Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The state of PC gaming (with a focus on FPS)

In the last few recent years you have probably heard the lines "PC Gaming is dying" or "PC Games are a shrinking market" or something similar on various shows, websites and blogs. This is generally because, when contrasted to the console gaming market, PC gaming does not attract the numbers or revenue that it's less sophisticated and cheaper cousins permit. PC gaming has and probably always will be the most expensive platform for gaming. But for exactly how long? If PC Gaming is apparently supposed to be going round the bend, then from a competitive standpoint it must not have much life left in the old girl. It has been around the longest and as we all know, all good things must come to an end...

Or do they? Now, I don't want to get off on the wrong foot here. I do not 'dislike' console gaming in any sense. I have great respect for both the Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo franchises. To not have an interest and/or understanding of the technologies and feuds between these 'rival' companies would be detrimental to the area of work I hope to get in to in the future (i.e. Game AI). I do in fact have an extensive past console gaming history, starting off with a NES, then many years later a Playstation then PS2 and now recently intend to buy a PS3 simply for Tekken 6 and God of War III alone. I do in fact think that certain genres of console gaming are superior on home consoles than any other platform, including PC and handheld. These genres (fighting, racing, platformers) are usually done extremely well and, should I still be interested in them, would prefer to play them on console than anything else.

My issue however is with the current rise of games that should not belong on consoles being pushed and developed exclusively for them. As you can guess, I believe FPS games are one of them. The FPS was born on the PC, years before console gaming could even compare on a technical standpoint (which I will discuss later). Admittedly games like Wolfenstein 3D and even Duke Nukem were originally played using just a keyboard, but the birth of the keyboard and mouse control scheme was not too far down the track. In fact, I remember people playing both Hexen and Heretic using both a keyboard and mouse back in the day, a method of control I found utterly mind boggling. The truth is that no game pad or pointing device can compare to the simplicity, accuracy and speed of the keyboard and mouse for FPS games. The mouse to control your aim and the keyboard to control your avatar and actions is a perfect marriage of complete character control that no other game genre can boast of having. So if this is naturally exclusive to the PC, why are consoles now overriding it in terms of FPS popularity and titles?

Halo is a classic example. One of the first FPS games built for console. It worked! It was also incredibly slow, easy and watered down. That was fine for the time, yes. It did in fact bring some new gameplay mechanics that have changed FPS gaming for the better. One such mechanic is the now benchmark abilty to throw grenades through a simple press of a button instead of selecting them as a weapon (a.k.a. Half-life style). I may not entirely agree with this as I have been doing this in FPS games since TFC (and through scripts in HL1) but still, its seen as an improvement on traditional weapon design in FPS. But then you see more recent games like UT3, Bioshock and (dare I say) Borderlands which from what I have experienced and seen all/will bear a very console like feel.

I've met and talked to console 'fanboi's' who while I will admit are nice enough people, have some very ignorant and illogical views on the matter. One such fellow claimed that there is nothing he could not do on a console controller that you can do with a keyboard and mouse. When I asked "well how do you rocket-jump, flick-shot, reflex-snipe, bunny-hop and wall-climb with a controller?". These five abilities are considered to be skillful techniques and control mastery, bordering almost on instinctive play. I got a blank look and a query as to wtf they were. I asked him if he had ever played Half-life or Quake (old FPS titles most people have played) to which his response was that he doesn't play crappy last-gen PC games. I left the conversation at that.

I challenge anyone reading this to mimic the kind of activity seen in this video on a console with a controller:

Console FPS games are watered down, slower and more skill-less games compared to the ones of PC of yesteryear. You look at the differences between Quake 3 and Quake 4. Quake 4 was like many FPS games of today, built for both the PC and console at the same time. It was a fun game, from a single-player perspective. But the multiplayer was nothing like its older brother. It was slow, boring and weapons had enough firepower packed behind them that any lack of skill would still compensate a frag from a bad player. "Well this is ok, for consoles, I guess" was my initial thought. The average console controller was more sluggish, less precise and slower to use than a PC mouse, often with auto-aim features and larger hitscan/box targets to make up for a lack of precision. Even crosshairs were usually larger (i.e. Halo 1's 1/4 of a screen crosshair). But then I found out the awful truth.

Console FPS games are built to be slower. Yes even Halo. Halo on PC was faster, not by much (10%) but still, a speed increase none the less. Even the PS3 and PC versions of UT3 have this trait. This quote from Mark Rein ...

"When you play Halo on PC, you notice the difference too, yeah? This is also the reason why we don't have cross-platform play, between PC and PS3, because you have got to make some compromises for each platform. But you play Halo on console and you find that it's slower too, right…they have to be slower, because your fingers are just not as precise as your whole arm, right? To me the movement and speed as a console gamer is just right."

... I personally do not find to be re-assuring, especially considering the Game Developer's shift in focusing on console games over PC. Why are we taking a step back? Why are we making slower FPS games for a control scheme that does not really support them? Why does the PC gamer have to sit in the shadows, reminiscing of the glorious days when PC FPS was king, considered pro and skillful only to be fed console based badly done ports that are basically Half-life with a face lift?

The answer is money. Now, I dont have a problem with consoles getting FPS games in general, but I do find the stance certain game companies are having on the games they develop. Because consoles are cheaper, because companies don't have to push the boundaries of rendering technologies as hard and because they can make a shitty game and still guarantee some sales ... what possible reason is there to develop games for PC. At least primarily for PC and then console after, anyway? Atm, none. Which brings me to another point about console game development in general. It was never the platform in which you played games on that pushed the boundary of graphics, rendering and sound technologies. It was always the games! If games can be developed on a platform that doesn't change for 5-6 years before its newer model comes out, then the recycling of games engines, code and ideas become mainstream. THIS IS NOT A GOOD THING! Hardware today is far beyond what the most demanding games can manage and considering the most graphically advanced games engine (Crysis -2007) is approaching nearly 2.5 years of age, this gap is just going to continue. Even Crytek (makers of Crysis) have jumped along the console developer bandwagon and do you know what? CryEngine 2.0 looks worse on console than what CryEngine 1.0 looks on PC. CryEngine 2.0 on PC however looks great, but it could look oh so much better....

I am aware I am bordering on ranting here, but the technological progression of games technology is something I am passionate about. Video cards, frame-rates, overclocking and cooling have always been my secret geek fetish ... thing, and although in recent years it may have eased off, I am still interested in the field. Some people say that console games help to increase the efficiency in programming game engines, particularly when the platform starts ageing. This perspective is mainly true. It is also flawed. Code efficiency is usually about memory conservation and increasing the number of clock-cycles your game engine can run at (i.e. processing power required). Reducing the complexity of algorithms and refining them to be more efficient is always great, but this takes time, money and effort. Lots of it! I know because I have had to do it. I say this is flawed as I would rather my game programmers be making the next Unreal Engine or working on a more reaslitic shading algorithm than fucking around trying to make their game work on a 6 year old piece of plastic that you can pick up for less than $200. Its like seeing how many clowns you can fit in your clown car, when the maximum capacity is only 8.

Companies are simply in it for the money. This is fair enough, but horrible single-player storylines, dodgey gameplay mechanics and design choices for apparent AAA titles are unaccounted for in this day and age. The quality of games today suffers because of this game development perspective. Half-life for example was for its time above and beyond everything else in its field. Unreal Tournament and Quake 3? Still the best tournament shooters you can play competitively. You could even say the same for CS 1.6 if you are into the team-work, accuracy and realism based shooters as well. These games are all over 10 years old. I may be getting old, stuck in the 'good old days' but I still feel that gaming and PC gaming in particular is having its own shallow grave dug for it. It's potential is being ignored, its roots forgotten and its gamers either converting or simply losing interest.

"I guess they just don't make them like they used to. Fucking plastic pieces of shit"

Saturday, September 19, 2009



Yeah..... that. Sometimes I really don't understand the motives of our government and its associated ratings board. If you ask me, this latest act of stupidity is merely a publicity stunt to make the general public believe that the current system "cares for the children" and that they are doing a fantastic job at not allowing harmful content get into the wrong hands. You know, 'cause little kids go out and buy these sort of things all the time. The parents aren't responsible for what their children are getting in to, oh no! Let's put the blame on the actual content itself, and make the 95% of responsible, correct-aged non-mentally insane people suffer because our ridiculous rating system doesn't have an R18+ rating. Yeah, let's do that!

Seriously, here are the facts. Young kids playing violent video games is a bad idea, I'm sure you couldn't find many reasons to disagree with that. So is young kids watching porn, movies with harsh language, extreme violence and drug use. The difference between movies and games is that despite the obvious realism differences, movies generally get an R18+ rating if they are believed to contain large quantities of any of the previously mentioned themes. Games, at least in Australia, are not. Instead they are banned, or require modification of the content to reduce gore/swearing levels. There is virtually (virtually lol) any porn or any serious drug use in publicly consumed games to pick on, and despite the media's attempts to expose such non-existent undertakings (i.e. the Mass Effect rampage) games are still seen to be pretty docile when compared to the movies of our era. But, when a game is viewed to have equal depictions of any of the previous themes, well then that's a big problem.

Below: Left 4 Dead 2 Survivors

The average age of a gamer is somewhere around 30, at least in this country. That is pretty damn old! Now admittedly, gamers in this country make up for a rather small demographic. In fact I am quite sure that gaming in general is still viewed in that very critical, cynical light by most people who are not involved in it (and don't understand wtf they are talking about). Still, the fact of the matter is that most people who are serious players of games ARE mature individuals. They have the ability to watch movies with violent or adult content and more than likely have in the past. One more product out of the literal hundreds of thousands on the market is not going to make any difference to their mental condition, which is probably more sane and aware of reality than most others.

The game in question, Left 4 Dead 2, is barely any different from its original. That has often been an argument running over various forums and boards about people NOT wanting to buy the game because it doesn't offer anything significantly new. However, the original was let through just fine, and its original is alot like a vast number of other games currently on the market (Killing Floor, CoD5: Nazi Zombies etc...). It is also very similar to zombie movie franchise 28 X later. The rage virus acts almost identically to the rabies infection in the L4D universe, except for the mutated zombies of course. Sure, L4D2 offers some slightly more personal hand-to-hand combat ...... but these are ZOMBIES FFS!!!! They have been eating people for days! If you don't either avoid them or kill them, they WILL kill you. You are not playing Bob the Butcher and going around slaughtering helpless civilians. You are the helpless civilian trying to survive. How can they possibly come to the conclusion that the game's environment and theme is immoral and inhumane?

Finally, and we come back to our original point here, the game is not meant for children. That's it! I don't know why they can't see this, but the game is not supposed to be bought by people 17 and under. Now I have known (and was for my own age) some very mature adolescents who obviously wont take a game like this seriously. But as far as anti-discrimination laws are concerned, its just easier to label an entire group than pick out select individuals, so stuff it. This game and game's like this are not supposed to be played by young people. Banning them is equivalent to banning porn because adolescents 'could' get their hands on it. The rest of the community has to suffer because of this stupid, ridiculous point of view. Either introduce an R18+ rating, or lose the respect and patience of sensible, mature and annoyed gamers in Australia everywhere.

I leave you now with a famous quote for the parents, from the robot Bender from the cartoon series Futurama:

"And so I ask you this one question. Have you ever tried simply turning off the TV, sitting down with your children, and hitting them?"

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Die one thousand deaths!!!

Holy shit. It's been months since I made a post here. I guess I haven't really played too many games recently, or at least ones that I should talk about in detail. However, I guess over the many months where I havn't said anything, sufficient time has been permitted for at least some form of discussion about gaming occurrences to formulate.

I spose I could start with Call of Duty: World at War, a game I said I would discuss in my last post. To be quite honest with you, I really just thought this as yet another CoD game, except not as good as the Modern Warfare direction they were going with in their previous title. I dunno, I think WWII has been told far too many times, and yet another FPS from the perspective of an allied "hero" is ground that is so familiar it is almost boring. Admittedly, some of the battles are interesting, especially concerning those crazy Japanese bonzai/kamikazi warriors, but still, I have fired enough rounds from a virtual thompson machine gun over the years to feed a small family. You know... if I like sold the ammunition... somehow. Shutup.

You can shoot zombies though. Ah yes, I feel they definitely have taken a page from Valve in this department with implementing a zombie shooting mode. It's decent, and has definitely generated some enjoyable online moments with uni friends Jeremy and Phil. I do seem to lag a bit though, but that's not really a problem. I do think some attention is necessary concerning the difficulty scaling, particularly towards the end. Certain weapons become rather useless and most of the time you end up dying simply because you have run out of ammo. The latter is sort of ok, but the adjusting of the Nazi zombies HP over time (read: dramatically increased) sort of destroys the believability. It should not take 6 shotgun rounds to down a zombie when not 10 minutes ago his mate died to the intentional friendly fire spread as I was shooting Ace Rimmer in the face on purpose. Matches usually end off with all of us sitting in a room shooting at the general image of a doorway with rayguns for the lucky few who have them, which, while not unenjoyable, sort of hinders the significance of all your previous activity up to this point. I would like to be using a different weapon, simply put.

Below: CoD5 - Many zombies were harmed in the making of this movie

Speaking of zombies, Left 4 Dead's new survival mode is an absolute blast. Well, it's not really new anymore, but when it first came out, it was pretty much exactly what the game needed. Ah yes, some classic moments have occurred in the many hours (hours?) that I and three others have sat in various locales, weapons pointing towards entry points where zombies are spewing forth. The most successful team has been myself, Jeremy, Al and Dom on the barn house map, where we survived for our first legitimate 16mins.

Below: Left 4 Dead - Zombie Slam

Lately I have been playing around with custom campaigns, some of which are pretty good. In particular, Death Aboard and Dam It are particularly well done, almost at the production level of Valve's default campaigns. I personally think that this gaming franchise decision has got to be one of the best made of late concerning PC gaming as, although it is not 'fresh', it is executed well enough to maintain appeal for a long time. I avidly look forward to L4D2, and unlike many people QQing on forums and game sites, will happily fork out the dough for more zombie killing madness.

Below: Left 4 Dead - Zombie gangbangs are freaky things

Now I would talk about Killing Floor via Steam, but I have yet to play enough of it online/with friends to form a proper opinion. Maybe next time. Instead, I will bring up a game that was both good, but a bit disappointing, Dawn of War 2. Now I don't claim to be great at strategy games. In fact I am pretty sure I am merely mediocre. Strategy games to me have always seemed more about knowledge and tactics and less about actual raw skill. Admittedly there is some micro involved, particularly in some of the more skill-renowned strategy games (i.e. Starcraft). However, knowing how to rush siege tanks early on to this point at the map consuming only X amount of resources in Y time is not as generically skillful as say accuracy in FPS games. You cannot perform the same move in a different strategy game with different mechanics, whereas your accuracy is always the same no matter what FPS game you play.

Anyway getting back on topic, I did really well in Dawn of War 2. At least in my opinion. And that to me is usually an indication that the game is a little too easy and does not have much depth strategy wise. Taking a company of heroes-esque style of gameplay and slapping on the 40k universe, I found myself face-rolling over everything I encountered. In fact there was only one unit in the entire campaign that gave me any form of challenge, and although I could not kill him, he could not kill me either. It is sort of like playing Diablo 2 with a squad of dudes (who can destroy parts of the environment) as the gear and stat point distribution systems do obviously lend to a RPG feel. Now admittedly I have not had the chance to play this game online, mainly due to the terribad internet connections I have had over the last few months (aka patches). However, for some reason I don't see myself doing too badly. There is definitely strategies in the game to master, but unlike other strategy titles, they don't really require any incredible ingenuity or foresight. It's a simple game, a dumbed down action oriented version of its former. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but for me it was not quite what I was looking for.

But then again, nor was Street Fighter 4. I can't remember what exactly got me interested in buying the game. Maybe a lack of fighting games in recent years did it, or that Tekken 6 is taking so long to come out. In any case, I originally bought it for PS3, but since I have moved houses (i.e. no longer have access to one) I recently traded it in for the PC version. The difference? Nothing really, just now I can vs people online, and fuck me dead, some people are bloody good. I don't usually do too bad if I am in the right frame of mind, but the good thing about SFIV is that it is not really a game you can sucessfully 'spam'. Tekken in particular is a game that suffers from this, where moves are simple to pull off and can do ludicrous damage allowing a noob to simply mash a controller with their face and do reasonably well. Yes, the many times I have fought against people doing this and lost is.... well only a few times, but it is something that should not be allowed in games of this caliber. The last time I actually did face off against someone in Tekken 5 who wasn't a button masher was with one of Jordan's friend, and the results were really quite entertaining (i.e. ridiculously close every time). Nevertheless, button mashers seem to be punished severely by SFIV as the difference between light, medium and hard attacks vary both the damage and global cool down between moves. For instance, if I was to perform a heavy attack which does high damage, and you were quick enough to block it, then you would then have a significant opportunity to do damage to me. A light attack however would not, but nor would it do much damage should it connect. It has a high risk vs reward game play element that I think works incredibly well towards balancing the game.

Below: SFIV - Attack of the leg monster!

Which then brings one to the always controversial topic of WoW. I actually don't really know what to say in this regard as things are pretty much the same. I raid, do heroics, pvp, get annoyed, stop for a few days and then am back in a few more. I guess one thing that has occurred of significance is that I have finally managed to convince myself to stick around to killing Kel'Thuzad in Naxxramas 25, something which was significantly easier than I was led to believe. It is incredible however to see just how much people's egos (including my own) affect their behavior when playing this game. No one thinks they are doing the wrong thing when they are, everyone is convinced their spec is the best and anyone else's is stupid, your dps is only higher than mine because your gear is better (and if it isn't then I keep my mouth shut), watch the tank healers because... you know... you weren't doing that originally anyway, etc. Sometimes I think WoW brings out the worst in some people. I guess I am beginning to see the game from a casual's point of view, that so called 'hardcore' players are really just glorified stat whores who get a kick out of high numbers and purple decorations. Again, one's ego can be a terrible thing...

Below: WoW - Kel'Thuzad's throne

Bah that will do. This is taking far too long. I will talk about my Honours/Thesis in a future post.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Thing with the thing

Well it's been ahwhile since I posted anything here. Over two months in fact. Bah, sif not.

I have recently become interested in some of the more casual PvE elements of WotLK, considering PvP and arena are (arguably) rather fail at the moment. Although I do enjoy Wintergrasp and the occasional battleground, Rogues can get really frustrating after awhile. Especially the ones that intentionally target/hunt you down for the entire match (easymode pvp). While most people seem to be complaining about the new arch nemesi, the Death Knight, I don't really consider them to be a problem for warlocks seeing as how they counter.... well pretty much everyone who isn't a DK or Ret Pally anyway. No, I think Rogues are enough for me to be annoyed about in PvP for any given time (past or future). Maybe Arcane mages to a lesser extent. Not being able to do anything while getting killed results in the same disgust and irritation as fighting someone who is effectively pressing 2-3 buttons the entire time.

Below: WoW - Wintergrasp

What was I saying.... oh yeah PvE. I have never really been that interested in PvE, mainly due to my impatience and annoyance at lazy/incompetent players. WoW is an easy game, but if I am dotting and wanding and still pulling agro off the tank then there is a problem. Yes, there is always the argument as to why I don't join a guild and/or find good players to roll with but the fact is I don't care about the game enough (or my characters) to warrant the time sink that such an action will do. Also, I don't like being obligated or like not doing what I want to be doing (....?) .
In any case, I have found myself doing so many heroic dungeons as of yet that I have lost count altogether. 165 badges worth, if you can measure it like that. Friend of mine has also achieved lvl 80 DK status and tanked a H Nexus run (reasonably well, I might add). Naxxramas and Sarth shall be next, and who knows after that? I might even ACTUALLY quit this glorious abomination of a game and do something useful instead.

Below: WoW - Suicide is your only option

But enough of the usual WoW ranting (seriously, the game is designed for ranting imo). FEAR 2. Bought, played it, finished it. Had a couple of weird nightmares about it too. Yes, I found FEAR 2 to be genuinely disturbing. But in a weird, good sort of a way. Having finished the original just before playing the sequel (turret level pissed me off), it was interesting to see how much the franchise had advanced both graphically, narratively and ... scareatively (?). I was expecting the same elevator/ladder/crawling out of the shadows techniques of making you jump which I am generally immune to. However what I got was a much more in your face, haunting process as Alma chooses you to torment (with good reason though). The ending was almost exactly what I thought it should be like and was rather shocked when it came true. The bullet-time slomo action ability did make the game rather easy however, finishing it on Hard the first time through dying about 3 times (via enemy soldiers). I would recommend the game to anyone who is a fan of FPS action, suspense/horror games (not survival horror), traumatic movies (some respectable scenes) or anyone just looking for a decent shooter.

Below: FEAR 2 - Not a violent game, by any standards

My Quake Live beta invite also came through. Free game, web-client based. I'm sure I've mentioned it before. Anyways, after a frustrating wait with this connection I managed to download and play my ranking match against a well tuned AI opponent who is designed to kick-start your stats and give you a tier/ranking. I came out with 15 frags and 0 deaths with 35% accuracy and a 5min-something game time. I have no idea where that puts me, but I can't actually check as the next stage actually requires you to download the full Quake Live client which is impossible for me at this point. Nevertheless, I reckon I will probably be giving this a good go when net here is restored to normal.

Anyway, time to get ready for uni. Doing honours and possibly tutoring this year. My supervisor for both is awesome, so it should be good fun. Recently bought Dawn of War II and will possibly try out Call of Duty: World at War in the next coming weeks. Until then.