Browsing the blog archives for November, 2009

Towards a New Equilibrium

No Comments
Games

This is a response to Shamus’ post here, this was originally meant to be a comment but it kind of grew and I felt guilty at neglecting this place when I actually wrote something fairly substantive.

It’s pretty undeniable that there’s significant market forces at work in [causing game developers to minimize investment in the PC]. But I think the bigger factor is just the structure of the studios / game market as a whole.

The console/games market these days seems to be in a trend towards monopolization. You just can’t create big budget titles and play with the big boys without being one of them. At the same time, the gamer demographic these games are all going after is the same, so there can only be so many “winners” even in the remote chance that all games in a given set are good. It really is a winner-takes-all kind of situation because games just take up a lot of time and those of us with jobs and families only have so much time to spare.

I’ve been saying this for years now, but the trend towards making every game into a movie-like cinematographic experience is really contrary to games-as-games. The games that I still play 10 or 15 years after their release don’t need to feel like a movie, they just need good, solid gameplay. Unfortunately this doesn’t quite jive with the lowest-common denominator games-as-junk-food mentality we see taking hold in an industry that needs to encourage gamers-as-gluttons in order to be able to sustain its own massive bloat.

When I first started noticing and complaining about games turning into longer, poorly written and acted direct-to-video movies I felt like I was out on a limb. Yet every year the new game releases get less and less actual gameplay and more and more like a semi-passive movie experience.* With Halo “ODST” or COD6 the singleplayer is going to last you four hours — That’s about the length of Return of the King extended cut.

*Ironically, we are also seeing movies now moving closer to videogames as well. Can anyone deny that Transformers series is hilarious mess whose entire terrible existence is predicated on the acceptance of cringe-inducing filmmaking by the videogame-addicted teen/twenteen boy segment of the population?

And, not to put too fine a point on it, how much work does multiplayer take when most are just recycling mechanics from SP/previous games? Sure, it’s not trivial, but I am surely not impressed when Halo releases a new game with the same set of weapons with maybe tweaks and new bling mapping on the SPNKR’s rocket tubes. And don’t get me started on all of these WW2 or modern combat games that endlessly recycle the same set of bullet-spraying weapons whose only significant differences are in rate of fire and spread. Do we really need another AK-47 or M-16 in a game in order to feel fulfilled?

I really feel like this trend is unsustainable. There really aren’t any huge graphics jumps on the horizon, yet graphics is what has been driving the last couple generations of games. For a long time now, there hasn’t been anyone making the games I really want to play. And I think that is going to get worse before it gets better, because the bigger the game studios get, the more and more they will focus-group their games into targeting the subhuman pleasure centers of the average consumer drone. Those of us who are not content to mindlessly buy whatever has the biggest explosions will be underserved for quite some time — Unless the indie games market can reach us.

Fortunately, with all the distribution platforms these days … Maybe they can?
And that gives me hope. Heck, maybe we’ll see a resurgence of gameplay instead of this constant graphics overload coupled to the same stale game ideas that were cliche even a decade ago. Or maybe some of these companies will realize that cultivating an enduring game community & experience for many years can be as profitable, or maybe even more profitable over the long haul, than releasing sequels every two years and then leaving everyone in the lurch.

L4D2 Demo

No Comments
Games

Despite being underwhelmed with the amount of content in L4D, I went ahead and pre-ordered L4D2. What can I say, the game cost $30 and at that price point it’s hard for me to pass up a AAA title that I know I’m going to like.

My first impressions with L4D2.

Do not buy this game unless you enjoy L4D1.

My second impressions with L4D2.

Do not buy this game unless you can get it at a $30 or less pricepoint.

Back when I purchased L4D1, I was pretty disappointed with the game because it was shockingly lacking in content. Although L4D ended up being a good game a couple months after release once Valve finished the game and added in melee cooldown to prevent it from becoming entirely about tedious corner camping, it was still a shallow and flawed game. Anyone who paid full price for it (like me) probably felt a little bit ripped off (especially when the day after you purchased it for $50 Valve decided to offer it for $25, which is more along the lines of its actual value).

Could L4D have been a great game? Sure, if Valve had decided to continue to support it in meaningful ways. Instead, they decided to make L4D2. Is L4D2 worth it? That’s the question we all want answered. From what I’ve seen in the L4D2 demo, it’s more of L4D1.3 than L4D2. If an incremental upgrade is what you seek, then you may be willing put put down the money for this expansion pack. If you wanted some real improvements and not just finishing touches that should’ve been in L4D1, then you might want to keep waiting.*

* Note that the biggest changes to the game are going to be a result of how the new maps and new SI work. Neither of these are really displayed in the demo, I am just talking about what I have seen from that.

L4D2 incorporates some new gameplay elements:

Pros:

  • A couple of new weapons. Many of the old weapons have been reskinned.
  • You can now carry a medpack or a revival pack
  • In addition to pipe bombs and molotovs you now can pick up and throw vials of boomer bile. These work exactly as you’d expect.
  • Instead of pain pills you can now carry Adrenaline Shots, though the function of these is not obvious (presumably you perform certain actions faster)
  • In lieu of pistols, you can now carry a melee weapon.
  • There are some other upgrades like laser sights, incendiary and explosive ammo.

Counterpoints

  • Basically, all of the guns feel more similar to each other than ever. It’s not even clear which guns are supposed to be superior to other guns.
  • Almost all of the guns feel much weaker, both in look and feel, and in functionality, than their L4D1 counterparts.
  • In addition, there have been some questionable balancing changes. For example, the T1 pump shotgun in L4D1 had 128 + 8 ammo, yet was certainly not overpowered. The T1 pump shotgun in L4D2 has a whole 56 + 8 ammo, which means one of the weakest weapons in the game lost over 50% of its ammo carrying capacity.
  • The revival pack, boomer bile, adrenaline shots, laser sights, and ammo upgrades are gimmicky additions, most of which exist currently in L4D1 as mods. I expected something more from a commercial product than a mod.
  • The melee weapons are a big gimmick that I never understood at all. Melee combat in FPS games almost always comes down to mashing down the LMB, I don’t expect anything different here.

Some additional observations:

  • The UI for L4D2 is almost as bad as the Epic failure of UT3’s interface. It’s that bad.
  • The new characters, from what we have seen, are nowhere near as interesting or entertaining as the original characters. Ellis is the only character who seems to have a distinct personality, and it’s one I dislike strongly.
  • In the demo, the FOV and positioning of the weapons on the screen is terrible. I hope they return to L4D1 style.
  • The maps displayed in the demo are during the daytime. And while L4D has never been a “horror” game, more of an arcade shoot-em-up, it just loses a lot of its charm and atmosphere when it’s set during the day and you realize that the only thing you do [in Campaign mode] is run around and gun down tons of helpless, braindead AI opponents.
  • The new style of crescendo event is a dramatic improvement over corner camping, but I’m also concerned they are going to be consistently too difficult when it comes to expert campaigns and particularly Vs. mode. This is especially tricky because campaign mode now has melee cooldown.
  • The charger and the spitter are really powerful. The spitter is probably too powerful, as she can easily dish out 20 damage in a second or so with no assistance from other SI and at seemingly low risk to herself.

In summation, a lot of L4D2 seems to be gimmicks, and improvements that are going to mostly improve the singleplayer / co-op experience. And while Co-op is fun, the meat of the game is in Vs. mode. Since Vs. mode is not available in the demo I can’t comment on much beyond the new maps and SI impacting that. I am really hoping that they improve the Vs. experience by completely changing the scoring mechanic or at least offering a new mechanic. The scoring in L4D1 is such that you can basically wipe out the entire enemy team down to 1 hp, but that doesn’t impact their (or your) score at all if they find a couple of medpacks before the end of the level. A scoring system that valued good play and not semi-random health pack spawning would drastically improve the game. Some kind of system to discourage or penalize rage quitting and griefing wouldn’t be bad either (or maybe, encourage good play instead of penalizing the jerks).