Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Musings and Happenings

While I escape the depressing clutches of uni work, both academic and tutoring relating, I find myself playing a vast variety of games lately. Some of these are new. Some of them are very, very old. It is interesting which of these games I have enjoyed more than others as it says something (at least to me) about the design of games today versus that of yesteryear.

As I expected, Shogun 2 was fantastic. It is probably going to be my favourite PC game of the year. It is polished and refined, something you would expect of Creative Assembly after returning to their roots having learnt everything from the previous iterations of the Total War series. For three days straight I put in roughly 28 hours and completed a domination campaign. I have not spent that much time on a game since I was 'addicted' to WoW in my second year of uni. To clarify what I mean by addiction in a gaming sense, I mean simply playing a game for an unhealthy amount of time, ignoring more important aspects of life. This includes people and housework. So, for three days I did just that, but at the end of it I didn't feel as 'bad' as I used to when I would do the same thing in WoW. Shogun 2 is ... almost a spiritual game, reinforced by the sometimes calming music and zen-like attitude the game forces you to have towards warfare. However, having said that, there is nothing more awe-inspiring than watching your armies march into battle in what is perhaps the best looking RTS game currently on the market. I swear I could listen to the sound of 3000 ashigaru trudging towards their doom forever.

But then there was Bulletstorm. I guess I should have expected the game to be what it is, but me being a fan of the old UT series and of Painkiller still had my hopes up nonetheless. This game makes me want to facepalm so hard that I swear my face would be nothing but a bloody skull by the end of the game. Kill with Skill? Really? Is this really the selling point of this game? There is nothing skillful about the killing in this. It is not hard, nor is constrained by time in any difficult sense of the word. A typical killing scenario involves popping your head over your chest-high wall, looking for a dude to leash, leashing him into the air towards you, looking around for 10 years to find something to kick him into (seriously, you have so much time to do this it isn't even funny) and finally giving him a blast of generic gun type B to assist him on his merry way. Congratulations, here is 500 points. I'm sorry, but this is not killing with skill. It's killing creatively, I will give you that, but when you do it over and over and over again it gets incredibly dull. It's not a bad game by any means. It's just not as good as it COULD have been. Then there are the quick time events, in particular the 'react quickly to this to get points' ones. I shit you not, something will occur and the speed that of which you press a button to automatically look at whatever it is the game wants you to look at will reward you some bonus points. The first time this happened I thought it was a joke, that was how stupid I found it. Then it kept happening. You also can't jump. Yeah. Yahtzee sums up the game pretty well in his Zero Punctuation review of it, mainly it being stuck between the (actually) skillful and fast paced days of old and the retardedly slow and console-like FPS games of today. If you want a clearer picture I recommend watching it.

... can you actually see what is going on here? Yeah, me neither.

Which brings me to my next chapter: games of old. I have been playing an uncanny amount of Doom lately for one simple reason: it is incredibly fun. The amount of media attention and articles revolving around oldskool FPS games of late (something I am quite happy to see) has inspired me to revisit some of these titles again. Doom was the first on the agenda which I actually found rather challenging. Putting it on Ultraviolence and wading straight in, I found myself on occasion being caught off guard by the odd imp or hellknight and almost (almost) jumping out of my seat. I will even admit I even died a few times. Now, to properly bring attention to the gravity of that statement I will inform you of two things. Firstly, I am using a mouselook mod called ZDoom which allows you to use a mouse and look somewhat along the wonky Z axis that Doom permits. Doom was not originally designed for mouselook, so being able to use a mouse gives me an enormous advantage. Secondly, if you have ever played Doom you will know that you can move at almost the speed of sound. So an experienced FPS player dying in Doom with these two aspects in their favour is, at least to me, telling me just how difficult this game really is. Certain sections I found myself just running through to get away from the hordes as I didn't have the ammo or the health to deal with them. Which, and this is important, was actually fun as well. Having to go from Rambo in one room to Houdini in the next reminds me of the importance of resource management (health, ammo, weapons, armor etc.) in these types of FPS games, something that is lacking in almost every new one being released today.

Never fight a drunken hobo weilding a boomstick

I have also recently jumped back into Half-life again after my last nostalgic audio post. While very different from Doom in terms of game play, the concept of resource management is still the same. If you simply want to get through the game you don't need to kill everything, but finding additional pickups may require you to do so anyway. As anyone who has played it will know, the game is constantly throwing new situations at you which are either combat or puzzle based. A good balance between the two (which the game pulls off) makes for very engaging game play that can keep you immersed for hours. Which is what the series is essentially renowned for. Also like Doom, it is not a piece of cake. Many a time I have found myself stumbling over a cliff face in a firefight frenzy or getting flanked by soldiers. Usually stupid things that I would usually check for but have forgotten that a game as old as Half-life has implemented. It is good to see I can still get just as much a kick out of these games as new ones being released today with all their fancy flair and poise. Perhaps even more so...

Blue is a terrible colour. Here, try some red on.

Sif not shoot everything with a shotgun.

Finally, on a much different note, I am slowly putting the pieces of a League of Legends frag video together. So far only two of us have actually submitted any replays (using LoLReplay, an excellent third party recording tool) but hopefully I will have roughly 2-300 clips of various LoL occurrences by the end. An awesome section, a humorous section and possibly a failboat section (which will be both awesome and humorous) will probably suffice in terms of video chapters. I will probably think about it more when the time comes to actually edit it. In the meantime I will entertain myself with smaller projects such as the following:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Time to choose ...

Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days. ~Doug Larson

It's late and I'm tired but I yet again find myself trolling through the many wonders of the internet, much like a drunken hobo alongside a busy highway. It's not often I stumble across something that will leave me sleeping content and happy, but this has truly left a smile on my face.

It's the ending/credits music. After bringing down that ugly mofo and fighting off hordes of xenos, getting to listen to this track after a very questionable and non-conclusive ending was, in my opinion, brilliant. The original Half-life is undeniably one of the best games ever made and at least in the top 5 FPS games ever developed. Although I didn't actually play the game when it was first released, when I did manage to get around to it a few years later I remember being awestruck by the ending. Little actually made sense in the game, but it wasn't one of those games that needed to explain itself. A similar ending also occurred in the excellent expansion Opposing Force. It is something I would have liked to seen debuted in the Half-life 2 engine/universe (playing as Corporal Shepherd). A strong war/combat based perspective on the whole ordeal would have worked marvelously.

Now I'm off to dream about shooting marines in the face with a shotgun and fighting off endless waves of aliens with Snarks and a Gauss cannon.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

How to make a PC FPS - 10 simple rules

I never thought I would have to do this. Actually that's a lie. I probably always have secretly wanted to. After so many a lol-shoot-the-man-lol games of recent years, so many that just fail on the PC (yes, the whole console/PC FPS rant again), I'm kind of fed up. Two titles that I will leave unannounced are AGAIN ports of their console counterparts. So here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to tell you how to make a successful FPS on PC. I'm not going to talk about the theme of the game or the narrative structure or even the underlying game play mechanics. That's totally your job, and sif I'm going to do your job. What I will do is tell you what you need to have in your game. Or in some cases, what not to have.

1. Do not start your game with "Press the start button to begin".
Why do I need to press start ... to start? Why am I not looking at the main menu right now? What is the point of it to begin with? Why is it even here? In fact ... what start button? There is no start button on a keyboard. The only start button I know of exists on a ... oh. Now I get it. First sign of a bad console port? "Press the start button to begin".

2. Have a customizable graphics/game engine.
So you have either bought a game engine or made your own from scratch. Both are good options, nothing really wrong with either of them. This engine should (should) have a plethora of settings enabling certain input/output options and video parameters. This should range from everything, from anti-aliasing to texture settings. Allow your user to tweak them, and not through hidden config files in some roaming account attached file. A PC gamer wants to make the game look and feel just right. It is the very definition of why we own a PC and play games on them.

3. No mouse acceleration.
Seriously, fuck off. No one likes that shit. We are using a keyboard and motherfucking mouse for Christ's sakes. I don't need my mouse to speed up as I pan to the left because I am already looking at my target. Yes I just did a 180 degree spin instantly. It's what you can do with a mouse and it is not impressive. It is normal. On that note, no aim-assist. Or at least off by default. Using a mouse is precision aiming enough. If I want to shoot someone in the left earlobe than I will god damned shoot them in the left earlobe. I don't want some shit locking onto their head when I am checking out that palm tree behind them. Palm trees need loving too.

4. Have a 'console' with a decent array of commands (no, not the physical console you play on your TV)
From demo-recording to commands turning certain features on/off. Why? Because it will make your game that much more pleasant to play. And navigate. And benchmark. And mod. Do I need to explain why these are good things? Every good LAN game has had admin control commands to both set up games and prevent people from exploiting certain things. Commands allowing a fluent 'console' user to do things quickly on the fly is a good idea.

5. Dedicated server and LAN support
Holy hell. Which bogan from the dumpster thought the current (i.e. lack of) method of delivering modern multiplayer PC games was a good idea? If someone on your development team is suggesting this, shoot them. They are stupid. Yes, I can understand the want for online system security. Yes, I can understand the need for wanting control over all your servers (definetly not the right way to do it in any case). And YES, I can understand that this style of multiplayer gaming is quite popular ... on consoles! We are not playing on a console. We do not want to connect to the internet to play against our housemate who lives in the next room. Even consoles don't impose that insanity. PC gaming is about having options, not limiting them. Think about it. In 10 to 15 years from now, how in hell is someone going to even play your game in multiplayer? Which leads on to ...

6. Anti-consumer DRM
I could write an entire essay on why certain types of DRM are bad and how the whole piracy/punishing your customers model of things just doesn't work. I won't, at least not today. Simply put ... just don't. Games will always be cracked, workarounds devised and online authenticity checks disabled. Sure, you might stop 20% of otherwise illegitimate buyers. But needing to log on to three separate accounts alongside a profile and making an online tag which checks every nano-second to see if you are connected to the net is just awful design. There are many other and better ways of going about this. Take a look at League of Legend's business model. The game is free, and they still make heaps of dough!

7. UI Design, feedback and size matters. Or simply, lack thereof.
Crosshairs, weapons and indicators do not need to take up 1/3rd of the screen. I am not sitting 3 metres from my television. I am sitting a foot away from a monitor which takes up 60% of my view. I can see how much ammo I have very easily thank you, you don't need to flash it across my screen every time it is low. No, a red splash of paint across my view is not a good indication that I am taking damage and am nearly dead. Now I can't see anything you retard! UI elements and indicators do not need to disappear all the time. They should not be blocking my view as they should not be enormous. Where is this guy shooting me from? Is he behind this enormous mountain of a weapon you have me carrying? He was. Now I'm dead. Good.

8. Jumping.
Do you like jumping? I like jumping. Jumping is awesome. You can like ... totally get on top of things by jumping. Especially those chest high walls you see so much of today. Provide enough kinetic energy to yourself while jumping and you can totally jump OVER things. WHOA!!! Did you see that insane wall jump I just did? What about this rocket jump here? You didn't? Why the hell not? Because I can't actually jump you say? WTF? WHY THE FUCK CAN'T I JUMP!!??!!?
Why indeed. Besides games like DOOM, jumping has been in about ... 95% of games? At least games where you control a dude in some way. I don't know where it originated or even why it was introduced recently, but several FPS titles as of late have inhibited your ability to move positively along the Z axis for a brief period of time, at will, completely. Why? WHY!? Was the primary game designer drunk that day when you guys talked about jumping in the game? Is he fat and has something against people jumping? Could you not convince him that jumping is just one of those things a game should have ... like moving forward? I don't need to be able to bunny hop, rocket jump, wall jump or anything that crazy. But I do want to jump. Please let me jump?

9. Mouse support in menus.
Seriously. Wtf is wrong with some of you? You are using a mouse to aim in the game. Mouse support is obviously already in the engine ... in a 3D setting. Remove an axis and now you have 2D mouse support. Hooray!! Of course its never that simple is it. Your mouse support is actually just the code from the right analog stick adjusted to read from a different input peripheral. It was never supposed to exist in the menus, so it never will. Those PC Gamers can just suck it and wrap their cheated hands around yet another terrible console port.

10. Unsimplified controls.
What does any PC MMO, strategy game or flight sim game have in common? If you guessed ... a billion keys to press, then you would be correct. See, there is this device we use. It's called a keyboard. It has lots of buttons. Over quadruple the amount of buttons a controller has, in fact, and that's not including the buttons on another device we call the mouse. Those buttons (should) allow us to do many things. So when you have your insane grenade button that ... oh I don't know, throws a grenade when you tap it and changes grenades when you hold it down ... that is stupid. It takes too long, is inefficient and is stupid. Separate the functions onto different keys and then we can talk. How about that Zoom button you say? Only three levels of zoom after tapping the same button three times? Why not use the scroll-wheel? That gives you a massive number of zoom levels. It's used to change weapons you say? What, all two of them!!!??