playlist.
- The in-game map editor is as simple as Far Cry’s Ed, yet every dev tool is at your disposal.
- The entire game can be learned in 5 minutes through developer guided tutorials. It placates that feeling of unease you get when you realise you have to put effort in.
- Graphically, it is very scalable. It won’t chug along on your old dead laptop, yet it still looks great on a modern PC.
- The game weighs in at 170 MB; far less than Red Alert 2 even before patches and expansions.
- The entire game loads on startup, which means loading is instant. You choose the map, it loads up faster than a webpage.
- Picture of Bill Bailey to break the monotony (not in game footage).
- You can import your own custom avatar. Just for giggles really, but I liked it.
- All those things you obsessives crave; replays, spectator games, webcam and voice support, all that crap.
- The original game can be purchase dirt cheap from a number of places. Bargain bins, eBay, Goozex - hell, I got mine from Poundland.
- There is a new version of the game out, imaginatively called Arena Wars: Reloaded, if you're interested. Also widely available.
So, there you go. Arena Wars is a game that you can play. This is what we have established. I hope you go away enriched with this knowledge.
A few weeks ago, I was playing through No Mercy on Expert for what was probably the twelfth time, and I realised I wasn’t having any fun any more. This was probably because I had been burning through the same map over and over until my eyes bled and my sperm clawed at the inside of my testes, begging not to condemned to such a sex-starved life.
I’m still playing it, so it’s not like the appeal has worn off just yet, but you may also be feeling the weight of repetition beginning to take its toll, so here are a few completely different things you can do to stave off the stagnation.
1. All 4 Me Otherwise known as “Left 1 Dead” by people with no imagination. All 4 Me has you start a single player game and immediately kick all three bots from the game using the console. You then have to play, not to win or escape, but literally to see how long you can survive without getting pounced, strangled, tanked, paper-cut, fired for lack of work commitment, fired for inadequate health and safety procedure, fired for startling the witch during office hours (including lunch and break hours) or vomited on by a 7-foot tall, morbidly obese telecommunications operator from Redding.
You can choose to fix the boss infected either by entering the server variable “director_no_bosses 1” or simply changing their abilities or spawn frequency for a little more challenge using commands like “director_special_respawn_interval” or “hunter_pounce_ready_range”, but playing it the hard way is a really amazing experience. It may sound sarcastic if I told you that how awesome it is to be instantaneously pinned by the hunter just seconds after an utterly epic and unbelievable man vs tank battle, but it really is an amazing experience, one that only becomes all the more delicious when you actually do manage to complete the level. This is the loneliest way to play Left 4 Dead, and is a highly refreshing experience.
It’s also hilarious to see the credits roll with only your name for every statistic.
2. Puppet the Director Be aware with this one. This follows the classic rule that cheating will cheapen the experience. As I kid, the first thing I did after buying a game was to look for cheats, because they would instantly unlock all the fun in one glorious rush, but it would be over very quickly, leaving me with only the intended, conventional levels of fun to tide me over until my next game. Kinda like eating the icing off a slice of cake. You’ve never had so much fun in a game before, but it may cost you further enjoyment of the game if you don’t know what you are doing.
Fortunately, I do know what I’m doing, so allow me to demonstrate the theory. Start up a single player game now and type into the console “sv_cheats 1” and then “bind mwheeldown z_add”. Now roll your mouse wheel back and forward and watch in awe as you see how far you can push the game before it melts your computer. This is just a fraction of the fun you can have when you screw with the game mechanics. You can, of course, pull the infamous witch trick of spawning a million billion witches in a small space while enjoying the benefits of a good noclip, and watch in awe as they balleticly swarm around your feet. There is more than just spawning zombies of course; you can do pretty much anything you like so long as you find the right command, but I’ve learnt that part of the fun is in the discovery, so I’ll leave you to play with that. I promise, you’ll come away grinning like a mad man.
3. Gun for the Hard Achievements Left 4 Dead has perfect achievements. If anything could be used as conclusive proof that Gamerscore is an arbitrary factor, it would be that the Left 4 Dead achievements are so good and so much fun to get, be they passive or through an investment of effort, that they are more satisfying to get than any of the games I’ve played on the 360.
Gamerscore is good for giving an achievement worth and value; it helps you and others gauge the difficulty of the achievement and thus the amount of effort required and the satisfaction gained. But Left 4 Dead proves that this is a misnomer by designing achievements that are so well intertwined with the gameplay that you know when you or someone else has done something awesome and, without using any words or numbers or multi-coloured rosettes, lets you feel every bit as awesome as you should. I just wish there were more of them.
4. Custom Maps It seems obvious to say with a source game, but custom maps are already in production for Left 4 Dead before the SDK hasn’t even come out yet. Any existing maps can be easily converted and new maps can be prepped in the existing SDK to be ported over at a later date. Speaking of which and considering how easy the Hammer editor is to use, I strongly suggest making your own. Just start by drawing the path in rough blocks, and add the detail as you go. You want the basic route to be satisfying to run, with plenty of twists and turns and depths of sight before anything else.
The community has always been at the forefront of Valve games, with every single game receiving a plethora of mods, maps, skins, gameplay variants, mutators and conversions, but Left 4 Dead can do more with your map. All those Counter Strike maps on FPSBanana are now worth 10 times as much as they were previously. But if you’re still not sold, just imagine this: Left 4 Dead in Portal, with the portal gun. Give it a month.
5. Director Dissection Typing in the command “director_show_intensity 1” while in cheat mode brings up a nice little window on the right-hand side of your screen. This shows you how the director monitors your stress levels. Try playing through a game of Blood Harvest and watch the how the little bars react to how you play. Not only does this give you a fair idea of how the director calculates your stress, not only does it provide you with advanced battlefield strategies and knowledge of the synthetic world around you, but it truly is fascinating to watch the game waver to your actions; to see it weave the gameplay experience around you.
Maybe it’s just me and my love for the design aspect of game design, but I reckon you’ll get a kick out of this too. Try combining it with the cheats as well and see it go spastic when you spawn no less than a million-billions of infected in the safe room while crouched in the corner with an auto-shotgun. Bliss.
6. Endurace Mode This is the most fun you will have with Left 4 Dead. On Act 5 of any level: “director_finale_infinite 1”. Just do it. Incidentally, you might want to bind up “give molotov” to an easily accessed key.
7. Edit: I just Found Another In a single player game, type "director_no_human_zombies 1" into the console. This allows you to play as the infected against bots offline, which is good for devising tactics and practising your wall jumping skills, sure... But combine it with these previous aspects, for example, the ability to spawn infected at will, the ability to force panic events every 12 seconds, the ability to noclip and the ability to increase the difficulty of the finale by an incalculable degree, and you've got possibly the finest gaming experience ever devised.
I ought to point out that I've found a few problems with this. The game is designed to not start until there are players on both teams, and it can become quite a hassle trying to get it to work. You will need to choose your team with M, but this also ends your round, putting you back on the survivors team, so you need to switch back straight away. You also need start the game with the command "director_force_verses_start", but this won't open the locked safe room door. So far, the only way I've found to fix this is to type "ent_fire checkpoint_exit break" in order to make the safe room door disappear. I'll fix this if I find another way. If you're willing to put the effort into getting around these issues, it's definitely worth your time.