SOCIALNORMS LOVES Final Fantasy VI, VII, IX and X
Myth: The Fallen Lords & Soulblighter
Resident Evil series (minus six...)
Donkey Kong Country
River City Ransom
Midnight Club series
Metal Gear 1 and 3 (the others can die a postmodern, narcissistic death)
Mixed Martial Arts
Playing online with friends
This evening I played a little over an hour of the Reach beta with my roommate and friend. What's different? Not much, but I'll touch on what I noticed and then add color with a blast from my filthy opinius.
Fewer Cocks. For now, that is. Another friend, account name "Authorities," suggested a reason: many of the real dickheads aren't there yet because they don't have codes. They didn't buy ODST because they don't play Halo for the story. They play Halo to feel like they're good at "sports." They'll be there for the major release. But for now, it's pretty quiet.
Hard to read. Whoever their graphic designer is, I should send him/her/it a graphic design book that explains why you don't decrease your leading to -15 and use sans serif, bright white fonts on a dark textured background. Text is really freaking hard to read. I know it's supposed to look all futuristic/sterile, but really guys, I want to be able to read my teammates' tags on the map. And navigate the menus without squinting.
Character classes. Like battlefield, or Modern Warfare, or whatever. Four for the Spartan, two for the elites. These have some effect on starting equipment (for the elites) and provide one of the following to the Spartans: The rocket pack, the invincibility pose (it's about Tai Chi, after all), Invisibility with the hearing impairment that happens when you're underwater, or...the ability to run. Which was usually what I chose, because I figured out the maps faster than the other players and would sprint to a good position off the bat. Kind of like paintball.
Graphics look like ODST. Which is to say, not as good as Halo 3. A little rough, even. This is probably a beta thang.
Fewer shots to die. When you're caught out in the open, you're more or less screwed this time. Which makes the power weapons less powerful in the scheme of things.
Grenade blast radius is increased. Maybe not to original Halo range, but it's there. Know what else is back?
Insurance. Not sure anybody else uses this term, but it's the tactic of throwing a grenade as you die. In Halo 3, the grenade would magically disappear, so this went away. But it's back in the beta.
Assassinations. You get stabbed in the back and stuff. I only found this irritating. A KICK ME sign would be more fun. Oh yeah, and I found myself given more time to kill enemy players when they were busy in the assassination animation. I usually left a friendly grenade at their feet.
I'm excited to find out what others think. All in all, it's not terribly "innovative," but as Xyzliac pointed out in her excellent blog on that topic, that's not always necessary. I, for one, had a pretty awesome time playing tonight. Looking forward to more of this good thing, even if it's largely the same thing.
In 1999, a handful of demos included on a disc within Myth: The Total Codex included a video for another new direction Bungie Studios was taking. The idea behind it was to improvise using a small force of humans to survive on an open, alien world. The implication was you would be warrior-badass and play as force commander, making decisions as on a chessboard rather than gliding down a predefined hallway, shooting baddies. As with its predecessor, it was a lofty concept, and like its predecessor, it had some of the very best minds behind it.
In 2000, Microsoft acquired Bungie, and that project changed. It became a first-person shooter alone. What complexity and historical depth came with Myth did not follow with the Halo series. Fortunately the level of gameplay quality did not suffer, perhaps because both companies knew gameplay was key.
Still, Bungie's then CEO Alex Seropian told stories about running interference between Microsoft and his creative team. Initially, he reported being given a lot of creative freedom, but that changed later on.
If you're a Halo nerd, as I am, you may remember the initial preview for Halo 2. I still maintain that is what Halo should have been - the same, but with more depth. As the Master Chief walked through the Marine hospital, marines could be heard trying to fix up the wounded. When he entered the combat zone, marines were interacting. "Is it dead?" one asked. A grenade went off. "You tell me!" another shouted back. Simple and sublime.
When the game was released, little of that initial charm remained. Its replacement was mostly a cartoon with dialogue distilled into the simplest formula. It was worse than hokey. But the quality gameplay remained, along with the soundtrack that was too good for the story, and it remained enjoyable.
What happened? I suspect "market targeting" happened.
Others here have already argued as much, saying the target marketing will continue to provide games for obnoxious kids, but we'll benefit because the games will remain enjoyable. It's true they will make money, it's true that will be good for business. It is cynical, submissive and pathetic, however, to sacrifice the quality of your favorite media to the same phenomenon that turns out 30 Rock and "The Bounty Hunter."
Why not hope for extended gameplay and memorable moments? Why not ask for memorable characters and broader environments? And why not demand quality?
The absence of these virtues is not a guaranteed result of Bungie's deal with Activision. Another incarnation of Seropian may run interference against Activision to prevent it from becoming as generic as Call of Duty. But as you've seen from other IP's absorbed by Activision, that's not typically the case. There is reason to be skeptical. And there is reason to lament the bloating of what was once a fast and ferocious company.
I'll finish with an anecdote on corporate entropy. Two days ago I found a problem with some of my company's product. Essentially, instead of having a button for users to switch between two screens of the interface, the developer has placed a large, unlabeled rectangle. It's so unintuitive that it's essentially an Easter Egg. When I reported this inadequacy, I was met with nothing but resistance.
I think I can name three or four Dtoiders who could label a button and tie it into the back end of a SQL-based product in less than a day. Maybe less than an hour.
The woman in charge of this has had four years to make this thing work. She gets paid over $65,000 for this. Her boss likely makes over $80,000. But neither of them wanted to both this week, or even this month, to make the product better. Because they don't have to. They're going to get their money either way.
Is that what you want your favorite game developers doing?
Last night I tried Splinter Cell: Conviction, playing a bit of co-op and watching my compadre blaze through single player. I was not impressed.
1. The Story
Everyone has heard it's a Bourne ripoff, but obviously the creators knew it, and all you can see is them winking at the Bourne movies while muttering "no homo" to themselves. Sam Fisher wears the same sweater as Jason in The Bourne Identity. The head baddie wears a jacket like Conklin. We have past trauma. We have the same flavor of music, except created in Garage Band by a high school student.
It gets worse. The storytelling method is like your aunt trying to show you pictures of her vacation in Reno and expecting you to feel excitement over a picture of her smoking cigarettes in front of a slot machine. The whole "Sam's daughter" thing is the opposite of touching, too. She looks like a Chucky doll with a giant head.
Seeing Sam or Archer or Kestrel beat the shit out of somebody every time they don't kill them gets repetitive. Hearing the baddies make cliche comments about being bad gets repetitive. Having every interaction with another character be a life or death ultraviolent situation reduces the story below TV quality. It's like watching 24, except without everybody being attractive and mysteriously well-groomed. Cliche, cliche, cliche, forced titillation, cliche.
2. Level Design
You're in a box. Not peeking out of a box, either; you're in a giant box filled with smaller boxes and scraps of paper, and there isn't much room for creativity. You can move through this part the way they suggest, with the obvious pipe overhead, or you can engage the enemy in a gunfight and come out unscathed in your bulletproof sweater. You can't go outside and go around, you can't disguise yourself, you can't blow the power to the building, etc, etc. It honestly feels like a side-scroller.
3. Character Design
How many times have we seen the guys in black specwarrior gear, carrying all the latest technotoys? Can we move past the fetishization of all that shit and get to some worthwhile characters? This isn't Modern Warfare 2. The guns don't make the man.
Further, Sam walks like an animal. His head bobs from side to side while his arms hang like starched neckties. The Japanese are right to criticism character movement in American games. Most of it is seriously lacking. And after all these years!
4. Hand to hand combat
They really tried here. I remember in the first game, when a guy was shooting the shit out of your face with an AK at point blank, you had to patiently perform a "forearm shiver" twice to knock him out. Now they do arm grabs where the victim instantly compliant, and one elbow to the cheek automatically knocks out an adrenaline-charged opponent. Uh-huh. Studying the martial arts makes me more skeptical, but things look a lot more believable in games like MGS3 and RE5, where enemies struggle and blows look realistic.
5. Gun combat
Now you can automatically kill everyone in the room without doing anything. You just sit back and watch. Talk about taking the fun out of it. Also, you aren't likely to snap-headshot somebody at forty yards holding a pistol like a paintball gun. Yes, it looks like it would be badass, but anybody who's ever shot a pistol knows they require steady finesse, to say the least.
Girls don't talk to you. They don't even make eye contact with you. The High School Football Team has a habit of shoving your head in the urinals because it's less work than the full fledged toilet, and urinal cakes leave enough evidence on your angry face to inform everyone that you are at the bottom of the social totem pole. You don't entirely understand why they target you, because you're not really a nerd, you have no technical expertise or passion; the only thing you can claim as your own is 1) A whole lot of acne and 2) An XBox Live account named "xxXsNiPErDiCkXxx".
And now you have a third bid at justifying your meaningless existence: a lag switch.
You log on to Halo 3 now, because the monitors at Modern Warfare 2 know you and your kind somehow, though you're not sure how; maybe it's the way you slur "fa**ot" and "ni**er" at people, but everybody talks that way, unless they're gay. Your two buddies and that one little kid who thinks he's your buddy are already on, and you enter matchmaking together. This is going to be good. You're going to get back at Tim Rawlins the quarterback by totally pwning these fags and newbs.
You get a match set up. The three and a half of you immediately start talking about things you actually know nothing about: sex, weird sex positions, and your favorite hilarious topic, homosexuals. The little kid on your team, when not laughing too much at everything you say, reads the name of everyone on the other team and says "gay" immediately afterward, although you notice he mispronounces "Angry Liberals" with "Liberahs."
Angry Liberals and the other guy, Minority Fees, start talking back, except they sound really nasally, and they're complaining to their moms in the background, and they're talking about how people pick on them at school. It all sounds so close to home. And then you realize they're mocking you. You instinctively swing back, using your two attacks, saying what you'll do to their moms and calling them fags. You've heard these insults thousands of times before, and because they're the only insults you've heard, you can't think of any other way to respond.
The game begins. It's close. Angry Liberals and Minority Fees can be heard telling their team where your teammates are. Your teammates are getting frustrated, but because you camped the rocket launcher, and because the other team had a betrayer, you managed to keep the score nearly even. Now it's 47-42 them, and the time has come. You put one hand down your pants and the other on your lag switch. You push that mac'n'cheese sullied button and count to three, wary of Bungie's lazy software having a four second monitor. While the other team is force to run into walls aimlessly, you assassinate them, take their weapons and recharge your shields. After another minute you put your hand back down your pants again, because you've won, and the feeling of power is shuddering through all one and a half inches of you.
This is happening a lot now when I play Halo 3. I suppose, given the demographic, I'm just "asking for it," but that doesn't justify it. As hated as this game is, I really enjoy it, and it's really disappointing to find that one in four matches has something either subtle or blatantly obvious happen with the connection. Occasionally the user gets kicked from the match, but most of the time they're successful.
Is this the future of gaming? Or is it just a jerks on Halo thing? If you Google "lag switch" you get instant explanation and pictures of the damn things. Mr. Minority Fees tells me WoW has countermeasures to this. I'm hoping Halo: Reach will have something, but I'm not holding my breath. It's gotten bad.
4. Play WoW or other PC games secretly in your room until 2 a.m., get up at 6 a.m. to work shitty job for 10 hours
5. Come home, log on, receive call from girlfriend, fake yawning to get her off the phone, tell her how hard your job is and how it tires you out, tell her you're heading straight to bed, resume gaming until 2 a.m.
6. Occasionally bring girlfriend home, lay around exhausted, blame it on the job, fall asleep on her, snore, be awakened by angry girlfriend, take her home, return, resume gaming until 2 a.m.
7. Occasionally bring girlfriend home, sit and watch roommate play video games instead of taking her out on the town or playing a game or talking
8. Actively hide addiction from roommate, collapsing the screen when playing WoW, not communicating when playing Age of Empires, putting pillow/blanket at foot of door to conceal monitor light
9. Only perk up from gaming when offered different medium of gaming
10. Leave all housework to roommate, eat frozen pizzas and drink pop all day
11. Become the embodiment of one of life's grand mysteries that you used to muse: why girls stick around for guys like you